Few things make us appreciate the warmth of our homes more than the kind of frigid windchill we’ve been experiencing off and on recently. Few things make us appreciate the warmth, light, peace and beauty of our sanctuary more than a Lenten wilderness, whatever may be making us feel lost or tempted or tried. A pastor who did hard labor in Chinese communist prisons for decades said after his release that any Christian who has not truly suffered is an infant and cannot possibly know the true meaning of God’s love and grace. One of the reasons 12 Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous gain the loyalty of addicts is that they come there from rock bottom and find just the home and community and help they need to climb back into the light.
The church is that way, too, at its best. This congregation has a history of welcoming people that other churches might have rejected and surrounding them with loving support. This Sunday we will read scriptures where God and Jesus open wide the door of their salvation for all people who have the yearning and faith to seek it. We will celebrate that in the midst of all our Lenten wildernesses we always have this loving welcome waiting to comfort and nurture us. Continue reading Service Notes, March 12, 2017
The Board of Missions and Social Action has a long standing commitment to the wonderful work of Help Kids India. Each year we make a contribution from the earnings of our annual Wild Game Supper. Catherine Kidder will visit this spring to share slides from her trip to India in the Fall of 2016. So stay tuned!
Lent does not deserve the reputation that it has for deprivation. It can be a beautiful, spiritually rich, powerfully moving season. This Sunday we will sing four beloved hymn tunes, we will read one of the most reassuring Psalms, we will hear the old familiar story of Jesus suffering real temptations just as we do and showing us a way to respond that brings angels to our aid. Yes, Lent leads us into a wilderness, but it is a lovely and love-filled and fruitful one.
Here one of the wisest perspectives on Lent that I know. After it I will give more details about the service and share three extraordinary recordings. This is an excerpt from the great Lenten book of daily readings, A Season for the Spirit, by Martin Smith:
“Perhaps the word surrender should be enough for my prayer on this Ash Wednesday. Not the surrender of submission to an enemy, but the opposite, the laying down of resistance to the One who loves me infinitely more than I can guess, the One who is more on my side than I am myself. Continue reading Service notes, March 5, 2017, First Sunday in Lent
It is not too late to join the Board of Mission and Social Action’s upcoming book group for adults. We are reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave. It is a novel about a refugee girl fleeing Africa and trying to build a new life in London. The Boston Globe said Little Bee is “one of the most vividly memorable and provocative characters in recent contemporary fiction…. Cleave paces the story beautifully, lacing it with wit, compassion, and even at the darkest moments, a searing ray of hope.” We will have a book discussion and brunch on Saturday, March 18 at 10:00. Please let Lucia, Patrick, Holly or Ginny know if you would like to borrow a book, or email them at email@example.com. Click here to see the book’s page on Amazon.
This Sunday is the climax of Epiphany, the season of light. It began with the star over Bethlehem and the Magi seeing the manifestation of God in the Christ-child. It ends with the disciples seeing Jesus Transfigured into a being of light and hearing God’s voice calling him the Beloved. We will fill with as much light as we can this Sunday in preparation for the season of Lent which will begin on Ash Wednesday next week. Lent often coincides with Mud Season, and this year it also coincides with a time of turmoil in our nation and world. We will find reasons to have faith and to rejoice always, an abundance of love and life and light to carry us through whatever trials may lie ahead. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, February 26, 2017, Transfiguration Sunday
We are drawing near a historic choice for our congregation. We will be meeting after worship this Sunday to discuss the drafts of documents that would declare us to be Open and Affirming, a covenant of promises that we would make and an implementation plan that describes how we would start fulfilling those promises. The lectionary texts this Sunday happen to be about choice, particularly choosing how to approach all our other choices in life–whether as what Paul calls “spiritual people” or as “people of the flesh, infants in Christ.” (I Corinthians 3:1-9)
On the one hand that is a simple choice–in every moment, every breath, we can choose to make God or Christ or the Holy Spirit our focus, we can choose to come from a spiritual place of love and compassion and kindness and connection, no matter how materialistic the choice may be before us. As the 17th Century poet and priest George Herbert puts it in the hymn the Choir will sing as an Introit,
Teach me, my God and King, In all things thee to see,
And what I do in anything To do it as for thee….
A servant with this clause Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, Makes that and the action fine.
On the other hand, the choice is complicated. We will read from the wisdom book, Sirach, in the Apocrypha section of the Bible, which says that God “has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.” (15:15-20) But the Sufi poet, Rumi, says, Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, February 12, 2017
We continue in the season of Epiphany until Ash Wednesday, March 1. Epiphany is about recognizing the manifestation of God in Jesus and in the world and in ourselves. This week we are seeing God made manifest in human acts of righteousness. The scriptures stress again and again that righteousness is not about obeying rules or upholding traditions of the past. We will hear Isaiah talk about the rigorous religious observances of the people including fasting, yet God’s response is, “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.” (Isaiah 58:1-12)
The health and vitality of the church today depend on it “rising in the darkness as a light” Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, February 5, 2017
Please join us for the annual Winter Warmer Dinner, a fundraiser hosted by the children of Bradford Congregational Church! Featuring a delicious Italian buffet, including gluten free, lactose free, nut free, and vegetarian options, all by donation. Mark your calendars for Saturday, February 11, 2017, 6 p.m.
This Sunday’s service takes place in the context of political drama, and not just what is happening in Washington, DC. The gospel passage from Matthew (4:12-23) reminds us that Jesus began his ministry just as John the Baptist was arrested. Jesus took up the exact slogan of John–“Repent, for the realm of God is here, at hand.” Repent is the inadequate word we use to translate metanoia in the Greek New Testament, meaning to undergo a change of allegiance, turning away from the authorities of this world and giving our loyalty to God and the way of Christ with all our heart and mind and soul and body. It was a political message calling people to resist the ways of empire and corrupt wealth and power and to act instead as citizens of God’s realm alone, the realm of mercy, justice and peace, the realm where all are welcome and given sanctuary and equal standing, especially those who are oppressed or treated as outcasts by society.
The context of John’s arrest makes the courage of Jesus and the first disciples breathtaking, and at the same time it fills us with a warm feeling of gratitude and admiration. It inspires us to lay down our lives as they did for the sake of love, to join the resistance that Jesus led, to be part of the movement that he picked up from John and the prophets before him and that continues around the world today, the daring movement to make all the earth as loving and caring and serving of those in need as God’s political and spiritual realm. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, January 22, 2017
“Jesus took over the phrase ‘the Kingdom of God,’ but he changed its meaning. He refused entirely to be the kind of a Messiah that his contemporaries expected. Jesus made love the mark of sovereignty. Here we are left with no doubt as to Jesus’ meaning. The Kingdom of God will be a society in which men and women live as children of God should live. It will be a kingdom controlled by the law of love.”
A young student wrote those words for a course in seminary. No one could have known when he wrote them that he would help move the world so much closer to fulfilling Christ’s vision of the law of love. He became the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and called his entire life work “an experiment in love.” He believed America had the greatest chance of becoming a model of the realm of God of any nation in history because of its founding principles of democracy and equality and freedom for all. He had that dream, and he gave his life to fulfill it. He lived and died to extend the law of love to the kind of people Jesus always did, the most vulnerable, the oppressed and the outcast.
This Sunday we honor King’s vision and his work as a model for all Christians and all churches. We will read scriptures that show how he was fulfilling the vision and work of others before him going back thousands of years. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, January 15, 2017, Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday