Serving the Whole Family Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
November 20, 2016, Twenty-seventh after Pentecost,
Reign of Christ Sunday, Thanksgiving Sunday
Psalm 95, Matthew 25:31-40
Psalm 95 says, “For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.”
It is important we understand what that means.
Christ calls us to follow him and be like him,
including being good shepherds to God’s sheep.
But who exactly are the sheep of God’s hand?
Who are the people of God’s pasture?
Who are the members of God’s family?
Astronauts looking back at Earth from space have seen it.
Saints and mystics of all times have seen it.
Hunters watching the woods all day have seen it.
Soldiers falling in love in a foreign land have seen it.
Thomas Aquinas, the hard-headed scholar,
put it this way:
“The immense diversity and pluriformity
of this creation more perfectly represents God
than any one creature alone or by itself.”
Meister Eckhart, the great-hearted preacher and mystic,
put it this way:
“Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things.
Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature—
even a caterpillar—
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.”
This is one of the biggest Sundays in the church year–Thanksgiving, Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost, and New Year’s Eve–the new church year begins next Sunday, the 27th, with the First Sunday of Advent. In addition, this week we will be celebrating the Wild Game Supper (still tickets available, click here), and the highly successful Church World Service Kit drive of our Board of Mission and Social Action, and the completion of a program on God and Family by Cub Scout Caleb Peters. To top it all off, we will have a warned Congregational Meeting immediately following worship to consider whether to go forward with a study of what it would mean to become an Open and Affirming congregation.
This is one of those Sundays that has an evocative sound track–all many of us need to do is hear “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” or “We Gather Together,” or “Now Thank We All Our God,” and we feel an old familiar Thanksgiving feeling come over us, and memories of people and meals come flooding back. We will hear all three this Sunday, plus a Reign of Christ hymn, “Now Is the Time Approaching” (sung to the exuberant tune of “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”), plus the beloved “Fairest Lord Jesus” sung by the choir. Organist John Atwood will play pieces by J. S. Bach (hear it below), William Selby and H. Clough-Leighter. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes for November 20, 2016, Thanksgiving & Reign of Christ→
The children were invited to wear their costumes at church, and it was happy chaos as they shared them with the congregation, and we sang “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God”, substituting the characters they were dressed as for the list in the hymn. We had witches, princesses,a lynx, “a fourth grader”, a viking, and more!
Advent begins on Sunday, November 27th. It is a season of preparation in the church year, and to many it is the most beautiful, spiritually rich and moving of them all. It is full of candles and greens and children’s wonder and excitement. It focuses on hope, peace, joy and love. It turns our hearts toward the light that shines in the darkness. Advent hymns and sacred music convey a mix of quiet longing and eager anticipation, as powerful in their own way as the awe and jubilation of Christmas music.
Advent is intended to help us pause and savor the quiet darkness, and help us open our hearts wide to prepare for the choirs of angels that will come singing their glorias to celebrate the birth of the light of the world. Advent teaches us how transformative it is simply to wait and watch and pray.
This Saturday, the 28th, we will hold a workshop in the church that will talk about the role of church leaders in difficult or anxious times. One of the principles of that leadership is that “We recognize that Beginning Again is a Way of Life – that we believe in the resurrection – that new life comes.” We tend to think of the 1500s on Reformation Sunday, and we tend to think of the departed on All Saints Day, but they are both important reminders that God is a reforming, reconciling and resurrecting force at work in our lives today, and saints are all around us right now, and we ourselves are saints when we open to that force and let it work through us.
Beginning again is at the heart of Christ’s way in part because it is human nature to stray or fall. There has never been a saint who did not need to pick herself back up and begin again from time to time–in fact for most of us, many times a day! Also, change is the nature of life, it is a constant, so the community of saints needs to be reforming and reconciling itself and resurrecting constantly, beginning afresh in response to change within or around it.
The first hymn this Sunday will combine two old favorite traditions, the words of the 84th Psalm and the tune of the Christmas carol, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” We will have read the Psalm responsively before we sing, addressing these words to God: “How lovely is your dwelling place…. A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” The church is called the house of God and the body of Christ, so on one level the Psalm is talking about how calming and comforting it can feel to be in our beautiful sanctuary. Jesus said that the realm of God is also within us, and Paul said that our bodies are temples, so on another level, the Psalm is talking about how lovely it is to sink into the presence of the Spirit within us and trust and rest in it because our true self is as beautiful and full of love and peace as any sanctuary.
This Sunday the lectionary readings remind us to persevere in our struggle to make this world more like the realm of God’s mercy, justice and peace. We will hear the beautiful promises of Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep…
We will hear Jesus tell the story of the widow who would not stop knocking on the door of a cold-hearted, unjust judge until he relented. Jesus said, “Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?” (Luke 18:1-8)
We will be taking our annual Neighbors in Need offering, joining our small congregation’s contribution to a much greater united force that is knocking on the door of a cold-hearted world persisting in its pursuit of justice. The theme this year is: “This we believe…No child should go to bed hungry.” The Silent Meditation in the bulletin tells us that “Nearly one in five children…16 million…in America live in households that struggle to put food on the table.”
The Silent Meditation in the bulletin this Sunday is from our former neighbor in the Upper Valley, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, who said, “Joy is the most essential Christian emotion. Duty calls only when gratitude fails to prompt.” We do not have to look far for sources of gratitude and joy. We are surrounded by a gloriously colorful fall steadily unfolding under deep blue October skies. We have a loving congregation full of people with diverse gifts and talents who are helping us worship and serve in a variety of ways. We have children in the church who are eager to participate, and not just in refreshments! (Please remember to bring colorful leaves for them this Sunday for the Burning Bush they will be creating in Sunday School!)
And yet we also have around us plenty of reasons to despair, plenty of opportunities for discouragement or resentment. We see people around us who are not grateful and not joyous. Sometimes we ourselves slip into negativity. The scriptures and hymns this Sunday remind us to have faith and to live our faith as a path to well-being, gratitude and joy. The question in a life of faith is, what does our gratitude or our joy prompt us to do now for God and for our neighbor? Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes for October 9, 2016→
This week in Sunday School, the children will be learning the story about Moses and the burning bush, and the congregation has been asked to help by gathering beautiful fall leaves for a craft project the kids will be doing. Here are some that were collected on an afternoon walk today.
We remind ourselves on World Communion Sunday that we are a part a greater whole, and that the worldwide church is at the same time absolutely united in Christ and yet almost infinitely diverse in the ways it looks and believes and worships and acts. It is helpful to look at both our unity and our diversity on a global scale. It helps us feel that we are not alone and that together we have far more power as a force of Christ’s love than we can sometimes feel as an individual congregation. It also can help us appreciate the differences we have within our own small, beloved community, and realize that our diversity of perspectives, personalities and gifts is a strength to be celebrated. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, October 2, 2016, World Communion Sunday→