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→
President Abraham Lincoln said, “I care not for a man’s religion whose dog or cat is not the better for it.” Our religion is meant to change the way we live for the better both in the smallest of ways that would affect our dog or cat and in the biggest of ways that affect the lives of our family, our neighbors, our church, our community, our nation and our world. How we live this life matters.
How we respond to suffering especially matters, both our own suffering and the suffering of others. As Bishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho write in this Sunday’s Silent Meditation, “Transformation begins in you, wherever you are, whatever has happened, however you are suffering. Transformation is always possible…. We are not responsible for what breaks us, but we can be responsible for what puts us back together again. ”
We will hear one of the most fascinating and puzzling passages in the gospel this Sunday (Luke 16:1-13). Jesus tells a story about a dishonest manager who cheats the rich man he works for, who then praises the manager for his shrewdness. Jesus shocks us by telling us to be as shrewd ourselves. It seems to make no sense until we delve into it and find practical wisdom that we desperately need right now in our church and world. We will hear two other passages about the kind of wisdom Christ calls us to have, one from Proverbs 8 and the other from Matthew, Chapter 10, verses 16-20.
It was a privilege to host the Jeremiah Ingalls Singers from Newbury, VT during our service on August 28, 2016. The Rev. Donald Towle led the singers and gave a very thought-provoking sermon. Below are a few photos and a video of the singers.
The Apostle Paul had a slogan in his churches, “For freedom Christ has set us free!” Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I have been inviting the congregation in my Epistle articles to think about the positive difference our church makes in our lives throughout the week. Clearly one difference church is meant to make is to lead us to the freedom to have life and have it abundantly. Jesus does not want anything to hold us back. This Sunday in worship we will think about what this means for our lives as individuals and as a congregation. The scripture readings helping us do that will include Psalm 1, Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Luke 14:25-33. We will celebrate some of the ways in which we are not holding back from a life rich in meaning, love and joy.
We will celebrate the baptism of Arabella DiLorenzo this Sunday during worship, the daughter of Nicholas and Valerie DiLorenzo and the granddaughter of Lynda and Frank DiLorenzo and Daniel and Anita Perry. Arabella’s great-grandfather, Deacon Dan Perry, will assist in the baptism.
The music will be fitting for such a celebration. We will sing two hymns from the New Century Hymnal that are deeply moving and modern favorites: Child of Blessing, Child of Promise, and I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry, as well as two cherished hymns from the Pilgrim Hymnal, Take My Life and Let it Be and Jesus Calls Us, O’er the Tumult. Organist John Atwood will play “Take my Life and let it Be” by W. Verburg, “Trio” by F. Couperin and “Fantaisie” L. Couperin.
The lectionary scriptures are not so fitting for a baptism, at least at first glance: Psalm 49, Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23, and Luke 12:13-21. They are all about the apparent meaninglessness of this life that becomes clear to us at the moment of our death. And yet they do not intend to leave us despairing–they lift our vision to a higher meaning, a way of living on earth that has lasting value that no one and nothing can take from us, not even death. We each have the ability to live that life in our own unique way. The church can help us find our path, and we all can help Arabella find hers as she lives and grows among us.
Here are the two hymns we will sing from the New Century Hymnal. Have your hankies ready–these go straight to the heart!