Category Archives: Past Sermons

Sermon, June 11, 2017

How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
June 11, 2017
First Sunday after Pentecost, Trinity Sunday
Psalm 84; Philippians 2:1-11; Luke 10:25-37

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars.
Happy are those who live in your house,
ever singing your praise.
Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of desolation
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength.
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
Happy is everyone who trusts in you, O Lord hosts!
            compiled from Psalm 84

Psalm 84 can evoke a strong emotional reaction if we open our heart to it.  We long to feel as much at home as the writer did in that lovely dwelling place of God.  If we have ever felt unconditional welcome, refuge and love we remember how our heart sang for joy to be there—maybe our childhood home, or a grandparent’s, or a friend’s, or the home we made with our spouse.  Happy are those who experience such a dwelling place.

We long for churches to be lovely like that, but today many congregations struggle with conflict as they face the effects of a rapidly changing social context, including diminishing attendance and respect.  Outside the church society is increasingly divided by politics and race and a widening gap between rich and poor.  Earth itself feels like a less welcoming home as we come back from walks through Vermont’s beautiful woods and fields covered in ticks, and the weather grows stranger and more extreme.

All this increases our longing for God’s lovely dwelling place, and decreases our hope that we will find it.

But the Psalm was written by a people who had suffered exile for generations and learned how to find hope where there appeared to be no hope.  The Psalm speaks to those of us who are far from having a lovely dwelling place, who are strangers in a strange land, who feel the world is nothing like God’s realm and is hostile to it.  The Psalm holds out comfort and hope to the hopeless when it says, “Happy are those whose strength is in God, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”
Continue reading Sermon, June 11, 2017

Sermon, June 4, 2017

Renewing the Face of the Ground
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
June 4, 2017   Day of Pentecost
Psalm 104; Genesis 1:1-5, 2:7; Acts 2:1-17

The 104th Psalm says to God,

The earth is full of your creatures.
They all look to you to give them their food
in due season….
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit,
they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

Sometimes I walk on a woods road that goes past ten acres of steep land that was clear-cut.  The skidders scarred the bare earth which eroded into gullies.  Gradually green has returned in the form of dense blackberries and a few pioneer trees.  They are stopping the erosion and beginning to rebuild the soil.

Whoever or whatever we envision God to be, surely this is the Holy Spirit at work renewing the face of the ground.  Jesus calls us to be instruments of this Holy Spirit and let its force of love and life and light work through us.

Continue reading Sermon, June 4, 2017

Sermon, May 14, 2017, Help Kids India

Help Kids India and Extravagant Hospitality
Catherine Kidder and the Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
May 14, 2017
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Help Kids India Sunday
Psalm 31; John 14:1-14

help kids india IMG_5070

help kids india IMG_4773

Top: Hilda Isaac, Executive Director, and Angel, a crèche child.  Below: Beulah, Jasminepriya, and Benjamin.

Part I, by Catherine Kidder, Vice President, Help Kids India, Inc.

We know what the crèches do for the children but there are mother stories, too.  I’d like to tell you two of them in honor of Mother’s Day.  One story belongs to Hilda Isaac, the woman whose vision, dedication and boundless love drives the whole crèche project.  The other is about a crèche cook, Beulah, who credits Hilda and her job at the crèche with transforming her life.

Hilda is the executive director of the Betsy Elizabeth Trust, which Help Kids India and your church support.  She manages five crèches, two sewing centers for poor women, and a community health center.  She oversees thirty staff members, two rickety jeeps, seven properties, and the education, health, and care of 270 children.

Hilda grew up poor in a small coastal village, Porayar, where two of the crèches are now located.   Her parents were Dalit, or untouchables, but could read and write. Continue reading Sermon, May 14, 2017, Help Kids India

Sermon, April 30, 2017

United and Uniting
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
April 30, 2017 Third Sunday of Easter,
Celebrating the United Church of Christ
Psalm 133; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 24:13-35

We need to begin with a little review.
In last week’s gospel Jesus came through a locked door
into the room where the disciples were hiding in fear,
and it changed the world almost as dramatically
as the day billions of years before
when the first life form appeared on Earth.
And in a real sense, it was the same event,
it was the same force, the same intention,
the same new thing coming into being
as in bluebirds and daffodils and green blades rising,
the same thing coming into being over and over,
in an infinite variety of forms:
the force of light and life and love
that takes the raw materials of basic elements
and combines them into living things
which then find within themselves
the desire to live and make more life
and adapt and create around them a habitat
conducive to more and better life.

Jesus came to the disciples through that locked door
and helped them overcome
their fear and confusion.
Then he sent them out as instruments
of light and life and love
to serve and create the realm of God on Earth.

Today we are hearing about one of the essential qualities
by which we know God’s realm when we see it.
The Psalm says, “How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!”
And Paul says in Galatians, “As many of you
as were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus in his life broke down walls that shut anyone out.
He had women and children in his movement,
he had Jews and Greeks, he had sinners
and tax collectors, he welcomed all those
his society excluded or oppressed just because
they were different or poor or considered impure.
The movement he led was a united and uniting force.

Jesus showed that the realm of God
was a place where all would be one.
To be in Christ and have Christ in us
is to be one with God and one with all God’s creation,
because God is the same force of light, life and love
flowing through us as through all the universe.
Continue reading Sermon, April 30, 2017

Sermon, April 23, 2017

Now the Green Blade Rises
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
April 23, 2017
Second Sunday of Easter
Psalm 16; Acts 2:22-24; John 20:19-31

The gospel passage takes place on Easter night.
That day two disciples had seen the empty tomb.
They believed Jesus had risen from the dead
but still did not understand what it meant.
Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus,
but he had told her not to hold onto him,
and sent her back to tell the disciples.
When it was evening on that day,
the first day of the week,
and the doors of the house where the disciples had gathered
were locked for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood among them
and said, “Peace be with you.”
They needed peace,
their world was turning upside down
and now suddenly here was Jesus
passing through locked doors and solid walls.
The house he appeared in was stifling with the fumes of oil lamps
and the scent of anxious human sweat.
The disciples were sleep deprived, terrified, traumatized,
and ashamed of what they had done or not done.
There were tears and raised voices and tense silences.
Jesus passed through those locked doors like a ghost,
but instead of bringing heightened terror,
he brought peace. Instead of sending them out
screaming, questioning their sanity,
never wanting to go anywhere near each other
or any reminder of Christ again,
he sent them out with the power of his love,
he formed them into an orderly beloved community
to do the same good works he did
and bring his message of light and life and love
into the hard, dark world that had killed him.
He breathed into them the Holy Spirit
to guide and empower them,
to give them the courage and sense of purpose
that they needed to unlock those doors from the inside
and go out among the Jews and Romans they feared,
boldly doing and saying the same things
that got Jesus killed.
Continue reading Sermon, April 23, 2017

Sermon, April 16, 2017 Easter 10 AM Service

Love So Amazing, So Divine, Part II
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
April 16, 2017    Easter
Psalm 118; Isaiah 65:17-19, 25; John 20:1-18

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

Jesus rising from the dead; wolves and lambs feeding together; no one hurting or destroying on all this holy earth: Easter is about a magic, a love so amazing, so divine that it leads to miraculous peace and joy.  You would think the world would see this beautiful, harmonious vision and feel this amazing, divine power and give its soul, its life, its all, and follow its way.

The problem is that Easter’s path is in competition with other paths that seem just as magical in their ends but more conventional in their means.  Easter’s path is the reverse of violence, it is the path of nonviolence, but our culture’s violent path is so often the magic we choose.

Children discover at an early age that violence works like magic.  Two pre-school brothers were at a family gathering.  The four-year-old saw his three-year-old brother playing on the floor with a few wooden blocks.  He walked over, plopped down, and grabbed the blocks.  Then he turned his back and began playing with them while his little brother sat stunned.

The little boy looked as if he might cry, but instead after reflecting for a few seconds, he turned, picked up the entire box of blocks and dumped them on his brother’s head.  Then he began happily playing with something else, as his brother plotted his next attack.

As if by magic, violence got the older boy what he wanted.  He wanted the blocks, and maybe he wanted to annoy his little brother, and violence got him both.  Then the younger boy did his own magic trick—he made all his frustration and humiliation disappear with a simple flick of violent revenge.

The deep magic of violence goes all the way back to the dawn of time.  Adam and Eve ate the illegal apple in the Garden of Eden and then hid from God, doing violence to their relationships and the harmony of the world.  One of their sons killed the other out of greed and pride.  The human race began a spiral of violence that seems to have no escape.

But if we go farther back in the Genesis story we find a deeper magic from before the dawn of time. Continue reading Sermon, April 16, 2017 Easter 10 AM Service

Sermon, April 16, 2017 Easter Sunrise

Something Happened
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
April 16, 2017
Easter Sunrise Service
Matthew 28:1-10

Something happened
at the beginning of the universe.
We call it the Big Bang.
We have no photographs,
no eye witnesses,
we have only the echo,
only the ripples of energy
still crossing space.

Something happened
at the beginning of Christianity.
We call it the resurrection.
It was around this time,
around this day,
around two thousand years ago,
and what happened exactly
we are not sure—
there was an empty tomb,
some say there was an earthquake
and lightning,
there were visions of
radiant beings of light,
there were appearances
to various people in various places
of the dead alive again—
all mysteries, all uncertain,
all recorded only
decades after whatever
happened happened,
and we may wish
we had fingerprints
and lie detector tests
and live footage, but
we don’t, and we never
will have all the facts
except this one:
the fact is that
something happened
that convinced a community
of people just like us
that something had happened. Continue reading Sermon, April 16, 2017 Easter Sunrise

Sermon, March 26, 2017

The Light of the World
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
March 26, 2017
Fourth Sunday in Lent, A Service of Preparation
Psalm 23; John 9:1-41

We are preparing spiritually for our meeting today where we will decide whether or not to become an Open and Affirming congregation. I wrote in my description of this service on the website:

“We need as much as possible to act from our truest, most Spirit-connected self and show one another Christ-like love and compassion as we make this decision…. The service will…give us the opportunity to open wide to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to remember who we have been…at our best in the past and what we feel God is calling us to be and do in our time.”

I have been trying to accomplish that, beginning with the bulletin’s Silent Meditation that recognizes this congregation as “a loving church family where everyone feels welcome and at home, appreciated and supported…where we take the love we find here out into the world around us.” The Meditation continues with an aspiration that is crucial to what we are doing today: “We will seek to maintain healthy communication and a positive, hopeful attitude as we face inevitable challenges.” It says, “We dream of being a church that shines like a lighted window into the community,” referencing the Lighted Window poem and these gorgeous windows and all the love and faith and generosity of spirit that they represent. Continue reading Sermon, March 26, 2017

Sermon, March 19, 2017

Love Has Been Poured into Our Hearts, A Spring of Water
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
March 19, 2017   Third Sunday in Lent
Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-5; John 4:5-29

Today’s scripture passages are complicated. In fact, you could call them a mess.

God frees the children of Israel from slavery and helps them escape Pharaoh’s army. God gives them Moses to perform miracles and guide them. All that is just what you would expect from a loving and merciful God. But then God leads them into the wilderness where they can find no water and are afraid they will die of thirst. They cry out for help and it is counted against them. It is very messy, very confusing.

Paul’s letter to the Romans starts by affirming that faith is all we need to enter into God’s grace and peace, but then it says that suffering plays a role, too, for “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Buddhism was founded as a way to escape suffering, but Christianity tells us to take up our cross, go into our suffering and be grateful for it. How can we make sense of that? Continue reading Sermon, March 19, 2017

Sermon, March 12, 2017

Everyone Who Believes
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
March 12, 2017   Second Sunday in Lent
Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

It may be the most famous passage in the whole Bible. Bumper stickers do not even quote it or say what book it is from, they just list the number 3:16. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

That verse is often used to define who is in and who is out of God’s love. I was shocked once at a gathering of people who were training to become pastors of various denominations when one seminarian claimed that he was the only Christian there. His church insisted that Christians had to believe its particular very narrow set of doctrines. He condemned every other seminarian even though they were giving their entire lives for the love of serving Christ. To him, the phrase “everyone who believes” in John 3:16 was a high border wall his church built to shut illegal aliens out of God’s realm.

And yet the next verse says, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God was not shutting a border, God was opening it. God loved the world before there were any Christians. He sent Jesus so that we could see more clearly what it looks like to live as a child of God on earth, and how God’s realm of love and life and light works when we establish it around us.

One of the ways it works is that everyone who believes is free to enter, and “everyone who believes” does not mean everyone who signs on to a certain narrow set of beliefs, it does not mean everyone who performs rituals just the right way, it does not even mean everyone who obeys the ten commandments or any set of rules. Paul dispelled the idea of a rigid legalism two thousand years ago, and yet many churches still condemn and exclude some people who believe.
Continue reading Sermon, March 12, 2017