Category Archives: Past Sermons

Sermon, March 5, 2017

I Will Teach You the Way You Should Go
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
March 5, 2017   First Sunday in Lent
Psalm 32; Exodus 13:17-22; Matthew 4:1-11

We need to believe that God is capable of creating a new church that carries forward the best of the old, a future church we will love just as much as the church of the past.

“God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness,” the book of Exodus says. It is so easy to think we have gone wrong when times get hard or we get lost. Think how reassuring it would be if in those times we thought, “Ah, God is leading me by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Promised Land!”

But how can we know that it is God who is leading? God went in front of the children of Israel as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, guiding and lighting their way. We long for such clear signs. We want skywriting, like “Surrender Dorothy” in the Wizard of Oz. How can we tell the difference between being led by a roundabout way and being hopelessly lost?

The Psalm and Gospel passage both give the same answer to that question. The Psalm says, “Let all who are faithful offer prayer to you.” The Gospel shows Jesus following the Spirit and turning to God in every temptation. Our children will tell you that the answer to every question is “Pray!”

God speaks in the Psalm saying, “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go.” God pleads with us not to be stubborn “like a horse or mule…whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.” The Psalm says that people suffer many torments when they do not let God teach them the way, “but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in God.”

Jesus suffered many torments even though he let God lead him, just as the children of Israel suffered in the wilderness, yet because he kept turning to God, worshipping and serving only God, the temptations eventually subsided and “angels came and waited on him.”

Part of how we can make sure God is leading us is to keep looking to God to teach us the way. Continuous metanoia is the spiritual practice of turning back to God in prayer in every moment when we catch ourselves getting distracted.

Praying, studying sacred writings and seeking spiritual direction from a wise counselor are the classic ways to discern if we are hearing God’s guidance correctly, but the Psalm says that torments are another thing that will tell us if we go wrong. How can this be if Jesus suffered torments while innocently following the Spirit? Continue reading Sermon, March 5, 2017

Sermon, February 26, 2017

The Beloved and The Beloved Community   Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
February 26, 2017
Last Sunday after Epiphany, Transfiguration Sunday
Verses from Psalms 50, 104, 36 & 139 and II Corinthians 4;
II Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 16:21-17:7

The Transfiguration Story comes at the center and turning point of the gospel. The teaching leading into it is at the heart of Jesus’ entire message. Jesus began his ministry saying, “Repent, for the realm of God is at hand.” In today’s passage in Matthew we see what that means.

Remember that the word repentance is an inadequate translation of the Greek word metanoia. Jesus is talking about metanoia when he urges Peter to set his mind not on human things, but on divine things. He is talking about metanoia as the way into the realm of God when he says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”

Metanoia means to give up the life we live with our heart and mind and soul set on human things, and choose to lose it all for the sake of the way that Christ is showing us to live, a life that fills our heart, mind and soul with the love of God and neighbor, a life that loses itself in that love. Setting our mind on human things we may gain the whole world but we forfeit the life that truly is life, and there is nothing we can give other than our whole life in order to gain that life.

The way to enter the realm of God is to allow our heart, mind and soul to be changed by setting them on God’s love and life and light—that is the essence of what Jesus meant by his message of metanoia or repentance.

This is not about dying and going to heaven, or leaving our home and work and entering a monastery. Jesus said, “There are some standing here who will not taste death” before they see the realm of God on earth. Metanoia opens the door to God’s realm within and around us. It is here right now. The world is waiting for us to see it transfigured, with the light and love of God shining through it. Jesus is waiting for us to see him as he truly is, as he lives today in this world, in the hearts of those around us, in nature, in ourselves.

The 20th Century Catholic monk and best selling author, Thomas Merton, had an experience of seeing the world transfigured. He described it this way: Continue reading Sermon, February 26, 2017

Sermon, February 12, 2017

Stretch Out Your Hand for Whichever You Choose
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
February 12, 2017   Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Sirach 15:15-20;
I Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-24

The scriptures make our choice sound so clear. Deuteronomy says, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity…. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him.”

The book of Sirach adds to Deuteronomy that, “To act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.”

The Apostle Paul says we can choose between being unspiritual and spiritual people. As long as we are jealous and quarrel, he says, we are choosing to be unspiritual, yet God created us to be loving members of a beloved community. All we have to do is choose.

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount that it is not enough for spiritual people just to obey the commandment not to murder. We need to go beyond that negative to something positive. We need to choose to create the beloved community of God’s realm. Jesus is saying that we need to be reconciled through direct, healthy communication whenever we have conflicts or divisions.

It seems so simple. Choose life, not death. Choose love, not hate. Choose community, not division. As the book of Sirach says, “He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.”

And yet of course it is not as simple as it seems. This congregation is considering the choice to become officially Open and Affirming or not. Here is the draft of the covenant that you are invited to discuss after worship today. Continue reading Sermon, February 12, 2017

Sermon, February 5, 2017

They Rise in the Darkness as a Light
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
February 5, 2017   Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Psalm 112; Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20

This congregation has many gifts. The first thing that meets the eye is the impressive building and beautiful sanctuary. Second is your equally impressive group of lay leaders. My heart is full of gratitude and admiration and love, having seen how hard and selflessly you work and what amazing things you are able to do with the limited resources of a small congregation.

A third gift is the richness of the words that this church has inspired, including the Covenant that we read earlier and the poem entitled “The Lighted Window” by Thelma Belair that is printed on the insert of the bulletin. These words would mean nothing, though, if you did not match them with countless gifts of action.

The poem boasts,

From out my church there shines a light
That even on the darkest night
Proclaims to all who, passing by,
But chance to raise a doubting eye
That here within a country town
a love divine is shining down.
And as the hours grow more dark
still brighter glows that bold, brave spark,
Saying to all who will but see,
“Through love rise up and follow me.”

The power of those words comes from the fact that you have heard Christ say, “Through love rise up and follow me,” and you have loved and loved and loved—you have loved one another, you have surrounded with love those who have come here for the first time, and you have followed Christ out to do acts of love in the community and the world. Continue reading Sermon, February 5, 2017

Sermon, January 22, 2017

One Thing I Asked
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
January 22, 2017, Third Sunday after Epiphany
Psalm 27; I Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23

We tend to glide over the opening words of today’s gospel passage, and that is a huge mistake. It leads to a misunderstanding of the entire life and teaching of Jesus. We cannot comprehend what his call to discipleship involves if we do not pause and consider that it was “when Jesus heard that John had been arrested” that he launched his public ministry.

John was leading a mass movement, a populist uprising, with the slogan, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The kingdom of Herod found John’s call to allegiance to the kingdom of heaven revolutionary and treasonous. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, “Herod, who feared that the great influence John had over the masses might put them into his power and enable him to raise a rebellion (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best to put him to death.”

Jesus heard John had been arrested and went back home, not to hide in safety, but to pick up where John left off, using the exact same slogan and recruiting a mass movement of his own.

Three years later Herod, the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Empire joined together to execute Jesus as a revolutionary.

The crucial thing to realize is that everything Jesus did from his first day to his last was in this context where John had been arrested for doing and saying the same kinds of things that Jesus went on to do, critiquing the practices of society and its rulers and offering an alternative vision of how the nation could be run. Jesus knew that he was engaging in a political confrontation and that the government would see it as an attempt to undermine its authority and stir up opposition and possibly lead to the overthrow and establishment of a new government. Jesus knew his message was as political as it was spiritual and practical.

We do not know whether those first disciples knew what Jesus knew when they dropped everything and followed. It would not have taken long, though. “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” Jesus had the power of the Holy Spirit in him. Great crowds were gathering. He called people to change allegiance to a different kingdom. And John had just been arrested for doing the same thing.

Those first disciples might not have known what they were getting into, but we know, if we read the gospel carefully. We know that Jesus is recruiting us into controversy and conflict with any government, institution, corporation or leader that does not operate by the laws of God’s realm.
Continue reading Sermon, January 22, 2017

Sermon, January 15, 2017

You Have Given Me an Open Ear
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
January 15, 2017
Second Sunday after Epiphany
and Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday
Psalm 40; Isaiah 49:1-7; Luke 4:14-21

Someone accused Representative John Lewis
this week of being all talk and no action.
Few in Congress have put their life on the line
in courageous action as often as John Lewis.

During the Civil Rights Movement he was Chairman
of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
He was one of the original Freedom Riders.
He was beaten by mobs, hit in the head
with a wooden crate, put in jails
where blacks before him had died.
Nothing stopped him. He rode or sat in or marched again,
was attacked again, was jailed again.
He was the leader in front of the famous march in Selma
on Bloody Sunday. He had his skull fractured
by the club of a policeman on horseback and was tear-gassed
but refused hospitalization, insisting on going back
to the church to comfort and encourage the people.
John Lewis has been elected to Congress 13 times
by 70 percent or more of the vote in his district,
and has been extremely active,
working for peace, justice and human rights.
Most recently he took the bold action
of leading a sit-in in the House of Representatives
for greater gun safety after the shooting in Orlando.
Calling John Lewis all talk and no action is as ridiculous
as saying it about Martin Luther King Jr.,
and yet for both men, words were an essential part of action.
They heard the cries of oppressed and suffering
people around them, and those anguished words
inspired King and Lewis to action, including speaking out,
and their words inspired others to action.

We are currently considering adopting a set of words
that could declare this congregation to be
open to and affirming of people of all sexual orientations
and gender identities as well as other groups
that historically have been excluded or treated as inferior.
If this congregation votes to speak out, it will be because
we first heard and listened to their voices,
and because we hope that our words will inspire other actions. Continue reading Sermon, January 15, 2017

Sermon, January 8, 2016

New Things I Now Declare
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
January 8, 2017
First Sunday after Epiphany, Baptism of Christ
Psalm 29; Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17

We are in new territory as a civilization, living in a world that would have been considered wildly imaginative science fiction just a few decades ago—with revolutionary new technologies and global interconnections through the internet and global threats to the environment and a global refugee crisis, to name only some of the changes.

At the same time an increasing percentage of our society has given up on the church as an institution that could help us find our way through the new landscape of our lives. The church has not been so dismissed as irrelevant or reviled for over a thousand years.

Yet we have as much reason to hope as any generation ever had. I am not fretting about the condition of the world or the church today, because what Isaiah said is still true, Continue reading Sermon, January 8, 2016

Sermon, January 1, 2017

See and Be Radiant
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
January 1, 2017
First Sunday after Christmas, Epiphany Sunday
Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12

The star over Bethlehem is a major symbol of Christmas—we sing about it, put it on the top of Christmas trees, even wear it on neckties—yet if you read the story closely, only a few wise men saw and understood the star. The shepherds did not notice a star, nor did anyone else.

Would we have been among the wise? Are we seeing the stars of Christ around us now? Do we understand the signs of light that God is giving us that can fill us with hope and inspire us?

The wise men saw and were moved for a reason: they were looking, they were searching the skies for meaning, they had practiced and made themselves students of the light. They were part of a tradition that passed wisdom along to them. They added their own knowledge and experience and were open to something new happening in their day.

We need to practice looking and finding meaning, too, if we want to be among those who see signs of Christ’s presence in our world, who see the light and understand what it says and follow where it leads. We need to be open to learning the wisdom of our tradition and being changed by the new things that God is doing. Continue reading Sermon, January 1, 2017

Sermon, December 18, 2016

Universal, Uncondtional, Unstoppable Love
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
December 18, 2016
Fourth Sunday of Advent, Sunday of Love
Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-55

Mahatma Gandhi insisted that nonviolence
is the highest truth of the human soul,
and our most natural inclination.
He said that nonviolent, Christ-like love
is the most powerful force in the world.
People would scoff at him and point to wars
and all the horrible things people do,
and he would admit that violence is real,
but he would say look at any city in the world.
If lovingkindness and nonviolence were not stronger
and truer to our nature, no city could exist.
We would tear ourselves to pieces
and every community would fall apart.

Gandhi was a Hindu who studied and admired
the teachings of Christ. The Sermon on the Mount
was one of the foundations of his life work.
Today we are here to celebrate the triumph
of this force that Gandhi recognized and used.
We are not celebrating how it overcomes empires,
although it has done so many times.
We are not celebrating how it has lifted up and freed
the impoverished and oppressed, although it always does.
We are here to celebrate this all-powerful force being born
in a humble child in an impoverished and oppressed setting.
We are here to remember how this force was at work
guiding and empowering his mother and father.
We are here to see how it still is at work in his church
and in every one of us, this force of universal, unconditional,
unstoppable love and life and light. Continue reading Sermon, December 18, 2016

Sermon, December 11, 2016

So That My Joy May Be in You
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
December 11, 2016
Third Sunday of Advent, Pageant, Sunday of Joy
Psalm 126; Luke 1:39-45; John 15:9-11

Faith changes the way we live, or else it is not faith.
Church changes us, or else it is not being the church.
Christ came to change us, to transform our lives
and make us agents of transformation in the world.
The first word out of his mouth when he began to teach
was the word translated as “repent.”
He did not mean feel guilty, he meant,
be changed, change your mind, your heart, your spirit,
change the direction in which you are looking
for happiness, for meaning, for joy.
The Bible word for repentance is metanoia,
meaning a change in our inner life
that changes the way we experience everything.

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.”

That is what it is like to be changed
in the way that Christ intends.
We enter a moment of anxiety or anger,
a moment of loneliness or feeling lost,
a moment of suffering or struggle,
and faith, church, Christ—this higher power—
transforms the moment. It does not end suffering,
but we can experience beauty
and joy even in the midst of suffering,
the fullness of sorrow and fullness of joy
in the same moment. “Those who sow in tears,
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.”

Faith, church, Christ—this higher power—
changes us, and not for ourselves alone.
As Abe Lincoln said and I often repeat,
“I care not for a man’s religion
whose dog or cat are not the better for it.”
Continue reading Sermon, December 11, 2016