Category Archives: Past Sermons

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

Sermon, December 4, 2016

They Will Not Hurt or Destroy on All My Holy Mountain
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
December 4, 2016
Second Sunday of Advent, Sunday of Peace
Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 1:68-79

Advent tells us that something is coming.
“God is coming,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer says,
God, in the form of Jesus Christ.
“Christmas is coming—
whether it is with us or without us
depends on each and every one of us….”

Today on the Peace Sunday of Advent
the scriptures, hymns and candle lighting
all insist that with Christ comes peace.
Peace is coming, and whether it is with us
or without us depends on each and every one of us.
The crucial question is, do we believe it?
In Bonhoeffer’s words, “Are we going to let it come to us,
or are we going to resist it?
Are we going to join in this movement
that comes down from heaven to earth,
or are we going to close ourselves off?”

Advent challenges us. It does not let us escape
the truth of our condition or the need for our response.
Advent says “peace,” and we are forced to see
how little peace we have in our heart or in our world.
Advent says “peace,” and we feel the agitation
of a long list of things we have to do before Christmas,
or we feel the agony of missing those
who will not be with us this year,
or we feel the deeply disturbing worry we have
for a world that seems to be speeding
farther from peace every day.

Advent insists that we hope in peace
even when peace seems hopeless.
Advent insists that we turn to the light
even in a darkness that seems lightless.
Advent demands that we choose,
are we going to believe the promises or not?
Do you believe Isaiah when he prophesies
of a coming day when
“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain?”
Can we let ourselves sink into the deep comfort
of believing in the possibility of that peace in our time? Continue reading Sermon, December 4, 2016

Sermon, November 27, 2016

A Door That Can Be Opened Only from the Outside
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
November 27, 2016   First Sunday of Advent, Sunday of Hope
Isaiah 60:1-20, Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 25:36-44

Atul Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the author of the extraordinary book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. The book shows how there can be a conflict between what modern medicine says to do and what really matters to a person whose life is nearing the end.

One of the reasons is that our perspective changes when we sense that our time is short. Modern medicine often asks the dying to endure isolation or debilitation for the sake of safety or prolonging life by weeks or months, whereas an end-of-life perspective tends to value most the continuation of connection, choosing to focus on love and home, family and friends with the precious time it has. Nearing death can open us to the spiritual realm more widely. It can spur us to share our remaining gifts for the good of a world we want to bless before we go. It can change the way we want to live the last stage of our life.

Of course, the prospect of death can also paralyze us with fear or negativity, but if we have the courage to open to its truth it can make us wise. It can make us more Christ-like and full of light. The world can look not more terrifying but more beautiful.

Paul guides us in that positive direction. He writes, “The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” He urges us to wake up and see that our time is short no matter what age we are, and to make our focus the spiritual life, not the life driven by our selfish desires.

Jesus says, “About that day and hour no one knows…. Therefore you…must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Advent reminds us that something is coming, something bigger than we are, something beyond our control, something that will change our perspective and reorder our priorities of what matters. Continue reading Sermon, November 27, 2016

Sermon, November 6, 2016

Prepare the Way     Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
November 6, 2016   Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost,
Advent Preparation Sunday
Matthew 25:1-13 and other Advent passages

Something is coming. A birth, something new, something good, a change, a transformation, an in-breaking of God’s realm of mercy, justice and peace on earth, a higher power of love and life and light that will fill us and fill our church and shine like a lighted window changing everyone and everything around us.

Something is coming, and yet it is already here, and it has been here since the beginning of time and will be here until the end of time. It is flowing into our hearts right now, every one of us, full of power and possibility. It is a mystery, beyond our understanding or control. It has its own way that is not our way, its own thoughts that are not our thoughts, its own wisdom and power far beyond ours, and yet it can all be ours if we give ourselves entirely over to it.

We can have that new birth, we can transform our home and church and community to be more like God’s realm, we can move through this world as an instrument of peace and lovingkindness, we can be full of the power of the Spirit, we can shine like a lighted window no matter how dark and foggy life around us becomes.

Advent opens the way to us, Advent unlocks the mysterious door and lets that glorious light burst into the humble, manure stained stable of our world.
Continue reading Sermon, November 6, 2016

Sermon, October 30, 2016

A Reforming and Reconciling Force   
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
October 30, 2016   Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost,
Reformation and Reconciliation Sunday, All Saints Day Sunday
Psalm 32; Isaiah 1:10-18; Luke 19:1-10

Bob Dylan recorded the song “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in the few months between Martin Luther King Jr.s’ “I Have a Dream” speech and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The times certainly were a-changin’ in the 1960s. But then again, they certainly were changing in the 1970s, too, with Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War, and they were changing in the 1980s with the rise of the “Me Generation” and the fall of the iron curtain. The times were changing when Bob Dylan first sang the song over fifty years ago, and they still are changing today.

Things were about to change when the prophet Isaiah warned the people that God was running out of patience with their heartless neglect and violent injustice toward the poor and vulnerable among them. In fact, Dylan’s song sums up the message that all prophets receive from God. Go tell the people, God says, that the times, they are a-changin’.

Nobody could have known it when it was happening, but the biggest change in all of human history began eight centuries after the Prophet Isaiah. Continue reading Sermon, October 30, 2016

Sermon, October 23, 2016

The Power of the Humble Truth    
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
October 23, 2016   Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 84; I Corinthians 1:17-31; Luke 18:9-14

Psalm 84 says,

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.

Those words are so beautiful and comforting when we think of them meaning the church. We love it when a church feels that good to us. It gives us joy to help create a beloved community that can be a home and warm nest to us all.

The words have an even deeper and more powerful meaning than that, though. Our hearts are the dwelling place of God, too. We each have in us a place where we can go where we find our home and nest, where we sing for joy. That place is the core of our deepest, truest self.

That heart’s core place is where we find the Holy Spirit rising like a spring of living water. It is where Paul would say we find God’s foolishness that is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness that is stronger than human strength. We find intuition there, and we find love—unconditional, universal, all forgiving love. In other words, we find Christ living within God’s dwelling place in our heart.

Jesus told today’s parable as a map for us to follow to find God’s dwelling place. Continue reading Sermon, October 23, 2016

Sermon, October 16, 2016

Not to Lose Heart
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
October 16, 2016  
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, Neighbors in Need
Genesis 32:22-31; Psalm 121; Luke 18:1-8

 

Jacob was faithfully following God’s way and obeying God’s word. He had no intention other than to love and serve God. Everything was going well. He had escaped a bad situation and had gained wives and children and great wealth and was coming home to the Promised Land. Then God came and wrestled with him and wounded him. Jacob fought with God all night, and when Jacob finally had endured and prevailed, God blessed him and gave him a new name.

It is a strange story, and yet it has rung true for three thousand years for faithful people who try to follow God’s way. It is a mystery why wrestling with God and emerging changed is part of the spiritual journey, but it always has been and probably always will be. Continue reading Sermon, October 16, 2016

Sermon, October 9, 2016

Praising God with a Loud Voice
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
October 9, 2016   Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 111; 2 Kings 5:1-15c; Luke 17:11-19

Nine out of ten lepers in today’s gospel passage did not express gratitude to Jesus. Only one “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.”

What do you think it would it take to make the other nine turn back? What does it take to make you turn to Christ and praise God with a loud voice? Do you turn as often as you could, praising as loudly as you could? If not, what would it take for you to do so?

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Continue reading Sermon, October 9, 2016