Category Archives: Past Sermons

Sermon, September 18, 2016

We Need to Be Shrewd
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
September 18, 2016   Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 8; Matthew 10:16-20; Luke 16:1-13

Jesus seems to be commending dishonesty in today’s parable in Luke, suggesting that we follow the example of the dishonest manager and get ahead in life by cheating and stealing. But Jesus called us to love our neighbor as ourselves and lay down our lives for one another. He would never promote injustice and dishonesty. So what is going on here?

The first clue is that this passage is made up of a parable followed by some proverbs, including the famous one from the Sermon on the Mount, “You cannot serve both God and mammon (or both God and material wealth).” Parables and proverbs were literary genres in the first century Middle East that belonged to what was known as wisdom literature.

Wisdom says in the book of Proverbs, “Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates… For whoever finds me finds life and obtains grace from God.”

The purpose of Jesus’ parable is to help us grow and obtain grace, but wisdom teachers understand that it sometimes takes a puzzle or shock for our brains to awaken to a new insight or sense of urgency. Continue reading Sermon, September 18, 2016

Sermon, September 11, 2016

Rejoice with Me, For I Have Found What Was Lost
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
September 11, 2016 Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 51:1-17; I Timothy 1:12-16b; Luke 15:1-10

Today’s gospel passage begins with an extremely important detail. It says, “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.” Tax collectors and sinners were social outcasts, they were lost, and yet here they were, seeking to be found.

The 4th Century theologian Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Modern theologians like Paul Tillich have defined sin as a condition of separation, separation from God, from our neighbor and from our true self. We all belong in God’s realm. The tax collectors and sinners had restless hearts that were drawn to a message of God’s unconditional love, forgiveness and welcome. They must have been deeply moved by the good news Christ preached that the shepherd was out looking for the one lost sheep and rejoicing to bring it back home to the flock.

The power of the early church was not that it was full of virtuous and respectable people. The power in it came from how restless, how even desperate its members were to follow Christ’s way and enter God’s realm of mercy, justice and peace. They needed the loving, beloved community of the church that welcomed them just as they were and helped them become better people. This is the same power we see today in 12 Step groups where every member knows how much they need the salvation and personal transformation the group offers. This is the same power that we as a congregation experience at our best.
Continue reading Sermon, September 11, 2016

Sermon, September 4, 2016

Choose Life So That You and Your Descendants May Live
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
September 4, 2016 Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 1; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 14:25-33

The First Psalm says that God’s way makes us happy and fills us with delight. Deuteronomy says that choosing God’s way brings us prosperity and progeny, a long and blessed life possessing the Promised Land.

Then Jesus comes along talking about hating our family and hating our life and giving up all our possessions. Jesus was a Jew, and he was preaching almost exclusively to Jews. They knew the First Psalm and the book of Deuteronomy better than we do. So how could they make sense of Jesus turning the scriptures upside down like this? Why would they ever follow someone who told them it was wrong to be loving and happy and full of delight in possessing life? Continue reading Sermon, September 4, 2016

Sermon, July 31, 2016

Your Life Is Being Demanded of You  
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 31, 2016   Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Psalms 49; Ecclesiastes 1-2; Luke 12:13-21

 

We sang the hymn “Child of Blessing, Child of Promise” for Arabella’s baptism, yet it is not just about children at the moment of baptism. “Child of love” and “love’s expression” means us, too. The hymn is talking about us when it says, “God’s you are, from God you came, back to God we humbly give you…” The advice is for us when we sing, “Child of God…learn to know whose child you are.” Our life belongs to God.

Jesus says in today’s gospel passage, “This very night your life is being demanded of you.” He says to forget storing up treasures for ourselves and instead be “rich toward God.” We have an ideal way of living, a true life, and it is being demanded of us this very moment. Are we living it?

Ecclesiastes warns that death is coming. It asks, “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This…is vanity.” Today’s Psalm says our life is God’s and there is nothing we can give God to buy our life and make it our own to have forever. We are going to die. Our life is being demanded of us. Have we lived in vain, or have we been rich toward God?

These are not the parts of the Bible written by an Eeyore or Puddleglum. They are intended to be hopeful and helpful. A deathbed perspective can help us live a more meaningful life and die a more peaceful and contented death if we follow the wisdom it offers.

Mary Oliver is a contemporary poet and writer of her own gentler kind of wisdom literature. Continue reading Sermon, July 31, 2016

Sermon, July 24, 2016

For Everyone Who Knocks, the Door Will Be Opened  
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 24, 2016   Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalms 138; Luke 11:1-13

 
The 138th Psalm has a surprising verse. The Psalmist has walked in the midst of trouble and is surrounded by enemies. Imagine what you would ask God to do for you under those circumstances, in a time of trouble or conflict. The Psalm says, “On the day I called, you answered me,” and we expect it to say that God gave the Psalmist what we would want, like help fixing things, or triumph or escape, but instead it says, “You increased my strength of soul.”

Maybe that is the answer to every prayer. Maybe that is why we pray. God responds to our prayer by increasing our strength of soul, and when others know we are praying for them, it increases their strength of soul.

The increase of the strength of one soul in the world has a positive effect that ripples out farther than we can see. The first and perhaps most important thing every one of us can do to help this world is to call out to God in prayer and let God increase the strength of our soul. Nothing could help us more in a time of trouble or conflict.

There is a similar surprise in today’s gospel passage. Continue reading Sermon, July 24, 2016

Sermon, July 17, 2016

A Church of Contemplation and Action  
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 17, 2016   Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalms 130 & 131; Romans 8; Luke 10:38-42

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.”

Before I preach this sermon, I want to make sure that I am talking to the right people.

How many here today are worried about anything in your life, or in the lives of those you know, or in the world, things like terrorism, cancer, addiction, the presidential campaign, relationships, money, global climate change, racism, bigotry, aging, death, the Red Sox, your children, your grandchildren, your parents, your grandparents, your to do list, the church, the town, your house, your car, your work, where life is going, did you leave a burner on, did you lock the door, what’s for lunch?

How many of you are worried about one of those things, or anything else? How many of you are worried about many of those kinds of things?

How many of you have been distracted, thinking about something other than worship at any time since the service began?

And one last question: how many of you would like to be less worried or distracted in life?

Thank you! This sermon is for you.

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus says, “you are worried and distracted by many things.” I hope you hear the love in his voice when he says that. He repeats her name gently and compassionately. She is a faithful disciple who has invited him into her home. She is working hard making a meal for him. He does not want her to feel bad. He does not intend to shame her. He does not tell her what to do. He simply points out that there is another way, and that it is the better way, and no one should try to stop another person from following it. Continue reading Sermon, July 17, 2016

Sermon, July 10, 2016

Who Is the Neighbor I Am to Love as Myself?
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 10, 2016   Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 25; Luke 10:25-37

Today we read the version of our Identity and Aspiration Statement that was edited to be a unison reading. Many of us prefer the sound of it to the original, but there is one thing that bothers me, even though I helped write it. It leaves out one small part of the original statement that seems crucial.

Here is what got left out: “We aspire to grow in numbers as we make this an increasingly welcoming, loving, helpful congregation.”

I feel fine leaving out our aspiration to grow, because if we fulfill our other dreams growth will naturally happen, and “welcoming, loving, and helpful congregation” is already in the unison reading. That leaves only one word missing. Listen again, to see if you catch it. “We aspire to grow in numbers as we make this an increasingly welcoming, loving, helpful congregation.”

The crucial word is “increasingly.”

Increasingly is the key to fulfilling our aspirations. Increasingly is the secret to growing as a congregation. Increasingly is our only hope in the struggle against the violent forces of fear and hate that are tearing our world apart. Christ dreamed that his followers would establish the God’s realm of justice, mercy and peace on earth for all people, and the fulfillment of that dream depends completely on increasingly.

We lose as a church if all we try to do is stand our ground and continue being what we have been, because there are forces at work pushing hard against us.

Senator Bill Bradley was a former star basketball player for the New York Nicks. He was famous in college for how hard he worked to improve his game. He explained his philosophy saying, “When you are not practicing, remember, someone, somewhere else is practicing, and when you meet him he will win.”
Continue reading Sermon, July 10, 2016

Sermon, July 3, 2016

The Spirit of Freedom  
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
July 3, 2016   Seventh Sunday after Pentecost,
Independence Day Sunday
Psalm 1; Galatians 5-6; Luke 10:1-11

Politics have no place in church.

Polls show that many people no longer consider themselves Christian because they are repulsed by the politics of the religious right, while some here have been uncomfortable with left leaning politics preached in the past. I have heard appreciation that I refrain from talking politics.

Politics have no place in church.

I agree with that when we think of the politics in today’s political landscape. There is no place in church for uncivil, polarized, partisan, suspicious, dehumanizing, closed-minded, hard-hearted political wars between enemy camps. There is no place for the politics of hate in a church that follows Christ who commanded us to love God and love our neighbor and love our enemy and love the least of these. There is no place for the politics of fear in a church where Christ said over and over, “Do not be afraid.” There is no place for judging others because of their political views in a church where Christ tells us, “Do not judge.”

Politics have no place in church when they go against the Spirit of freedom that Paul talks about in Galatians, or the love that Christ commands us to have for those who seem most different from us.

And yet, much as we might wish it otherwise, politics are inescapable in a church. Continue reading Sermon, July 3, 2016

Sermon, June 26, 2016

Freedom of the Spirit 
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
June 26, 2016   Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 16; I Kings 19:15-21; Galatians 5:1-14, 6:15; Luke 9:51-62

Yesterday I met with the New Members Class. One of the things I talk about with New Members is Stewardship, which is the act of taking care of something, and keeping it moving forward (remember Jesus’ Parable of the Talents: maintaining without progressing is not good stewardship).

We practice stewardship here when we make pledges to our annual budget or repair the steeple or serve on a committee or board. If you see a bulletin lying on the floor and put it in the recycling bin, or help a little child carry a cup of juice to the Sunday School table downstairs, that is stewardship.

We serve as stewards of the church in these little and large ways, and yet there is a whole other dimension to stewardship beyond them, and when I talk about it with New Members I sometimes see a look of surprise.

The church is more than the building, and more than the loving community here, as essential as they are. Every congregation is part of something much bigger. We are part of a revolutionary social movement that is out to change the world. Jesus Christ founded it by teaching that the realm of God is at hand, and showing how we can live as citizens of God’s realm here and now and work to make our society more like God’s realm. Jesus wanted to liberate people like us who are enslaved or imprisoned in ways that keep us from freely living in God’s realm.

That means that our stewardship will not be done until we all are free to love and serve with all the gifts and skills God has given us. We will not be done until all the hungry have food, all the sick have medical care, all the lonely have company, all outcasts and refugees and wrongdoers have the opportunity for restorative justice, and all wars and forms of violence cease to the ends of the earth. Continue reading Sermon, June 26, 2016

Sermon, June 19, 2016

Healing a Legion of Demons  
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
June 19, 2016   Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 46; I Kings 19:1-15; Galatians 3:26-28; Luke 8:26-39

The shooting in Orlando is still ricocheting with confusing questions and contradictions. Was it an act of terrorism or was it the act of one very troubled young man? Was it a hate crime against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, or was it an act of outwardly projected self-hate by a man who was ashamed or afraid of being gay in this society? Was it an attack on America by an Afghani radical Muslim, or was it an explosion of pain from a victim of racism, bigotry and bullying who felt America never embraced him as he longed for it to do?

All that we know for certain is that he was a hate-filled, violent man, with demons that drove him to boast falsely of terrorist connections and to beat his wives and to threaten to copy other mass shootings and finally, tragically, to fulfill that threat.

The world has changed in many ways since Biblical times, but we still have people like the man with many demons in the gospel story, people who are driven to hatred and violence that they cannot contain. We still have a social system that divides Jew and Greek, male and female, rich and poor, oppressor and oppressed, just as Paul had in his day. We still can say with the Psalm, “The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter.”

The good news is that while we still have the same troubles we also still have the same source of help.
Continue reading Sermon, June 19, 2016