Category Archives: Past Sermons

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

Sermon, October 2, 2016

Unity in Diversity: Appreciating Our Differences
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
October 2, 2016
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, World Communion Sunday
Isaiah 25:6-9; I Corinthians 12:12-27; John 17:20-23

We live in a society that is painfully divided along many lines, rich from poor, right from left, white from black. We are sitting in a church that has at times been tragically divided over practices, policies or personalities. We humans have a deep longing for oneness, for beloved community, and yet history tells of the never-ending struggle between the force that draws us together and the force that divides us, what our religious tradition has called God versus the devil.

The struggle is as old as the human race, but the urgency to find a way to live together has never been greater than now. The church, our society, the whole earth is endangered by our divisions. The good news is that we have the accumulated wisdom of the ages to help us, we have the living force of the Holy Spirit eager to guide and empower us, and we have many practical tools and skills to create unity in diversity that have evolved in just the past few decades. Every time we overcome what divides us as individuals, every time we practice the techniques needed for healthy communication as a congregation, we are doing something significant to save the world and fulfill the eternal vision of how God means for life to be. Continue reading Sermon, October 2, 2016

Sermon, September 25, 2016

Godliness Combined with Contentment
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
September 25, 2016   Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 146; I Timothy 6:6-19; Luke 16:19-31

It matters how we live in the material world. We risk wasting this one precious life if we do not find and choose the way of life that really is life. We risk feeling lost and without ultimate meaning when we are alive and we risk deep regret and anguish when we die.

Today’s passages speak passionately about this. The scriptural messages are clear, but even devoted Christians have a hard time living up to them. The author of I Timothy gives us a formula that could help: “Godliness combined with contentment.” Godliness and contentment are very different qualities, and yet if we hold them together in balance they point to the sacred way like divining rods that we use to find a spring of living water.

A Pentecostal preacher from South Africa came to a church near here several years ago and boasted during his sermon about how abundantly God had blessed his home congregation. He described their new building and parking lot full of Mercedes and BMWs. He then talked about how God had called them to share their riches with the poor. The way they were doing it, he said, was to go into the poverty stricken townships and preach the prosperity gospel, saying to the poor, believe in Jesus and you will become rich like us.

I wonder if that is what Jesus had in mind with his parable today. I wonder if what he wanted was for the rich man to go out after his daily sumptuous feasts and preach to Lazarus as he lay starving on the ground with the dogs licking his sores, promising that he could be rich if he just believed.

The author of I Timothy warns of the danger of the way the South African preacher was thinking. Continue reading Sermon, September 25, 2016

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