Category Archives: Past Sermons

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?

22054889591_d1fce78ae3_k
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