Upcoming Service Notes, May 14, 2017

We will celebrate our congregation’s support of Help Kids India this Sunday.  You can learn about the organization at http://www.helpkidsindia.org/.  We will be blessed to have Catherine and Tom Kidder to talk about their first hand observation of the work Help Kids India helps make possible.  (Catherine is a Board Member as is Lora Chatfield, formerly a leader of our Board of Mission and Social Action and a member of our congregation.) It is a deeply moving story of life-changing work done for impoverished and at risk children and mothers and families.  Catherine will deliver a Mission Moment during the service and she and Tom will narrate a slide show in the vestry afterward.

We will read responsively from Psalm 31 that could have been written by one of the people we are helping.  It says, “Take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.  Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O faithful God. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.”  We will also hear with new ears Jesus’ beautiful reassurance from John 14:1-14 that begins: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”  We will consider all this as a form of the “extravagant hospitality” that the United Church of Christ and our Open and Affirming covenant advocate.

We will sing three hymns beloved to many of our mothers and mothers’ mothers, “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” and “I Would Be True” and “Christian, Rise and Act Thy Creed.”  The choir will sing versions of both Psalm 121 and Psalm 23 (Brother James’ Air).  Organist John Atwood will play pieces that remind him of his mother and mothering (and he is bringing in four of his spectacular orchids as well) by J.S. Bach, E. Satie and G.F. Handel–quite the lineup!

Here are piano versions of the Satie and Bach pieces for your contemplation and pleasure.

help kids india IMG_5070

Sermon, May 7, 2017

Shepherding the Beloved Community
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
May 7, 2017
Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday
Psalm 23; I Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-11

Our Communication Guidelines say, “We are precious to one another and seek to build a beloved community in which our faith can grow.” Our Open and Affirming covenant says, “We pledge to work to end oppression and discrimination whenever we encounter them, and, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to help create the beloved community of God’s realm.”

God’s realm, or the kingdom of God, is the ideal of beloved community as Jesus described it.  It is a place where all rules and laws can be summed up by two: love God with all your being, and love your neighbor as your self.

Beloved community is an unconditionally welcoming, affirming and loving society that treats everyone with equal compassion and respect, no matter who they are or how different they are.

More than that, beloved community is a place where people lay down their lives for one another, even for their enemies.  Jesus was asked who our neighbor is and he told the story in which a Good Samaritan risks and gives of himself to save and care for a Jew whose people despised, reviled and treated Samaritans as enemies.

Beloved community happens when we love one another not because of any quality that the other person possesses but because love is simply what we do.  So when we are at refreshments after worship we do not ask ourselves if we like this person, or if this person is like us. We do not hold against them that they voted differently or said something we disagreed with in the past, we forgive that and let it go and greet them with an open heart.  We invite them to share what is going on in their life and we share our own truth in turn. Continue reading Sermon, May 7, 2017

Sermon, April 30, 2017

United and Uniting
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
April 30, 2017 Third Sunday of Easter,
Celebrating the United Church of Christ
Psalm 133; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 24:13-35

We need to begin with a little review.
In last week’s gospel Jesus came through a locked door
into the room where the disciples were hiding in fear,
and it changed the world almost as dramatically
as the day billions of years before
when the first life form appeared on Earth.
And in a real sense, it was the same event,
it was the same force, the same intention,
the same new thing coming into being
as in bluebirds and daffodils and green blades rising,
the same thing coming into being over and over,
in an infinite variety of forms:
the force of light and life and love
that takes the raw materials of basic elements
and combines them into living things
which then find within themselves
the desire to live and make more life
and adapt and create around them a habitat
conducive to more and better life.

Jesus came to the disciples through that locked door
and helped them overcome
their fear and confusion.
Then he sent them out as instruments
of light and life and love
to serve and create the realm of God on Earth.

Today we are hearing about one of the essential qualities
by which we know God’s realm when we see it.
The Psalm says, “How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!”
And Paul says in Galatians, “As many of you
as were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus in his life broke down walls that shut anyone out.
He had women and children in his movement,
he had Jews and Greeks, he had sinners
and tax collectors, he welcomed all those
his society excluded or oppressed just because
they were different or poor or considered impure.
The movement he led was a united and uniting force.

Jesus showed that the realm of God
was a place where all would be one.
To be in Christ and have Christ in us
is to be one with God and one with all God’s creation,
because God is the same force of light, life and love
flowing through us as through all the universe.
Continue reading Sermon, April 30, 2017

Upcoming Service Notes, May 7, 2017

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday.  The lectionary readings every year include the 23rd Psalm and a passage from the tenth chapter of John (verses 1-11 this year) where Jesus talks about the sheep and sheepfold gate and good shepherd.  Other passages in the New Testament refer to Jesus as shepherd, and we will hear one of them, I Peter 2:19-25.

Shepherding was a major occupation and a common sight in Biblical times.  King David began as a shepherd, which inspired the 23rd Psalm.  Shepherding is still present here and there in the fields of Vermont and New Hampshire today, but in our churches it is ever-present.  Shepherding is a calling Christians need to reflect on and a skill we need to refine and practice, and not just pastors (although the Latin root of the word pastor means shepherd).  Jesus calls each of us to follow him and do the kinds of work he did.  We will consider what it means to shepherd the beloved community this Sunday. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, May 7, 2017

Upcoming Service Notes, April 30, 2017

This Sunday we will celebrate the spirit of uniting and being united that we share with our denomination, the United Church of Christ. This Friday and Saturday the Vermont Conference of the UCC will be having its 222nd Annual Meeting at Lake Morey, which means the Conference was there to welcome this congregation in 1810 when it formed.  Its history and our history are bound up together–the Conference and Association have played crucial roles at important times in the life of our congregation (such as during pastoral searches, like now), and the reverse is also true.

In fact in the past year the Bradford Congregational Church has contributed leadership to the UCC in two important ways.  Being a uniting and united church depends on having healthy communication and building beloved community within the congregation, and the work we have done and workshops we have held on those topics have helped many churches in the Vermont Conference and beyond.  We have also become one of the UCC’s Open and Affirming congregations, formally stating what this congregation has always aspired to be, a church that unites all people without exception.

We will celebrate with a special litany recounting the history of the national UCC and with a special hymn, “United and Uniting,” written to the tune of “We Plow the Fields and Scatter.” Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, April 30, 2017

Sermon, April 23, 2017

Now the Green Blade Rises
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
April 23, 2017
Second Sunday of Easter
Psalm 16; Acts 2:22-24; John 20:19-31

The gospel passage takes place on Easter night.
That day two disciples had seen the empty tomb.
They believed Jesus had risen from the dead
but still did not understand what it meant.
Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus,
but he had told her not to hold onto him,
and sent her back to tell the disciples.
When it was evening on that day,
the first day of the week,
and the doors of the house where the disciples had gathered
were locked for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood among them
and said, “Peace be with you.”
They needed peace,
their world was turning upside down
and now suddenly here was Jesus
passing through locked doors and solid walls.
The house he appeared in was stifling with the fumes of oil lamps
and the scent of anxious human sweat.
The disciples were sleep deprived, terrified, traumatized,
and ashamed of what they had done or not done.
There were tears and raised voices and tense silences.
Jesus passed through those locked doors like a ghost,
but instead of bringing heightened terror,
he brought peace. Instead of sending them out
screaming, questioning their sanity,
never wanting to go anywhere near each other
or any reminder of Christ again,
he sent them out with the power of his love,
he formed them into an orderly beloved community
to do the same good works he did
and bring his message of light and life and love
into the hard, dark world that had killed him.
He breathed into them the Holy Spirit
to guide and empower them,
to give them the courage and sense of purpose
that they needed to unlock those doors from the inside
and go out among the Jews and Romans they feared,
boldly doing and saying the same things
that got Jesus killed.
Continue reading Sermon, April 23, 2017

Upcoming Service Notes, April 23, 2016

This Sunday we continue the joyous celebration of Easter, resuming the story of that day from the Gospel of John (John 20:19-31).  It is a story that rings true in every aspect of our experience–in astronomy and geology and biology, in sociology and psychology, in theology and in the depths of our hearts.  Jesus comes through locked doors and brings peace to our fear and transforms our paralyzing confusion or doubt into wisdom and purposeful direction .  The sermon will take its title from an Easter hymn we will sing, “Now the Green Blade Rises,” a classic image for the universal truth of resurrection power. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes, April 23, 2016

Sermon, April 16, 2017 Easter 10 AM Service

Love So Amazing, So Divine, Part II
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
April 16, 2017    Easter
Psalm 118; Isaiah 65:17-19, 25; John 20:1-18

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

Jesus rising from the dead; wolves and lambs feeding together; no one hurting or destroying on all this holy earth: Easter is about a magic, a love so amazing, so divine that it leads to miraculous peace and joy.  You would think the world would see this beautiful, harmonious vision and feel this amazing, divine power and give its soul, its life, its all, and follow its way.

The problem is that Easter’s path is in competition with other paths that seem just as magical in their ends but more conventional in their means.  Easter’s path is the reverse of violence, it is the path of nonviolence, but our culture’s violent path is so often the magic we choose.

Children discover at an early age that violence works like magic.  Two pre-school brothers were at a family gathering.  The four-year-old saw his three-year-old brother playing on the floor with a few wooden blocks.  He walked over, plopped down, and grabbed the blocks.  Then he turned his back and began playing with them while his little brother sat stunned.

The little boy looked as if he might cry, but instead after reflecting for a few seconds, he turned, picked up the entire box of blocks and dumped them on his brother’s head.  Then he began happily playing with something else, as his brother plotted his next attack.

As if by magic, violence got the older boy what he wanted.  He wanted the blocks, and maybe he wanted to annoy his little brother, and violence got him both.  Then the younger boy did his own magic trick—he made all his frustration and humiliation disappear with a simple flick of violent revenge.

The deep magic of violence goes all the way back to the dawn of time.  Adam and Eve ate the illegal apple in the Garden of Eden and then hid from God, doing violence to their relationships and the harmony of the world.  One of their sons killed the other out of greed and pride.  The human race began a spiral of violence that seems to have no escape.

But if we go farther back in the Genesis story we find a deeper magic from before the dawn of time. Continue reading Sermon, April 16, 2017 Easter 10 AM Service

Sermon, April 16, 2017 Easter Sunrise

Something Happened
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
The Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ,
Bradford, Vermont
April 16, 2017
Easter Sunrise Service
Matthew 28:1-10

Something happened
at the beginning of the universe.
We call it the Big Bang.
We have no photographs,
no eye witnesses,
we have only the echo,
only the ripples of energy
still crossing space.

Something happened
at the beginning of Christianity.
We call it the resurrection.
It was around this time,
around this day,
around two thousand years ago,
and what happened exactly
we are not sure—
there was an empty tomb,
some say there was an earthquake
and lightning,
there were visions of
radiant beings of light,
there were appearances
to various people in various places
of the dead alive again—
all mysteries, all uncertain,
all recorded only
decades after whatever
happened happened,
and we may wish
we had fingerprints
and lie detector tests
and live footage, but
we don’t, and we never
will have all the facts
except this one:
the fact is that
something happened
that convinced a community
of people just like us
that something had happened. Continue reading Sermon, April 16, 2017 Easter Sunrise

Easter Morning Joyous Update!

“That they may all be one” was Jesus’ last prayer, and hallelujah!  We will all be one at the Sunrise Service! It looked as if the Bradford Congregational Church and Grace United Methodist Church would break tradition and worship apart, but we have worked it out so that we can be together!

The service will be at 6:00 AM at 219 Summer Street.  (Please leave the closest parking spots for those who have trouble walking.) It will be followed by Easter breakfast at 6:30 AM at Grace UMC.  Please note that revised time.

The Sunrise Service will include a “Kindling of the New Fire” ritual, the singing of “In the Bulb There Is a Flower (The Hymn of Promise)” and “Fairest Lord Jesus,” the reading of the resurrection story from Matthew and a short reflection and time of prayer, as well as the beauty of God’s creation at Easter dawn, rain or shine.

Our regular Easter service will be at 10:00 AM with the resurrection story from John and a skit for the children. It will include the singing of three of the great Easter hymns: “Alleluia! The Strife is O’er” and “Come, Ye Faithful Raise the Strain” and of course, “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.”  The choir will sing two verses of “Now the Green Blade Rises” as the Introit and Kopolyoff’s “Alleluia! Christ Is Risen” as the Anthem.  John will play three beautiful organ pieces, “The Heavens Are Telling” by B. Marcello, “Christ Lay in Death’s Strong Bands” by J. S. Bach and “Allegro Maestoso”  by G. F. Handel.

Below is an exuberant performance of the Handel John will play as we go out in joy.