Author Archive

February 11th – Laura Fitzpatrick Nager – with audio

This morning we welcomed the Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager to the pulpit.  Laura will start as our new Senior Associate Minister on March 20th.  Following the service a special congregational meeting unanimously affirmed Laura in this new position.

Mark 2:1-12

 Candidating Sermon

What Countries Shall We Sing Into?

 The year was 1952 and Paul Robeson, the 20th century human rights activist and American singer and was making history –some say trouble–once again.

 

Hiring a flatbed truck and the best loudspeakers, Robeson sang into Canada. His voice making a way out of no way across the barriers set up to silence him.

 

A crowd of 40,000 showed up on this spring morning to hear Robeson’s deep, bass voice soar for peace and justice. He told his audience,

 

I stand here and sing today under great stress because I dare, as do you — all of you, to fight for peace and for a decent life for all men, women and children”.[1]

 

Robeson’s US Passport was revoked making it illegal for him to travel and perform beyond American borders. 

 

It was the early 50’s and the height of the McCarthy Era, that painful period in our nation’s history with the start of the Cold War and fear of Communism. It was also the height of racism, violence and segregation under the Jim Crow laws (which as you know made it legal racial segregation in all public places and schools…)

 

Like other artists, teachers, laborers, and ordinary folks, Robison was labeled a Communist.

 

The son of a former slave and minister,

Paul Robeson graduated from Rutgers University and Columbia Law School and later graced stages all over the world from Broadway to Berlin. Called a “citizen of the world” and with many trips to the USSR to visit friends and perform, Robeson threatened the powers that be.

 

But on this Spring morning in May, Robeson found a way to open the roof of injustice in spite of the obstacles.

He sang a way out of no way!

 

One can also imagine the waiting crowds gathered around Jesus on that ancient day in our biblical miracle story. as they turned to one another: “We have never seen anything like this!”  (v.12)

 

As our scripture from the gospel of Mark unfolds (this miracle story has versions in all four of the gospels)

 

Jesus is pictured at home and preaching the word his ministry in full swing. (In the Mark tradition, of course, likes to fill in all the details and highlight who it is that truly held Authority!)

 

The front door was blocked so

some neighbors carried a man on a stretcher

Paralyzed by trauma, illness, by doubts or stereotypes

we don’t know,

 

but this band of brothers and sisters

made a way out of no way.

 

In the heat of a desert day,

their movements of courage and compassion crossed all arbitrary limits…

climbing up

digging their way through the mud with bare hands

lowering this wounded soul to the feet of Jesus.

Finding a way out of no way…

 

Not one of these unnamed characters turned away

And said, “ too crowded here, Let’s try tomorrow!”

 

They knew what the authority to care asked of them…

 

While the naysayers and grumblers complained,

Jesus saw these “God-Carriers” and the vulnerable ones before him:

 

 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go.” (v.11)

 

Healing unfolds in the midst of community…Looking more carefully into this text, I wonder when the healing actually began?

 

Perhaps the healing moment was prompted when the neighbors were no longer bystanders but stood up, determined to carry this wounded warrior to Jesus,

 

Perhaps the healing deepened as the roof was lifted off and witnesses started to notice a faith that has no bounds.

 

Maybe the paralyzed child of God found his or her own voice again, after being seen, finally seen

 

Seen by a love that carries us through the darkest of times,

Across the most impenetrable of boundaries.

 

My friends,

Jesus certainly healed someone that day

 

Just as those unnamed helpers claimed their power and participated in making a difference, too.

 

I wonder at that kind of generosity

About the the deeper healing of the heart, mind and soul

we are called to as disciples

As neighbors

As the unnamed “God-Carriers” (as Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes the human person)

 

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says,

“Each single one of us is said to be of infinite worth… each one of us is a god carrier, each one of us god’s (co-partner). Can you imagine if we really believed that?”[2]

 

Healing happens in profound ways when we carry one another-

And also when we let ourselves be carried for a while, too.

 

When we witness to the hard stuff and the hopeful days as we dare to be disciples for one another and the newcomer, the invisible and the lost.

 

Imagine a church like that!

 

As you all well know, sometimes it means getting our hands dirty

it means being changed, wildly imaginative and often, transformed ourselves.

 

What draws me to today’s gospel narrative is

What draws me to the courage of that unsung American hero, Paul Robeson, and

what draws me once again to this place of grace, this Congregational Meetinghouse on the corner of Lyme and Ferry.

 

Its each of you showing up when there’s a need for a home for families from Puerto Rico, Syria and Rwanda as well as, the undocumented person in our midst.

 

Its each of you making breakfast and helping out on a Saturday morning as the Shoreline food pantry opens its doors.

 

Its each of you traveling to Green Grass, Palestine and Haiti in ever widening circles of belonging and befriending.

 

It’s you, the young people of this congregation, feeding the homeless and learning their names during a Midnight Run to Manhattan on a cold winter night.

 

When God calls, we lift each other up, finding ingenious “ways out of no way”

 

That’s the kind of church community I want to call home!  THIS is the place!

 

I close with a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, favorite Palestinian- American poet.

 

“Paul Robeson stood

on the northern border

of the USA and sang into Canada…

His voice left the USA when his body was not allowed to cross that line.

Remind us again, brave friend.

What countries may we sing into?

What lines should we all be crossing?

What songs travel toward us from far away

to deepen our days?” [3]

 

May it be so my friends as we travel on together.

 

Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager

First Congregational Church of Old Lyme

[1] Paul Robeson, Here I Stand (Beacon Press, 1958)

[2]           Interview with Krista Tippett, https://soundcloud.com/onbeing/desmond-tutu-i-am-god-carrier

Tutu tells a story of his days serving a church in Soweto during apartheid. He would teach his black community when they were demeaned to say, “I am a God Carrier, I am God’s Partner!”

[3]           Naomi Shabib Nye, You and Yours (BOA Editions, 2005)

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January 14th – Carleen Gerber – with audio

 Isaiah 49:8-13
Matthew 25:31-40
John 17:15-19

“…And the End of All Our Exploring will be to Arrive Where We Started and to Know the Place for the First Time.” 
(T.S. Eliot)

           As our sermon opens, I’d like to take you back in time to the year 1900.  And I’d like to draw your attention to the strange assortment of items on the communion table this morning:  one so-called “crazy quilt” sewn in (approximately) that year;  one crocodile carved of ivory; a time-worn doll,  and a sketch of the great 19th century evangelist preacher, George Whitefield.

     And like a Will Short puzzle challenge, our task will be to figure out how these items are connected to one another, and what connects them to The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.  And so the story begins….

           In the year 1900, a devout and dedicated group of women from a large and prosperous Baptist church in downtown Philadelphia gathered every week to stitch together the intricate quilt which we see before us this morning.  The quilt was to be sold to raise money for the mission work of their church.  The wife of the minister (later to become my great-aunt) purchased the completed work of art.  She is now no longer among the living.  But when I was a young child if one used the phrase “put the fear of God into your hearts,”  a picture of her upright carriage and stern face would have come immediately to mind. 

       As the twentieth century dawned, a courageous and devout movement in Christian missions was taking root all across the globe.  Many of our churches here in America were a part of a mission movement, born in Great Britain, which I will call a “holy passion for Christian mission.”  Britain, you will remember, had been the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.  And in many ways, the nineteenth century belonged to Britain.  London was the financial center of the world, and British commerce circled the globe.  Modern economists tell us that, at least in part, the drive to explore the world came about because Britain’s own natural resources were insufficient to support her ravenously expanding economy.  The British Museum at Yale holds an impressive collection of art works by British artists who traveled widely, portraying a world far beyond their own.  As if their island – beautiful as it was and is-  just wasn’t big enough to satisfy their appetites.

           The hardy Scotsman, David Livingston, who opened the so-called “dark continent” of Africa, was sent forth by the churches of Britain to proclaim the gospel.  He was, in his own words, “drawn further and further into Africa by the smoke of a thousand villages who have never yet seen a missionary.”

      The fiery evangelist preacher George Whitefield, and the passionate reformist William Wilberforce, and the devout William Carey, were all forged on the spiritual anvil of nineteenth century Britain.  The story of William Wilberforce’s fight to end slavery is featured in the great movie “Amazing Grace,” and if you’ve not seen it – I recommend it highly.  These leaders of a coalition called The London Missionary Society believed  passionately that the work of the Christian church was to carry the gospel to the farthest reaches of the world, in order to convert the heathen and win all souls to Christ.  In the words of an old gospel hymn of that era, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.”

     I remember finding a tombstone in a graveyard on the north island of New Zealand, where a member of the London Missionary Society had been buried in the 1860’s.  I tried to imagine what it might have been like for him to try to convince the native Maori people to take Christ as their Lord and Savior.  This, of course, would have been contingent on first persuading them not to cannibalize foreigners.   Just the thought of that missionary getting to New Zealand by sailboat from halfway across the world is enough to give you an inkling of how dedicated he was to his quest.

     This “holy passion for Christian mission” succeeded in making a strong mark upon many a congregation here in America.  And this leads us back to the group of women huddled around a table, sewing a quilt, in Philadelphia, in the year 1900.

      These will-intentioned women were supporting the work of a missionary by the name of Miss McAllister.  She lived and worked in Burma (now known as Myanmar).  And she visited the church in Philadelphia whenever she was home on leave.  I never met Miss McAllister,  but I have conjured up a picture of her in my mind as a petite, stern, humorless woman with a backbone of steel.  That could well be unfair – but I have a journal in which she chronicled her days, and I think my image is fairly accurate.  She was in Burma, as she put it,  to save the souls of the heathens.

       The women of the Philadelphia church purchased a doll and made clothes for the doll.  These clothes were intended to enable Miss McAllister to  instruct little Burmese girls how to dress according to proper Christian codes of modesty: pantaloons, petticoats, and hats to cover the head.  Never mind the considerable climate differences that existed between Philadelphia and Burma, and the insurmountable challenge of finding the money it would take to afford such elaborate clothing.  The doll’s given name, by the way, is Rosemary.  I believe  “Rosemary” means remembrance.  So maybe she was named Rosemary to say “don’t forget how to dress  appropriately.”

      The ivory crocodile was brought to the women of the church as a gift  from Miss McAllister.  The crocodile sits on a shelf in our house and I tell the grandchildren it would have been far better if that ivory had remained attached , as it once was, to some gentle and noble Asian elephant.   As a child, visiting in my great-aunt’s home,  I wasn’t allowed to touch the crocodile- or play with Rosemary, either, as far as that goes.

     Now to be fair, there was a lot of good – real good – that was carried forth by Christian missionaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Hospitals and schools were built, communication and transportation between countries was strengthened, and we learned more and more about other cultures.  Medical clinics were planted in far-away regions, and health care was improved all across the globe.

      As a child, Nelson Mandela was educated by the missionaries of the Methodist Church in rural school in Kwa ZuluNatal.  It was an education he later credited for a good deal of his compassion and critical thinking skills. 

     But all of that “good” came with a subtle and not so subtle hidden cost.  The diversity of cultures was threatened.   Ultimately many of the world’s great religions were demeaned and denigrated on the high altar of Christianity.  And the missionaries carried with them an understanding of a fiscal economy that radically transformed the more equitable sharing of resources on which many indigenous economies thrived. 

     Those well-meaning women who gathered in Philadelphia probably had no inkling that the gospel there were promoting was doing any measure of damage at all.  But Imperialism and Colonialism are now seen by sociologists as the foundation upon which all of Africa’s nation-state upheavals and civil unrest began.  Africa’s natural resources had great value to Portugal, France, and, of course, Great Britain.  And so national lines were drawn arbitrarily to capture Africa’s wealth – regardless of social or geographic or tribal consequences.  Do you know what is the shortest sentence in the Bible?  “Jesus wept.”  He wept over the Jerusalem, but I think he wept again over Africa as imperialism seized the continent.

     You can see, I hope, how the items on the communion table are connected.  But what, you might ask, does all that have to do with The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme?   Well, for one thing, it makes quite clear that we have a different understanding of mission work than our historical antecedents did!

        Over the past thirty years, this congregation has developed a theory and a practice of doing Christian mission that bears little or no resemblance to Miss McAllister, to Rosemary, to the ivory crocodile, or to George Whitfield.  Thanks be to God.  

       Some thirty years ago, when our Board of Missions entertained the notion that we should do more than just send money to worthy causes, Ramona McNamara suggested that we visit a Native American Reservation in her home state of South Dakota.   And we did just that.  And now well over 300 members and friends of our congregation have spent time in the Green Grass community.   We have taken part in the sacred ceremonies of the Lakota people.  We have shared in a precious cross-cultural friendship. Our own spirituality has been broadened and strengthened.  We’ve struggled, along with the people there, to understand the systemic injustices which still encumber their daily lives.  We have been enriched, mutually, I think, in countless ways.  We have not told them how they should dress or how or whom they should worship.

      When we saw, and witnessed, the desperate oppression in South Africa, known as “apartheid,” we entered into a friendship with a Methodist congregation in the impoverished township of Soweto.  I, for one, have come to love the culture of South Africa- her vibrant music and dance, and the indomitable spirit of her people.  I’ve  found enormous enrichment from their concept of “ubuntu “ – their belief that the suffering of one of us diminishes and jeopardizes the shared humanity of all of us.  Twenty-nine years ago this congregation embarked upon a journey in friendship that has brought us several South African choirs, visiting ministers named Paul Verryn and Derrick Maragele, a Sunday School teacher named Nyameka who worked with our children for part of a winter some years ago, and an opera singer named Mxolisi – and numerous other extravagances of cultural expression.  We have never told them how they should dress or how or whom they should worship.

    Soon after the great tragedy of September 11, 2001, our Board of Deacons made the decision that we should urgently embark upon a journey to understand,  and work alongside, the other religions of the troubled Middle East –  a region whose injustices and prejudices, we believe, were operative in the birthing of terrorism as we know it today.  Muslims, Jews and Christians;  how are we different and how are we alike?  What can we learn from one another?  How can we work together on the anvil of America’s tragic, heart-breaking loss to forge peace?

      Surely this was not to be about telling others how to dress or how or  whom to worship. 

        And that is why Steve Jungkeit, together with the Muslim leader Reza Mansour, and a leader of New Haven’s office of Jewish Voice for Peace are right now in the Middle East – experiencing and exploring together the birthplace of the world’s three great Abrahamic religions.   Together with 25 others, they are doing the work of building bridges of understanding and of peace.

       In a region torn asunder by misunderstandings and mistrust, they are courageously bearing witness to the issues that will continue to divide this world if we don’t begin to commit ourselves to a central truth for which Jesus lived and died.  Jesus Christ came, in his words, that “we might all be one.”  He did not come to teach us to dress or worship in the same way.  He came to make clear to us that we are all knit together in one shared humanity; regardless of our skin color or race, our means or lack thereof, our sexual orientation, our age or disability or skills.  He came to help us understand that, in the spirit of UBUNTU, whatever diminishes or threatens or jeopardizes one of us diminishes and threatens and jeopardizes all of us.

    Our new understanding of Christian mission is, in many ways, much more complicated than it was for Miss McAllister.  But it has made mission work here at The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme more colorful, more enriching, more challenging and, I believe, more fulfilling.   

       We believe mission work is not just about going out into the world to do good.  It is also about going out into the world to allow the breadth and diversity of the world to do good  in us.   The ultimate goal of our mission work is not that “at the name of Jesus  every knee shall bow.”  The ultimate goal of all our mission work is that in the name of Jesus we will come to know and understand and affirm our common, shared humanity – our spirit of ubuntu.

      When our teenagers go with Ted and Becky Crosby to Haiti each April they don’t, in that one week in Deschappelles, significantly change the lives of the Haitian men and women and children they meet.  But they give to the Hatitian people they meet a kind of spiritual lifeline to the outside world.  They help the people there to know that there really are people in other parts of the world that are concerned about them,  that are aware of the realities of their daily lives.   And they carry in their hearts some of the burdens of the Haitian people with them when they leave to come home.   They return to life here in our community with their eyes wide open about the blessed differences that  make for such a challenging, interesting, colorful, flamboyant world.  They come home – whether they can name it or not- with the flame of an understanding of UBUNTU ignited in their souls.

       And our understanding of the importance of UBUNTU is not built solely upon outreach to  other countries or other climes.  When we serve at the soup kitchen in New London, or visit the Homeless Hospitality Center in New London, or work as a volunteer at our own food pantry here at our church on a Saturday morning, we encounter people whose life experiences are often vastly different from our own.  And one cannot share a meal with one of these folks, or sit down and really talk with one of these folks, without feeling – in the deepest regions of our own hearts – that their struggles exact a certain toll on our complacency, and our peace of mind.  What diminishes each of them, diminishes each of us as well.  The stories we hear from those we seek to serve go home with us and live on, somehow, in the deepest regions of our being.

        In his poem “Little Gidding,” T.S. Eliot says,

            “We shall not cease from exploration

            And the end of all our exploring

            Will be to arrive where we started

            And to know the place for the first time.”

       We attempt to do mission here at The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme in a spirit of humility, honoring the wisdom we believe we’ll gain from spending time with others, honoring the new understandings we know we’ll gain as we broaden our own awareness of the breadth and wealth of God’s wide, diverse world.  And we bring home with us an awareness – in the deepest parts of our being- of how magnificent and transformative and enriching is the spirit of ubuntu that connects us all in one shared humanity.  We come home knowing something of ourselves, and the place we call home,  in new ways.

      I’ll close with one short story from the recent work we’ve done with other faith communities here in our town to resettle a refugee family from Syria;  and now a second family who became a climate refugees in the hurricane that decimated Puerto Rico.  Our new Syrian neighbors have a 12 year old son named Mohammed.  And when Mohammed learned that the newest refugee family to arrive in Old Lyme had a son – Adrian- who is the same age, he wanted to go just after Christmas to greet him.  On the appointed day, Mohammed came bounding out of his house with his signature broad, contagious smile – and a small gift for 12 year old Adrian and 2 year old Gustavo. 

     Now Mohammed and Adrian know English only as a second language.  So verbal communication was something of a challenge-but the body language of making a new friend is common to both Syria and Puerto Rico.  Do you know how to play soccer?? Yes!!  Do you want to try out there in the snow?   Yes!!!  (That didn’t last long – it was very, very cold outside that day)  Will you start Middle School next week with me?  Yes!!!

    Then Mohammed got down on the floor and played for a little while with Gustavo.   On the way back to his house, he turned to the friend who drove him to the visit and said,

     “ You know – welcoming new people makes you so happy right here.” (while banging on his chest over his heart.)

    I’ve thought about that story dozens of times since first I was told of it.  Whatever has been done by this generous community to help resettle refugees in need – even more has been accomplished deep within our own hearts and souls.  Maybe we’ve come back to where we started and we see the place – clearly – for the first time.  I could wish for no clearer synopsis of the value of Christian mission.      Amen.

Carleen R. Gerber

 The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme

 Old Lyme, Connecticut

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Jan 7th – 11 AM – Paul Verryn

This morning we welcomed The Rev. Paul Verryn to our pulpit. Our church has been in partnership with Paul and the Methodist churches he serves in South Africa for nearly thirty years.
As always, it is wonderful to have Paul visiting with us.

Paul did not use a written text,
but clicking below will let you hear his sermon, entitled
CAPTURING GRACE

 

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Jan 7th – 9 AM – Paul Verryn

This morning we welcomed The Rev. Paul Verryn to our pulpit. Our church has been in partnership with Paul and the Methodist churches he serves in South Africa for nearly thirty years.
As always, it is wonderful to have Paul visiting with us.

Paul did not use a written text,
but clicking below will let you hear his sermon, entitled
BIRTH AND DEATH.

 

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December 3rd- Marilyn Nelson-with audio

This morning we thank Marilyn Nelson and welcome her to our pulpit. Marilyn is a member of our church and a Poet Laureate of the state of Connecticut. In celebration of the 350th anniversary of our church, Marilyn has published a volume of original poetry entitled “The Meeting House” that beautifully illuminates many aspects of our church’s history.

STAY WOKE

Since this is the first Sunday of Advent, the time of preparation for the birth of Jesus, the Christ, the period in which we clean out our cluttered and filthy interior barns and lay sweet hay in our heart’s mangers, I was surprised, when I googled the common lectionary, to find that the first of today’s readings does not express the awed joy of anticipation, something like the tremulous mixed feelings of a woman’s first reading the annunciation of her future in the positive color flag of a pregnancy test. No, it’s accusation, impatience, blame. Isaiah seems to be seeing our generation, as we ask why God doesn’t step down from heaven with a Paul Bunyan stomp that would make the mountains shake and make people who disagree with us tremble with recognition and vote the way we believe God thinks (in agreement with us) is the right way. Isaiah seems to speak for us, shaking a fist at the sky, saying it’s all Your fault we are doing such a miserable job of being stewards of the planet and serving Christ’s sheep. If You hadn’t turned away from us in anger, we wouldn’t have transgressed. If You hadn’t hidden Your face from us, we would be better people. What a colossal cop-out! I bet marriage counselors hear a lot of that kind of excuse.


I’m reminded of a cartoon I clipped out, framed, and had on my wall for a long time, back in my distant college days. There were two frames: in the first, a tiny priest bows his head under a high stained glass window in a vast, darkened cathedral. Picture a rose window in Chartres at dusk. He is praying the petitionary common prayers we are all familiar with, something like this: “Please help us to be understanding and forgiving of all those we encounter. Show us how to serve one another, to offer love, care and support. Help us carry peace to other nations.


Comfort those who live with grief. Embrace those in pain and physical suffering. Watch over all those who feel isolated and alone. Strengthen and encourage all those who seek to serve and protect the vulnerable. Comfort the broken-hearted…” The prayer appears in small white letters spiraling upward against the dark background. In the second frame of the cartoon, a blinding light bursts through the shattered rose window, and big, bold black letters say, “Do it your damn selves!”


As we struggle today to stand on our feet, in the unrelenting current of dismaying events, it’s hard not to beg, along with the psalmist, “Please don’t be angry with us any more; come back, save us from this torrent of misfortune!” Yet this is the first Sunday of Advent; we already know of the peace that exists between God and ourselves, the incarnate peace beyond our understanding, which is perpetually born in grace as possibility within us.


Yes, these are dark days. Most of the people I know confess that they sometimes feel they have to take breaks from the onslaught of bad news. Of ugly news. Of breaking news. Of headlines we hope children don’t understand. It’s hard not to want to ask God to step into history and make things right. I realize this is not a universal sentiment, but I am one of those who would like God to reverse time, as Superman did in the first Superman movie by flying around Earth so fast that it began to turn in the opposite direction, making time go backward. Many of my friends and I would be very happy to turn back to September or October of 2016. I know many people would like to go back even farther: how about 1937, for instance? Or 1620. It’s too bad history has no “undo” button. But we are here, in this moment, in this broken world. Is this moment darker than a moment ago? Is it darker than yesterday? Than last September or October? Than 1937, or 1620? Everywhere I look, I see the prosecution’s argument against humanity. Yet everywhere, as Leonard Cohen so poignantly reminds us, humanity’s broken hallelujah rises.


Perhaps we need to move past blaming God for the darkness we see, and wake to new vision. And perhaps the way to wake to new vision is to recognize that God has not turned away from us; that God is with us, God is within us, and within each profoundly local, tiny, ordinary reality we can take in as blessing, and can bless. Knowing that one is blessed makes one want to pass blessings on. Is that not what that cartoon of God’s loud voice is telling us to do? We can’t change history. We can’t turn back the clock. But we are not helpless. Perhaps individually we can’t affect history, but many small pebbles together can change the course of the mightiest river. Many pebbles together, many actions, even the smallest actions. Remember Michael Jackson’s song, “The Man in the Mirror”? I’ll remind you:


I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make a change!
Na na na, na na na, na na, na nah (Oh yeah!)


We have to change every day, every moment, every time we look in the mirror. That change is expressed in blessings. Every blessing we bestow, even the smallest, a smile exchanged with a stranger, a loving thought held for a moment for a person in need, a decision to donate $5 to a worthy cause instead of having a pumpkin spice latte, becomes a pebble against the rising currents of rage, nationalism, and nihilism. Living those blessings, constantly resisting the temptations of spiritual and interpersonal laziness, makes one a person who acts for rightness, justice, and fairness: one who, in contemporary “hip” parlance, is “woke.”


When I told my daughter a few days ago that I had agreed to give an Advent sermon based in part on Jesus’ parable about the temptation of spiritual laxity, in which he tells us to “keep awake,” and that I didn’t yet know what I would be saying but that I had offered as a place¬holder title the phrase “Stay Woke,” she told me that the phrase originated in a 2008 hit song by Erykah Badu, whose refrain is “I stay woke,” and that, adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement, it quickly became a catchword in African American slang, meaning aware of and actively attentive to issues of racial and social justice. So there you have it: a transition from Jesus to Erykah Badu. But that leap, though perhaps odd, seems appropriate. Jesus tells us that we servants must not be found asleep if the master suddenly comes home expecting to find us doing our assigned work; that we must keep awake, we must “stay woke.” I take this to mean we must be vigilant about social issues, aware of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, greed, and fear. If you’re a white person, pretty much the best thing you can hope a black person may say about you is that you are “woke.”


And staying “woke” is, finally, the message of this earliest Advent season, during which we prepare for inward change by blessing every moment with our broken, “woke” hallelujah.


Today we welcome new members of our church family to come together with us as a people trying to understand how to enact the deepest truths of Jesus’ life in our own clumsy and limited ways. How do we together constitute “the body of Christ”? How do we bless the earth and its teeming universe of life? How do we best take the responsibility for doing God’s work with our hands? With these questions we lay out the sweet, soft hay to welcome the infant helplessness of God’s self-gift.


Since I am a poet, I’d like to leave you with a few lines of verse. First from a poem called “Christians,” in my little book, The Meeting House, based on the early history of our church. This poem, based on incidents that happened in 1839-40, when the congregation was apparently roiled by divided opinion about involvement in the trial in New Haven of the Amistad mutineers, asks whether the truer Christians are those who take the safe, easy, painless path of self¬congratulation and self-righteousness, or whether Christians…….


Are .those who strive to imitate, in minute kindnesses, His gentle life.
Are they those who know inner conversion into the discipleship of service.
Are they those who are good Samaritans, who can see straight through a black prisoner’s face to the joy-filled vastness of a free heart.
Those who know an African mutineer is more infinity than rich cargo.
Are they those who accept persecution as the price of trying to feed His sheep.


I’ll end with a more recent poem, which tries to confront the feeling of being overwhelmed by the now, and to ask how to prepare in wokeness an interior place where Christ can live. It begins with an image I saw from the bus window as we drove through Jordan on the Tree of Life journey.


As the Wolves Gather


As a shepherd on a plain of sparse brown grass leans on his crook with his senses on high alert, surrounded by a sea of moving sounds, let me listen.
Give me the  strength to stop being awakened by the radio stuck on a station of depressing news.
Let me wake woke and lie there listening for a minute to the minute musics of my heart, my house, and the world outside. Stopper my ears against the siren calls of in-boxes and junk email.

Help me resist my Facebook stranger-friends. Help me reclaim in simple solitude the whistle of nothingness in my ears.
Give me a day without background music, its beautiful face masking distraction.

Firm my commitment to being alone with the thought of the cavernous cosmos. Remind me that I am an iota enveloped in infinite love, and that I am surrounded by like minds.

Give me the shepherd’s focused vigilance, the shepherd’s strength to fight off wolves.

Thank you. Many blessings. May you find that strength, as well.

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We Depend Upon One Another

We depend upon our faith to guide us. We depend upon one another as we share and deepen our own spirituality to perform our work. And we know, too, that there are people who depend upon us – even as we depend upon them - to be signs of hope in troubling times. With our annual Stewardship Campaign, we depend upon you. We rely on you to make our ministries and our outreach possible. Our annual Stewardship Campaign raises nearly 90% of the funds needed for our ministry and missions. We welcome – and are grateful for – any and all gifts.

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