Our Pastor

Hello from Hummelstown UCC. It is an honor to be here in this community, worship, serving and walking the journey of discipleship together.
Whether you are new to the area, or looking for a new church home, we want you to know you are welcome here. At Hummelstown UCC, you will find joyful hearts and lives engaged in making God’s realm feel real, right around us. We strive to be a community where all people might find a centering place, a challenge to care for our neighbors in new ways, and a worship that is spiritually filling and enlivening.
 
As an Open and Affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ, we work for the full inclusion of every person, every family in fellowship, friendship, worship and education. We are committed to being lifelong learners and seekers of God’s path in our lives. In our vision statement, we say
“We are a vibrant and progressive Christian community embracing inclusivity and diversity with all who seek to enrich their spiritual journey. Using the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Still Speaking God, we seek to engage the world through workshop, education, ministry, mission and love.”
 
And I truly believe this is the framework of our community. We are here in this place to tell the story of the awe-inspiring good news that the sacred One loves and hears us. If you have questions about the church, worship, or our theology, I’d be happy to meet with you! Email me or call the office to find a time
–Pastor Beth

 

A bit about Beth –
Born and raised outside Portland, Oregon, Pastor Beth Rogers has always felt a strong call to build relationships in community. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in Sociology and Psychology from the University of Oregon in 2003 and after several years working with afterschool youth programs, she completed a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion in 2011. She has been in ministry for 10 years, 4 years as an Ordained Minister. Her areas of focus have been in creating new worship styles, youth engagement, children’s religious education and crafting small relational groups. She has deep ties to caring for creation through outdoor ministry, and developing intergenerational relationships.
She has served congregations in Oregon, Massachusetts and Minnesota before coming to Pennsylvania.
 
When not at the church, you can find her spending time with her wife Samira and daughter Tylah, enjoying the outdoors, reading science fiction or trying a new recipe in the kitchen.

07/14/2019
Sermon 2019_07_14
Series: (All)

Sermon

In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, there are many we might identify with. It might be that we feel like the lawyer, here on a Sunday after all, here to figure out what it will take to have eternal life, or to live the right life. And the divine one answers us with a quick, seemingly impossible retort. And when we need more clarification… we get an unrelated story.

Or maybe when we feel good about ourselves, and need some validation, we see ourselves as the good Samaritan. The person willing to put everything on the line and give for someone we don’t even know.

Or maybe we feel like the man thrown about by life, robbed of everything and left alone, in need of the goodness of strangers but left waiting.

It’s much harder, however, to see ourselves as the two who left him, the priest and the Levite. Do we believe ourselves capable of that kind of cruelty? This is where we must spend the most time finding the Love of God for us.

To be loved by the divine when we seek knowledge, this seems doable. To be loved when we have done the right thing, fair and reasonable. To be loved when we are in pain and in the depths of our lives, grateful for someone to lift us up. To be loved when we have done nothing to help the one God loves? This is grace.

Kurt Vonnegut was once asked, to tell someone it would be okay. In response he said, “welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of. You’ve got to be kind.”

That’s it. That’s what it takes kindness. It was kindness of the one who cared for the broken man’s wounds that showed what it is to be a neighbor. But that kindness requires a few things. It isn’t just that you need to bind up the wounds of the broken, but that you must be looking for them. You must see the broken, give assistance and return to check on their progress. This is kindness. This is the divine call to be a neighbor.

Who is my neighbor?

Tropical Storm Barry hit Louisiana this week. Flooding and rain. Homes washed out. Families displaced. Many years ago, I went to New Orleans with a Lutheran Youth Trip. It was a return trip for the group, who had held the previous youth event there as well, right after Hurricane Katrina. When millions were displaced, lives ruined and massive reconstruction needed. One of the poignant memories I have of that trip was someone asking why some people didn’t leave their homes. The warnings were there. And the answer? If you don’t have money for gas, food, or transportation, then how are you going to leave? Many of those whose lives have been devastated by hurricanes are those living paycheck to paycheck. Certainly those who are homeless are also affected, and those who had a way to get out still had homes flooded, but those who just make it work. These are the ones who feel like they have hope, only to have it dashed on a single unexpected expense, or… hurricane.

But Who Jesus is my neighbor?

After immigration raids were announced, thousands protested this week the increase of tension for a community already living in fear. Because of US immigration policy, thousands of families have been detained for months for legally requesting asylum. Fleeing lives of fear in home countries, they came to seek a chance at education, peace, equity. It isn’t about creating unrest, it is about wanting as all want, to provide a chance at life for future generations. I have a pastor friend who is highly involved with the immigration crisis on the border who has worked on both sides in Mexico and here in the US, and she speaks of the desire for opportunity that is wanted. For children to know compassion, and peace in their lives and yet have been met as the traveler in our story with violence

But who is my neighbor?

Last Sunday, the US Women’s National Soccer Team made history as wining the most women’s FIFA world cups. Four wins, and in the history of the world cup, that means half of the titles have been won by the US. That’s an amazing achievement for any person, any team, any country. It should be a source of pride that our players are that skilled. But immediately after winning, a renewed vigor arose to establish equal pay scales for the US mens and women’s teams. A very clear boundary has been made for years that privileges the men’s team by millions of dollars. Is it fair many ask that these extremely highly skilled professionals not be given what is equitable? In an era of an increased awareness of the need for equity, the uniqueness of this battle has been with the great disparity between the success rates for women’s and men’s soccer in international play. And it forces us to ask the question, why at the outset were women paid less? Why is misogyny allowable at this point in history?

Who is my neighbor?

Our neighbors surround us with little stories of triumph and pain, national and international tales of finding or surviving with hope. The world cries out for justice, but more than that, it calls out for kindness. For recognition of the other who is at our table, the door, or across the way. When we imagine the world of the traveler on the road, can we see it through our eyes today? Can we listen deeply for the word of the divine blessing all people equally? Can we take a step back from our own lives to find God in the mix?

In the story of the Good Samaritan, we have a political battle of wills. Will the right person act right, or will the person demonized be the one who alerts us to our loss of humanity?

As I read some of those examples, did you start feeling like the poor traveler, broken by the world problems, and left in a ditch alone, begging the question who will help? I know I have at times this week, just sat and wondered, when God might appear in that Good Samaritan I need in my life. From where will my salvation come? If I’m honest though, as much as it pains me to hear it, I’m not that traveler. I am protected by layers of privilege and blessings of birth that keep me out of that ditch. Layers that allow me to, if I choose, act like the Priest and the Levite, ignoring the cause of another. And yet, my faith story compels me to seek out the Samaritan, to envision a world where we all live into our destinies of compassion and show kindness. Where there is no one ignored for sake of time, or lack of interest. Where there is no question that the pained and broken will be cared for.

For see, there was another character in the story I didn’t mention when we began. Yes, there is a priest, a Levite, a traveler, a Samaritan. And then there is the Innkeeper as well. Someone who receives the broken with promises of payment for responsible action. A corrupt innkeeper might have pocketed the money and sent the broken man on his way. An ethical innkeeper would see the example of the Samaritan and do what we must to help out too. The Samaritans are in many places, already out there doing the hard work of picking up the disheartened, robbed people and shedding light on their circumstances. What we can do, is to receive that message and act accordingly. To unite together in our innkeeping with others who are receiving their own travelers in need. There is God in the Priest and the Levite who turned away, but it needs to be reclaimed. There is God in the traveler who shows us that God among us needs to be cared for. There is God in the Samaritan who gets us to open our doors by showing us the reward of compassion. And there is God in us as well, for every part we play. We began our worship today with these words…"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." - Pema is an American Tibetan Buddhist nun, and this quote is a reminder that we cannot be healers without being healed, but also that the healing is not simple. There is awareness of the whole self, the self we deny and the public self we embrace that is needed to be a healer, an innkeeper, a Samaritan. Empathy is needed, not pity, to truly stand with another. So whether it is the immigrant, the flood soaked gulf coast, or women’s equality, we need to recognize how all of these are a call for shared humanity. Without a common ground to begin, we stand at odds from one another, frozen and unable to change.

And maybe this is the true gift of the Samaritan, equality. He saw himself as equal to the traveler and so cared for him knowing that he too may one day need compassion and empathy in his neighbor.

Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hand of robbers? The one who showed him mercy.

Show mercy. Love Kindness and Go into the world filled with God’s compassion.

Amen

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  • 07/14/2019Sermon 2019_07_14
    07/14/2019
    Sermon 2019_07_14
    Series: (All)

    Sermon

    In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, there are many we might identify with. It might be that we feel like the lawyer, here on a Sunday after all, here to figure out what it will take to have eternal life, or to live the right life. And the divine one answers us with a quick, seemingly impossible retort. And when we need more clarification… we get an unrelated story.

    Or maybe when we feel good about ourselves, and need some validation, we see ourselves as the good Samaritan. The person willing to put everything on the line and give for someone we don’t even know.

    Or maybe we feel like the man thrown about by life, robbed of everything and left alone, in need of the goodness of strangers but left waiting.

    It’s much harder, however, to see ourselves as the two who left him, the priest and the Levite. Do we believe ourselves capable of that kind of cruelty? This is where we must spend the most time finding the Love of God for us.

    To be loved by the divine when we seek knowledge, this seems doable. To be loved when we have done the right thing, fair and reasonable. To be loved when we are in pain and in the depths of our lives, grateful for someone to lift us up. To be loved when we have done nothing to help the one God loves? This is grace.

    Kurt Vonnegut was once asked, to tell someone it would be okay. In response he said, “welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of. You’ve got to be kind.”

    That’s it. That’s what it takes kindness. It was kindness of the one who cared for the broken man’s wounds that showed what it is to be a neighbor. But that kindness requires a few things. It isn’t just that you need to bind up the wounds of the broken, but that you must be looking for them. You must see the broken, give assistance and return to check on their progress. This is kindness. This is the divine call to be a neighbor.

    Who is my neighbor?

    Tropical Storm Barry hit Louisiana this week. Flooding and rain. Homes washed out. Families displaced. Many years ago, I went to New Orleans with a Lutheran Youth Trip. It was a return trip for the group, who had held the previous youth event there as well, right after Hurricane Katrina. When millions were displaced, lives ruined and massive reconstruction needed. One of the poignant memories I have of that trip was someone asking why some people didn’t leave their homes. The warnings were there. And the answer? If you don’t have money for gas, food, or transportation, then how are you going to leave? Many of those whose lives have been devastated by hurricanes are those living paycheck to paycheck. Certainly those who are homeless are also affected, and those who had a way to get out still had homes flooded, but those who just make it work. These are the ones who feel like they have hope, only to have it dashed on a single unexpected expense, or… hurricane.

    But Who Jesus is my neighbor?

    After immigration raids were announced, thousands protested this week the increase of tension for a community already living in fear. Because of US immigration policy, thousands of families have been detained for months for legally requesting asylum. Fleeing lives of fear in home countries, they came to seek a chance at education, peace, equity. It isn’t about creating unrest, it is about wanting as all want, to provide a chance at life for future generations. I have a pastor friend who is highly involved with the immigration crisis on the border who has worked on both sides in Mexico and here in the US, and she speaks of the desire for opportunity that is wanted. For children to know compassion, and peace in their lives and yet have been met as the traveler in our story with violence

    But who is my neighbor?

    Last Sunday, the US Women’s National Soccer Team made history as wining the most women’s FIFA world cups. Four wins, and in the history of the world cup, that means half of the titles have been won by the US. That’s an amazing achievement for any person, any team, any country. It should be a source of pride that our players are that skilled. But immediately after winning, a renewed vigor arose to establish equal pay scales for the US mens and women’s teams. A very clear boundary has been made for years that privileges the men’s team by millions of dollars. Is it fair many ask that these extremely highly skilled professionals not be given what is equitable? In an era of an increased awareness of the need for equity, the uniqueness of this battle has been with the great disparity between the success rates for women’s and men’s soccer in international play. And it forces us to ask the question, why at the outset were women paid less? Why is misogyny allowable at this point in history?

    Who is my neighbor?

    Our neighbors surround us with little stories of triumph and pain, national and international tales of finding or surviving with hope. The world cries out for justice, but more than that, it calls out for kindness. For recognition of the other who is at our table, the door, or across the way. When we imagine the world of the traveler on the road, can we see it through our eyes today? Can we listen deeply for the word of the divine blessing all people equally? Can we take a step back from our own lives to find God in the mix?

    In the story of the Good Samaritan, we have a political battle of wills. Will the right person act right, or will the person demonized be the one who alerts us to our loss of humanity?

    As I read some of those examples, did you start feeling like the poor traveler, broken by the world problems, and left in a ditch alone, begging the question who will help? I know I have at times this week, just sat and wondered, when God might appear in that Good Samaritan I need in my life. From where will my salvation come? If I’m honest though, as much as it pains me to hear it, I’m not that traveler. I am protected by layers of privilege and blessings of birth that keep me out of that ditch. Layers that allow me to, if I choose, act like the Priest and the Levite, ignoring the cause of another. And yet, my faith story compels me to seek out the Samaritan, to envision a world where we all live into our destinies of compassion and show kindness. Where there is no one ignored for sake of time, or lack of interest. Where there is no question that the pained and broken will be cared for.

    For see, there was another character in the story I didn’t mention when we began. Yes, there is a priest, a Levite, a traveler, a Samaritan. And then there is the Innkeeper as well. Someone who receives the broken with promises of payment for responsible action. A corrupt innkeeper might have pocketed the money and sent the broken man on his way. An ethical innkeeper would see the example of the Samaritan and do what we must to help out too. The Samaritans are in many places, already out there doing the hard work of picking up the disheartened, robbed people and shedding light on their circumstances. What we can do, is to receive that message and act accordingly. To unite together in our innkeeping with others who are receiving their own travelers in need. There is God in the Priest and the Levite who turned away, but it needs to be reclaimed. There is God in the traveler who shows us that God among us needs to be cared for. There is God in the Samaritan who gets us to open our doors by showing us the reward of compassion. And there is God in us as well, for every part we play. We began our worship today with these words…"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." - Pema is an American Tibetan Buddhist nun, and this quote is a reminder that we cannot be healers without being healed, but also that the healing is not simple. There is awareness of the whole self, the self we deny and the public self we embrace that is needed to be a healer, an innkeeper, a Samaritan. Empathy is needed, not pity, to truly stand with another. So whether it is the immigrant, the flood soaked gulf coast, or women’s equality, we need to recognize how all of these are a call for shared humanity. Without a common ground to begin, we stand at odds from one another, frozen and unable to change.

    And maybe this is the true gift of the Samaritan, equality. He saw himself as equal to the traveler and so cared for him knowing that he too may one day need compassion and empathy in his neighbor.

    Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hand of robbers? The one who showed him mercy.

    Show mercy. Love Kindness and Go into the world filled with God’s compassion.

    Amen

  • 07/07/2019Sermon 2019_07_07
    07/07/2019
    Sermon 2019_07_07
    Series: (All)

    Sermon

    How are you feeling today church? I mean it. These readings today speak directly into the heart of widening the mission and ministry of the church. They call us to seek new disciples, to take God’s authority into the world and meet others. To bear each others burdens and care for ourselves as we seek out the world as well. So really, how are we feeling today? Does that seem daunting, intimidating, unsure of where to start? All these things at once right? We know we are a smaller church, but many of you remember days of larger numbers, kids running around, full classrooms and on and on. And in those memories, we become tempted to think we have failed or are not as vital as we once were.

    This is certainly the fear line of the mainline church, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Churches are only as vital as the mission they engage in, and even churches of hundreds, even thousands can be insignificant. Numbers aren’t what matters. Vitality and awareness of mission are. In Luke, Jesus commissions seventy new disciples to walk the journey of discipleship ahead of him. To walk into new places uninvited, to invite new people to walk the journey of faith alongside them, and to share the amazing new life in faith he was sharing.

    How many of you have seen the movie Sister Act, from the 90s? It’s a Whoopi Goldberg comedy where we are supposed to laugh at the unlikelyhood of Whoopi and the old white nuns getting along so well. But in the story, is also the story of a church building itself back to vitality. There is a specific scene where the choir starts singing and the neighbors out on the street start pouring in the doors. The offering baskets start filling up as they pass down newly full aisles of people. It’s a pastors dream right? Sudden vitality and there was little the monsignor had to do of course. Doesn’t that sound lovely? I caught a bit of the movie the other night and it started me thinking about this passage from Luke where Jesus commissions seventy others to go out into the world and seek hospitality ahead of him and share the story of the kingdom of God with those on the way. But it isn’t just to hear the good music of the new choir like in Sister Act, these people aren’t coming to church necessarily, Jesus is asking the people to go out and eat with people, to test their willingness to receive strangers.

    Jesus didn’t have a church building to support, or bills to pay, this we know. So when he calls the people to go out and change the world, it is a pretty different call than the one we hear here. But what is the same is the passion for the work. That is at the heart of the call to discipleship. Passion and hospitality.

    In the book “The Turnaround Church” Mary Louise Gifford writes of a transformation in her church which went from 25 members to full pews again and the work that it took to get there. It takes a lot of flexibility and freedom for a congregation to change from death to life. And there is a lot to her story. We are in a wonderful moment, wonderful and maybe scary moment in the world where the purpose and execution of church has changed. Those outside the church, aren’t looking for the worship service as much any longer. They are looking for something else. Action perhaps, or advocacy, or a focus for their positive energy. It isn’t just about being good at being a church, it’s about being a church that does good too. The bar for churches has shifted in recent decades. It’s about, as author Gifford wrote, “developing leaders who can inspire action in others. This positive energy is infectious”. That’s the bar for churches today, create infectious positive energy. What a glorious vision of the world today. And what a wonderful image to create. Can you imagine being the place that is known to share infections positive energy?

    17 The seventy[a] returned with joy” our scripture exclaimed. While the work they did might not be the work we are used to, getting demons to submit and treading on snakes and scorpions, the feeling is certainly something we can relate to. When was the last time you had to do something very hard, or had to keep two very different groups of people happy and it felt as if you were walking among sleeping rattlesnakes? Or that you knew so well that what you were doing was right that it was as if angels had helped you overcome tremendous odds to create a future. This is the feeling of the seventy returning to Jesus. They were told they could carry no money, no extra clothes and just go and share the message of the Kingdom, get people to eat them. That’s what they were to do, and they are so overjoyed with their success that they have trod on snakes and scorpions!

    How are we feeling today church? Have we overcome, are we ready to be that overjoyed?

    An important factor in the work the new disciples are doing is that they are leading by invitation. And this is something we can learn as well, how to create a culture of invitation and use that culture to the advantage. For as much as we need to be present in the community telling the story of this church, we also must commission ourselves to all be inviters. Not just to those we know, but to those we don’t know. Personal invitations are the main reason people will attend a specific church, and often stay because of that invitation. It isn’t just to worship though too, it is the invitation to other events and programs that help fully show the life of the church that people might be interested in.

    And, here’s a harder part. That culture of invitation, has to become so pervasive that community members, businesses, non worshipers know us so well as to be able to recommend to someone who is looking. Because the honest truth is that most of us aren’t going to have someone come up to us and ask for a church recommendation. These requests most often come to those outside the church. I had a hair dresser once, who was the reason a couple of people came to visit a previous church. Can we be well known enough that the pizza places out here on main would know to recommend us? Would they recommend us for our work, for our spirit, for the kindness with which we receive guests, for the way we care for each other?

    The church is a complicated organism. Caring for others outside the church is just one part of church life. Even Jesus had to care for the original disciples at the same time that he engaged new ones. But Jesus didn’t have to deal with much of the institution. In fact, his life was about de institutionalizing. The church that developed after him however, could not have sustained that kind of freedom. Just by the time of Paul, we already were maintaining the institution and hoping to keep the spirit of innovation in Jesus name. The story of Galatians is a church in crisis. A church that needs to be turned around, to be refocused so that it might find a way to thrive. And that letter, that story of rebirth, concludes with compassion for one another. A great reminder from scripture that even in the midst of hard times, or when the work of the world seems overwhelming, we always must remember to find radical compassion for our neighbors, this time the neighbors inside the church. Certainly Paul wants the community of Galatians to carry their own weight, have pride in their individual achievements, but he also wants to remind the people that they need to hold some space for the needs of the person next to them in the pew. How can we better support our fellows at the same time we seek outside the church to develop new things? The Galatians were finding themselves preoccupied with the letter of the law, bogged down with circumcision and rules rather than the spirit of compassionate life in community Jesus sought to teach and embody. In his analysis, Paul is not critical of individuals in the church, as he offers some practical instructions on life in community –Christian community. Life based in the spirit of the messiah, a vision, a hope and the new creation there. In the midst of whatever the crisis of the young church really was, Paul encourages the people to give of themselves in faithful service, gratitude, and humility. This is how they get their message out into the world, with compassion, not arrogance, making oneself better than a neighbor. He reminds us that compassion is a practical necessity that will stand above law and invite grace in action, joy in the spirit. It respects the dignity of all human beings. And what’s more, Paul is so certain the church needs to hear this that he takes over the writing himself!

    It is with blessing that Paul, and Jesus, and the characters of Sister Act want us to build a bigger vision of church. In the words of Paul, “As for those who will follow this rule- peace be upon them.” As Jesus told the seventy, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” Peace is the invitation to hospitality and compassion, and the cornerstone of life in a turnaround community. Peace to the neighborhood comes with an awareness of the needs of the community and the work to meet those needs. So again, I ask the question again. How are you feeling today? Are you ready to spread peace, to bear one another burdens, to harvest the world and share the message of the unending love found in the kingdom of God?

  • 06/30/2019Sermon 2019_06_30
    06/30/2019
    Sermon 2019_06_30
    Series: (All)

    Sermon

    As you might have noticed on the backs of your bulletin, this Sunday is Open and Affirming Sunday, a chance to celebrate the Open and Affirming Covenant that each ONA church has created to felly welcome and include the LGBTQ community. And at the end of the national Pride month, it provides a chance to engage with the world outside the church in bringing more volume to the needs of the queer community in the church. We celebrate this day with vigor to show to the world that not all Christians are homophobic. Though too many of the church wide voices are still unwelcoming, we can stand bolding in our faith that calls us to love all people and all journeys as a path to the divine.

    For those who have been historically disinvited to the banquet of life in the kingdom of God, celebrating this annually ensures that the message of real love is heard.

    This year, the scriptures speak of freedom and following Jesus on the not so easy road. Freedom in Christ as Paul writes about in the letter to the Galatians is exactly the message we all need to continue to hear each day. Christ has set you free, so take your stand! As it says as translated in the Message tells us. God has called us to live a free life. But freedom doesn’t mean our self centered desires are free to run the day, that is not freedom, but bondage to selfishness. No Freedom here is about being in relationship with those around us. Loving others as we love ourselves. Freedom in relationship doesn’t allow room for getting our own way all the time. It’s not about competition, there is no shortage of love in God’s kingdom, there is room for all to have free love.

    This past week, Sam brought The Original Warm Fuzzy Tale home, a children’s book about a world in which everyone has an unending bag of warm fuzzys, a good feeling, a compliment, something you can give one another that makes you feel loved. But instead of continuing to share these loving experiences, the people turn to fear that they will run out. And when that fear comes in to their lives, their generosity of love diminishes. They develop a paranoid loneliness, a spirit of competition, divided homes, all consuming yet never satisfied wants.

    But when the people live in kindness, the fruit of compassion and joy pervades. Much as Paul writes to the churches in Galatia. What happens when we live God’s way? Affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a wildness to stick with things, a conviction that basic holiness permeates. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

    This is the life the Galatians were called to, This is the life of the Warm Fuzzies, this is the life we are called to. This is the life some in our community, and many in the world we have not met have been denied. And my heart hurts for those who have been denied the Warm Fuzzies, compassion.

    This week, I changed the sign out front to share a new message, one I think that speaks to Open and Affirming Sunday and why we continue to celebrate it, even though….”everyone” knows our stance.

    The quote, "Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it's a good place to start." Comes from NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in the NBA. He played for over ten years before coming out. His words speak to us here today as the need for more conversation and openness to others is needed in our world. It is one thing for me to stand up here each Sunday and preach a gospel of love, it is another thing entirely for all of us to go from here, filled with that good news of compassion to share that with others. To share a spirit of openness with our Muslim, or Jewish, or Atheist/Agnostic neighbors without trying to convert them. To share that openness for dialogue with neighbors of all races, abilities, gender expressions, or nationalities without it becoming a battle of one-upmanship. To be an ally to people wherever they are, whoever they are on their journeys.

    Openness has helps us come together to start conversations about what's happening in our world, discuss problems at our local, state and national levels, and to bring awareness to a multitude of issues from all sides. Openness can be a start to disarming a more powerful foe: hate. If someone is willing to listen with an open mind despite a difference in ideas or opinions, offer them a listening ear in return. That simple willingness to truly hear another person whole heartedly and from a place of cooperation can be the catalyst to change in a positive direction. Divided we accomplish nothing: together we can build greatness.

    Or as Paul says here, We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. Amen to that. A big LGBTQ friendly Amen.

    In our Gospel text today, however, the openness to dialogue in Galatians seems at odds a little with Jesus’ own attitude to his followers, the ingroup even. While Paul is certainly speaking volumes to the need for advocacy in the ally community to stand with those at risk or being persecuted, Jesus’ attention seems to be elsewhere, and the forgiving understanding nature we might remember Jesus having is gone.

    When they are met with a lack of hospitality by the Samaritans, his disciples seem to have lost all memory of forgiveness and instead ask for retribution. Something Jesus certainly has not been about. And for that we certainly can give thanks. Jesus is preaching to his people in that moment, a volume of non-violent resistance. This is turn the other cheek in terms of hospitality. Or as Jesus has told them in an earlier part of the story in Luke, -if someone won’t receive you, shake the dust off your feet as you leave town.

    But to these new followers, these people coming up to join the traveling crowd, his patience seems to be wearing thin. Are you really ready to rough it? He questions these two people and their intentions for the journey. It isn’t for the fame or glory that he is willing to bring people along. Jesus wants commitment, and he wants it immediately. To the “but firsts” on his way, he is curt and short. But he is certainly indicating that Those who follow in his path will not have an easy road. They may find that they have no place to call home either physically or culturally, the world may turn against them and these few short phrases preserved here seem to be sharing with us that feeling of being uneasy with the path. In this country, in this day and time, it isn’t as hard to be a follower of Jesus as these folks here are shown. Even the best inns are likely to have a Christian Bible in the drawer. Churches are on every street corner just about, and while denominationally the UCC is not large in the US, the overwhelming number of Americans would still identify as Christian. Certainly funerals and the honoring of the dead are a part of our ministry, unlike the brush off Jesus gives that man. Times have changed. And while I’d love to say that we have moved past an era of Christian persecution, we haven’t. We are still in an era of Christian persecution of other Christians for having the right belief. And we are well into an era of Christians AS the persecutors. So while Jesus statement to get a move on and seize the day aren’t as applicable to many of our faith tradition, his advice here is quite apropos for the LGBTQ community.

    To steer clear of violence, to embrace suffering for the sake of another, to refuse the comfort of privilege or status, these are things our siblings still need to hear. God’s vision and mission are, to say the least, countercultural; the full inclusion and participation of all people here on earth. Not waited for after death, but a present experience of life. Possibly, the hope of the kingdom, the vision and misson God has given Jesus run contrary to the natural human instructs for preservation, safety and comfort. To do the work of justice seeking for all people, Jesus, the disciples, those who have claimed to be followers of Jesus for thousands of years, the LGBTQ community and allies have had to choose the path of MOST resistance, not least. To make a way through pain, or humiliation, or lost community. In this regard we might detect something of a truth in advertising element to Jesus’ rebuke of his would be followers. Those who would embrace Jesus and his mission must be under no illusions of what it will mean for them, and how that work is entwined with the care of all of our neighbors. Those who wanted to follow were putting limits on willingness to follow, after I do this, if I can do it… The call to discipleship isn’t simple.

    Over my life, I have been told often how friends who stand up for me to those who revile the LGBTQ community. One common refrain is “Would you choose to be gay?” If it was a choice, would you choose persecution? And if the answer is no, then the response is always, then why would you think that so and so would choose it, therefore it must be okay because we would not choose injury. And there is some truth to that line of logic. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Would we choose persecution? Well, Jesus here says we should. He says that for the sake of that future hope, his followers should put themselves in places where they will have to deny their familial obligations, where traditions and relationships of the past should be left in the dust to seize the day and create a new family.

    And so maybe this is true too. If I could choose, would I choose to be gay? The honest truth is yes, I think I would. Because there is much that is gained by a society that includes people who stray outside one line or another, and these boundary crossers are valuable in moving innovation, technology, art, justice, compassion forward in the world. And the act of straying outside the lines, the knowledge that what you are doing transgresses a boundary other humans have created shows us that change is possible. That diversity and uniqueness are valuable, God divined alternatives to false visions of homogeny and sameness.

    I would choose to be gay. And I would choose to stand up for what is right for the hetrosexual community. And the differently abled community. And the black and brown lives that matter. I will stand up for equity and God’s compassion.

    And…

    And, I will continue to be challenged by doing that work on God’s timetable. Not my own. Of listening to the voice that pushes me forward without telling that voice I have to get the dishes done first. I will continue to be challenged to live on God’s time. “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s Kingdom off until tomorrow. Seize the day.”

    Seize the day of not just acceptance, not just tolerance of difference, but an invitation of uniqueness to flow in our world. For God’s realm to come here on earth and include all the people torn down by hatred, the trans and queer siblings who are misunderstood, the immigrants scapegoated by politics, the alcoholic with a single day sober, the poor person told it is their own fault. Seize the invitation to be fully human, God’s people in this time and place.

    Galatians 5:26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.”

    Thanks Paul for that reminder of grace.

    Amen.

  • 06/23/2019Sermon 2019_06_23
    06/23/2019
    Sermon 2019_06_23
    Series: (All)

    Sermon

    I am a very visual person. I’m also a major analyzer. Movies, and tv offer me much to think about and are big ways I connect to the world around me. Maybe this is true for some of you as well. Several years ago, a comic book was brought to life in the television show Legion. The story of a man who has superpowers and the insanity that goes with his specific power. And when I first heard of the show, I was immediately transported back to this story you have heard today of the man who calls himself Legion, and the insanity with which he lives. That certainly was the point in the comic book as well as the tv show, to link to the memorable vision in this text. And what a story it is…

    This scripture reading comes back to us every few years, and yet I’m not sure I have even scratched the surface of what it holds for us. The story of this man is just too fanciful for an ordered church to be able to deal with. Can you imagine a man shackled to the ground in our nearest cemetery? Can you imagine the cacophony of voices this man is being overwhelmed by? Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. When we sit here. We hear something completely different…

    They sailed on to the country of the Gerasenes. As he stepped out onto land, a madman from town met Jesus. He hadn’t worn clothes for a long time, nor lived at home; he lived in the cemetery. When he saw Jesus he screamed, fell before him, and bellowed, - not just said, but BELLOWED What business do you have messing with me? You’re Jesus, Son of the High God, don’t give me a hard time!” Time after time the demon threw the man into convulsions. He had been placed under constant guard and tied with chains and shackles, but crazed and driven wild by the demon, he would shatter the bonds. 30-31 Jesus simply asked, “What is your name?” And because he was never alone in his own head, he said… “Legion. My name is Legion,” 32-33 A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged Jesus to order them into the pigs. He gave the order. It was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the lake and drowned.-Amazing what we learn to deal with when a single man lives ages with the cacophony and the pigs cannot remain even a moment. 34-36 Those tending the pigs, scared to death, bolted and told their story in town and country. People went out to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had been sent, sitting there at Jesus’ feet, wearing decent clothes and making sense. 37-39 Later, a great many people from the Gerasene countryside got together and asked Jesus to leave—too much change, too fast, and they were scared. So Jesus got back in the boat and set off. The man whom he had delivered from the demons asked to go with him, but he sent him back, saying, “Go home and tell everything God did in you.” So he went back and preached all over town everything Jesus had done in him.

    I’m sure you are left with even more questions than before as we re heard that story. What about the pigs? Why are the people now throwing out Jesus? What happened to that man after Jesus left? And of course so many more.

    Jesus’ journey with this man, and in fact this man’s journey are tied into a theme of restoration to community that is a frequent return throughout the gospels, where Jesus takes the healing to the community level. It isn’t just that this man needs to be released from his chaos, but that the community must also be healed to live with him again. It isn’t just a story of a miraculous healing of someone who is having a psychotic break. It is a community that has allowed itself to walk away from a member of their family. The man has lost himself in a cacophony of demonic voices, and the community has been lost to the cacophony of alienation.

    And when he is healed, I’d imagine a sigh of relief running through the whole town. But also, possibly, a sigh of another kind. An awareness of the injustice they had done to this man, even in trying to do right by him. Can they live with the fact that they had chosen to chain him and restrain him on the outskirts away from humanity, surrounded by death? In restoring the man to wellness, Jesus doesn’t allow him to go on the road with him in gratitude, as so many others do. No, in this case, he tells the man to remain. To live and share and be IN community the rest of his life. To essentially, surround the community with HIS presence, even as he was shunned. It’s not easy, the life of remaining in a hard place, surrounded by people who have done you wrong, even if it is out of an attempt at kindness.

    Oppression and injustice, fear, confusion. A new cacophony must emerge from this relationship to push out the feeling of being ill at ease both sides may feel and truly find a welcome home.

    This past year, as I began this transition between my former church and this wonderful community, I decided to do something very different, to drive for Lyft. I mean, how hard could it be, I had time on my hands, needed some extra funds and had a working car. As I drove, I got to know, even for just a very short moment, a very different community than the one that I typically worked, celebrated with and shared life together. And what I found, was that much of my passengers would talk about being in recovery. Some shared their lowest moment, when they knew they needed help, or would talk about how many days sober they had now, or how excited they were to get back a license, or off probation. All of these passengers shared about being overwhelmed in ways I had never experienced, and that mirror the experience of the tormented man in Gerasene. Maybe some of you have known that life, maybe you haven’t. But the experience of Legion, has certainly not been left to history. And the need to be restored to community has also certainly not been behind. In fact, maybe more than ever, community is in need of being called out, supported, called to account for the past, so that we might all find ways to approach the future with mutual respect.

    One commentary I read this week asked, “Are you overwhelmed by the voices raging at you from inside and out? Denigrating identity and driving you to places of extreme loneliness or despair”

    For so many reasons, we are called out as NOT ENOUGH every day, every moment. Transgender rights are being struck down in places small and large. Racial tension and injustice are rising every day. Or maybe it is just to the expectation of having it all, of being a perfect parent, having the good yard and house, feeling confident at work. At all times, in all places, we are told we are not enough. We are enslaved to an impossible vision.

    If you get the weekly email from Paul in the office, you might already know that this week, was the celebration of Freedom Day, Juneteenth, a reminder of the enslavement of humans that is part of our history in this country. Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery. It is a reminder to us that even though the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s executive order was signed on January 1, many were still enslaved for two and a half years after. For today’s world, of instant gratification and communication, this feels unsettling.

    In our reading today, we have that unsettling piece of sending the pigs off the cliff. And while there is much we could say about it, it also serves as a hanging discomfort out there to keep us from thinking we can be as good as God. That WE would certainly be above reproach, if only WE had been there. In the same way, the remnants of slavery, and injustice nag at our national history to remind us to BE BETTER. To think in all ways, at all times of the justice we find in our faith story, and to move forward with the presence to say that we can stand with all those who are currently living with injustice and pain, and not turn our back on them. To tell those children who are still separated from parents as part of current immigration policy that there is more we should and can do to remain with them. The man formerly called Legion is that reminder to his community and to us that justice for one must mean a call to justice for all, if we can remain focused on relationships of equity. In the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the African American National Anthem, author James Weldon Johnson calls us to this vision of hope through community. So much so that Beyonce even used it last summer at the Cochella music festival.

    Out of the gloo-my past, till now, we stand, at last, where the light gleam of our bright, star, is cast… God of our weary years, god of our silent tears.”

    These words, call us to a common call for justice, BE BETTER. Not just because we might be the man afflicted by demons, but we ARE also the community who restrains him in his chaos. God of our weary years, God of our silent tears.

    In the gospel we hear the good news that the voices of injustice and fear do not have the last word. God claims us once, again, always as beloved family members. Jesus gave the man responsibility and authority to communal change. He gave him, not power, but testimony. Just as all those in recovery who would share their testimony of strength with me as a stranger in their life, the man, and we are called to be that living testimony too. A living testimony of one who has been healed and restored.

    The story of Legion and why it is so memorable for me is that he gives us a different perspective on the resurrection we find at Easter with Jesus. We are living in an after Easter world where resurrection has been announced, but in this story, we can see another vision of moving from death to life. From the cemetery to the town center. Whether it is the chaos of the brain that pulls someone from community, or oppression, rebirth is possible. Rebirth for all.

    And in that comic book, TV show I referenced before, there too is a story of rebirth and rebuilding of community. Into the middle of the story of mental illness and fantasy, of chaotic worlds and taking sides, is the story of a fragility and healing. A fragility and healing of living out our testimonies.

    Or as Paul wrote to the Galatians in our first reading of the day, “ In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. We are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.” Let us live out that life of witness to unity and relation as we go out this day.

    Amen