Masks And All

black veil

This is the sermon I preached at First Church Simsbury on March 1, 2020.

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Matthew 4:1-11

The sexton stood in the porch of the Milford meeting house, pulling busily at the bell-rope. The old people of the village came stooping along the street. Children, with bright faces, tripped merrily beside their parents, or mimicked a graver gait, in the conscious dignity of their Sunday clothes. Spruce bachelors looked sidelong at the pretty maidens, and fancied that the Sabbath sunshine made them prettier than on week days. When the throng had mostly streamed into the porch, the sexton began to toll the bell, keeping his eye on the Reverend Mr. Hooper’s door. The first glimpse of the clergyman’s figure was the signal for the bell to cease its summons.

“But what has good Parson Hooper got upon his face?” cried the sexton in astonishment.

All within hearing immediately turned about, and beheld the semblance of Mr. Hooper, pacing slowly his meditative way towards the meetinghouse. With one accord they started, expressing more wonder than if some strange minister were coming to dust the cushions of Mr. Hooper’s pulpit.

The cause of so much amazement may appear sufficiently slight. Mr. Hooper, a gentlemanly person, of about thirty, though still a bachelor, was dressed with due clerical neatness, as if a careful wife had starched his band, and brushed the weekly dust from his Sunday’s garb. There was but one thing remarkable in his appearance. Swathed about his forehead, and hanging down over his face, so low as to be shaken by his breath, Mr. Hooper had on a black veil. On a nearer view it seemed to consist of two folds of crape, which entirely concealed his features, except the mouth and chin, but probably did not intercept his sight, further than to give a darkened aspect to all living and inanimate things. With this gloomy shade before him, good Mr. Hooper walked onward, at a slow and quiet pace, stooping somewhat, and looking on the ground, as is customary with abstracted men, yet nodding kindly to those of his parishioners who still waited on the meetinghouse steps. But so wonder-struck were they that his greeting hardly met with a return.

“I don’t like it,” muttered an old woman, as she hobbled into the meeting house. “He has changed himself into something awful, only by hiding his face.”

“Our parson has gone mad!” cried Goodman Gray, following him across the threshold.

A rumor of some unaccountable phenomenon had preceded Mr. Hooper into the meetinghouse, and set all the congregation astir. Few could refrain from twisting their heads towards the door; many stood upright, and turned directly about; while several little boys clambered upon the seats, and came down again with a terrible racket. But Mr. Hooper appeared not to notice the perturbation of his people. He entered with an almost noiseless step, bending his head mildly to the pews on each side…(ascending) the stairs, and (showing) himself in the pulpit, face to face with his congregation, except for the black veil.

Such was the effect of this simple piece of crape, that more than one woman of delicate nerves was forced to leave the meeting house. Yet perhaps the pale-faced congregation was almost as fearful a sight to the minister, as his black veil to them.

So begins, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, The Minister’s Black Veil.

On the one hand, it sounds like something I might do, right? Wear a black veil to church as a sermon illustration.

But in Hawthorne’s story, Parson Hooper wears the veil the next day, and the next, and the next. He wears it to funerals, and he wears it to weddings. He wears it every day of his life, until years later he breathes his last with the veil still upon his face.

It quickly becomes apparent that Hawthorne is using this story as a parable, and the black veil as a metaphor. Parson Hooper himself names the meaning of the metaphor, “If I hide my face for sorrow, there is cause enough…; and if I cover it for secret sin, what mortal might not do the same.” And later, on his death bed, with a faint, sad smile, he cries, “Why do you tremble at me alone?”

Tremble also at each other! Have men avoided me, and women shown no pity, and children screamed and fled, only for my black veil? What, but the mystery which it obscurely typifies, has made this piece of crape so awful? When the friend shows his inmost heart to his friend; the lover to his best beloved; when man does not vainly shrink from the eye of his Creator, loathsomely treasuring up the secret of his sin; then deem me a monster, for the symbol beneath which I have lived, and die! I look around me, and lo! on every visage a Black Veil!

In the course of this short, simple story, Hawthorne effectively communicates the dark power and burden of secret sin, those sins we are to afraid or ashamed to utter aloud.

He writes, “With self-shudderings and outward terrors, (Mr. Hooper) walked continually in its shadow, groping darkly within his own soul, or gazing through a medium that saddened the whole world.”

Secret sin.

“Through life that piece of crape had hung between him and the world: it had separated him from cheerful brotherhood and woman’s love, and held him in that saddest of all prisons, his own heart.”

Secret sin.

Mr. Hooper cries, “You know how lonely I am, and how frightened, to be alone behind my black veil.”

As I said, The Minister’s Black Veil is a parable. Hawthorne is not saying that all life is literally consumed with sin’s sorrow, that we will all be left frightened and alone; but he does, I believe, correctly show that we all carry secret sins that shroud and shadow life and love.

Some speculate about whether Mr. Hooper’s veil was meant to be a response to a particular secret sin he had committed, such as adultery. But I think this misses the point; his veil is simply a symbol that represents the sin that is an inescapable part of our human condition, sins that have a unique power over us when they remain our secret.

These could be Ten Commandment level sins like adultery or murder, or sins like those the devil uses to tempt Jesus, sins like hedonism, egoism, and materialism. These could be sins we commit in fact, or sins we commit in our hearts, sins real or imagined. These may be things we did, or things we could have or should have done, but didn’t.

By Hawthorne’s telling, we all carry secret sins that separate us one from another.

There is a way of preaching this sermon that encourages you to confess your sins, speak your sin aloud to a trusted friend or pastor, to bring such sins to the light of day, to free yourself from the secret. I have preached that sermon before.

But Mr. Hooper never does remove his veil, confess his sin, suggesting that, like Mr. Hooper, we will take some sins to our grave. But Mr. Hooper recognizes that such sins and the veil they drape between us do not separate us from God. “It is but a mortal veil,” he says, “it is not for eternity.”

If Hawthorne is right, and I suspect he is, we each carry the burden of secret sins that interfere with our ability to love and be loved.

So, this is what we are going to do. You have each been given inexpensive, plastic masks, one black and one white.

In a moment I will invite you to take the black mask. At that time, you may either put it on, hold it up in front of your face, or simply hold it up, or even just hold it in your lap. Like Mr. Hooper’s veil, the black mask represents your secret sin.

As you wear or hold that black mask, I will say a prayer for you, secret sin and all.

I will then invite you to take the mask down, and we will sing the first verse of, I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger. You might open your hymnal now to number 489.

The Matthew passage concludes by telling us that following his time in the desert, angels waited on Jesus. The white mask represents your better angels, the best of what you are, what you aspire to.

I will then invite you to take your white mask, wearing it or holding it up.

I will then pray for you and your better angels.

You may then take the white mask down, and we will sing the second verse of, I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.

Finally, I will pray for you with no mask, just as you are.

And we will conclude by singing the last verse of, I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger.

Got it?

We take up the black mask representing the veil that hides our secret sins.

Let us pray.

God you know us and love us completely.
No veil, no mask, no shadow, obscures your vision.
No sin is secret from you,
Even before any regret or confession forms within us,
you see us not as bound or broken, damaged or disappointing
but free and whole, perfect and promising, just as you created us to be.

May we know, Lord, that we are not alone.
Though we may find some secrets impossible to share,
such sins need not separate us one from another,
as we are all burdened by the knowledge of
things we now regret.

As we lay down our masks this morning,
let us also lay down any guilt and shame,
that we may more fully embrace the love that surrounds us.
Amen.

You may lay down the black mask and sing verse one.

(sing)

We now take up the white mask representing our better angels and all we aspire to.

God you know us and love us completely.
No veil, no mask, no shadow, obscures your vision.
No sin is secret from you,
Yet we know we are created in your image
and that through your son Jesus, we too are your children,
Your divinity lives and moves within us

May you smile upon the very best in each of us this morning,
our better angels, the unique contribution we each make.
The psalmist writes that
you have created us to be a little lower than the angels,
and crown us with glory and honor
that no sin can tarnish or taint.

As we lay down our masks this morning,
let us also lay down any guilt and shame,
that we may more live more fully into your glory.
Amen.

You may lay down the white mask and sing verse two.

Let us pray.

God you know us and love us completely.
No veil, no mask, no shadow, obscures your vision.
No sin is secret from you.
No aspiration or promise unfulfilled.
We sit, fully exposed before you, just as we are.
And loved, loved by you beyond our wildest imaginations.

Neither devils nor angels, but fully human,
We are bound to one another in sin and in love.
When we depart this morning
let us lay down all guilt and shame,
that we may accept ourselves and each other,
no longer separated by secrets,
but made one together through your son Jesus Christ

Amen.

Up All Night

This is the sermon I preached at First Church Simsbury on March 8, 2020.

Luke 2:1-7; 22-24, John 3:1-10

I have suffered from insomnia for all of my adult life. Sometimes it is worse than others, and it has taken various forms over the years, but I almost never sleep through the night. I typically wake up every few hours, and often cannot get back to sleep.

Lately, if I am helplessly tossing and turning at 2 or 3 in the morning, I get up and meditate. After a half hour meditation, I fall back asleep for a couple more hours of restful sleep before my alarm goes off. In the course of these early morning meditations, I realize just how busy my mind is, churning away on issues from the mundane to the absurd, to the seemingly apocalyptic.

I have read and studied this passage from the gospel of John dozens of times over the years. Nicodemus’ late-night visit to Jesus is often understood to suggest that as a Pharisee, he must visit the rebel Jesus in secret, in the dark of night. That is as good an interpretation as any.

But reading this story last week, after an especially bad night’s sleep, I suddenly saw Nicodemus as a fellow insomniac! He wasn’t visiting Jesus because he was afraid of being seen, he was visiting Jesus because he couldn’t sleep. He had been tossing and turning, his mind consumed with questions that seemed to have apocalyptic implications. How can he truly know God, and God’s will for him, in this life and the next? And what if he’s wrong? Nicodemus comes to Jesus bleary eyed and desperate, for answers and for sleep.

Unfortunately, Jesus’ response does little to sooth Nicodemus’ anxious mind.

In the translation I read, Jesus says, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” There are various ways to translate the original Greek, as well as less-literal ways we may interpret these words for ourselves today.

As for the reference to seeing the kingdom of God, I read this as an invitation to Nicodemus to see the world through God’s eyes.

And the requirement to be “born from above?” This is the phrase that is translated, and understood by some, as being born-again. This has led a whole category of Christians to identify themselves as born-again, and sometimes reject those faithful who don’t find meaning in this moniker.

But, in addition to “born from above” and “born again” the Greek can also be accurately translated as “born anew.”

To see the world as God sees it, we must live as a new creation.

Nicodemus is understandably befuddled by Jesus’ response, no doubt wishing he had just stayed in bed. “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” He asks.

I have gotten in the habit of posing questions about my sermon to our seminarian, Megan Strouse. I told her I was working with the “born again” text in John and wanted to pair it with another Bible passage. She made what I thought was a brilliant suggestion. “If Jesus is talking about being born again, why don’t you talk about his birth.” Is there something in Jesus’ birth that might suggest for us what it means to be born again? Brilliant!

I began the readings with the story from Luke of Jesus’ birth in a barn, where he was laid in a feeding trough. He was visited by shepherds, those lowest on the socio-economic ladder. And, Jesus would have been just over a month old when Mary and Joseph presented him at the temple, offering a sacrifice of two young pigeons. Pigeons, we know, were offered by those who were too poor to sacrifice a lamb. All signs that suggest that Jesus was born into poverty, a poor Jewish boy who would grow up in a world where Jewish religious leaders and Roman elite enjoyed great wealth and power.

So, when one of those Jewish elite, a Pharisee, Nicodemus, sleepless in Jerusalem, comes looking for answers to his late-night angst from this poor, itinerant rabbi, Jesus tells him, that he must be born anew, to see the realm of God, he must see as Jesus sees, through the eyes of the poor.

For Jesus, seeing through the eyes of the poor not only means serving the poor, feeding 5,000, for example, but empathizing with and loving them, and further, regularly challenging Roman and Jewish systems that judge, oppress, and exclude them from the abundant life God sets before us.

Jesus is telling Nicodemus not just to see the world differently, but to live differently, to be born again, to become a new creation.

What would it mean for us to be born anew, to see the world through God’s eyes, through the eyes of the poor?

My name is Daniel Oquendo and I’m a dad of four, I was a teen father and I worked my way through college in the early 90’s with some assistance through the state, medical, cash, and food stamps. I have worked in human services for the last 25 years, helping families in need, families in similar situations to what I was in. After years of saving, I bought a home in Windham. I was excited for my family to have a chance to build equity, something for my kids’ future. Several years ago, I ran into tough times, I was temporarily out of work, missed a few mortgage payments, and ended up in foreclosure. Because I went back to work, the bank said if I could modify the loan, and started making payments, I could get out of foreclosure, but that’s when I really ran into trouble. I found out that the state had put a lien on my house. The lien was from the State of Connecticut, Department of Social Services, for medical benefits and cash assistance my family received over 25 years ago, back when I was a college student and young father, struggling to make our lives better. The DSS lien was for $45,000. All the while I thought I was building equity for my family by buying a home, I actually had none. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The bank said I couldn’t finalize my loan modification unless the state agreed to support me or release the DSS lien, but the state said it wouldn’t do either unless I paid it back for the benefits I received, which was the $45,000. That was much more than what I missed in mortgage payments, something I just could not afford. I begged the state to accept less. They told me if I made a good faith payment of at least $25,000, they would consider releasing or subordinating the lien. At the same time, they wouldn’t make any promises. Obviously, I couldn’t afford this. If I had $25,000 in the bank, I wouldn’t have fallen behind in my mortgage. A year went by with no real progress. I was still in foreclosure which was stressful. I kept making payments to the bank showing I could afford my mortgage again. But they couldn’t modify the loan or stop the foreclosure unless the state released the lien. Which they wouldn’t do. Only because a pro bono attorney agreed to represent me in my foreclosure, something very few owners have, I was able to work something out with the state and stop the foreclosure. I still have no equity in my home. State benefits helped me when I was a young father and I appreciate the help I did get from them. It got me through school, it allowed me to raise my children. But no one should lose their home because they got help more than 25 years ago, which is almost what happened to me. And the state shouldn’t hold state assistance over someone’s head for the rest of their lives so they can never build equity and have financial security, or ever really get ahead.

Jesus sees the world through the eyes of the poor, through Daniel Oquendo’s eyes.

What would it mean to be born anew, to see the world through God’s eyes, to see through the eyes of Jesus, through Daniel’s eyes? What would this require of us?

The state of Connecticut is one of only two states, along with New York, that imposes welfare liens. A welfare lien is a lien the state places on a low-income person who once received various forms of public assistance, demanding repayment when the person receives a legal settlement, receives an inheritance, or sells or refinances a home, even, like Daniel, decades later. Connecticut receives about $30 million each year for its budget by collecting these liens from poor people.

Before he left, Nicodemus asked, “How can these things be?” We are left with the same question in response to stories like Daniel’s. How can these things be?

Maybe it wasn’t that Nicodemus didn’t understand what Jesus meant by being born anew. Maybe he understood all too well, understood the implications of seeing the world through the eyes of the poor, what would be required of him, to be reborn in such a way. What would he have to give up?

No wonder he couldn’t sleep at night. How can we?

What would it mean to be born anew, to see the world through God’s eyes, to see through the eyes of Jesus, the eyes of the poor? What is required of us to become a new creation in Christ?

The Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA), the faith-based, community organizing body of which we are a part, has proposed legislation to eliminate welfare liens, Bill number 5310, An Act Eliminating State Recovery of Public Assistance Except as Required Under Federal Law. There is information in your bulletin about opportunities to support this legislation opposing welfare leans, or you may simply call your legislator and tell them you support bill number 5310.

The good people of GHIAA wrote a little song from the perspective of the poor called Liens on Me:

(singing)

Sometimes, for the poor, you give them pain
You give them sorrow
Please, please realize
You make us beg – beg, steal and borrow

Liens on us, when we’re not strong
Push us all down, one more step backward
Kill, repeal these liens
Helps us move one little step forward

Please, swallow your pride
Stop taking bread from our table
Repeal unjust liens
Do what is right, cause you are able

We call on you, Governor, to lend us a hand
Find someone else to put a lien on
The State has a problem – don’t you understand?
Find someone else to put a lien on.

What’s keeping you up at night?

I sometimes wonder if my happiness, and ultimately my rest, is tied to the plight of the world’s most vulnerable people, notably, the poor.

Jesus invites us to see the world through his eyes, and I am suggesting that this means seeing through the eyes of the poor. What might it mean to you?

Jesus’ invitation to Nicodemus if to all of us.

Be born anew; live as a new creation in God’s realm.

Expect Better

This is the sermon I preached at First Church Simsbury on February 23, 2020.

Matthew 17:1-9

This is one of those Sundays where the confluence of various themes and events presents a modest challenge to crafting a coherent worship service and sermon. You see at the top of your bulletin, that we call this Sunday Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday is fixed in the church year on the Sunday before Lent begins, and always includes the story I read about the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top with three of his disciples. I will talk more about what Transfiguration means to us a little later in my sermon.

This also happens to be what we call Boy Scout Sunday, the Sunday we honor our church’s long history with scouts, in particular Troop 76. We will speak more to that special relationship during Our Common Life later in the service. Until then, I extend the warmest of welcomes to the scouts and scout leaders who are in worship with us this morning.

And this is the Sunday we sometimes refer to as Mardi Gras Sunday, an occasion we have celebrated various ways over the years, and you will find reflected in some of the music this morning.

And last but not least, this is the last Sunday of Black History month. Established in 1970, Black History Month is meant to draw attention to the too-often-forgotten stories of the trials and contributions of African Americans. Because I also too-often overlook and omit such stories, I will feature Black history in this sermon before suggesting how the Transfiguration is good news for all of us.

I don’t know about you, but when I think about Black History Month, I think about George Washington Carver. As a kid, we were told that Carver identified over a hundred uses for the peanut. A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that this accomplished agricultural scientist, inventor, and professor did so much more, but the peanut example was what was held up in my elementary school classes as representative of the contributions made by African Americans. Of course, Abolitionist and Civil Rights icons also come to mind, including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

But I worry that by highlighting the same, few folks every year, often with short accompanying quotes, and without exploring their whole story or context, that we imply that they are the exceptions instead of representative of the accomplishments, values, and faithfulness of millions of Black Americans over hundreds of years.

This morning, I would like to feature stories told by a contemporary African American scholar, Christena Cleveland, a brilliant and accomplished social psychologist and theologian. A graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and Dartmouth, with a PhD from UC Santa Barbara, Cleveland tells stories of her experience as an Associate Professor at Duke Divinity School.

Shortly after she joined the Duke faculty in 2015, Cleveland attended a Blue Devils basketball game with a prospective donor to her research. This was one of those early season games in which elite teams like Duke schedule much smaller, inferior teams as an easy warmup before their team’s more rigorous season begins. The sacrificial lamb this time was the Livingstone College Blue Bears, a small, Historically Black University and College (HBUC), Division II school, a couple hours west of Duke that had won only about half its games the year before.

Observing that Duke started the game with a very aggressive, and unnecessary, full-court press defense, Cleveland felt badly for Livingstone, and looked on her phone for more information about this little-known school. She writes:

Oh my god. This tiny, 700-student HBUC is facing off against the mighty, 16,000-student Duke University.

 

Oh my god. Livingston College is a severely under-resourced institution that perennially struggles to meet its budget while Duke is swimming in a vast pool of money.

 

Oh my god. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination that founded Livingston exists because the white Methodists did not allow Black people to fully participate in their churches.

 

Oh my god. The Black Methodists founded Livingston College for Black students because white Methodist schools like Duke did not allow Black students. Note, Black students could not attend Duke until 1963.

 

Oh my god. The Black Methodist Blue Bears are about to get their asses whooped by the white Methodist Blue Devils.

 

On her way back to her office after the game, Cleveland walked by the beautiful, gothic, Duke Chapel, where a statue of Robert E. Lee stands watch above its front doors. She writes that Lee “mocked me in the silver moonlight. White devil in blue, indeed.”

This game became emblematic of Cleveland’s experience of Duke’s institutional racism during her four years at the divinity school.

While Duke’s racist heritage and its present-day manifestations have been well documented, many universities are grappling with similar histories. For example, Yale recently renamed Calhoun College, which was named after a prominent, 19th century proponent of slavery. But Duke’s history is especially fraught as the university and its endowment were built on tobacco profits earned on the backs of African slaves and poor Black workers.

Cleveland met with the Dean at the divinity school to share her experience of the institution’s present racism, and its impact on her and students of color.

She tells a story of being the only woman and person of color at a gathering of colleagues when another professor used the n-word twice in her presence. When she confronted the man, her colleague claimed that she had misunderstood him, that he was only quoting someone else to demonstrate their ignorance. But Cleveland made clear to her colleague, and later, the Dean, that it is never OK to use the n-word which, no matter its context, is a violent attack on Black people.

In response to her concerns, Cleveland writes, the Dean leaned forward in her chair, stared her in the eye and said, “You know, some people just aren’t cut out to be faculty at Duke Divinity School. It sounds like you’re one of them. I want to give you permission to leave.”

Cleveland was just 35 years old when she became an Associate Professor at Duke Divinity School, as I said, a brilliant, African American woman, a scholar respected in her field. This should have been a mountaintop experience for her, the pinnacle of achievement in academia.

Just four years later, Cleveland resigned from her faculty position, not with shame or embarrassment, but with her head held high, to pursue her work on theology and justice as an independent scholar. Upon resigning, she wrote, “Today, I join a glorious chorus of Black female independent scholars who generously offer their intellectual gifts to the world without the reliable paycheck that comes from being a faculty member in some ivory tower.”

Cleveland’s writings challenge me to reflect critically on what it means to be a White man in the world today. She shares her writing on a website called Patreon for which you pay a monthly subscription fee.

Beyond a Black History Month reflection, Cleveland’s story invites a reflection on the Transfiguration story.

Three disciples ascend a mountain with Jesus where, we are told, his face shines like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white!  The great liberator and prophet, Moses and Elijah, appear with Jesus, and Peter wants to institutionalize this mountaintop experience by establishing offices for these three. God speaks from a cloud, saying, “This is my precious child, in whom I find delight! Listen to him!” And, Peter, James and John follow Jesus back down the mountain, toward the cross.

There is much that can be said about this story, but this morning I just want to leave you with two things.

First, Jesus’ Transfiguration reveals his divinity. The Transfiguration is the definitive statement, up to that point in his ministry, that Jesus is something more than just a righteous man and wise rabbi.

I know some Christians find Jesus’ divinity difficult to understand or accept, finding it more meaningful to simply follow his example than look to him as an arbiter of the divine. I don’t criticize this more humanist Christian perspective, but it does have implications. Notably, if Jesus is just a good person among many good people, his teachings just one perspective among countless others, even if he is the best person ever, but still, in the end, a flawed schmuck like us, it suggests that this violent, oppressive, conflicted, all-too-human, world we live in is as good as it gets. All the sin and sorrow that surrounds us and is expressed through us is just the way things are, an indelible stain on our human condition.

But, Jesus’ divinity, as revealed in the Transfiguration, extends a promise of something greater, something that transcends the mess we’re in, and our own inability to extract ourselves from it.

The second thing we take away from this story is that through that of Jesus that dwells within us, we too are beloved children of God. God delights in us.

Cleveland does not speak about the Transfiguration, but if I might frame her experience at Duke this way.

Duke Divinity School was meant to be Cleveland’s mountaintop experience. All Cleveland needed to do was accept the racism she encountered, polish, preserve, and protect the racist version of history she inherited, and establish her office with the White Blue Devil she found there. And a human Jesus might have led her to give in to such a temptation, after all, people are people, if Jesus is just a person.

But the divine Jesus of the Transfiguration leads her, and leads us, to an entirely different conclusion.

Jesus transcends sin and suffering, ever calling us to confront all injustice and oppression; and with Jesus, we too are beloved children of God, created in God’s image, magnificent creations of the divine.

Cleveland’s decision to speak up about the racism she observed and experienced, to follow Jesus down from the Duke pinnacle to the cross, demonstrates a profound belief that she deserves better than the conflicted racist mess she found herself in.

Of course, she still encounters racism, as evidenced by online comments on her writing, but she no longer needs to pretend that it doesn’t exist. By traveling to the cross with Jesus, Cleveland chooses to confront the world’s suffering as it is. And as God’s beloved, Cleveland understands that beyond the cross, resurrection awaits.

Cleveland expects better, and so should you.

The Transfiguration speaks to God’s divine promise through Jesus of something better for us all, a bright, shining vision that transcends the profound limitations of our human condition. Don’t settle for anything less. And the Transfiguration reminds each and all of us that we are beloved. Seek always to live a life that embraces and embodies that love and that promise.

Speaking of Money…

This is the sermon I preached at First Church Simsbury on February 20, 2020, the kick-off our capital campaign, Bricks and Mortals: Building to Serve God and Neighbor.

Acts 2:43-47; 1 Corinthians 11:17-26

My daughter Abby once played on a hockey team with a girl whose grandfather, we called him Pops, had a unique way of greeting me every time we arrived at practice. Pops was a crusty old hockey guy who spoke with a thick Boston accent. Knowing I was a minister, he would call out loudly from the stands, “Hey Jahj, how’s the off-rin? Didja pass the plate, Jahj? Chuch gotta get that money, right Jahj? Gotta pass the plate.” Maybe Pops thought he was being funny, but his humor was sarcastic and deeply cynical about the church. I suppose I could have taken this as an opportunity for a conversation about church, faith, God, and giving, but for crying out loud, I was just there to watch my daughter practice hockey, so I did my best to ignore him.

Obnoxious as he was, Pops was naming a perceived conflict between faith and money that is shared by many. Clearly, for Pops, church exists apart from life, and intrusively competes with everything else in life for his money.

I was raised that it is impolite to talk about our money, or someone else’s money. Our money, specifically how much a we earn and have, is a very private matter, none of anyone’s business.

But Jesus talks about people’s money all the time. In fact, in the gospels, Jesus talks about money more than prayer and faith combined. Eleven of thirty-nine of the parables Jesus tells are about money. And there is a well-known story in Matthew, Mark and Luke of Jesus addressing a “rich man” very directly about the use of his money.

And, as this morning’s Bible passages reveal, money continues to be a focus of the early church. In Acts, the Apostles sold all their possessions, their assets, and shared their money with each other. They literally laid it all out there, nothing to hide.

This makes me wonder, what if Pops is right, what if the church and Christianity is all about money? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with his implied criticism, but what if conversations about money are central and necessary to our life of faith?

It makes sense. Money is woven into the fabric of everything we do. I have heard it said that if you want to learn someone’s values, don’t ask them about their faith, look at their bank statement.

What if I had responded to Pops, not with an uncomfortable grimace, but an invitation to talk about his money and his faith?

Over the past few years, since working closely with Mario Chiappetti and our Stewardship Committee, I have experienced something of a conversion, welcoming, instead of avoiding, conversations about money and faith. Until recently, this has been from a distance, from the pulpit or in things I have written. But our capital campaign that officially kicks off today, invites us into up close and personal conversations, with the church, about money! What would Pops think?! What do you think?

Much of the rest of this sermon will be in the form of testimony, my testimony about the thoughts and feelings, the experience, my wife Lourdes and I had, in response to an up close and personal conversation about our money, being asked by Mario to give to our capital campaign.

My intent here is to model a way we might faithfully bring conversations about money and faith into the light of day. My intent is not to demonstrate how wonderful and generous we are. Quite the opposite, while some might be impressed or even inspired by our story, I worry that others will judge that what we give is not enough. But this is the nature of conversations about money and faith, they make us vulnerable.

Here are some relevant things to know

My wife Lourdes and I have very different experiences with money.

She grew up on a sugar plantation in the Philippines, always uncertain about what tomorrow would bring. As a result, Lourdes worries about money all the time. She is forever anxious that there won’t be enough.

I grew up solidly middle-class. I remember my parents occasionally worrying about money, times when we would eat more spaghetti and less steak, but unlike Lourdes, I assumed that there would be enough, because there always had been.

Our two very different experiences and perspectives color much of our life together, including conversations about giving; and these conversations about money are always challenging.

I expect some of you identify more with Lourdes, while some of you relate more to me, just as I am sure there are couples here who mirror our differences.

The second thing I want you to understand is that when you are a minister, in particular a Congregational minister, you have hundreds of bosses, that’s all of you. Collectively, you decide how much I get paid. Your hard-earned money, given to the church as your annual pledges, pays my salary. And I can tell you, this is never far from my mind. Like many ministers, I worry about being worthy of the investment you make in me, and am self-conscious about being judged for the amount I earn and the choices I make. For example, two summers ago my family and I enjoyed a vacation to Italy. In the back of my mind somewhere was the thought, what if church members think I am leading an extravagant life with their money. What if you think you are paying me too much?

Though you are not Congregational ministers, I expect this capital campaign is bringing up feelings in some, that you are being scrutinized for how much money you have and how you spend it. The campaign suggests a pledge amount that represents a thoughtful, if imperfect, assessment of your capacity to give.

These things and more were going through my mind when Mario asked to visit me and Lourdes about our pledge to the capital campaign. Lourdes and I had already had difficult conversations about our pledge by the time Mario arrived at our door last week.

It is said of capital campaigns, that unlike annual giving, people are asked to give from their assets, not their income. Well, that’s great if you have assets. Lourdes and I have very few; and we knew that whatever pledge we made would come out of our income.

And many of you know that Abby is heading off to college next year, so that will entail more expenses and debt.

Luckily, we both love Mario! Really love him, how could you not?

On Wednesday, we sat down in our family room, and spent a little time catching up, talking about Abby’s hockey and college choice. After a time, Mario brought up the capital campaign. I will note, he didn’t do this like a sophisticated salesman; frankly, he seemed pretty nervous himself. But he spoke genuinely about his love for the church, and his respect for us.

Lourdes told Mario how hard this was for her, about her anxiety about money, but she also said that she wanted us to set a good example, and didn’t want to let the church down.

Mario was attentive, listened, and acknowledged these challenges. He encouraged us to do what felt right for both us, and affirmed the importance of supporting each other.

And just like that, it was time. Mario asked, and we responded.

I have thought a lot about what to say here. I thought about telling you the amount we pledged, but that probably wouldn’t be helpful, as some will give many times more, and others can’t be expected to give as much.

But I will tell you this.

Another thing that ministers think about is tithing. Tithing is an ancient Jewish, biblical standard of giving ten percent to the church. As a minister, I have always felt like I should be tithing, but this standard has seemed impossibly out of reach.

Well, Lourdes and I still aren’t tithing, but our annual giving and capital campaign pledge combined, now equals eight percent of our after-tax income.

Frankly, I feel pretty darn good about that, and Lourdes, I know how hard this is for you, and I am so, so grateful for you and the way we have stretched together to make this commitment. Thank you.

Let me say again, my reason for sharing all this is not to pat myself on the back and demonstrate how wonderful we are. Quite the opposite, I still worry about being judged as not generous enough. But I share for these reasons.

I think we need to start talking about our money and our faith, and if I can’t, how can I expect you to.

And I want you to hear that I feel you, Lourdes and I have had many of the same thoughts, feelings and hard conversations that you will have when asked to give.

In the end, the amount itself is less important than that you have challenged yourselves in a heartfelt, thoughtful, prayerful way, a way that is consistent with your faith, ability to give, and commitment to this good church.

Now, here is the best part, the part I really want you to hear.

After we told Mario the amount of our pledge, I was still fearful that it wasn’t enough, worried that I would see disappointment in his eyes, or worse, that he would come back and ask for more. Instead, he responded immediately and enthusiastically, “Wow! Thank you so much! That’s extremely generous. Thank you, thank you, thank you! That’s fantastic! Thank you!” I don’t think he was responding to the amount itself, but because he recognized that this was a big deal for us; he made us feel understood, appreciated and affirmed.

So, this is my message to you.

First, Pops is wrong. Church and life are not separate realms. Nor is church just one among many things that compete for our time, talent and treasure. Rather, church is the foundation for all that nurtures life, our relationships, our children, even our vacations. These do not compete with each other for our resources, but all work together for good.

Second, Talking about money is essential to our faith. Jesus did. The early church did. Paul did. I feel you. Talking about my money makes me feel vulnerable, and I can only assume it brings up lots of feelings for you.

And finally, thank you, thank you, thank you! It is an extraordinary privilege to serve you, to work through the hard issues of life and faith with you, and to share a love for this remarkable church with you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

 

 

 

 

How Can This Be?

This is the sermon I preached at First Church Simsbury on the first Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019.

Luke 1:26-38

Talk about big problems, did you see this week’s headline?

Scientists have discovered a “monster black hole” so massive that, in theory, it shouldn’t exist.

It’s a stellar black hole — the type that forms after stars die, collapse, and explode. Researchers had previously believed that the size limit was no more than 20 times the mass of our sun. This theory has now been toppled by LB-1, the newly-discovered black hole. Located about 15,000 light years away, it has a mass 70 times greater than our sun.

“Black holes of such mass should not even exist in our galaxy, according to most of the current models of stellar evolution,” said Liu Jifeng, head of the team that made the discovery. “LB-1 is twice as massive as what we thought possible. Now theorists will have to take up the challenge of explaining its formation.”

How can this be?

I wasn’t much of a science student. But if there was one thing I took away from high school physics, it was that facts are facts. When a scientist laid down a law, by gosh, that’s it then, end of conversation.

And I’m not alone. At least in popular understanding, the findings of science are considered to be immutable facts, true today, tomorrow, and always.

But physicist Marcelo Gleiser cautions against what he calls a modern “piety” toward science, the presumption that science and its conclusions are beyond criticism.

In a recent interview, Gleiser celebrates the inherently provisional, open-ended nature of science, saying that science’s inherent genius is its ability to criticize and overturn itself.

All science is based on observation and measurement, says Gleiser. And, because it is impossible to observe and measure everything, scientific hypotheses, theories, principles, and even laws are forever being reevaluated, proved wrong, reinterpreted, and changed with the introduction of new data.

Simply asking the question, “how is this possible?” opened a whole new range of possibilities regarding the formation of black holes.

In response to the Angel Gabriel’s announcement to the virgin, Mary that she will conceive a child, she asks this same question, “How is this possible?”

Like the bodily resurrection of Jesus, his so-called virgin birth is something that deeply divides people of faith. For some it is a cornerstone of belief, demonstrating God’s power to perform miracles, and proving that Jesus was, in fact, divine, the Son of God. But for others, the idea that Jesus could be born without a human father defies the presumed dictates of science, and so, is dismissed as impossible.

This should come as no great surprise to most of you, but I am not inclined to read the Bible literally. My seminary education taught me the historical contexts in which various parts of the Bible were written, leading me to interpret scripture through this lens.

This said, as pastor and preacher, I seek to minister to all of you, regardless of your particular beliefs, and I am ever seeking to broaden and deepen my own understanding of the Bible and my faith. In fact, last Easter, I preached a sermon affirming the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Twenty years ago, leading liberal and conservative Jesus scholars, N. T. Wright and Marcus Borg, wrote a book together, The Meaning of Jesus. Each wrote contrasting chapters on aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, including chapters on his birth.

Wright concedes that, “No one can prove, historically, that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived. No one can prove, historically, that she wasn’t. Science studies the repeatable; history bumps its nose against the unrepeatable.” He concludes, because “I have come to believe that the God of Israel, the world’s creator, was personally and fully revealed in and as Jesus of Nazareth, I hold open my historical judgement.”

Borg, on the other hand, concludes, “I do not see the story of the virginal conception as a marvel of biology that, if true, proves that Jesus really was the Son of God. Rather, it is an early Christian narratival confession of faith and affirmation of allegiance to Jesus.” For Borg, the birth stories are metaphors for light dispelling darkness, and the arrival of a different kind of king.

Wright’s defense of a virgin birth, such as it is qualified and dispassionate, while Borg’s rejection of a biological virgin birth is built upon a literary and historical critique, not that it is simply “unscientific.”

But let’s take a fresh look at the exchange between the Angel Gabriel and Mary through the lens of scientific inquiry.

Creativity and transformation depend on data that doesn’t fit our given model. Gleiser states that, “Symmetry may have its appeal, but it is inherently stale: Some kind of imbalance is behind every transformation.”

One might say that Mary’s life had a certain symmetry before Gabriel appeared to her. That doesn’t mean it was great – young women in Israel had few opportunities on their own – but her engagement to Joseph provided some stability.

Mary recognizes contradictory data, that she will conceive a child, and that she is a virgin, and she is left to respond to a problem as impossible as a massive black hole that defies science and history.

Gleiser says, asking the question opens the mystery, not so much how you find the ways to answer it.”

Like every good scientist who is confronted by contradictory data, Mary asks the question that opens the mystery to transformation.

Listen again to this exchange between Gabriel and Mary:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there is no end.”

Talk about data that doesn’t fit the model!

Mary’s experience with Gabriel disrupts the status quo creating an opportunity for transformation. Just like the black hole discovered by Chinese astronomers, in theory, what she is observing should not be possible.

And how does Mary respond?

“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

Some might think that Mary’s question expresses fear or doubt, but I suggest this is the question of scientific inquiry. This is the question the Chinese astronomers asked. How is this possible?

And asking the question opened her life, and the world, to possibility.

These two things, new data, and the question, “How can this be?” are the necessary components for transformation. Without new information, nothing would have changed. And, if Mary hadn’t asked the question that names the mystery, nothing would have changed.

As with the massive black hole, the birth of Jesus merely requires another model to explain and understand it.

Gleiser concludes, if you accept, “that there is only one way of understanding the complexity of things you’re just emptying humanity of its value, of the plurality of visions.”

Our lives today face multiple, seemingly impossible problems, personal and political.

Some await forgiveness from a loved one. Others feel stuck in a loveless or even abusive marriage. Others feel lonely but see no hope for the love and companionship they yearn for. Maybe your life, though it may have a certain symmetry, has grown stale.

And our world confronts seemingly intractable problems like war, gun violence, racism, poverty, and political division.

Gabriel introduces new data, not just to Mary, but for all of us, that contradicts our status quo.

Greetings favored one! Do not be afraid. As we speak, something new is being conceived in you, and will grow within you and be born into your life.

Our old assumptions can no longer accommodate this data, so we need to ask the scientific question, the question Mary asks, “How can this be?”, and open ourselves and our world to infinite possibility.

This Advent, open yourself to hope, creativity, mystery, and transformation. Ask the question.

Making Change

This is the sermon I preached at First Church Simsbury on November 11, 2019.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

I need to confess that I completely changed the direction of this sermon at about four o’clock yesterday afternoon. I had some vague idea that I would respond to Second Thessalonians’ criticism of “idleness.” This text has often been used to condemn the poor for being “lazy,” while ignoring the systemic issues that keep people trapped in poverty.

But I wasn’t feeling very inspired beyond what I just said, and then I realized that we have a congregational meeting following this (the ten o’clock) worship service about whether to conduct a capital campaign. And some words from me, that draw from our faith, would be helpful here. That is a message I could, and did, get excited about.

So, let me back up and talk about two of the letters in our Bible, First and Second Thessalonians. Without understanding the context, these letters, or epistles, can be confusing, even meaningless.

The Apostle Paul founded a number of early Christian churches over about 15 years, between the year 50 and the mid-60’s when, it is said that Paul was executed by Rome. The New Testament contains letters that Paul wrote to some of the churches he founded; these letters include some of the earliest Christian writings in the Bible, written before the four gospels. Scholars agree that seven of these letters are written by Paul himself, while other letters attributed to him are disputed. It was not uncommon for people to write under the name and in the style of a famous person. In this way, the writer hoped to claim the authority of that author for their own writing. It is likely that some of the letters in the Bible that carry Paul’s name were written by someone else after Paul’s death.

According to one scholar, Marcus Borg, Paul’s first letter to the church he founded in Thessalonica is likely the earliest document in the New Testament, written around the year 50, just 17 years after Jesus was crucified. Thessalonica is in current day Northern Greece. There are two things that are noteworthy in this first letter. Paul introduces the metaphor of a “new family” for the Christian community, where the relationship among members is not just based on blood, or warm feelings, but also on mutual support, including material support for one another. The second thing about this earliest of letters is that it presumes that Jesus’ return is imminent. This is not the place to get into this, but the first Christians assumed that Jesus was going to return to take them all up to heaven, and he was expected to come soon.

Marcus Borg, then, suggests that the Second Letter to the Thessalonians that I read from was written much later, not by Paul, but written by someone using Paul’s name some sixty years later, maybe as late as the 110s. Let’s be clear, that’s about two generations.

Much has changed in the Thessalonica church in these years.

First, the ideal of a “new family,” in which everyone works side by side and shares everything in common has taken a hit. Some people have entered the church wanting to share in all the benefits, but they are not sharing in the work. And second, Jesus hasn’t returned. You can imagine that people are becoming disillusioned and leaving the church. The writer feels the need to explain this and make a case for why people should keep the faith.

The main thing I take away from the first and second letter to the Thessalonica church is that churches change. The things that made sense at one time no longer work decades later. Think about First Church 60 years ago. That was 1959, six years before the big fire that marked a significant new direction for the church.

This second letter also reminds me of the challenge of bringing people along with a vision they haven’t been part of developing. The so-called “idlers” that eat but don’t work are harshly judged in this second letter, but I wonder if they are really lazy freeloaders, or whether the church has just not been successful at integrating these newcomers into the community. We face this challenge when we bring new members into the church all the time. Existing members already understand the culture and expectations of the church. How do we help new people make this church their own?

I think this dynamic also comes into play in our capital campaign planning process.

In August 2018, the firm Agile Church completed a Health Check for our church. This included a variety of recommendations toward becoming a more welcoming, more vital, and more successful church. We publicized these findings widely, and invited members of the church to become part of teams to further develop these recommendations. Some of our proposed capital campaign projects emerged from these Agile Church recommendations.

Last spring, we formed a Building Committee, and they met throughout the summer and, since returning in the fall, have been meeting almost weekly. With our architect, they have further developed proposed projects, identifying and responding creatively to challenges as they arise. Through this intense work together, those on the Building Committee have developed strong relationships and a passion for the proposed projects. Members of the committee that were once opposed to an idea, as they worked collaboratively with each other, came to be among the idea’s strongest proponents. Other ideas were ultimately dismissed when committee members just couldn’t agree.

But here’s the question raised by First Thessalonians. How do we bring the rest of the congregation along in that process, to address concerns, and develop a shared passion for the projects? This is the challenge.

This fall, we invited the congregation into a number of meetings to engage capital campaign issues and projects. Almost eighty people attended a charrette in mid-October for a lively give and take about possible projects, and a similar number attended last Sunday’s information session. Later this morning we will gather again to vote about whether to conduct the capital campaign. We will not be voting on particular projects today. There will be other conversations and other votes about specific projects down the road.

So, assuming the vote passes later this morning, here are some suggestions about how we might each enter into the process ahead to ensure that we all arrive at the same place together.

Participate! The only way to really shape this campaign and these projects, is to come to meetings and share your ideas.

Be transparent. Express yourself freely in public. Conversations with other members in the parking lot are fine, but then bring those points of view into public meeting so we can all grapple with these issues together.

Trust.  We have a strong congregation that at least in my four years hear has been free of the divisions that haunt some churches. Assume everyone involved to be honest and have good intentions. And trust the process.

Keep an open mind. Even if your initial reaction to an idea is negative, pause to consider, “What if…?”

Listen to others as much as you talk. Seek to understand various points of view.

Allow for disagreement. This is part of the process. Sometimes there will be some necessary tension before a resolution is found and the process moves forward.

Avoid polarizing positions. Instead of drawing a line in the sand about a particular project, state the issues that are important then work to have that issue or concern addressed.

For example, there is a proposal to open up this entire chapel and parlor area to create a gathering place after our worship services. Instead of immediately deciding that you are for or against it, instead state what is important to you, maintaining an attractive, intimate space for the 8:30 worship service. Others might state their concern that there will still be a space like the parlor where families can gather before memorial services. While others might feel passionate about creating space for a welcome center and coffee hour on this floor. Stated this way, we can work together to see if all these needs can be met. Maybe they turn out to be mutually exclusive, but maybe there are creative ways that we end up with something even better than we have now.

And finally: Remain open to the movement of the Holy Spirit. Who and what is God calling First Church to be today and in the future.

Note, if you are visiting for the first time just seeking an encouraging word in your life, and the proposed capital campaign is of little interest to you, I suggest that the lessons I draw from the experience of the Thessalonica church can be applied to various aspects of our life including our families, our workplace, and our country.

Let us heed the lessons of the church in Thessalonica. This is no time to remain idle.

Participate, be transparent, trust each other and the process, keep an open mind, listen as much as your talk, allow for disagreement, and avoid polarizing positions. State your needs and concerns, then get to work with others to find solutions, and above all, listen for God’s call to this good church, that together we might become the new family of God that Paul envisioned all those years ago.

Shake It Off

This is the sermon I preached at First Church Simsbury on November 10, 2019.

Luke 20:27-38

You heard the words to the Taylor Swift song in the Children’s Message:

Players gonna play
Haters gonna hate
Heartbreakers gonna hate
And fakers gonna fake

So, accepting that people will always do hurtful things, where does hope come from. Can we expect something better in life than hate and heartbreak?

An answer to that question can be found in the story about resurrection that I read from the gospel of Luke.

When we talk about resurrection in church we recall the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s as if, out of the blue, this one guy in history rose from the dead. But in fact, many Jews in Jesus’ day believed in resurrection. This belief emerged out of Jews’ foundational understanding that God is just. Yet, over centuries, they saw tens of thousands of their ancestors, righteous Jews, persecuted, suffer and die at the hands of oppressors. How does one reconcile this with the just God they believed in? Without a belief in resurrection, they were left to assume that such suffering and death was just the way things are and would always be. Belief in resurrection asserted that a world that seemed to promote pain and suffering was not the end; God would bring life from death. Without this belief in resurrection, despair seemed the only option.

The Sadducees were a Jewish sect that did not believe in resurrection. The implication of their belief is, don’t expect anything more from life than hate and heartbreak, suffering and death. It is what it is. In this morning’s story, Sadducees approach Jesus intent on showing belief in resurrection to be illogical, even foolish.

Jewish law, in order to provide for widows who would otherwise have no way to support themselves, required a brother of a deceased husband to marry his widow. Here the Sadducees tell a tale of seven brothers. The first dies, leaving his widow to marry a brother. That brother dies, requiring the next brother to step up and marry the same widow. Each brother, in turn, dies, another brother, in turn, marries the widow. Finally, all the brothers and the widow die and meet in heaven. OK, Jesus, say the Sadducees, tell us, whose wife is this woman now! Resurrection, they are saying, would result in domestic disaster in heaven. They are convinced that they have just slam dunked on Jesus. Mic drop!

Jesus is having none of that. Marriage is simply something to order relationships on earth, but marriage in no way reflects what the realm of God is like. In God’s realm, everyone is a child of God, everyone experiences the new life of resurrection. Jesus then shifts the Sadducees attention from speculation about heaven, and points them back to life on earth. God is a God of the living, Jesus says. If everyone is a child of resurrection in heaven, then everyone is also a child of resurrection on earth. Everyone has an opportunity for new life.

There will always be those like the Sadducees that insist that our current trials are just the way things are. Live with it.

I have started to hear the phrase, “It is what it is,” (said with a resigned shrug), a reflection on these times, I guess. When something terrible happens, and we feel helpless to stop it, someone says, “It is what it is.” This is the voice of the Sadducees. Hate? Heartbreak? Don’t expect resurrection. It is what it is.

But Jesus says, God created you for abundant life. Live it.

And Taylor Swift says:

Players gonna play
Haters gonna hate
Heartbreakers gonna hate
And fakers gonna fake

But hate and heartbreak are not of God’s realm, so, Shake it off

Everybody, stand up! (play music and dance)

Let me give three examples of the way that the Sadducees among and within us act to deny resurrection in our lives today.

The characteristics that we most strongly identify with include our racial and cultural heritage, and our faith.

But a recent study out of Stanford University reveals that the strongest attachment we feel as Americans is now to our political party. The strength of that partisan bond is, for the first time, stronger than race, ethnicity, or religion. I have heard stories that back in the day, Protestants and Catholics would not socialize or intermarry. Now this is becoming true about Democrats and Republicans.

Our support for our political positions are expressed in the same absolute terms used by the Sadducees. They are right; Jesus is wrong. There is no resurrection. The logic is ironclad. Ask any politician, Democrat or Republican, their position is ironclad.

But just as Jesus responded to the Sadducees, that God is a God of the living, that everyone has an opportunity for new life, so Rev. Jennifer Baily refused to accept the political divisions that were cemented by the 2016 election. She co-founded The People’s Supper, setting the table first for hundreds, then thousands of suppers for people who wanted to connect across identity differences, whether they be racial, or religious, or generational, or political.

And this is what she learned:

that unity need not – and does not mean sameness, and that it is indeed possible to bridge differences without compromising your values and principles. She found that alienation knows no political bounds, and that almost everybody can “describe a moment, recent or long passed, in which they’ve been made to feel unwelcome, unsafe, or unworthy.” She learned that meaningful connection is not the product of who is around the table, but of the questions asked when they arrive. And she learned that if you want to start to understand someone, ask them not about their politics, but about their story, because our stories are a lot more complicated than our politics would have us believe.

There will always be Sadducees that insist that hate and heartbreak are just the way things are. It is what it is.

But Jesus says, God created you for abundant life. Live it.

Taylor Swift says

Players gonna play
Haters gonna hate
Heartbreakers gonna hate
And fakers gonna fake

But hate and heartbreak are not of God’s realm, so, Shake it off

Everybody, stand up! (play music and dance)

Like marriage, political parties are simply institutions that order life on earth, but say nothing about what the realm of God is like.

Ours is a God that invites everyone to the table.

And just as our politics seem intransigent, so do social forces like racism and poverty. We are tempted to conclude, like the Sadducees, that such hate and heartbreak are just the way things are. There is no resurrection. It is what it is.

But Jesus says, God is a God of the living. If everyone is a child of resurrection in heaven, then everyone is also a child of resurrection on earth. Everyone, regardless of their income or the color of their skin, has an opportunity for new life.

On Monday evening, October 28, 85 members and friends of First Church gathered at CCSU with over 1,400 people from 35 other churches, synagogues, and mosques for the founding of a new faith-based community organizing initiative, the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA). Those who attended, many here this morning, will tell you that what set this gathering apart, was that concrete steps were taken right there to confront racism and poverty.

After our own church youth, Olivia Nunez, gave a powerful speech about her experience of racism at Simsbury High School, and the school’s strong response to incidents, representatives from each school district were called to the stage to, right there and then, commit to provide effective anti-racism training in their district. One by one, each representative, including Simsbury’s Sue Homrok-Lemke, took the microphone and said, “I commit.”

And did you know, that Connecticut is one of only two states, along with New York, that puts a lien on someone’s home in order to get back welfare benefits that the state paid to that person in their time of need?

So, if someone receives financial aid, or health insurance for their children, or food stamps, from the state of Connecticut at some time in their life, then that person gets back on their feet, gets a job, saves money, and is eventually able to buy a home, the state will put a lien on their house, so that when that person sells the house, the state gets the money. Likewise. if that person gets an inheritance, no matter how small, the state gets that money. Even if that person wins a lawsuit, the state will take that money, until all the money received in public assistance is repaid. The state receives tens of millions of dollars toward its budget in this way, on the backs of poor people.

At that GHIAA Founding Assembly, State Representatives, including Simsbury’s John Hampton, one-by-one, committed to support a bill to end welfare liens.

There will always be Sadducees that insist that our current hate and heartbreak are just the way things are. There is no resurrection. It is what it is.

But human systems like welfare liens help perpetuate poverty, and human systems can relieve poverty.

Jesus says, God created you for abundant life. Live it.

Taylor Swift says

Players gonna play
Haters gonna hate
Heartbreakers gonna hate
And fakers gonna fake

But hate and heartbreak are not of God’s realm, so, Shake it off

Everybody, stand up! (play music and dance)

Racism in our schools, and welfare liens say nothing about what the realm of God is like.

There is no poverty and racism in the realm of God, on earth as it is in heaven.

The third example of the way Sadducees assert themselves in our lives is through our own thoughts and feelings that cause us to believe hate and heartbreak are just the way life is. It is what it is.

Fear, guilt, anger, hurt, denial, and self-fulfilling logic, all cause us to accept lives filled with way too much pain and suffering.

If we are lonely, we conclude that we are not meant to find a partner.

If we have been betrayed, we hold on to our hurt and anger, not believing that something better awaits if we let it go.

We fall back on moral equivalency to justify our own hurtful beliefs and behavior; if “they” attack me, then I will attack back, instead of responding out of empathy and compassion.

Guilt and shame lead us to believe that we deserve the abuse we receive from ones we love.

Is this really, what is? Is this really what God intends?

No, of course not.

It is true:

Players gonna play
Haters gonna hate
Heartbreakers gonna hate
And fakers gonna fake

But hate and heartbreak are not of God’s realm, so, Shake it off

Jesus says, you are all children of resurrection. God created you for abundant life. So, live it.

Everybody, stand up! (play music and dance)

Do Not Fear, Be Glad and Rejoice

This is the third of a three part sermon series that I preached for our annual stewardship campaign on October 27, 2019.

Joel 2:23-32

The prophet Joel is speaking to the people of Israel at a time in their history when the entire nation has been devastated by a plague of locusts. Everything has been destroyed; death pervades the land. But in today’s reading from Chapter 2, Joel preaches, “Do not fear, be glad and rejoice,” because you will soon be repaid for your suffering with abundance. Then, in words that would later be quoted by Peter at Pentecost, Joel prophesies that God will pour out Spirit on everyone, and all people will be able to envision a new and better life together.

This is the third of a three-part sermon series that draws from the book, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life, by Lynne Twist.

Twist invites us to dream of that new and better life together by challenging the dominant cultural norm of scarcity, the prevailing sense that there is never enough. From the time we wake up in the morning, we didn’t get enough sleep, we don’t have enough time, don’t feel enough love, and we certainly never have enough money. It feels as if the locust have devoured everything we need to thrive.

Buying into a scarcity paradigm doesn’t depend on how much money you have. Millionaires and even billionaires are often driven by a fear that they still don’t have enough.

Instead, Twist proposes paradigm of sufficiency, inviting us to focus on and appreciating what we have and putting it to best use. Beneath all the worry, we really do have enough.

Some will remember that we began our Stewardship campaign by asking our largest givers to renew their pledge. We did this in the belief that having a large commitment early in the campaign would create a sense of excitement about our progress and inspire others to pledge.

But this in no way suggests that those who have the ability to make larger pledges to the church are more generous than others, or that smaller pledges matter less.

This is the point of the beloved story of the widow’s mite. Jesus says that the widow’s contribution of two small copper coins to the temple treasury is more generous than all the wealthy givers that precede her, because she gives all that she has.

Drawing from her experience as the Chief Fundraising Officer for The Hunger Project, Twist comments on the astounding generosity she has witness from some of the world’s poorest people. She writes,

“For a child from an African or Mexican village, who has a chance to go to college, often the entire village will come together to contribute whatever they can to make that possible. Or they’ll pool their resources if there’s an opportunity to send someone to travel to a conference in the United States or Europe. I remember a young teenage boy who was sent to a Hunger Project conference in Germany by the three hundred people in his Nigerian village, whose names he read to us all when he arrived.”

Despite Simsbury’s reputation for prosperity, there are many in our community and our church of modest means, and those who are financially insecure. There are those here this morning who subsist on a fixed income with little savings to cover necessary home repairs or personal emergencies. I would guess that there is someone here who is only one or two paychecks away from missing a mortgage payment. There is likely someone who uses one credit card to make payments on another credit card. Someone here will need to get assistance to pay for heating oil this winter. And others have debt they will never pay off.

Simsbury’s veneer of prosperity makes it almost impossible to talk honestly about these things.

And these are some of the most generous givers to First Church, each year pledging hundreds of dollars from their limited income.

To those who find yourself in these descriptions. I see you and acknowledge your hardship. And I thank you.

Twist speaks of the unique power of bringing people of diverse means together, not so the wealthy can provide charity to the poor, but so we might all find common cause together.

There is an indigenous saying, “If you are coming to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you are coming because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Twist tells a story of traveling to Ethiopia with several American donors and meeting with a small group of Ethiopian women in their sixties and seventies, widows with little or no way to make a living. They dream of building a teahouse along a path where many farmers travel. Too old and frail to farm or walk to market, these women had already begun building this round, one-room structure using branches and other cast-off material, but they didn’t have teacups and saucers. Sixteen women, some affluent, some with next to nothing, sat in a circle on the ground and together brought the dream to life. The American women would purchase the teacups and start a small fund to help with the ongoing cost of supplies. A nearby aid worker would periodically deliver the supplies. And the widows would give all they had to the venture. Together, they shared in an experience of liberation.

In the church, liberation binds us together. This is what we witness in that powerful passage from Acts, where members of the early church sold all their possessions and held all things in common. Today, it is hard to imagine selling all our possessions, though maybe this is exactly what we are meant to do, but we will each give what we have, what we are able, that the church may lead us in liberation.

Once known for its crushing poverty and dependence on foreign aid, the situation in Bangladesh has improved dramatically. With obvious pride, the Prime Minister once spoke to the country’s newfound strength, saying, “What we have are not 120 million mouths to feed, but 240 million hands that are ready to go to work. What we have are 240 million eyes that are ready to see the world anew. What we have are 240 million ears that are ready to listen to each other.”

At First Church we have set a goal of receiving 300 pledges this year. This is less an expression of the church’s need, and more an affirmation of our capacity. Those 300 pledges represent 600, 800, a thousand hands ready to work for liberation, eyes ready to see and respond to suffering, and ears ready to listen to and answer cries for justice.

In addition to bringing people of diverse means together, Twist names the importance of taking a stand in response to suffering and injustice. Taking a stand binds us to one another and, she writes, “an authentic stand also reliably generates the resources to fulfill it and often does so in surprising, almost mysterious, ways.”

In 1995, Twist joined 50,000 other women from all over the world at the Beijing Women’s Conference. Twist had travelled enough that, when she arrived, she quickly noticed that some of the women were from impoverished countries. Attending the conference would cost two-years wages for some of these women, how could they possibly afford to make the trip?

One of the most moving sessions at the conference was called the Human Rights Tribunal which simply offered women an opportunity to tell their own stories, as if from a witness stand.

Twist tells the stories of three women that spoke that day, the first, an indigenous Mayan farm woman from Guatemala.

In a soft voice, in her native Spanish, she told the story of the military arriving at her farm in search of her husband and sons. She did not know where they were, but in an effort to extract the information, the soldiers killed every farm animal in front of her, then proceeded to kill her own children, even taking her nursing child from her breast. Finally, the soldiers brutally tortured her leaving her painfully mutilated.

But somehow, rather than allowing herself to be broken by this experience, this peasant woman became convinced that sharing her story with other women would lead to healing and promote justice. She heard about the Beijing Women’s Conference, sold her farm and all her possessions, then took up a collection from her remaining extended family to purchase a one-way ticket to Beijing, with no money to spare for a hotel, food, or a return ticket. But having this opportunity to share her story was enough.

Twist tells similar stories about a woman who was repeatedly raped in Bosnia, and a victim of bride-burning from India. Both told horrific tales of gruesome violence and, like the widow in Jesus’ story, all three gave everything they had, every ounce of courage and strength, and every bit of money they could scrape together, to follow through on their commitment to the work of peace.

Their stories were heard; they made a difference.

And, after all three testimonies were shared, the women present took up a collection and created a substantial funding future for each of the women.

Bringing people of diverse means together and taking a stand. This is what Jesus did. It is what Paul and members of the early church did, and it is what we are called to do here at First Church.

We are called to a stand for values other than financial ones, for understanding and examining the distinction of enough, for waking up to the sufficiency and wholeness of the world around us.

And, when we are truly successful at doing this, we may never need to have another stewardship campaign, because when we respond to the figurative locust plagues of our lives by gathering church and community to tell our stories, when we take stands together, bringing to bear the power of thousands of eyes and ears and hands, we will experience liberation together, and there will be enough.

Scarcity or Sufficiency? What Rules Your Life?

This is the sermon I preached on the second Sunday of our annual stewardship campaign, October 6, 2019.

2 Corinthians 9:6-16

There are certain times that I just feel like a bad minister. This is one of those times. You see, I have always despised that phrase, “God loves a cheerful giver.” Hated it. When I would hear it quoted in church, often in the midst of a stewardship campaign like this one, often by an unreasonably cheery church leader, it would ring hollow. The way I understood these five words was, that it wasn’t enough to give to the church, I had to be cheerful about it. And if I wasn’t, if I was feeling stressed, pressured, or anxious, as I often am when it comes to money, maybe even annoyed and resentful, well then, God didn’t love me, because God loves… that’s right, a cheerful giver. Bah humbug!

Well, bad minister no more! I actually spend time with the whole passage from Second Corinthians. And what it really says is, don’t give because you are feeling pressured, give because you really want to give. And when you give out of your desire, you will always have enough of everything.

This is the very message of the book by Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money. I preached from Twist’s book last week, and will preach one more sermon from it on October 27th.

Twist contrasts a scarcity mindset with a paradigm of sufficiency. She points out – and boy did this hit home – that from the time we wake up in the morning there is never enough. We didn’t get enough sleep, we don’t have enough time, we didn’t lose enough weight, our kids aren’t doing well enough in school, the house isn’t clean enough, and of course, we never have enough money. Our whole lives are defined by scarcity, never having enough.

But Twist makes a compelling case that this self-fulfilling belief in scarcity is a myth, a myth that makes us eternally dissatisfied, clinging and craving, instead of finding meaning in what we have and how we use it.

Twist tells this story based on her experience as a fund-raiser for The Hunger Project.

She is to make two fund-raising calls in the same day. First, she will visit the CEO of a huge, national food company in Chicago, then she will return to New York that night to attend a fund-raiser in a church basement in Harlem.

This company is a well-known national brand, but had recently suffered an embarrassing, and very public scandal. Company executives believe making a donation to The Hunger Project will be good public relations, helping to restore their tarnished reputation. Twist knows this.

She describes the experience of riding the elevator up in a towering Chicago skyscraper. “The higher I got, the more separate I felt from the rest of the world. I felt as if I was making a pilgrimage to a mountaintop.”

She arrives at the CEO’s office, having been told that she will have only fifteen minutes to make her pitch. Unable to really see his face because of the morning sunlight coming through the windows behind him, she makes a heartfelt appeal about the courage of the world’s hungry people, and their desire for a better life. All they need are caring corporate partners to help them on the way. Responding with a few perfunctory words, the CEO opens a drawer, takes out a preprinted check for $50,000, and slides it across his desk to Twist. She describes feeling the company’s guilt coming across the desk with the money. His expression communicates that she is now free to go.

On the ride back down in the elevators, Twist feels dirty and sick to her stomach. But with no time to reflect more on the experience, she heads back to the airport to return to New York for her evening meeting in Harlem.

When Twist arrives in New York it is pouring rain. And the scene in the church basement couldn’t be more different than the Chicago skyscraper she left behind. The ceiling is leaking into buckets strategically placed along the walls, and about seventy-five people sit in folding chairs, waiting expectantly for Twist’s presentation. Twist is the only White person in the room, and is feeling especially self-conscious in the expensive silk dress she chose for her meeting with the CEO. Nevertheless, she is more at ease here than there, and launches into sincere stories of the hungry but resilient people she has met in her travels to Africa. When she finishes there is a long silence.

Finally, a woman stands up. She is in her late sixties or early seventies, and has gray hair parted down the middle and swept up into a tidy bun. She is tall, slender, erect, and proud,

“Girl,” she says, “my name is Gertrude and I like what you’ve said and I like you. Now I don’t have a checkbook and I don’t have credit cards. To me, money is a lot like water. For some folks, it rushes through their life like a raging river. Money comes through my life like a little trickle. But I want to pass it on in a way that does the most good for the most folks. I see that as my right and responsibility. It’s also my joy. I have fifty dollars in my purse that I earned from doing a white woman’s wash and I want to give it to you.”

She walks up the aisle and hands Twist her fifty dollars. It is in five-dollar, ten-dollar, and one-dollar bills. Then she gives Twist a big hug. As she heads back to her seat, other people start coming up and making their own contributions in singles, five-dollar, ten-dollar, and twenty-dollar bills. “I was so moved that I was crying” she remembers, “I couldn’t hold all the bills in my hands, so at one point, I opened my briefcase and put it on the table to act as a kind of basket for the money.”

Twist reflects further on the experience:

“This moment, with people streaming up to give their money, had the feeling of a ceremony. There was a sense of integrity and heart. The amount of money we received – maybe $500 at the most – was more precious to me than any I’d seen before.”

As people continue to come forward, Twist sees the $50,000 check at the bottom of her briefcase, underneath all the bills. She realizes that Gertrude’s $50 will do more to end hunger than the corporate guilt money.

She writes, “The money I received from Gertrude carried the energy of her commitment to make a difference – the stamp of her soul – and as I accepted the money, I felt inspired by her and renewed by her expression of integrity and purpose. The precise amount of the money was secondary to the power of the money as it moved with purpose, intention, and soulful energy in the act of contribution.”

The next day, Twist mailed the $50,000 check back to the food company executive. With the check, she sent a short letter suggesting that the CEO choose an organization they felt committed to.

She concludes:

Like water, money is a carrier. It can carry blessed energy, possibility, and intention, or it can carry control, domination, and guilt. It can be a current or currency of love, or a carrier of hurt or harm.

The word wealthy has its roots in well-being and is meant to connote not only large amounts of money but also a rich and satisfying life.

Twist pulls back the veil of the myth of scarcity to reveal sufficiency. Sufficiency is not an amount; it is an experience. Sufficiency is an experience of knowing that there is enough that resides inside each of us.

If we believe that we are enough, we will also believe that there is enough. We engage life from a sense of our own wholeness, feel naturally called to share resources that flow through our lives.

Enough is a place you can arrive at and dwell in.

Gertrude understood that she had enough, and that meaning, indeed joy, came from sharing it.

You also have enough. You also are enough.

There is Enough; You are Enough

This is the sermon I preached on the first Sunday of our annual stewardship campaign on September 29, 2019.

Luke 16:19-31

First of Six Stewardship Sundays

There are all kinds of powerful messages to preach during stewardship season. Stewardship, that is being good stewards, or taking care, of what God has provided for us. Generosity. Sharing our God given gifts. Responding to needs, people’s and the church’s.

But I am going to preach about something I have never preached about before, something that is likely to make you uncomfortable. I am preaching about money! I am going to preach about you and your money.

And not just once. I am going to preach a series of sermons about money. I have been inspired by a book, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationships with Money and Life by Lynne Twist.

Twist wrote The Soul of Money based on her experience as the Chief Fundraising Officer for the Hunger Project where she successfully raised hundreds of millions of dollars toward that organization’s effort to eradicate hunger.

She tells a wonderful story about meeting Mother Teresa.

After a colleague had helped set up the meeting, a driver dropped her off at the non-descript building in old Delhi. She knocked and entered a large, spare room with a concrete floor, lit by two bare bulbs hung from the ceiling. 39 cribs lined the walls, each with one or two babies. The only sound was the cooing of the babies and the voices of nuns, singing to the infants and speaking softly to each other.

Twist was led into an austere hallway and invited to sit at a simple wooden table with two wooden chairs. Soon, a door opened and the tiny, bent figure of Mother Teresa emerged into the hallway. Twist describes her as smiling and glowing. Overcome with emotions, Twist kneeled to kiss Mother Teresa’s ring, and asked her to pray for her mother’s cancer. Mother Teresa invited Twist to sit down, and asked her about her work.

They were deeply engaged in conversation when interrupted by the sound of loud voices and heavy footfalls. A very large, heavily perfumed, Indian couple entered the hallway. They were clearly very rich, she with diamond studs in her ears and one in her nose, and lavish bangles set with precious stones covering her arms. He with a flashy turban with topaz set in the center, and a ring on every finger.

“In the quiet of the hallway, they seemed like monsters,” writes Twist.

“We didn’t get a picture. We need a picture!” the woman complains loudly. She thrusts a camera into Twist’s hands, and pulls Mother Teresa up from her chair, and wedges her between herself and her husband. The woman fusses at Mother Teresa to look up at the camera, and actually puts her hand under Mother Teresa’s chin to force her head up!

The picture is taken, and without so much as a thank you, the couple disappears down the hall just as quickly as they had arrived.

Mother Teresa returns to her chair and continues the conversation as if nothing had happened. But Twist is so enraged she can’t even hear her. It is soon time for the meeting to end; Twist sheds tears, and after an embrace, is heading back to her hotel.

Hatred runs through her veins, but as time passes and she becomes calmer, and her hatred turns to shame that she had so easily been reduced to rage and resentment in front of Mother Teresa. Twist is so upset, that when she returns to her room, she writes a letter to Mother Teresa confessing her bigotry and asking for forgiveness and counsel.

Weeks later, she receives a hand written letter from Mother Teresa, admonishing her. The vicious cycle of poverty is well-known so Twist has no problem feeling compassion for the poor, says Mother Teresa. “But,” she writes, “there is no recognition of the trap that wealth so often is, and of the suffering of the wealthy: the loneliness, the isolation, the hardening of the heart, the hunger and poverty of the soul that can come with the burden of wealth.” Of the powerful and wealthy, Mother Teresa tells Twist, “You must open your heart to them and become their student and teacher. Open your compassion to include them. This is an important part of your life’s work. Do not shut them out.”

Mother Teresa’s words hit home for me. There is a way that those of us in ministry, in seeking to minister to the needs of the poor “out there,” may seem to ignore the needs of those with means right in front of us. And being ignored can easily feel like judgment. While First Church is thankfully free of anyone like the cartoonish rude couple in Twist’s story, perhaps some of you have felt overlooked or even judged in appeals made on behalf of others.

This encounter and exchange with Mother Teresa changed Twist’s life, and led her to write, The Soul of Money, in which she seeks to heal deep wounds and conflicts in the way people relate to their money.

We see these wounds and conflicts in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. When they were alive, the rich man ignored Lazarus’ hunger and suffering. When they died, Lazarus enjoys the company of Abraham in heaven, while the rich man suffers in Hades. The rich man looks up and sees Lazarus leading the good life, and asks for just a drop of water of Lazarus’ finger. But Abraham refuses, saying, it’s too late, you had your chance to lead a good life when you were alive and you blew it.

Pretty terrifying, right? Talk about feeling judged!

Well, there are a couple things to remember when reading this story. First, it is a parable. Parables are simple stories that tell us something about God and God’s realm. Parables are meant, not to describe the afterlife, but to inspire us to change the way we live today. The story of Lazarus and the rich man is not meant to be read literally, but rather illustrates that the choices we make about our money can separate us from the love of God.

Absent the God imagery, Twist draws a similar conclusion.

Though money can provide material comfort, the “good things” that the rich man received in his lifetime, money and privilege can cut us off from the richness of everyday life.

Twist writes of her wealthy donors’ dissatisfaction and unhappiness, “Many people felt they had sold out and become someone they didn’t like anymore. Some were forcing themselves to do work that wasn’t meaningful. Many felt enslaved by their experience of being overtaxed by their government, or felt beaten down by their boss or by the burden of employing others. There was resentment. There were painful compromises, a kind of rawness. Not everyone, but many people were very unsettled and uncomfortable and just not their best selves in their relationships with money.”

The rich Indian couple was certainly not their best selves, and maybe this is what Jesus was illustrating with his parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Clearly, the rich man in the story was not his best self in his relationship with money.

Twist writes of her changed approach to fund-raising following her encounter with Mother Teresa:

I could only do it in a way that would call on people to reconnect with their own higher calling, or soulful longing, to be the kind of people they wanted to be, the kind of difference they wanted to make, and see how they could express that with their money. So rather than feeling that fund-raising was a matter of twisting arms for a donation, or playing on emotions to manipulate money from contributors, it became for me an arena in which I was able to create an opportunity for people to engage in their greatness.

When people were able to align their money with their deepest, most soulful interests and commitments, their relationship with money became a place where profound and lasting transformation could occur.

It was in the act of reseeing themselves in relation to their money, and expressing their soul’s integrity through the medium of money, that they experienced their joyful reward.

Churches’ approach to stewardship has too often been, “give because it is what good Christians do.” This is basically the approach in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Give because it’s what Mosaic law says to do.  Frankly, making an appeal to give because it is our obligation as good Christians was a meaningful and effective approach for a certain generation, including some of you here this morning.

But what would it look like if we are able to appeal to your deepest, most soulful interests and commitments, so your relationship with money becomes a place where profound and lasting transformation can occur?

We aren’t there yet, but isn’t that something to aspire to here at First Church? I suspect getting there will require more of these conversations about money, not just from the pulpit, but in small groups, maybe one-on-one at your kitchen table.

But first, I will return to Twist’s book next Sunday, sharing more stories, and thoughts on the myths of scarcity, and the truth of sufficiency.

We will learn that there is enough, that you are enough.

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