Step 6: Are You Ready?
Preached at Wollaston Congregational Church
On October 13th, 2019
Scripture: Luke 17:11-19
Today we heard a story of the healing of ten men with leprosy. In the ancient world, the term leprosy covered a range of skin diseases known or thought to be highly contagious. People with leprosy experienced the pain of the disease and also the pain of separation from the community. They could not go to work, or live with their families. They were ostracized and marginalized.
Their only company was other people with the same disease. The disease we know as leprosy today has been curable since the 1940’s and vaccinations exist. And still, in some parts of the world there are separate colonies for people with the disease.
The men with leprosy we heard of our gospel reading this morning wander the countryside between Galilee and Samaria. They shake bells to warn passersby of the possibility of contagion and to beg for charity. We can imagine food left for the leper community at the boundary of the town, perhaps in a designated safe place. Their clothes are ragged and worn, they sleep rough. No one wants to come into contact with their personal belongings.
Jesus happens to be traveling through the same territory as the lepers, and they call to him from a distance “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”
Jesus does not approach, but simply says “go and show yourselves to the priest.” The law requires people who have been healed from an unclean disease to present the priest, in order to re-enter the community. As they turn to go to the priest, they are made clean! Their skin, nerves, and limbs are restored. They are good to go!
One of them turns around to Jesus. This one is a Samaritan, a foreigner and an outsider. Ten men were made clean, but this is the only one who thanks Jesus and praises God! And so Jesus proclaims “Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you whole!”
Nine are cured, better from the skin disease, but one is made whole. He is restored to a fullness of life he may have never known before. And so we may wonder, what was different about this man? What was it about him and his readiness to give praise and thanksgiving to God? What was it about him that he saw beyond the simple transaction of pleading and cure?
We might imagine that out of the ten, this man is the one whose life will be transformed to a new level. The other nine are fine, they’ll go back to business as usual. But this man is truly restored.
And so we come to step 6, in our 12 steps from “Breathing Underwater, Spirituality and the 12 Steps” by Richard Rohr . This step says “[That we] were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character …” 
You might remember the past two steps. In step 4 we made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. And in step 5 we admitted to God and another person the exact nature of our wrongs. These steps might have seemed to be searching enough.
But now there’s a change in tone. This is different. This is more than admitting to doing wrong things and vowing not to repeat them. This step means a change! Real change, in us. And that is hard. That is probably why it is all about letting go and letting God.
I have to admit, when I came to this step I thought “I understand how this works for addiction groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Following the process is a matter of survival for them. But will this go over in church? Are we really ready for this step?”
The irony is that this step is all about “being entirely ready.” In the Breathing Underwater Richard Rohr talks about the paradoxical nature of God’s grace. And over the centuries, there have been literal battles over the two sides of the coin of grace.
At the time of the European Reformation, Pope Leo X emphasized Paul’s statement in the letter to the Philippians instructing Christians to “work for our salvation in fear and trembling.” (Philip 2:12)
The Reformer, Martin Luther, insisted that grace is free and undeserved, there is nothing we can do to earn it. and Luther refers to Paul’s letter to the Romans. (Romans 9:11-12, 11:6) 
The question is: do we do our own work in removing defects in character, or do we simply sit and wait for God to do it? The answer is both/and.
It’s an odd thing. We have to do the work of letting go and we have to wait for God to do it.
Sometimes I think of letting go as God prying my fingers one by one off my expectations like a stubborn small child.
One of the defects of character I have been wrestling with since we began this program is that of perfectionism. In worship it translates into my vision of the service, and what I expect the message of the scripture will be. Once I have a vision in my mind for how things are going to go, anything different is less-than.
Over the week, I will choose the scriptures and the hymns and reflect on the sermon topic. Sometimes I’ll have a picture in my mind of the setting here on the table and what I intend to portray. And I’ll imagine the perfect picture of us all gathered around moved by the sights and sounds.
And yet, you church have helped me with this defect of character.
Marian and I never quite know what we are going to be faced with when we arrived here on Sunday morning.
Perhaps it will be cold because heating failed to come on, and you will shiver through the sermon. Perhaps the children who play outside will have accidentally thrown their ball in the wrong direction, and
there will be a broken window and scattered glass. And then my time of silent preparation will be spent picking up the shards.
You know all the things that can go wrong in a place like this, especially during extreme weather. Fallen masonry; blown over signs; the microphone batteries run down … half the congregation is ill and the other half are away for the weekend … and, worst of all, frozen and burst pipes.
And, so I am learning to say “whatever it is, it is OK”. Perhaps you were here last week when the Spirit was mightily present and palpable. All it took was to let go.
As Martin Luther said, the true church exists wherever the gospel is rightly taught and the sacraments are rightly administered. That’s all. Or to simplify even more, as Jesus says in Matt 18:20, “… where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
We can remind ourselves that like the whole church on Earth, Wollaston Congregational Church is “perfectly imperfect.”
In the story we heard today, the ten men really did want to get better from leprosy. They hoped that Jesus would have mercy on them and heal them. Once he said the word, they had what they wanted. And so the nine went quickly to complete the requirements and get on with life.
But the one, the Samaritan, the outsider among them, turned back and waited. He prostrated himself before Jesus, giving thanks and praise to God. Because he did, he was not only made better from leprosy, he was made whole. Perhaps he had less to lose than the others, by letting go and letting God. Ten were cleansed but only one was made whole.
Unfortunately, many Christians today are like the nine who were satisfied with the cure without the transformation.
Rohr points out that the problem with Luther’s insistence on “grace alone” it that it has “devolved into the modern private and personal ‘decision for Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior’ vocabulary.” This approach to salvation means there is “no real transformation of consciousness or social critique” for many Christians. 
They see no need to keep on opening up their vulnerability before God and one another. They see no need to critique the culture, calling society to a greater wisdom and compassion. They remain satisfied with themselves and the water in which they swim.
Perhaps someone has told you the exact date that they “accepted Jesus as personal Lord and Savior.” If that’s where the transformation ended, then they’re a little like the nine cured lepers, who skipped off to show themselves to the priest. Jesus’ word was a sufficient cure for them. They didn’t need to remain with him and express a desire to go deeper in discipleship.
On the other hand, we may meet some people whose authentic spirituality shines through. On one occasion I met a woman who volunteered to care for the most vulnerable residents in a facility where I was visiting a congregant. Her energy was non-anxious. She was serious but light. And she was honest about herself and her feelings. There was nothing fake about her at all.
I wanted to know her story. And so, she told me of a time when she had decided her life needed to change. She told me she spent a whole year eliminating the things, the habits, and the relationships that were not making her whole. She was like the Samaritan leper who stayed to complete the process of transformation, to become who God had created her to be.
In short she did step 6. She knew she was ready to have God remove her defects of character.
The Facebook page “Begin with Yes” has the following post:
“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s unbecoming everything that isn’t really you, so that you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.” 
The 12 Step process and Step 6 in particular is all about becoming who we were really are. We simply have to be entirely ready.
And so I say, let’s get ready to let go of our character defects, like trees shedding their dead leaves in the fall.
… Let’s get ready to be changed.
And then may we pray “please change me, oh God!”
 Rohr, Richard. Breathing Under Water : Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid., p. 52
 Ibid., p. 55
Preached at Wollaston Congregational Church
On October 6th 2019
Scripture: Lamentations 1:1-6, 3:19-26
This past summer I have been meditating on a question: what is a right response to the tragic events that come up in our news all too often? I’m thinking specifically of gun violence, and the frequent mass shootings in our nation. This is on my mind as we approach the first anniversary of the shooting in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue. I’ve seen two responses, and I confess I have tended to one of them.
The first response I’ve noticed is to offer “thoughts and prayers.” They say when lives have been taken, and victims are grieving and in shock, it is “too soon” to think about solutions to gun violence. Instead, we should be praying for those who are suffering. The problem with this response is that it (often) leads to no change. And gun violence remains a problem.
The second response, the place I go, is to demand change especially to gun laws. It is an insistence that the status quo isn’t working and so we must do something about it. Of course, people who adopt this response care about the victims’ grief and suffering. But they see the solution as doing something about the situation, according to their own analysis. The problem with this response is that angers the people who believe strongly in current gun laws. It does not invite a meaningful conversation for those who care deeply about the situation but who have different perspectives. And so, gun violence remains a problem.
And so, my meditations have led me to a different place. Now I believe that an appropriate response means beginning with deep communal lamentation and repentance.
That is to say the community would enter the same grief as victims of the shooting. We would identify with the victims, crying out to God, lamenting the great tragedy that has come upon us. And then, we would throw ourselves on God’s mercy, because we know in our hearts we are culpable.
These tragedies come upon us because we have failed in our calling to create loving community. We have built walls of defensiveness and fear around ourselves, our nuclear families and our small groups. We have raised damaged children who see no solution to their pain, but to inflict pain on others. Oh God have mercy upon us!
This is the place I see the writer of our passages from the book of Lamentations we read today. He stands in the midst of ruins in the city of Jerusalem. The streets are deserted. Judah has gone into exile, her children have been taken away. People lie slaughtered on the ground, children and babies are starving in the streets.
This writer laments the affliction of his people. The Babylonians have come in and ransacked the city. And they have taken almost all the people to exile in Babylon. The only explanation he has for this devastation is that God has brought this upon them. It is a punishment for their sins: failing to meet their covenant with their God. Even though he sees the people as culpable, he throws himself, with them, on God’s mercy. Surely this punishment is too great!
Of course, the Judah-ites did not sack their own city. This was done by their enemies. And yet they had warnings. They did not listen to the prophet Jeremiah’s words of wisdom from God. They were proud, relying on their own power. They kept their God for themselves, seeing God as resident in their city and their temple. Something that God never asked for.
Instead of building community with the enemy, they tried resist the greater external power. It didn’t work out. And so here the writer stands in the desolate city. And, still, there is a glimmer of hope, as he perceives God’s great mercy for the people. He perceives God’s longing to forgive the people and restore them as God’s beloved.
In chapter 5 of Breathing Underwater, Richard Rohr talks about step 5 of the 12 step process. This step says: [we have] admitted to God and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Rohr writes: “When human beings ‘admit’ to one another ‘the exact nature of their wrongs,’ we invariably have a human and humanizing encounter that deeply enriches both sides … It is no longer an exercise to achieve moral purity, or regain God’s love, but in fact a direct encounter with God’s love. It is not about punishing one side but liberating both sides.” 
Rohr notes almost all religions and cultures through history have practiced retributive justice. We have tended to believe that sin and evil must be punished. We have distanced ourselves from our own shadow sides, by focusing on the wrongs of others. We think of good guys and bad guys and we know which we want to be.
God’s justice is not retributive, but restorative. God wishes for those who sin to be transformed and restored to the way God has made them. God’s promise to restore the exiled people to Jerusalem is the metaphor for this outcome. The pathway to this restoration is found in God’s mercy.
As Rohr says, God resists our evil and conquers it with good. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians, we too are invited to forgive others as a pathway for their transformation. Paul says “‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”(Romans 12:20-21) 
I’ve heard it said that “God loves us just the way we are, and yet God loves us too much to let us stay that way.” God means for us to always be open to transformation, to becoming who we truly are. And, for Christians, this means true confession, repentance and forgiveness.
Rohr talks about the red faced look of shame, when we are forgiven gratuitously and loved anyway. And I know this red faced experience only too well …especially from a time when a friend held me accountable for something I had done.
I was leading a group from my former church. In one exercise I had members to share their passions. And then for some reason, for cheap laughs, I made a hurtful joke about my friend’s share.
After the group was over, he confronted me. He told me he was “gob-smacked” by my remark. I realized what I had done and I felt ashamed. Because he held me accountable I was able to apologize to him. Not only that, I was able to admit this falling down to the whole group in our next session. This was genuinely humbling for me, but it also felt true and right. There was grace in the moment of receiving my friend’s forgiveness.
Sadly, we are not always willing or ready to confess, or even to receive God’s mercy as a pathway to restoration.
I had two conversations about confession and forgiveness in a church where I sometimes used to lead worship. The first involved an older woman, who did not like the corporate prayer of confession we said every week. “I am a good and kind person” she said, “I don’t need that kind of negativity.”
I had to admit she was a good and kind person. She did a lot to help others. But confession is not only about whether we do enough, or whether we are kind enough. It is admitting that we all fall short of the mark from time to time in our thoughts, our words or deeds. It is our route to becoming the best version of ourselves.
And it is also admitting that we cannot escape the sin of our community and our world. We are bound together in sins that simply are: the destruction of the environment, gun violence in our communities, the oppression of invisible people in the supply chain of our food and other goods. The prayers of confession in worship allow us to admit our culpability in these sins.
The second person I talked with was a man who thought he was unworthy to receive communion. He did not tell me why. Perhaps he could not bring himself to confess, yet. Or perhaps he was confessed, and still could not believe he was forgiven. I was reminded of an introduction to the communion table I sometimes use. I talk of how we, here in church, strive to break down any barriers to communion. We provide gluten free bread for those who need it. We use non-alcoholic juice in the cup, so that the table is open to those in recovery for alcoholism.
Then I say “if you believe that there is some spiritual barrier to your receiving communion … if you believe there is something you have done that excludes you from this table … remember this: at that Last Supper, when Jesus gathered with the disciples, Jesus knew that one of them would hurry away from the table after supper to betray him. And he knew that before the night was over, all the disciples would abandon him in fear. And still, he served them all.”
Friends, let us review and admit our sins. Let us confess to what we have done individually and what we have done as a community, with lamentation and grief.
Let us repent honestly and wholeheartedly. And then, may we come to the communion table to receive God’s great mercy and grace, because as the writer of Lamentations says: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.
 Rohr, Richard. Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (pp. 39-40). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
 Rohr, Richard. Breathing Under Water : Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (p. 41). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
Step 4: Shining Light in the Shadows
Preached on September 29th, 2019
At Wollaston Congregational Church
Scripture: Luke 16:19-31
Step 4: [That we have] Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
This is the 4th step in our 12 step sermon series. And today, it’s beginning to get real, and perhaps a little uncomfortable. I don’t know about you, but this step feels intimidating to me. I don’t feel particularly “fearless” about making a searching moral inventory. This sounds suspiciously like making a list of all my sins, past and present.
Richard Rohr observes that “those raised with a strict religious upbringing will usually recoil at this step.” They are tired of judging themselves to be found wanting. In fact, many are driven back to their addiction to “quiet the constant inner critic.” This might be the voice of a “demanding parent, rigid culture, or finger-waving church.” These voices echo long after the parent has died, or the individual has left culture or church behind. And so confession and addiction may become a vicious cycle. 
However, Rohr does not see Step 4 as a way to find out how good or bad we are compared with other people. Instead he sees it as a way of illumination: and so this chapter is titled “A Good Lamp.” Rohr invites us all to begin some “shadow boxing.” He is talking about what psychologist Carl Jung called the parts of ourselves that we deny or hide, “the shadow-self.” Confession involves bringing a light to those hidden places, the shadows.
As Rohr writes, Jung certainly did not lead a perfect life, but his mistakes led him to “recognize and heal the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others.
Rohr says “The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world.”
That is “People who accept themselves accept others. People who hate themselves hate others. Only Divine Light gives us permission, freedom, and courage to go all the way down into our depths and meet our shadow.” 
Our gospel reading for this week tells of a time when Jesus shone a light onto certain shadows many of us prefer to ignore.
Each week this season, before we hear our gospel reading we sing “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet.” In singing this refrain we are summoning the courage to ask God to shine a light not only on the gospel word, but also on our own shadow-selves.
The story we hard today is spoken to the Pharisees and scribes yet again. In Luke’s gospel these groups represent the rigid religious, the finger-wavers, who think they are righteous.
Jesus tells the story of a rich man. He is obscenely wealthy, he feasts daily, and dresses in the clothing of royalty. Meanwhile there is a poor man, named Lazarus, who sits at the rich man’s gate. Lazarus’s poverty is as extreme as the other man’s wealth. He is covered in sores from inadequate nutrition, lack of sanitation, and sleeping rough.
It would be quite simple for the rich man to help Lazarus. He would not even miss the resources it would take to give him a meal, or provide him with a simple dwelling. The problem is that the rich man does not even see Lazarus. He is safely protected inside his gate, free from the uncomfortable sight of the dogs licking Lazarus’s sores.
The story goes on. Both men die. Lazarus goes to be with Father Abraham in a kind of heaven. And the rich man descends to Hades, a fire-y hell. By means of some special portal to heaven the man can see Abraham with Lazarus at his side.
The rich man is so accustomed to having people like Lazarus at his service he doesn’t understand the seriousness of his situation. And so he implores Abraham to “send Lazarus” with a drop of water to cool his lips. Abraham reminds him that the poor man is no longer conveniently at his gate. Now there is a huge chasm between them and there is no way Lazarus can cross over.
Still the man doesn’t get it. Perhaps Lazarus could be sent to warn his five equally wealthy brothers about the torment to come. And again, Abraham tells him that since they haven’t listened to the teachings of the prophets they will not listen to anyone else. It is too late.
This is certainly not a comfortable tale for the obscenely wealthy who ignore the poor. We here are not obscenely wealthy. But this is still a tale for us, to stir us when we begin to feel comfortable. If we are truthful, often times we live in an uneasy kind of comfort with situations like this.
There are times when I see a person who is in need and I reason “oh well, I can’t help everyone”, and then forget to actually reach out to someone.
Or there are times when we justify the gates and barriers we make as “security” so that we can forget about the poor for a while.
There are times when we decide not to do a ministry here at the church because “the neighbors would object.”
Or there are times when we decide that last time we gave to the poor, they were scamming us.
The story sheds light on the poor man, even giving him a name: Lazarus. It also sheds light on our fears, our insecurities, our justifications. It sheds light on our shadows.
This story reminds us that ongoing shadow boxing is necessary. We don’t just go to the gym one time to become physically fit. In the same way we don’t just examine ourselves once to become spiritually conscious.
The daily Examen is one way of doing this shadow boxing. We tried it today during our prayers of confession. Another way might be to belong to a group like Alcoholics Anonymous, in which others are willing to hear our confession.
Sometimes we need the light of others’ eyes on our shadows. And this requires us to be willing to give and receive feedback.
I admit I do not always relish feedback. For much of my life I have been painfully aware of my shortcomings. I’m sensitive when I make a mistake, scolding myself for not thinking of every outcome. This painful awareness sometimes meant that I was unwilling to look back on events reflectively, instead I feel shamed by mistakes. I prefer to bury those memories in the shadows.
While I was in seminary, I was required to do a training program called “Clinical Pastoral Education” or CPE. I took my CPE in a long-term care facility for the elderly in the Boston area. This program combined providing spiritual care for residents of the facility with a process of self-examination, one or one with my supervisor, and also in a group setting.
I made learning goals for the program, and one of these was:
“decreasing my fear of getting things wrong, of saying or doing the wrong thing” and “decreasing my anxiety of being supervised in my work.”
During the course of my time at the care facility my heart was broken open many times by the patients that I visited. Most had some form of dementia, and also other challenges, such as hearing loss, macular degeneration, and lack of mobility. I was moved by their physical, mental and spiritual challenges. I realized that to serve these dear people I needed to learn and grow.
Each week I wrote self-reflections, examining each resident interaction in detail. I worked with my supervisor to imagine how I might grow in my work. I invited critique from my fellow students, who guided me gently and lovingly. And at the end of the program I was better able to provide spiritual care. I had grown in my practice of self-reflection and receiving feedback from others. At times it was uncomfortable, but I look back on that time as a true blessing for myself and my relationships with others.
Each week, so far, we have applied the step we are working on to three things: our culture, our church, and our own lives. And so today,
may we summon the courage to imagine doing a searching moral inventory … in our culture, in our church, and in our own lives.
I wonder what it would look like, if we took a searching and fearless moral inventory as a culture. In this young nation founded on high ideals, we are so intent on patriotism and loyalty, it is hard to imagine. What would it mean to admit that, like all others, our nation is not perfect? What would it mean for the United States to do a searching and fearless moral inventory concerning issues like slavery and the genocide of the Native American population?
And how about in the Church? The “church growth consultants” encourage us to present a shiny image. We say “all are welcome” in our loving family-sized congregation.
What would it mean to invite those who have been hurt by church in the past to come in and sit with us in this 12 step process. Together we could remember that we have spiritual growth to do, as well as numerical growth, as we examine both our shadows and our triumphs.
And, most of all, in our own lives: Let’s remember, our goal is not to be perfect. It is to see ourselves as we are, illuminated by the Divine Light.
Rohr points to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians: “the law was given to multiply the opportunities of falling!” to which he adds “so that grace can even be greater” (Romans 5:20–21) That is to say “God actually relishes the vacuum, which God knows God alone can fill.” 
May all God’s people say,
 Rohr, Richard. Breathing Under Water : Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (p. 30). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
 Rohr, Richard. Breathing Under Water : Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (p. 31). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
Preached on September 22nd 2019
At Wollaston Congregational Church
Scripture: Luke 16:1-13
In Step 3 we make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand God … in other words we surrender.
This week we read from the next chapter in the gospel of Luke. In today’s passage we heard Jesus tell the story of a shrewd manager.
The manager is in trouble with his boss. An employee like the manager in First Century Palestine is more of a servant or a slave. His boss is known as his “master.” When the boss hears that the employee is mismanaging his property, the manager has no recourse. We don’t know whether he is guilty of squandering his boss’s wealth. We do know he is scared. He has no other way of making a livelihood. If he is fired he will probably have to beg for his living. There is no way another property owner will take him on.
The manager comes up with a scheme. He goes to his boss’s debtors and offers them a deal. If they owe 100, lets make it 80 or even 50. He’s buying some currency with these people.
Writer Diana Butler Bass describes this system of gifting and gratitude, called quid pro quo. This literally means “something for something.” She says … “[it] was … used as a means of patronage, power, and control: ‘I do something for you, so that you must do something for me.’ A gift incurred a debt, and the recipient owed a response—an act of gratitude—in return.” 
This works for the manager, in that it will give him an entrance into the homes of the clients. It is his insurance policy if he is thrown out by his boss. Surprisingly, the boss is pleased with the scheme. He is proud of his shrewd manager. Perhaps this scheme brings in owed wealth more quickly than before. Or perhaps the boss now feels he can call in favors from his clients.
Don’t you think this is a strange story for Jesus to tell? There is not much that is good or faithful in it. The manager and boss act entirely in character and in the culture of the time. Things get even stranger as Jesus appears to recommend the behavior of the manager too.
He says to the disciples “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”
However, there is one subtlety in this statement that we would miss in many of the English translations of this gospel. In the telling of this story, Jesus says the manager acts so that people will welcome him into their homes (or houses). But when Jesus comments on the story, advising the disciples, he says that when the wealth is gone they may be welcomed into the eternal … tents. The eternal tent or tabernacle is understood to be the dwelling place of God.
And we are reminded that God is not to be found in earthly wealth, or houses built by human hands. God is not so limited, or so settled. God’s realm is other than this.
And so, Jesus seems to be saying: this may be a shrewd manager. He has saved his skin and established good will with the clients. But what has he done to gain entrance into the eternal tents of God? This remains to be seen. Who does he truly serve?
And so Jesus goes on to conclude that we cannot serve both God and material wealth.
Sometimes we get confused. All things come from God: the environment, the food we eat, the homes we live in, the money we make. Alcohol comes from grape and grain, opiates from poppies, even opioids that are synthesized in the lab come from the created universe. There is nothing in our world that has not come from God’s creation. If God is God, all else is created. And the created world is a gift.
There is no real separation between God and what Jesus calls Mammon. The problem arises when we begin to worship what is created, instead of who is creating it. The problem arises when we seek security in the temporary homes of those who owe us favors.
And this brings us to our addictions and the addictive behaviors we all own.
Richard Rohr writes:
“Material satisfactions, while surely not bad, have a tendency to become addictive … instead of making you whole, they repeatedly remind you of how incomplete, needy, and empty you are. As alcoholics often say, your ‘addiction makes you need more and more of what is not working.’” 
We have begun working through the 12 step program of spirituality in Richard Rohr’s book “Breathing Under Water.” Today we are on step 3 and, as I said, today’s step is about surrender.
Rohr says that surrender is not “giving up” but “giving to.” It is reminding ourselves who is God. Not the gift but the giver.
Surrender to God … may sound scary, yet it leads to joy. It leads to a full appreciation of God’s mercy and grace. It leads to dwelling in the eternal tents of God.
Rohr quotes St Francis, who said “When the heart is pure, ‘Love responds to Love alone’ and has little to do with duty, obligation, requirement …” God’s love and mercy has nothing to do with quid pro quo … Rohr says “it is easy to surrender when you know that nothing but Love and Mercy is on the other side.” 
But still we resist, whether we have a chemical addiction or another addictive behavior. We hold onto the illusion of being in control. And I wonder why.
Some people I meet tell me that they practice spirituality, but struggle with belief. I meet them here in church and many of the places I go in the community. Most recently one young man told me that this was his struggle.
Really, I think these are the people who are most likely on a true spiritual path toward surrender. The obstacle is simple and they have recognized it. It is a matter of their head and their reason getting in the way. A voice tells them that “this is too good to be true. There is no God of love and mercy.”
I usually say “don’t worry about it” God doesn’t need your belief. Keep doing what works, eventually the need for belief will melt away. You will surrender. These are the easy ones.
Other people I meet have a much more difficult obstacle. They are also both inside the church and outside. They are sure they know who God is … and they want no part of surrendering. They are locked in a battle of wills.
They may think that God wants them to attend church … but they stay away until guilt gets the better of them. Or they think that God is after all their money and they don’t want to give. Or they think that God wants to get inside their heads, and they want to keep God out. The parables and teachings of Jesus offend them. They do not want to relinquish control over their lives.
And, isn’t it true, that we here today are all a little bit like this? We conjure images of a demanding, control freak God.
In the distant memories of childhood, I swing my legs from the pew in my small village Methodist chapel of 1960’s England. The message from the great high pulpit resounds: “God wants YOU! … And God wants your all.”
At that time, my understanding of giving one’s all to God meant becoming a missionary. And my understanding of mission was an expedition to preach the gospel to the far away so-called “heathen nations.” I heard about these places in the old hymns we sang.
The implication was that God would call me to give up on all my attachments, hopes and dreams and to substitute an alien and disturbing future. No wonder I resisted.
And over the years, I have often thought of surrender as meaning that God will drag me kicking and screaming into submission, like a 2 year old in a tantrum.
Life experiences, mentors and further study of the scriptures as well as books like “Breathing Under Water”, have changed my understanding. Yes, God sometimes calls us out of our comfort to metaphorical “distant lands.” God does want our all, our whole lives.
And yet, to surrender to God looks more like giving ourselves over to a winsome beloved than a control freak.
Resistance comes from fears we have accumulated over the course of our lives. We learn to fear when we are let down or hurt by those we have loved before.
When the winsome beloved comes along, we convince ourselves that
we don’t deserve them and they will find out soon enough. We ask how will we survive when that person leaves or abandons us? Self-loathing kicks in. It is our protective mechanism and we’d rather use it than believe ourselves to be loved without condition.
The good news is that if we surrender to the winsome lover that is God, we will become equipped to face the truth without fear or denial.
In our lives this might mean seeking help for something that is causing our health to suffer … a chemical addiction, a destructive relationship, or past trauma that we cannot get beyond.
In our culture, this might mean listening to the young people who are crying out for the generation in power to take climate change seriously.
In our church, this might mean questioning our thinking of how we are church and the way we sometimes channel our energies and resources into a temporary house rather than the eternal tabernacle.
No, God’s gifts are not given “quid pro quo.” We do not owe God. We simply deny ourselves God’s overwhelming grace, when we act as though we do.
And so may we surrender all and let God be God, because we are not.
May all God’s people say,
 Bass, Diana Butler. Grateful (p. 10). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.
 Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ (p. 87). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Rohr, Richard. Breathing Under Water : Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (p. 28). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
“Lost and Found”
Preached at Wollaston Congregational Church
On September 15th, 2019
Scripture: Luke 15:1-10
This morning we continued to read from the gospel of Luke, picking up the story right after last week’s passage. And today we also begin step 2 of our 12 step sermon series, based on Richard Rohr’s book “Breathing Under Water.” In the language of the 12-step program step 2 reads
“[We] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
In our gospel story, great crowds are following Jesus through the land. He is getting closer to Jerusalem, and the cross. The religious people are annoyed. They grumble among themselves, because Jesus is breaking the rules of polite religious society. He welcomes the sinners and the tax collectors, he eats with them, and, to add insult to injury, he has a good time. This bugs the religious leaders.
And so Jesus tells them two stories that highlight the joy experienced when those who are lost are restored to God’s community.
The first story is about a shepherd who has lost one of his sheep. He has a herd of 100. When one sheep is lost he leaves the other 99 to search for the frightened lamb. He finds it in the thicket, panicked and silent so as not to attract the attention of predators. The shepherd is so joyful he has found the lamb he throws a party for his friends and neighbors to celebrate with him.
The second story is about a woman who has lost one of her precious 10 silver coins. You can tell by the way she reacts that she is panicked. Did she drop it in the market place? Was it stolen from her pocket or purse? How could she be so careless? She has 9 more coins, but still this one coin is so precious to her. She needs the lost coin to restore the whole ten she has been saving for years.
The woman turns the house upside down, giving it a long overdue deep cleaning. She sweeps every inch of her small home, every speck of dust is turned over. Every dark corner is illuminated by her lamp. Finally she finds the coin and lets out a deep sigh of relief. She is filled with joy, and calls in her friends and neighbors … this is cause for rejoicing. What she thought was lost is found.
Both the shepherd and the woman experience such joy and relief at finding what they had lost. Most of all, their joy is about restoring the lost lamb and the lost coin to the whole.
Jesus summarizes by telling the religious leaders, God is just like the shepherd and the woman. God rejoices over and throws a party for those who come home to God, where they belong.
In the light of these stories, we return to Step 2 of the 12 Steps we are considering in this sermon series:
“We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
Here in church, we might substitute some of the language. Perhaps our version might read: “When we are found, when we turn toward God, we are restored to the community of the church.”
As Richard Rohr writes (in chapter 2):
“The surrender of faith does not happen in one moment but is an extended journey, a trust walk, a gradual letting go, unlearning, and handing over.” 
There may be parts of ourselves that remain hidden for years. Still our journey leads us to be found and restored as a whole.
When Mary and I talked about the service this week, Mary provided me with insights into the 12 step program and what it has meant for her. She told me of the way in which desperation led her to her group, and the joy she experiences in walking the 12 step way and surrendering to God. You can see the joy in her eyes when she smiles. Mary told me that she supposed that I have also experienced my own moments of desperation. She is not wrong.
Although I have not gone to a 12 step program, I have experienced some despair. And turning over to God has sometimes been that slow, painful process that characterizes us religious folk!
One turning event has been in my mind this week. It’s probably been in your mind too, as we observed the 18th anniversary of September 11th 2001.
9/11 touched my community of the time in a particular way. I belonged to a circle of mothers, in our suburban town. We had mostly come together through our UCC church, and had begun to tentatively explore our faith together. We were mostly married with young children. Our spouses were in the busy early stages of their careers: doing well, but on the way. They traveled frequently to client meetings, conferences and the like.
That morning my husband, like many others, had flown out of Logan Airport down to Newark Airport for a meeting. As soon as he heard about the attack on the twin towers he called a car rental company made a reservation. As he made his lonely way back to Massachusetts that evening he witnessed the plumes of smoke over Manhattan.
We were so grateful to come through 9/11 with our family in tact. And all our immediate friends were safe too. We grieved for those who had not been so fortunate.
Simon’s car was impounded at the airport for a few days. My parents who were visiting at the time could not fly home to the UK as scheduled. They left, stoic as always, on one of the first flights out of Logan after the attack. That was a difficult “good bye” for me. We were all safe and well, and I knew I should be grateful. But, of course, our family could not escape the anxiety of the times.
In the following year Simon continued to travel to Europe at least once per month. His mom had died the previous year and so he generally included a visit to his father who was sick and lonely. I would track his flights on the airline’s website, sometimes I’d panic for a moment when the connection dropped and the plane seemed to stall over the ocean.
For the following year our son had difficulty sleeping, and suffered anxiety when we left him and his sisters in the care of a sitter.
I felt like the glue of the family, holding us together in some shape or form. But I wasn’t doing so well.
I’d come into church each week, and when it came time for our silent prayers of confession, I’d tear up. I was so often frustrated with my husband and children. I didn’t understand it. Why did this family, the answer to my hopes and dreams, seem like a burden? Why was I so impatient, so desperate for some time for me … so exhausted at trying to hold everything together?
“God forgive me.” I’d sigh.
Finally the penny dropped … my confession needed to become a prayer for healing. I couldn’t simply “try not to” do those behaviors I didn’t like. I needed help, and so I began to pray for it.
Gradually I discovered the spiritual resources to shine a light into those corners of complaint. I learned to honor my needs, as a mother and a child of God. I began to seek out ways to communicate better in relationships and to care for myself so that I could care for others.
You might say I was “restored to sanity.”
The joy of restoration has led me to some wonderful places of community. One occasion, I remember, it led me to take my children to worship with our church’s sister African Methodist Episcopal church in the city. It was Maundy Thursday evening and we washed feet together with our African American siblings. The service ran late and my son got upset that he would not be able to fall asleep that night. So, I brought him to the woman I had been partnered with and she helped us to pray. As we drove home to the suburbs after the service he looked out of the car window and watched the beautiful full moon. The experience settled him right down and he was able to sleep that night.
You might say we were “restored to sanity.”
And so, what is it that you need restoration from? What is it you are hiding?
Are you one of the religious folk, who hide in your strict religion, fearful of hidden things being revealed?
Or perhaps you bury things in the busy-ness of daily life, keeping yourself too well occupied to think and pray.
Or are you someone who knows what it is to turn to God in desperation? Have you turned your life over to the way of Jesus and had your dark corners illuminated and swept?
Is this something you would be willing to share one day with the congregation, to encourage all of us on our spiritual journeys?
This week I heard about a series of discussions organized in Milton by interfaith clergy and community leaders. It’s called “Courageous Conversations.” These are conversations that bring together people across racial divides to talk about issues of racism in our culture today. They sweep the corners clean, opening up and talking to one another about their experiences.
Some have criticized this movement as not “doing anything.” Yet the leader told me, having people open up and talk face-to-face has transformed lives. It has begun to restore the wider community.
Sometimes “doing something” saves us from confronting the needs and fears in the dark recesses of our hearts and minds. Sometimes, for God to find us and restore us, we have to stop the doing and allow ourselves to be found.
This is what I hope for our upcoming discussion series: on “The Reality: Where We are Now and Options for the Future.”
For us, as a church, to pause for a moment in the doing of our business and ask God to illuminate the dark corners, to sweep away the dust on what is hidden; for us to face the future with God’s clarity and light.
Are you ready to be found, in the deepest, darkest recesses of your
heart? I hope so because it will lead to joy and the restoration of community.
Let all God’s people say …
 Rohr, Richard. Breathing Under Water : Spirituality and the Twelve Steps (p. 8). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
Preached on September 8th, 2019
At Wollaston Congregational Church
Scripture: Luke 14:25-33
Even though I am no longer school age, these early fall days always feel like “back to school” for me. I wonder if you feel the same way too.
Today, here in church, as we listen to the gospel reading we may find ourselves in a “back to school” frame of mind. Jesus is in full-on teaching mode. This is not an intro-level course.
If you came into church today without having heard or read the earlier parts of Luke’s gospel, I’m afraid you are being thrown in the deep end. This is advanced level discipleship teaching. There are pre-requisites for this course.
The gospel writer, Luke, is assuming that you have been along for the healing of the sick and the casting out of demons; for the parables; for the lifting up of the poor, the women and the outcasts. And for the glorious tales of the kingdom to come, the great banquet at which all God’s people are welcome.
So far in the gospel story, Jesus’ call to new followers has not mentioned a cost. The disciples have multiplied to seventy missionaries, who have been sent out by pairs into the local towns. They have reached the multitudes with their teaching.
Thousands gather around Jesus. They can’t get enough of him. But now it is time to find out what the followers are really made of. It’s time to teach them that following Jesus comes with a cost.
And so he delivers one of the most challenging messages of the gospel:
Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters - yes, even one's own self! - can't be my disciple. (Luke 14:26, The Message)
Jesus cautions the enthusiastic crowd to “count the cost” of following him. This includes letting go of all attachments: even to family members, even to all their possessions, even their attachments to their very own selves.
We might begin to think that this is a strange new egotistical Jesus. He is making some serious demands on the disciples.
We generally associate leaders who make these sorts of demands with modern-day cult leaders like Jim Jones. In 1978 Jones convinced 900 of his followers to take cyanide-laced punch and die.
If today’s teaching was the first thing we heard about Jesus, perhaps we would imagine him as an egotistical cult leader. Yet, we have heard how Jesus has gone about the countryside, serving the poor, healing the sick and lifting up the broken hearted. How can we possibly see him in this light?
Instead, we have to look a little more deeply into where this teaching coming from. Perhaps it has more to do with our own egos than his.
In the first chapter of the book “Breathing Underwater” Richard Rohr says:
“What ego hates more then anything else in the world is to change - even when the present situation isn’t working or is horrible.” 
We know that Jesus was all about change, in order to bring about God’s great vision for the world, that great banquet of inclusion. Is this us? Are we the ones who hate for the world to change, even when the present situation is not working?
Rohr also says:
“Ego hates to admit powerlessness over a situation …” and yet Jesus admitted utter powerlessness under the Roman Empire as he was taken to the cross and crucified.  And yet, is this us? Do we hate to admit powerlessness over the situations in our lives?
And Rohr also says:
“The ego defines itself by its revulsions and attachments …” and yet Jesus let go of all attachments, turning toward the cross to bring life to the world.  On the other hand, we find it so difficult to let go of our attachments and revulsions.
Rohr goes on to say:
“Mature spirituality is all about letting go” both of what we love and what we hate. Rohr says “Your ego is always attached to mere externals … it has no inner substance itself … [whereas] The soul does not attach and it does not hate; it desires and loves and lets go.”
We all have an ego of course and it is better to have a healthy ego. Our ego knows who we are, and helps us differentiate from others, creating effective boundaries.
People with fragile egos need others to validate them, they cannot handle criticism or rejection - they do not know who they are apart from the others they depend upon.
What we need to learn, as we grow up, is to keep our egos in the right place. We need to master our egos rather than allowing our egos to rule us.
This is our goal, in letting go of our attachments. We do not become less loving when we let go of family and loved ones and our other attachments. We learn to love in a self-differentiated way.
But if we are attached so strongly to a substance or a habit, to a friendship, to a group or a way of doing things, that we cannot let go, that attachment becomes an addiction. And we are powerless over our addictions.
In the Breathing Under Water Companion Journal, Rohr says:
We are all spiritually powerless … not just those [who are] physically addicted to a substance. Alcoholics’ powerlessness is visible for all to see. The rest of us disguise it in different ways, and overcompensate for our hidden addictions and attachments … 
This week I sat with my spiritual director and made a confession: I am attached to being successful. I really want to be successful: a successful pastor, a successful parent … successful in all I do!
Until this week I had not spoken out loud about this attachment, I had kept it hidden. Ironically as I thought about letting go, I descended into a rabbit hole - I became attached to being successful in letting go of being successful!
You may like the idea of having a pastor who is committed to being successful. This may seem like a positive quality, especially if my definition of success means revitalization of the church. You may want to buy into this attachment. But ultimately it will not serve any of us well.
I have to admit that I am powerless: over my attachment to success and the revitalization of this church. I do not have the ability to reach into the hearts of our neighbors and stir them to get out of bed on Sunday mornings and come to worship. I do not have the ability to change the busyness of our culture or the habits that lead people to over-commit and burn out.
Nor do I have control over you, the congregation. I can’t impose my ideas for change on you if that is not what you want. And that is the way things ought to be. The direction and the decisions of this church belong to the congregation.
All I can do is to try lead us all in Jesus’ teaching for our time and place. I can encourage us to let go of our attachments to particular goals and outcomes and to listen to the desires of God for us and for our church. This is something that we will practice in the coming months during our discussions on “The Reality of Where We are Now and Options for the Future.”
And so I invite you to consider for a moment: what are you attached to in your life?
Is it a substance you use to numb yourself when life becomes too much a pint of ice cream at bed time after a co-worker made you feel small … or draining the bottle of wine in the fridge after a stressful commute. Do you feel powerless to resist and deal with those stresses in more healthful ways.
Or is it a so-called friendship that is not working? A one-way relationship: someone who receives but does not give.
Are you short- changing your soul, because you feel trapped by this person? Or do you feed the imbalance because you couldn’t imagine life without them?
We humans are not only attached and deny our powerless on an individual level. We are also addicted and deny our powerlessness on a communal level.
We are powerless to stop an active shooter in a place of worship, or in a shopping mall, or in a school in these first days of the school year. This sense of powerlessness is so frightening, that we come up with myths to convince ourselves we can control the situation.
We say that a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. We forget that we cannot tell a good person from a bad person by looking at them. We forget that a seemingly good person can become a violent person overnight under certain circumstances.
And still, there is the collective power to stop the epidemic of mass shootings in our culture today. This could happen if we citizens admitted our powerlessness and let go of our attachments to our arguments, our weapons, our traditions … and our insistence on “being right.”
Once we are ready let go of our political ideals and differences and sit down at the table together: then we will discover the power the end this epidemic of violence.
Church, today we have begun the first step of our 12 steps to freer lives with God. We have considered Jesus’ teaching on letting go in the light of these steps. Those who have done this first step in Alcoholics Anonymous or another 12-step program say
“We admitted we were powerless over [our attachments]– that our lives had become unmanageable.”
I invite you to take away with you the image of the hand letting go of the rope that is being pulled away. The owner of the hand is powerless to resist. The rope is being pulled by an irresistible force. If the hand continues to hold on, it will become cut and burned by the rope. But if the owner of the hand admits their powerlessness and lets go, they will be free.
Wollaston Congregational Church, we are invited to count the cost and to become advanced level students and followers of Jesus.
May we all have the courage to let go.
May all God’s people say,
 Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, (Franciscan Media, Cincinnati OH, 2011), 6
 Ibid., 5
 Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water Companion Journal: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, (Franciscan Media, Cincinnati OH, 2015), 2
Love is the Cure 
Preached at Wollaston Congregational Church
On June 23rd, 2019
Scripture: Luke 8:26-39
In our gospel passage today we hear an astounding story. Jesus travels across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. He is in the country of the Gerasenes, Gentile territory. We can assume that Jesus is unknown in this side of the lake. And yet the moment he steps off the boat, he is met by a naked demon-possessed man. This poor soul lives in the graveyard: a place of cave-like tombs. There is no other place for him. The voices inside of him torment him to the point that he screams and shouts and runs around naked. They react to Jesus’ presence, causing him to yell "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me."
It’s widely known that many successful celebrities have battled demons. A couple of weeks ago I saw a movie I’d long been anticipating. “Rocketman” is the very human, somewhat fantastical story of Sir Elton John’s breakthrough years.
Rocketman tells the tale of Elton’s battle with demons who take residence in his soul. These were the consequence of a difficult childhood and struggles over his sexuality in a time when being gay simply wasn’t acceptable, and sexuality was not discussed.
Throughout the years of sex and drugs and rock and roll, John’s inner child cries for affection from his father, who is portrayed as distant and cold during John’s childhood. John’s mom is portrayed as self-involved and inconsistent in her care for her gifted son. Elton’s grandmother is the one who cares for him, bringing him to music lessons and encouraging him to develop his talents.
John’s dramatic and rapid success as a rock musician works against him. As a young artist, he is swept to Los Angeles by his the owner of his record label. There he is exposed to a world of drugs and glamor, before he has had a chance for his feet to touch the ground. He gets caught up in an abusive relationship and turns to drugs and alcohol to dull the pain. He uses cocaine to overcome his shyness and to perform in his characteristic flamboyant style.
In 1989 Elton John went into rehabilitation. He describes his rock-bottom in a 1997 interview as spending time with teenager Ryan White the week he died. White had contracted AIDs from blood transfusions because he was a hemophiliac. He had been ostracized by friends and neighbors and kept out of school because of his HIV infection. And yet, John says, as their child died his family remained dignified and forgiving.
Elton John says "When I knew Ryan [White], I knew that my life was out of whack. I knew that I had to change. And after he died, I realized that I only had two choices: I was either going to die or I was going to live, and which one did I want to do? And then I said those words, … 'I need help' … And my life turned around. Ridiculous for a human being to take 16 years to say, 'I need help.' " 
The man possessed by demons in Gerasa cannot even ask for help. When Jesus asks the man what is his name he cannot speak for himself. Instead the demons say “Legion” … there are so many of them. They negotiate with Jesus, begging him not to throw them into nothingness. And so, as he exorcises the demons from the spirit of the man, and allows them to enter a herd of pigs. When the pigs are possessed they become demented and they rush down a steep back into the lake and are drowned.
The man is finally restored to his right mind, he dresses and sits and Jesus’ feet. And you might imagine that the townspeople would be grateful and they would welcome him back into the community. Instead they are fearful, they are not comfortable around this kind of power and ask Jesus to go away. And so Jesus prepares to leave on the boat, his work is done. The man who has been liberated from demons begs to go with him, but Jesus does not allow it. He sends him away saying "Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you." This man becomes a witness to the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for him and his neighbors.
Some years ago, I thought I was managing my life. The way I had it figured out was: there was “work Liz”, “church Liz”, “mom Liz” and “friend Liz”. But, to be honest, things didn’t feel right. I could tell that the rush from work Liz to church Liz, with a little mom Liz squeezed inbetween was throwing me off center.
I had begun reading a book with the mothers’ group at my church called “The Christ Centered Women” by Kimberly Dunnam Reisman. One chapter woke me up to the fact my coping mechanism wasn’t healthy. I recognized myself in a description of fragmentation, defined as “being pulled apart by competing demands.”  The outcome of fragmentation, says Reisman, is that we become a divided self. This is not very different from the Gerasene man who was inhabited by many demons.
“When we are fragmented, we miss what God is doing right now.” These words resonated with me. My mind could not simply shut off “work Liz” or “church Liz” while I was “mom Liz.” In the midst of reading a bedtime story, I might be mentally going over what I would need to get myself to the church meeting. Or I might be distracted by the look I received earlier from a co-worker when I left work on time, to get to daycare pickup. Reisman says “when we are centered on Christ, God’s spirit begins to speak to our spirits. Our fragmented self becomes more whole as we recognize the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us…” 
I began to realize that God and my family loved me all the more when I wasn’t trying to “do it all.” And this meant letting go of the demon of perfectionism, or to use Reisman’s words, taking up the spoke or support of “good enough.”
That summer I focused on becoming my integrated self with Christ at the center. This involved honoring my own needs as well as those of others. For our vacation we traveled to some low key theme parks, with our kids: Storyland and Santa’s Village. While the children and my husband went on the rides, I’d pull out my book or sit and take in the scenery. Just breathing and filling myself with gratitude made all the difference.
Soon, I was going back to my mothers’ group and my friends, and letting them know all that God had done for me. You know that this kind of Sabbath approach to life has become central to my spiritual practice and I am more than happy to share it with you all.
Elton John’s release from his demons involved going into recovery for his addictions. The movie shows him receiving therapy and participating in a 12-step program. He listens to the needs of his inner child, and forgives the people who have hurt him. And he goes on to found EJAF: Elton John’s AIDS Foundation. This organization has “raised more than $400 million over [25 years,] to challenge discrimination against people affected by the epidemic, prevent infections, provide treatment and services, and motivate governments to end AIDS.” 
My recovery involved slowing down and paying attention to my needs. My addictive behaviors – or my demons – were perfectionism and trying to do it all.
Elton John had to say “I need help.” I had to say the same, to my friends, family and to God.
In the book, “Breathing Underwater”, Father Richard Rohr says “’Stinking thinking’ is the universal addiction.” Drugs and alcohol are tangible visible forms of addiction, but we are all addicted to the habits, what we have gotten used to or “our patterned way of thinking.” 
That is why the people of the Gerasa community were angry and afraid when the possessed man was cured. They were confronted with a new reality in which the man was no longer the “problem” in their town. When something went wrong, they could no longer chain hum up the and say it was all fixed. They were going to have to begin to look at themselves a little more closely.
It seems that Jesus may have been acquainted with the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, when he healed of the Gerasene man. Step 12 of the program says:
Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we [try] to carry this message to [other] alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
And so Jesus leaves the man with the responsibility of passing on the good news of God’s love. He has received healing and now it is time to pass it on to the community.
Elton John’s recent book is entitled “Love is the Cure: on Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS”.  This isn’t another Rocketman. It is a book about the AIDS crisis. It is part of John’s work of carrying the message of healing and cure. The book tells of EJAF’s work around the world and how politicians and religious leaders must not stand in the way of sex education and clean needle exchanges. You may have heard about our own Kim Kroegers’s work with Manet Community Health in this area.
A couple of weeks ago, I was setting up our church table at the Quincy LGBTQ+ Pride event. I was wearing a clergy collar. A hip young man was setting up resources from a health organization on the table next to me. Suddenly he turned to me and said, “I have condoms on my table … would you like me set up further away from you?”
I was saddened that he assumed our church would be disapproving, and reassured him that I was in favor of condoms. In that setting, the condoms were not about birth-control so much as sexual health. I hope I shared a little more gospel that day, I hoped I passed on a little healing to the community.
Because, as Elton John says, “Love is the Cure.”
May all God’s people say,
 Elton John, Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS, (Little, Brown and Company, 2012)
 Kimberly Dunnam Reisman, The Christ-Centered Woman: Finding Balance in a World of Extremes, (Upper Room Books, 2000), 24
 Ibid., 35
 Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2011), xxiii
 Elton John, Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS, (Little, Brown and Company, 2012)
Making a Welcome in the Universal Mystery
Preached at Wollaston Congregational Church
On June 16th, 2019
Scripture: John 16:12-15
It has been many years since the Unitarian and Trinitarian churches separated in New England. Today, we may look back and wonder what all the fuss was about: does it really matter whether we think of God as One or Three-in-One? Does it matter whether Jesus was God incarnate, or simply a prophet?
Both the Unitarian Universalist Church, and Congregationalist denominations have diverged and moved on since the time of the split. The Unitarian Universalist Association has embraced a commitment to pluralism and inclusion. They eschew religious iconography, and describe themselves as “open-minded, open-hearted spiritual communities [that] help people lead lives of justice, learning and hope.” I have colleagues and friends in the UUA and I admire their values and commitment to justice. 
Here at Wollaston Congregational Church we remain Christian and Trinitarian, as members of the United Church of Christ. In worship we generally focus on the gospel message for the day. We share the “good news” of the coming of God in Jesus the Christ. We talk of the relationship between God the heavenly Father or Mother, Jesus the Son, and of course last week we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit.
With this kind of preaching and teaching, some attendants have made assumptions about other aspects of our shared values and beliefs. And they have questioned who is really welcome in our church. Are we making a space that is inclusive enough for people of other faiths and no faith?
These are good questions, it is important to ask: how do we live into our identity as Christian while welcoming and including others?
To seek the answers, we turn to our reading today from the gospel of John.
John is the perfect place to look because it a gospel about identity. John’s gospel tells us who Jesus is for the universe, what is his relationship with us and with the one he called his heavenly father.
Fr. Richard Rohr explains that the “divine ‘I AM’ statements” appear only in John’s gospel: I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the way the truth and the life and so on. The other gospels present Jesus of Nazareth during his lifetime when he calls himself ‘the Son of the Human,’ or simply ‘Everyman.’ It is in John’s later Gospel, “dated somewhere between A.D. 90 and 110, the voice of Christ steps forward to do almost all of the speaking.” 
In his book “The Universal Christ” Fr. Rohr reminds readers that “Christ” is not Jesus of Nazareth’s last name – rather it is an identity that Christians ascribed to Jesus after his earthly death.
At the very beginning of the gospel, John says “all things came into being, and not one thing had its being except through him” (John 1:3).
John is describing something more than the human person of Jesus, he is describing something eternal, in unique relationship with God the Creator. “Long before Jesus’s personal incarnation, Christ was deeply embedded in all things--as all things!” This, Rohr says, is “the universal Christ.” 
From the outset, John casts Jesus as the Christ: the Word, or the anointed One. From there on everything else in the gospel is intended to describe Jesus’ identity as the Christ, and the relationship with the Godhead. It’s mysterious and it’s complex. It describes what is the incarnation: the Word of God, become flesh.
And so, we come to our reading for today from John’s gospel. It is a very short excerpt from Jesus’ farewell discourse to the disciples. Jesus says that he has many things to say to his followers, but they cannot bear them now.
Could they not bear to hear these things because they were too painful? Would he tell them of upsetting times to come: when their world would be turned upside down by war and destruction in Jerusalem?
Or was it because the things he had to say would take away the foundation on which they thought they stood? Just when they thought they had grasped Jesus and what he was about, would they find out they need to grow in their understanding? And would this be too much for them to bear?
Jesus doesn’t see this as a hopeless cause, though. He doesn’t seem to be upset that he cannot tell them everything he has to say. Instead, he says that the Spirit of truth will guide them in all truth. Even when Jesus is gone from them in bodily form, they will continue to grow in faith and understanding. This is the purpose of the Spirit.
This is a wise reminder for us. Even when we think we know who Jesus is and what he is about, we all have more growing to do. We always have something to learn. Especially when we are contemplating the Universal Christ, which in the end is mystery.
Those early followers couldn’t grasp the idea of the Universal Christ all at once, and neither can we. We begin, in Sunday School, with simple stories, analogies, and songs.
Yet, if we cling tightly to our Sunday School learning we will end in places like that Unitarian/Trinitarian split. The Trinity was supposed to be a way to understand God, Jesus and Spirit in relationship. And yet it became a tool to drive people apart, and make some feel unwelcome.
And so let’s not be afraid to grow. There is something in us that beckons us on to delve deeper into the mystery: the Spirit of truth.
And so we return to the original question: How do we live into our identity as Christians, while welcoming and including those of other faiths and no faith?
What would people of other faiths expect, if they came to visit us here in church? What would make them feel welcome, or unwelcome?
We receive guests of other faiths most frequently when there is a funeral, a wedding, or like last week to a confirmation or baptism. My experience has been that people of other faiths: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Unitarian Universalism, or Roman Catholicism, expect us to do what we usually do as Protestant Christians. So long as we make them welcome and do not do things that exclude or offend them, they have no problem. They expect us to do our own rites and read from our own sacred texts. That is what would happen if we visited their places of worship.
When we are at home in our church, it’s acceptable to talk in a Christian way. It’s acceptable to use Christian references and practices. When we in another space things are different.
Over the past 10 years, since first attending seminary, I have learned about interfaith conversation and relationships. I am still learning. One of the most important things to bear in mind in those conversations is to make no assumptions. The most common mistake Christians make is to assume other faiths are just like ours. I’ve heard people say “all faiths are the same” and that simply isn’t true.
I have learned that Jewish people will be offended by our offer to pray for them, or a request that they pray for us. Prayer, for Jewish people, is particularly Christian. They use the ancient practice of blessing: there truly is a Jewish blessing for every aspect of life you could possibly imagine.
And in interfaith gatherings, we cannot assume that everyone uses the name “God” for what is holy or spiritual. The name used might be my Higher Power; the God of Israel; the Holy Trinity; Allah; Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva; Mother Earth; nature; universal moral law; wisdom and understanding.
If you are concerned that you might be making assumptions, don’t be afraid to ask. The guidelines for the interfaith conversations I learned in seminary include having an attitude of “open curiosity.” Most people of faith are very happy to explain things, if they are asked respectfully and with genuine curiosity.
Unfortunately, as Christians, we have to overcome a reputation for exclusivity and trying to force our beliefs on others. Christians are known for repeating Jesus’ assertion from the gospel of John “I am the way, the truth and the life” as though it was a litmus test for who is “in” and who is “out”. Christians are not known for delving deeper into the mystery of what that statement might mean, in the context of John’s gospel. Thinking of the Universal Christ speaking these words, we can imagine an entry point for other faiths who know this mystery by other names.
I didn’t talk a lot about faith in my working life before I went to seminary. My co-workers could be critical of Christian groups in their lunchtime conversations. They particularly objected to Christians who dismiss people of other faiths, implying that they alone have exclusive rights to the truth.
One day I remember saying that I also objected to that kind of thinking. One of my co-workers was surprised and asked how I could rationalize this as a church-going Christian myself. I explained to her that I think of Christianity – and following Jesus – is my entry point into the vastness that we call God. I think of it as a kind of portal to the spiritual. And yet, I am sure that there are other equally effective entry points or portals. That is how I imagine other faiths and other world views.
“Ah!!” she replied, “That makes sense.”
If only I had spoken up more often, my friends and colleagues may have had a fuller view of what following the Christ is all about.
Wollaston Congregational Church, I am a strong proponent of interfaith conversations and making others welcome here in our church. We can do that while retaining our identity. We should never be ashamed of Jesus of Nazareth: our Rabbi, our guru, our teacher. If anything, perhaps we can be more confident in sharing our faith with others we meet as well as learning from them. Then maybe we will erase some of the assumptions that we all make.
Mohandas Gandhi believed that “the spirit of all religions is love of God expressing itself in love of fellow-beings.” Gandhi did not ask people of other faiths to become Hindu, like himself, but asked “that Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and others should live up to the best teachings of their own religion.” 
And so, may we live up to the best teachings of Jesus the Christ.
May all God’s people say,
 Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ (p. 26). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Ibid, p. 13
Preached by Liz Williams
Wollaston Congregational Church
on June 2nd, 2019
Scripture: John 17:20-16
The United Church of Christ website, on the “what we believe” page, states:
“We believe the UCC is called to be a united and uniting church. ‘That they may all be one’ … In essentials–unity, in nonessentials–diversity, in all things–charity."
The UCC takes this motto directly from our gospel passage for today. It is the prayer that Jesus said on the evening before he went to the cross, interceding with God “that [the disciples] all may be one.”
This was a deep, heartfelt prayer on behalf of all who would choose to follow Jesus, not only in his time but into the future. It’s a prayer that applies to us as well as Christians throughout the ages. While it sounds like a wonderful vision, it has not been so easy to follow. Looking back on this prayer of Jesus, I wonder what Jesus knew. I wonder if he knew the disarray the disciples would be in soon after he was gone.
I wonder if he knew that the “Jewish Christians” and the new followers would argue and separate.
I wonder if he knew that in 500 years there would be a huge shake up in the faith over the nature of Jesus and of Mary as the “Mother of God”; that in another 500 years the Eastern and Western church would separate in a great schism; and that 500 years after the great schism, there would the violent Reformations in Europe.
I wonder if Jesus knew all this things, as he prayed that night before his crucifixion. A part of me says he knew the challenges ahead, that is why he prayed so passionately. Another part of me hopes he didn’t know, because of the pain it would have caused him.
While he was anticipating the bodily pain of the crucifixion, what a terrible thing to also anticipate the ways in which the future church, the “body of Christ” would be torn apart too.
What was this “oneness” Jesus was praying for?
Was Jesus actually praying to God to prevent disruption among his followers?
Did Jesus really expect, that if he prayed hard enough, the disciples and all future disciples would be in accord and agreement?
I think Jesus knew people a little too well for that. He knew his disciples in all their diversity: their different gifts and perspectives.
Eugene Peterson’s biblical paraphrase, “The Message” gives us a clue of what Jesus may have been getting at. In this translation Jesus prays that the disciples would be mature in their oneness.
I think this means that they would learn to deal with disagreement and disruption wisely and compassionately.
They would listen to one another attentively.
They would be in accord, but their communities would not stagnate.
To paraphrase the UCC motto, in essentials they would have unity, in non-essentials they would have diversity, and in all things they would have love.
I gave some examples of the dis-unity of Christians over the past 2,000 years. Writer, Phyllis Tickle, puts a different spin on these great disruptions in Christianity, that have emerged at 500 year intervals. She calls them “Rummage Sales” – which reminds me of the yard sale here yesterday!
These sort-outs have been disruptive to the church, but they have provided important shake-ups. Often they were necessary because of changes in the world. For the church to keep pace it needed to change too. And, according to Tickle’s schedule, we are experiencing, such a disruption right now.
In a book titled “The Great Emergence” Phyllis Tickle looks at the “emergent church” movement going on at this time. 
This movement is responding to dramatic changes in the global culture over the past 100 years:
- the explosion of scientific discovery and technological development,
- the revolution in global communications and travel,
- the growing awareness of severe climate change,
- dramatic shifts in family structures.
As Tickle put it, the church is going through a rummage sale right now.
We’re trying to figure out what we need to preserve --- the essentials --- and what we need to let go – the non-essentials, so that we can become the Church of the 21stcentury.
This Rummage Sale extends all the way down to the local church. This rummage sale is to be our response to changes in our culture that impact our life as a church.
As our culture changes, there are many more options to fill people’s time on Sunday morning.
These are some of the reasons why attendance in many churches has declined dramatically.
And, yet, it is clear that there is a spiritual hunger in our times. This is noticeable among young adults many of whom have no religious background. They are hungering for an authentic relationship with the sacred and with one another. It will also be important for the church to respond to this hunger, as we do ourrummage sale.
And we arecalled to do a rummage sale! We are called to leave behind what is no longer relevant and embrace the things that enhance authentic spiritual experience for the people of this time and place.
This isn’t easy though, because most of us don’t like change. We like things to stay the same, even when they aren’t working any more. This phenomenon is called immunity to change.
When I was in seminary I took a class called “Grounded in God”. The purpose of the class was to help leaders diagnose “immunity to change” in their organizations.
To do this we began by looking at our own immunity to change, using a tool developed by authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.
This turned out to be quite revealing for me. At the time I was co-leading a seminary group with another student. We were supposed to be developing a program for the group. But the relationship between myself and this student was not going well.
I tried to work with her, but she seemed to avoid responding to my ideas. I knew that we really needed to sit down and talk. I needed to tell her my concerns. But, I was afraid that my co-leader would think I was biased against her, her background, her age group, her identity and so on. I realized I was very committed to not having my co-leader view me in this way.
This way of thinking was affecting my other relationships, too. I was fearful of telling others what I was really thinking and this was something I needed to change.
In the immunity to change process you figure out what is your “big assumption”.
I decided that mine was this:
“I believe that if I say what I am really thinking I will upset the other person and they will not like me anymore. They may then turn against me and turn others against me too, and no one will like me.”
Hashing all this out was an important process. The final step was to come up with a “safe modest test” to challenge my big assumption.
This was my test: to sit down and talk with my co-leader about how things were going, being honest about what I really thought.
I plucked up my courage and did just that. As you might expect my co-leader was reasonable. She didn’t turn against me. She didn’t have any problem with my different age, identity or background. We managed to figure out a program for the remainder of our time as co-leaders.
Tools like this one can be applied to organizations as well as individuals. We tried this at the Wollaston Congregational Church Leadership Retreat back in March, and came us with some assumptions. Here are some that group came up with:
These are scary assumptions! We need to be careful with them … and with one another, while living into the future that Jesus prays for us. And still, we can celebrate the mature oneness that is already being manifest in our church:
I call this kind of oneness “wholeness of the body of Christ”, and I love it!
And so this is my prayer for us, Wollaston Congregational Church.
That we will be brave enough to do our own rummage sale – that we will discover unity in essentials, diversity in non-essentials – so that we will embody “mature oneness” in love.
May it be so,
Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, (Grand Rapid, Baker Books, 2012)
Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, (Boston, Harvard Business Review Press, 2009)
No One Can Pluck Us From God’s Hand
Preached on May 12th, 2019
At Wollaston Congregational Church
Scripture: John 10:22-30
My earliest memories of childhood include afternoons in the St Peter’s Church Sunday School. The Victorian-era church felt very grand, and yet I always felt safe and welcome, in St Peter’s. The stained glass windows were appealing, with many images of Jesus as the good shepherd. The creaky and shiny pews with a place to kneel in prayer and the huge carved stone font at the entrance felt solid, permanent. At the back of the sanctuary the children’s corner provided a deep feeling of belonging. There were right-sized chairs, and lovingly chosen and well-thumbed books.
One of my favorite hymns we sang frequently was “Loving Shepherd of Thy Sheep”: The first verse goes:
“Loving Shepherd of thy sheep,
Keep thy lamb in safety keep;
nothing can thy power withstand,
none can pluck me from thy hand.”
“None can pluck me from thy hand” is the line that stuck. I didn’t need to imagine what being plucked from Jesus’ hand would really mean. I didn’t need to go there. I just needed to be reassured that it could never happen.
In our gospel passage today, we hear of Jesus walking in the temple on the festival of the Dedication, what we now know as Hanukah. This holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire. Judas Maccabeus was a Jewish guerrilla leader who resisted King Antiochus attempts to Hellenize Judea and co-opt the temple for his purposes. For many Jews of Jesus’ time, Maccabeus may well have been the embodiment of the Messiah.
And so on the anniversary of the revolt and rededication, some 190 years on, some Judean religious men gather around Jesus and question him. They are getting a little irritated with the mystery around who Jesus is. They want him to tell them plainly, is he, or is he not the Messiah? They want certainty.
Jesus’ response is characteristically enigmatic. His works and deeds tell the truth he says. Either they recognize him or they do not. Using the image of the shepherd yet again, he tells them “my sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me … No one will snatch them from my hand.”
These are not words of certainty, but mystery. And yet there is assurance for those who believe they belong to Jesus’ flock. The sheep are safe with Jesus in the midst of uncertainty, safe to journey on and with him through whatever territory lies ahead. The safety ultimately lies in the promise of eternal life, with God and with Jesus, who are one in purpose.
We would be wise to remember that the gospel of John was written for the early followers of Jesus, whose temple has been destroyed. Jerusalem has been razed to the ground. The body of Jesus, and the seemingly permanent, solid temple are gone. They must remember Jesus’ signs and works, and remind themselves that they belong to him through the darkest valleys. The Jesus movement will have a future, if they are willing to trust in these words of assurance.
Recently I picked up a book called “Canoeing the Mountains” by Tod Bolsinger. This book recalls the adventures of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who attempted to explore the Louisiana Purchase in 1804. Their goal was to find the “Northwest Passage” from the Missisippi to the Pacific Ocean.
The assumption of the expedition was that the landscape would continue to be relatively gentle to the west of the Mississippi. They would traverse the continent by river using canoes. After fifteen months of traveling upstream, the Rocky Mountains came into view. This was completely uncharted and unexpected territory. They had to rethink their expedition from the beginning. Canoes would not get them over this range of mountains, which was unlike anything they had seen before.
The explorers hired a French Canadian trapper, Charbonneau, as a guide for the mountains. And yet it was Charbonneau’s wife, Sacagawea, a young native American woman who served as an invaluable guide and translator. She negotiated the purchase of horses for the expedition from her tribe, the Shoshone, and traveled with the party, even after she had given birth along the way. Lewis and Clark may not have expected the Rocky Mountains, but I’m quite sure they never expected their expedition to depend on the assistance of a native nursing mother.
The author tells the story of Lewis and Clark as an example of the way in which our churches today are facing uncharted territory. He reminds readers that we are now living in a post-Christendom world. That what worked in the era of Christendom will be of no use in this new territory.
Christendom is the long era of Christianity that was tightly bound with Western European politics and culture. In spite of separation of church and state, Christendom reigned in the US, giving us the blue laws and the ten commandments in schools; and “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. 
Bolsinger says “In the Christendom world the dominant voices were rich, powerful, educated, mostly male, mostly white and from the ‘center.’”
In the Christendom world, Wollaston Congregational Church and Wollaston Baptist Church served the entire white protestant Wollaston neighborhood. Church was a place to come for social cohesion, to network, and to meet one’s neighbors. It was the one place to serve, the one place to turn in times of joy and times of distress.
Now, of course, the culture has changed. The neighborhood is no longer predominantly white and protestant. There are numerous places for people for to go on Sunday mornings. There are many options for meeting friends and neighbors, and many places to serve.
If the founders of Wollaston Congregational Church were to come back to the neighborhood and the culture today, they may be as surprised as Lewis and Clark were when they first saw the Rocky Mountains. What seemed to our founders to be solid has turned out to be less than permanent.
We face a new and different territory in today’s culture. There is still work for us to do, but it requires different skills, different leadership, and different tools.
In the book “Searching for Sunday” Rachel Held Evans writes of a pastor, Kathy Escobar, who has gone “off map” in creating a new kind of church. When Escobar began as a pastor she took the traditional route of climbing the leadership ladder at a mega-church. In that role she met many Christians who suffered from pain and depression that they kept secret from their church community. This is one of the hang-overs from the Christendom era, in which church going was socially acceptable and talking about one’s struggles was seen was “airing dirty laundry.”
And so Escotar decided to begin a new church community call Refuge, inspired by the Beatitudes of Jesus and the 12 steps of recovery groups. At Refuge people can be open and honest about the challenges they are facing. In this new-style church people on mental health disability, suburban moms, people with addictions, evangelicals and progressives … orphans, outcasts, and prostitutes … come together. They say, of their church:
“… We’re all hurt or hungry in our own ways. We’re at different places on our journey but we share a guiding story, a sweeping epic drama called the Bible. ... We all receive, we all give. We are old, young, poor, rich, conservative, liberal, single, married, gay, straight, evangelicals, progressives, overeducated, undereducated, certain, doubting, hurting, thriving. Yet Christ’s love binds our differences together in unity. At The Refuge, everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.” 
Everyone is held, safe in the shepherd Jesus’ hand. And still, Refuge is not a place to get comfortable. Members are challenged to adventure beyond their comfort zones to a deeper place of honesty and connection.
As Rachel Held Evans says “Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe and no one is comfortable.”
This past week I attended an summit for the faith community titled “Healing Ethos: Substance Use and Our Communities.” This was put on by the Massachusetts Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative. There were a number of excellent speakers, including our own Kim Kroeger. They talked about the challenges of substance use in our communities today.
The event was attended by clergy people from many places of worship in Quincy and the surrounding area. The full spectrum of Christian denominations and other faiths were represented. Many of the attendees talked of the uncharted territory we are now in, facing an epidemic of opiate and other addictions.
Some of the pastors, who have been in ministry for a while, talked of how their methods for supporting people dealing with addiction are no longer enough. They mentioned biblical principles, counseling, and prayer. They admitted that the new substances in circulation are too addictive and too deadly for the former methods.
The attendees were there to learn and listen to the experts. They wanted to hear from those working in the field who get alongside people with addictions.
I was struck by the need for partnerships between the community and religious leaders and the need for collaboration among religious groups of all kinds.
This epidemic cannot be tackled from any one approach. No single organization or religious group has a dependable solution. We must be prepared to navigate this new territory together.
And so we return to the assurance that none can pluck us from the hand of Jesus. We recall that this assurance was made during a time of turmoil and change. It was a time of tearing down of the existing structures of religious power.
I had received that same assurance at a time that felt permanent and secure. But that was the illusion of childhood. The structure of St Peter’s Parish Church still stands. Now they have website which reminds visitors that “St Peter’s is not an historic building, but a worshiping community.”
Pictures show that the pews and kneelers are gone, replaced with comfortable and moveable chairs. The stone font no longer occupies space by the door. Instead there is a welcoming coffee area which has also taken in what was the children’s corner. Now the children’s ministries can occupy the whole space.
What I thought was solid and permanent actually was not. What the founders of Wollaston Congregational thought was solid and permanent actually was not.
And that is OK. We can all hold on to the assurance, in this new territory, through all the adventures and challenges that lie ahead, no one can pluck us from God’s hand.
May all God’s people say
Bolsinger, Tod. Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (p. 11). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
Ibid, (p. 192)
Evans, Rachel Held. Searching for Sunday (pp. 72-73). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition