A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on October 30, 2022
1 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12:
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.. We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring . . . . To this end we always pray for you, asking that our God will make you worthy of his call and will fulfill by his power every good resolve and work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
A couple of years ago, the First Congregational Church in Fairhaven, MA, set up a loom in their sanctuary, and invited members to use it – if I remember correctly – during the service, to weave mats out of plastic throwaway grocery bags to give to homeless people on the streets of Fairhaven and New Bedford. The mats provide a moisture-resistant foundation if you’re sleeping out under the hedge at City Hall.
But that’s not why I mention the mats. I’m telling you about them because they were a visible symbol of the way the folks in Fairhaven wanted to weave a bond between themselves and those who were in such different circumstances.
We are the weavers of our world. It is our job, our call from God to weave people together into one beautiful tapestry.
In the late 1930s, some clergy leaders got together, and began to talk about a dream that their two denominations might become one. Out of those conversations came the United Church of Christ. That was the kind of weaving together churches thought of in those days… we weren’t the only denomination which did a lot of uniting. The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren became the United Methodist Church. Swedish Lutherans and Norwegian Lutherans and German Lutherans eventually formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. And in a time when we barely recognized one another as “real” Christians, that was important. It was a visible sign of the call we all experience, to bring the world closer together.
By the 1980s, in many places, all the Christians in a given community were able to come together, often to worship, always to serve our communities in some way or another. Sometimes we’ve even been able to work in partnerships with Roman Catholics or very conservative evangelicals. Always as important as the goal of the day is the opportunity to be woven together into one mutually supportive community.
And let us be clear – unless the work we do is built on a goal of creating, supporting, improving or extending community – it is not the foundational work to which we are called.
Here’s what I’m talking about. Imagine just for a minute you work in a food pantry (and, be clear, I’m not describing any pantry here in Connecticut). Picture it…. people come in the door on the left of the room and check in at the first table. On they go to the second table, fill out an order, and then go sit down, while their order is assembled. Finally their order is done, they pick up their food and leave. But in all the time they were there, they never had the opportunity for a good conversation with anyone. The folks at the tables were friendly, but rushed. And while people are fed, no community is created. Then look again, because the pantry has changed… sure, people still check in, still make their orders, but now there are tables and chairs around and coffee and snacks. Now there are volunteers who sit with clients and help them with the forms. Now there’s a resource person who can help people with various kinds of government paperwork. Now when people come, they’re greeted by name. Now, some of the clients have volunteered to help run the pantry. Now there is community, ownership, belonging.
That’s what we’re here to create. We’re here to find those bleak spots and add in the joy, to create the hospitality. When we do that, we change the world right around us.
Sometimes that work is easy and fun. Sometimes it’s really really difficult. Sometimes it’ll reinforce what we’ve always know is right, sometimes it’ll turn everything we’ve ever known right upside down. Sometimes it means we need to step out and take charge; sometimes it will mean we need to step back and let new people with different ideas begin to lead.
One thing it will always need, and oh how we hate to mention this, is money. While we can certainly build community without money, our effectiveness as a group is limited by the extent of our resources. Many of you know that, and you have already pledged to support our ministry of community-building in 2023. Your pledges are important, and not just for the plain amount of money they represent. You see, every pledge we receive, no matter the size, is a vote for the work we’re doing in Jesus’ name. From that point of view, the pledge of a dollar a week is as important to our work as the largest pledge we receive, because it is the vote to continue that matters. And, of course, a pledge which fairly represents your commitment, resources, and other obligations is wonderful. Our gifts to keep our church running are also part of the tapestry we weave together.
Some of us have lots of money. That’s great. Some of us have lots of volunteer ability. That’s great too. Some of us are prayers. We need that as well. Every way of supporting us is important.
Christian life is a life dedicated to building community, and marked by generosity, generosity of time, of talent, and of treasure. But all our money is as nothing if we do not put love, put community, first in our lives. With our ages-long commitment to building the ties that bind among our religious siblings, we know that community makes a difference. Whether we’re holding a Halloween Party in our parish hall, hosting a meeting of clergy of Middletown, putting on a Christmas Dinner for all who would come, or presenting a concert in this room, it is all God’s work.
© 2022, Virginia H. Child