A sermon preached at First Church, UCC Middletown, Connecticut, on November 27, 2022

Scripture                                                                                                     Matthew 24:36-44

 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. 

Last Sunday, four people were shot dead and one injured in Hennessey, Oklahoma.  On that same day, four people were injured in a shooting in Dallas, Texas.  On Tuesday of this past week, seven people were murdered, six injured in Chesapeake, Virginia and two were killed in West Palm Beach,, Florida.  There was a shooting in Philadelphia on Wednesday – 4 were injured, no one died; on the same day, in Maryland, another 4 were shot with no one dying.  and then on the 24th, Thanksgiving Day, two people were killed and another two injured in a shooting in Houston, Texas

When will it stop?

When will the violence stop?

When will the bad, the violence, the hatred stop?

The price of food has been steadily rising.  All over the United States, more and more people are depending on food pantries to get through the week.  In Middlesex County, almost 10% of us are food insecure – we don’t have access to enough healthy food for an active life.  We’re planning to feed 400 people at our Christmas Dinner this year. Many will take a second serving to-go, because that will mean they have food, good nutritious food, for another couple of days.

When will it stop?

When will it be that everyone has enough?  Enough food?  Enough work?  Enough safe housing? Enough reliable transportation?  Too often, poor people live in food deserts, areas where there are no Stop & Shops, nothing but quick-mart stores, filled with high-priced food that’s often just not good, and not good for you either.  

When will it stop?

Well, there’s more than one answer to that question.  The first, pragmatic answer, is that we certainly could, very practically, do something about both mass shootings and hunger.  If they are not really solvable issues, if you think of solving as complete elimination, they are certainly issues which could be significantly reduced by things like gun control and building intentional access to food into our infrastructure.

A chart I saw last week, for instance, shows that the stringent gun laws in Connecticut and Massachusetts make those states among the least likely places to encounter gun deaths in the entire country.  It’s clear that the stricter our gun laws, the less likely you are to encounter danger this way.  So, it is possible, at least theoretically, to cut down on the number of people killed with guns.

Experiments in different parts of our country have shown that if you build in access to arable ground for people living in cities, they can and will grow food for themselves.  If you provide people with the tools to grow, prepare and eat good food, that’s what they’ll do.  So, it’s at least theoretically possible to reduce food insecurity.

Right?  Theoretically??  But to be real, what’s theoretically possible, and what works, well, in some places and some times,… and what’s likely to really happen — well, those are two different things.

I don’t say this to be discouraging.  Individual action works.  We’ve changed the climate around gun control.  We’ve seen what happens when we establish community gardens.  But if you’ve worked on those issues – or any of the many others that stalk our society, like access to adequate medical care – you know that truly solving those problems is a multi-year, multi-decade, maybe even multi-century process.

And that can be discouraging.  

Advent is a time for re-calibrating our understandings of life, the world, and what’s possible, what’s likely… what will work in the short-haul, and what will make life-changing happen.

The scripture for today tells that it’s the way of life that we don’t know what’s going to happen next, that tomorrow might be good, and it might be very bad – or it simply won’t happen for some of us, because our lives will end today.

Hold that image up next to the one on our televisions or newspapers, the one which suggests that if we only purchase the right gifts, or wear the right clothes, or eat the right diet that we will be happy, wealthy, everything in our lives will go perfectly, and we will live forever. 

Advent is a time to remind ourselves that one of these pictures is accurate and the other is an advertiser’s dream.

And Advent is a time to remind ourselves that, if we are all going to die, and if our problems are pretty much with us always. 

Do you doubt that we all know that?  In Friday’s Washington Post, George Will posted an essay which, among other things, suggested that part of the source of the unhappiness of today’s world was that too many of us have all we need, and without the struggle for “life’s necessities” we are lost.

He bases that statement on an essay by John Maynard Keynes in 1930, who anticipated that by now, we would all be working 15 hour weeks, and have everything we needed.  Who can blame Keynes for thinking that?  It was 1930, and the world was – well, in the beginnings of a world-wide depression.  My mother’s father was 48 in 1930; he’d just lost his job, and never held a full-time job again – he pieced together this and that to continue to support his wife and the four children still at home until his death in 1945.  

Well, despite the ravages of the Great Depression, despite the poverty rates today, both Keynes and George Will think that one of the besetting challenges of this day is that too many people have more than they need, and so, in their boredom… well, here’s what Will says:

The fundamental economic problem of attaining subsistence having been banished by plenty, many hyper-politicized Americans have filled the void in their lives with the grim fun of venting their animosities. 


Now, maybe I’m misunderstanding Keynes and maybe I’m misunderstanding Will, but I think they’re both off… if only because they’re wrong about how many people in this country have enough – enough food, enough medical care, safe enough housing, access to washers and dryers so to have enough clean clothes. . .the majority of Americans have not gotten beyond “attaining subsistence”.  Maybe there are bored wealthy people out there who are fomenting trouble because they’re bored, but kids aren’t going to school hungry because their parents are bored.  They’re hungry because there’s not enough food for them; they’re hungry because more and more people are poor these days.

The Advent readings point us towards a different truth: that human beings have had trouble forever; it’s part of our reality.  We are not on an ever upward inevitable path to enough for everyone.  There’s a kind of basic thread going through all the world that says, given a choice, too often we choose to take care of “me” first; that under the right circumstances almost anyone can be induced to behave very badly indeed.  Too many people think that if we just make the rich people of our world wealthier then by magic the poor people will thrive on their castoffs.

And that’s why we’re looking forward to remembering that, with the advent of Jesus Christ, we see another way we can travel, another standard on which we can build a life.  

With Jesus, we see the world more clearly.  Jesus has helped us see the real condition of things, shown us that our dream that things will just get better is just that – a dream.  Jesus has show us that will change things is not that we ourselves will have more stuff, but that we will live our lives with love, self-giving love.  This is our hope – not that our world will inevitably come to some sort of perfection, where everyone will have everything they need and want – but the love we live, the love we share can change the world where we live.  When we stand up and say “this is not right”, we make a difference.  

Jesus Christ came to teach us that we are not trapped in inevitability but that we are created to be innovative, to make change, to make a difference, to create good trouble, to show the world love.


© 2022, Virginia H. Child

Giving Thanks

A sermon preached at First Church, UCC Middletown, Connecticut, on November 20,  2022

Scripture                                       Deuteronomy 26:1-11  (The Message translation)

Once you enter the land that God, your God, is giving you as an inheritance and take it over and settle down, you are to take some of all the first fruits of what you grow in the land that God, your God, is giving you, put them in a basket and go to the place God, your God, sets apart for you to worship. . . At that time, go to the priest who is there and say, “I announce to God, your God, today that I have entered the land that God promised our ancestors that [God would] give to us.” The priest will take the basket from you and place it on the Altar of God, your God. And there in the Presence of God, your God, you will recite:

A wandering Aramean was my father, he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, he and just a handful of his brothers at first, but soon  they became a great nation, mighty and many. The Egyptians abused and battered us, in a cruel and savage slavery. We cried out to God, the God-of-Our-Fathers: [God] listened to our voice, [God] saw our destitution, our trouble, our cruel plight. And God took us out of Egypt with his strong hand and long arm, terrible and great, with signs and miracle-wonders. And [God] brought us to this place, gave us this land flowing with milk and honey. So here I am. I’ve brought the firstfruits  of what I’ve grown on this ground you gave me, O God.

Then place it in the Presence of God, your God. Prostrate yourselves in the Presence of God, your God. And rejoice! Celebrate all the good things that God, your God, has given you and your family; you and the Levite and the foreigner who lives with you.  

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.

We are coming on Thanksgiving, and right after that, Advent and Christmas and there is just so much on our hearts that, at some level, it’s hard to even begin to see the heart of this season.  

It’s not enough that we’ve just been through yet another heart-stopping election, or that we suddenly jumped from early fall to early winter.  It’s not enough that this fall we’ve lost two well-loved members of our congregation.  But coming up on Thanksgiving, we’re faced with the conflict between the elementary-school explanation of Thanksgiving and the realities of early European settler behaviors.  And since COVID insists on sticking around, there are too many times when it all seems just too much.

Here we are, facing Thanksgiving, and in the backs of our minds, there’s a worry that this is no time to stop and give thanks.  There’s just too much that’s still unsettled, too many fears about our future.  It feels, too often, as though we’re trapped in a living version of that old arcade game, Whack-A-Mole.  No sooner do we put on threat behind us, that another one pops up.

Some challenge our feeling of safety; others challenge our hopes for our country’s future.  Some make us re-think the assumptions we’ve carried with us since second grade.  

And for some of us, this fall has been especially difficult, what with family crises or work troubles, or our own individual health issues.

So what do we have to be thankful for this year?  

We’re still here.

We have each other.

Our lives have meaning and purpose.

God loves us.

We’re still here.   

COVID closures were supposed to be for two or three weeks, remember?  We were all still making plans for the big “re-opening” celebration at Easter, and then it was going to be Pentecost… and then there came the slow realization that this was not what we thought it was going to be.  Under the stress of the pandemic, some churches closed, not just for the short-term, but forever.  And they have not come back.  We are still here.   That’s our first thanksgiving.

We have each other.

We are still a strong fellowship of people who love and care for one another and for the world where we’ve been placed.  We see each other in any number of different ways – here in this room for worship, on Zoom meetings, and in casual meetings out and about – and wherever we are, we know we are in the presence of companions on the way.  We are not alone.  That is our second thanksgiving.

Our lives have meaning and purpose.

One of the great gifts of our faith is our call to be people of peace, to be builders of community in our world.  We are not without purpose in our lives.  There is always something we can do – not always the great deeds that are celebrated in history books, but always the small kindnesses which are available to us every day, like holding doors open, smiling at our server.  And there also opportunities to be active, informed participants in our community, attending meetings, helping people understand what’s happening, and the like.  In our work, being ethical, honest, trust-worthy people; in our private lives being faithful, loving, reliable.  Our lives have meaning and purpose.  That’s our third thanksgiving.

Finally, we know that God loves us.

This isn’t the arrogant “God love me”, but the compassionate “God loves us”.  God loves each of us == as we are, where we are.  When we do our best, God loves us.  When we do our worst, God still loves us, and hopes for us to grow into a better way of living.  

If you grew up in a home filled with hostility, know that God loves you.  

If you have lived in a world of addiction, know that God loves you.  

If folks have scorned you, hated you, just because…. you didn’t look like, sound like live like they thought you should, know that God loves you.  

God loves you, today, tomorrow, and forever.   And that’s the fourth and greatest thanksgiving this year.

We’re still here.

We have each other.

Our lives have meaning and purpose.

God loves us.


©2022, Virginia H. Child

I’m Your Greatest Fan

A sermon preached at First Church Middletown CT on November 13, 2022

Psalm 16
Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight. 
Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips. 
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 
I keep the Lord always before me;
because [God] is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 
Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure. 
For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit. 
You show me the path of life. 
In your presence there is fullness of joy; 
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Luke 14:1-6
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely. Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had edema. And Jesus asked the experts in the law and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the Sabbath or not?” But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him and sent him away. Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a Sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

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.

On November 11, Applebees offered a free meal to anyone serving in the military – active or veteran.  There were a few conditions – you had to eat the food in the restaurant, and had to have some proof of your service.

I’ve got to say that being offered a free meal at Applebees beats the socks off those times people called me a filthy name while wearing the uniform of my country…. or those times when my fellow Marines met with scorn while coming home from Vietnam.

But you know, it’s also kinda weird to be part of a PR campaign.  

Veteran’s Day is, for me, a wild mixture of sincere appreciation for my service, virtue signaling, and being used by those who want to monetize my service.  That mixture led me, today, to think about fanboys and cheap grace.

Fanboys – who don’t need to be boys – those folks who want the glory but not the cost.  Cheap grace, easy words for a hard way of life.  And oddly joy-less to boot.

Jesus set out one day to have lunch with some folks on the Sabbath.  Under the rules and customs of his life and times, the Sabbath was a day on which no work was done…. I went to high school with what we called hard shell Baptists who lived like this – no work, no movies, no card-playing, no tv-watching – it isn’t my way, isn’t our way, but it is a real way of living religiously.   

At any rate, on this day, Jesus happened to meet a man who, the Bible says had edema.  We might cast about for what illness would cause this, but that’s not the point of the story.  The point is that this person is ill and needs healing.  And Jesus turns to his lunch hosts,  people who stick to the strict letter of the law, and he asks them if it’s permitted to heal this man, even though it’s the Sabbath.

As it happens, Jesus knows it is – you can break the Sabbath rules to save a life.  But he wants the folks standing there in front of him to declare themselves, to show a little humanity.  They keep silent, however.  Their silence – in the custom of their time and place – means that they recognize the truth of what Jesus says, but their support of that truth is pretty weak.

Jesus doesn’t let it sit there, though.  He then asks his hosts, “listen, if your son, or your ox fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you rescue him, or it?”  And with this question, they still do not respond.  But this time, it’s more that there is no good response to what Jesus has said; of course you would rescue your child, your animal.  So Jesus not only has them back to the wall, agreeing silently that he’s right, but then drives the argument home to them.  

Their agreement with Jesus is no longer a kind of cheap, easy, agreement, like when I nod my head “yes” and agreed that the food is great, when I know it isn’t but I don’t want to argue.  Jesus wants them and us to understand the need to move from a passive ‘sure, ok, whatever’, to an active, “yes, that’s really important.”

Yes, this is the weekend we recognize and give thanks for those who have served our country.  At its best, it’s a time for heartfelt appreciation, even as we recognize that for Christians, there’s always an inherent conflict between the need for military service, and our commitment to recognizing God’s spirit in every human being.

Christians believe that war is always wrong, even as it is sometimes fought for an important reason.  I was raised a Hicksite Quaker, taught from my earliest days that all wars are wrong, that there is never a justifiable reason for fighting.  I learned those lessons while sitting in a meetinghouse on the land where the Battle of the Brandywine was fought in our Revolutionary War.  I sat on benches stained dark with what we kids all thought was blood from when our meetinghouse had been used as a hospital during that battle.  We  all knew about the grave in the cemetery with both American and British soldiers buried together.  When I was ten I didn’t get the irony of teaching pacifism on a battlefield, in what had been a military hospital, but I certainly understood the symbolism of enemies together for all eternity in that grave.

Ours was a fully featured pacifism; youth group was a time to learn how to survive going to prison for refusing to cooperate with the draft.  The bottom line expectation that all of our young men would refuse the draft.

At the same time, I knew that my devoutly Quaker uncle, and my equally committed Quaker cousin had joined the Navy in World War II.  And when my family moved to south Florida, the realities of what had happened in Europe began to turn from pages in textbooks into the reality of the stories of my classmates.  

My high school, in a community now called Pembroke Pines, was, for a segregated school in the south, remarkably diverse.  Mostly Yankees, we had a small group of Seminole Indians from the Dania Reservation (my best friend’s dad was the Indian agent for the reservation).  We were pretty much equally divided into Protestants, Catholics and Jews… a diversity of background I had not experienced up north.  And as I got to know my Jewish classmates, I slowly realized that most of them did not have grandparents., that most of them had lost close family members in the Holocaust.  

I listened, I read, I thought.  I don’t supposed it’s the least surprising that by the time I graduated from high school, I had acquired a deep belief that the world was flawed, that it was foolish to expect it to get better just because some of us refused to participate in war.  More than that, I began to think that it was not possible to live in the United States without participating in our commitment to engaging in war.  Whether pacifists want it or not, we are all protected by those who are willing to take up arms.  

When I joined the Marines, I truly believed that it was a sin to kill people, but that it was necessary from time to time to do so, to protect my country.  Even though I would not be called upon to fight, I understood that by joining the service, I was taking part in something I had been taught all my life — was wrong.

I probably don’t need to tell you that it was disillusioning to serve in the Marines in the 1960s, during the Vietnam years.  Not disillusioning to be a Marine… disillusioning to see how our military were being used by mindless, soulless technocrats in Washington DC.  That’s when I began to see that there were much worse things than serving in the military.  

One of the realities of life is that we all die.  Those of us who are veterans of military service are those among us who offered up their lives that we all might live free.  There is no shame there, no sin; there is nothing but honor in swearing to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Some of us ended up giving our lives, some of us did not, but we all made that commitment.

We each face times in our lives when we have to make hard choices, when maybe what we have to do is something that, at some level, will seem wrong – but in that doing, something really good will happen.  It isn’t good to kill, but if it means that a whole population lives, then it can be necessary.

We have a responsibility to understand all the implications of our choices, to know that if we are not alert, we can be used.  That’s true whether we’re talking about military service or helping out that cousin from wherever who just wants to camp in the back yard for a week.  It’s true when we’re talking about the choices we make in running our businesses, teaching our students, or raising a family.  Our Christian faith calls us to a thoughtful way of living.  It may be easier to see when it comes to something like military service, but it is always there, always part of that commitment that Jesus wanted the Pharisees to make.

Psalm 16 says:
I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 
I keep the Lord always before me;
because [God] is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. 

When we are faced with those tough decisions, God’s presence is always with us and God will help us discern the best way forward.  In that presence, in that help, we will find the joy of deep faith.


©2022, Virginia H. Child

Looking for God in all the Wrong Places

A sermon preached at First Church, UCC Middletown, Connecticut, on November 6, 2022

Haggai 2:1-9  In the second year of King Darius, in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying:

Speak now to Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, and say, Who is left among you that saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Is it not in your sight as nothing? 

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lordof hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts.

Luke 20:27—38 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

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.

Last week, the national offices of the United Church of Christ announced that our every-other-year all church meeting, called General Synod, would now be held every three years.

For most of us, that’s not very important news.  

For those of us who’ve been a few times, that’s interesting news… 

And for some of us, those folks called “Synod junkies”, people who went faithfully, every other year, it’s a major disappointment.

But still, that’s not – in the wider scheme of things, all that important, right?

Except that – this.  It is important… and here’s why:  It’s the reason for the cut-back.  For it seems that the denomination says it can no longer take so much time away from the important day-to-day work of national staff, to put the Synod on.  They no longer can afford to spend so much of their budget on Synod costs.  

For the national offices, General Synod is an interruption, something that distracts them from what’s really important.

Maybe they’re right.  Maybe the central work of the national staff is all about what they do.

But what if they’re wrong?  What if the central work of the national staff is encouraging, strengthening and building close connections between UCC people all over the world?  If that’s their work, then moving Synods from every 2 years to every 3 years is a major error.  What if the most important work is making it possible for Howard Thody to sit down with a delegate from Washington State and discover what they have in common?  What if it is all about making me sit down with someone from a Committee on Ministry in South Dakota and hear, first-hand, how they struggle to prepare people for ministry?

The most challenging thing about the impending change is that it doesn’t look to me as though anyone drilled down far enough to ask just exactly what it is that our national offices are there for.  I don’t think anyone spent much time thinking about what the purpose of our denominational offices really is.

Now, you may have wondered if you inadvertently wandered into the wrong discussion this morning, since you had never heard of the General Synod until maybe five minutes ago, and weren’t planning to trek off to Indianapolis next Summer to see what it is…. but I’m not telling you this story because I want to start a “change Synod” movement.

I’m telling you this story because it tells us all something important.  And that’s this:  it’s darned hard to make a good decision when you’re not clear on why you exist.

Think of those Sadducees in the story from Luke, wasting everyone’s time asking Jesus a ridiculous hypothetical question about marriage in the hereafter.  They’d rather argue about the fine points of theology than worry about the social problems of their community.  Anything to avoid asking real questions about meaning and purpose and fulfillment, right?

I follow the writings of an English sheepfarmer, James Rebanks, although to call him “just a sheepfarmer” is a gross disservice to a very thoughtful man.  Rebanks farms in the Lakes District of England – think Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter – on land that has been farmed for more than a thousand years.  For the last hundred years or so, the goal has been to make a living by maximizing the produce of the land, even to the detriment of the land.  Moving streams to create more arable fields led to fields which could no longer handle flooding.  Close cropping everything destroyed habitat for small mammals, birds and insects.  Gradually, the ground was no longer able to support his flocks without supplemental feeding; he was no longer able to produce enough hay for the winter on his own land.  Maybe five years ago, he gradually began to change his farm.  First they re-wilded some of the streams.  Then they created set aside spots for brush to grow, to create better habitat for all the flora and fauna on the land.  Then he purchased a small herd of cattle – and while some become food for the family, and some are sold as a cash crop to other farmers – mostly their purpose is to fertilize the soil.  Today his land is producing better quality grass for the sheep, and more of it; there’s more diversity of plants, insects, birds and animals on the land, and he can handle occasional flooding better.  

That’s because he sat down and re-thought why he was farming.  

Two thousand five hundred years ago, give or take a decade, the prophet Haggai spoke to the people.  They were discouraged, they’d worked so hard and seen so little.  In 539 BCE the Jewish people had been allowed to return from exile to their homes in Jerusalem, and  nothing was right there.  Their temple was destroyed, the former glory was passed away.   They were discouraged.

Haggai told them that better days were coming.  Now, in his picture, those better days would lead to an even more beautiful temple, decorated with gold and silver and jewels.  

When we read this story today, however, we read it from our own context.  We’ve not lost the external beauty of our church.  We have moved beyond the world for which this building was planned.  In fact, we probably moved beyond that world more than fifty years ago, when you consider that this room, and the Memorial Room and the Upper Room were the original space  — think about where they had Sunday school — they lived in a world where  you could cram 100 fourth-graders into a class and expect them to behave.  I’ve seen other buildings put up in the late nineteenth-century and they rarely have anything we’d recognize as a Sunday school space.

It’s not about the literal meaning of the words of Haggai.  As so often, we cheat ourselves if we stop at the surface.  Haggai’s meaning for us is not about gold leaf paint or jewels in the stained glass.  It’s about our future.  Our glory has never been the beauty of our building; it has been, is, and will be how we live out our faith in the world.

This room is beautiful, but its real beauty is its inner life, the amazing generosity of its people, our willingness to stand up for the poor, the dismissed, the hurt, those who hunger and thirst.

And the question for us is where will we go in the future?    Do we want to be a place known for our hospitality?  How will we do that?  Do we want to be a community known for its support for racial justice?  What does our community need?  How are we called to respond?

The Gospel lesson is a warning to watch out for irrelevant arguments.  The Sadducees were playing “gotcha” with Jesus, and it didn’t go well for them.  And, you know, that’s the sort of thing we do when we’re really disturbed by the options before us.  

We don’t like how the (baseball/basketball/whatever) game is going, so we criticize the way the players are wearing their uniforms, right?  You show up for Thanksgiving Dinner and your parents announce they’re getting a divorce, and this will be the last time you ever gather as a family… and the next thing you know, there’s an argument starting down at the far end of the table:  Which is the better comic book character – Daffy Duck or Donald Duck? Because missing the point is one of the ways we avoid or delay dealing with really difficult stuff.  So in our conversations, let’s take care that we don’t miss the point.

This is not about the things we think a church ought to do, but the things we’re ready and willing to do.  

What is our purpose today?  

It wasn’t until James Rebanks saw that farming was more than breeding better sheep, that it was also about caring for the land, investing in the future, that he was able to see clearly how he could, should care for his land.  With a new, clearer understanding of his purpose, he was able to marshal his resources to make a difference.  

Getting a clear sense of our purpose is the first step to understanding what we are now being called to do.  Like Rebanks, we are being called to look at what we’ve always done and decide together whether that’s the right way to continue, or whether we are being called to make some changes.  

We’re in a new world.  And we’re not the same church we were fifty years ago.  How will those changes change us?

Let’s talk.  Let’s talk together.  Next week, after church, with or without coffee, let’s begin a conversation.  We won’t come to conclusions next week; don’t worry if you’re not going to be here that day.  But let’s begin the conversation.  Just who are we these days?  And what are the gifts we have to share with Middletown, in God’s name?


© 2022, Virginia H. Child