Day Three

John 4:5-42
“The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place people must worship is in Jerusalem.”

I don’t know what you did on Sunday morning, but I “attended” the Old South Church’s livestream broadcast.  I chose it because it’s right up in Boston, and I knew I’d hear a word for our situation.  In the midst of a lovely service, I heard the Rev. Nancy Taylor say, “who would have thought that this morning’s lesson would be about where it was possible to worship?”  She reminded us that worship can take place wherever we are.  

Nancy Taylor also reminded us that in the midst of life that is often marked by strain and stress, we can always give thanks for God’s unconditional love.  So, take that thought with you today — you are loved.  You are loved in the quiet of home.  You are loved in the stress of difficult situations.  You are loved even if you have a cough and a fever.  You are loved, today, tomorrow, and forver.

Here’s a prayer for today, from the Church of England:

Keep us, good Lord, 
Under the shadow of your mercy
in this time of uncertainty and distress.  
Sustain and support the anxious and ferful,
and lift up all who are brought low;
that we may rejoice in your comfort
knowing the nothing can separate us from your love
in Christ Jesus our Lord.  
Amen.

and for today’s music, listen to this song, presented by the Oasis Chorale:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OviilwuJVtE

May God be with us all, 
Pastor Virginia

June 8, 2020 Are We There Yet?

June 8, 2020

Psalm 131
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.

Are you tired of all this yet? Has it gone from exciting to dull to restrictive?  Are you ready, even more than ready, to get back to normal?  It wasn’t enough that we had a death-dealing pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t had to deal with for the last hundred years.  Now we’re also coping with civil unrest and armed guards, attacks on policing, as well as attacks on protestors.

And in every single thing we’re doing, some of us are on one side, some on the other, some stuck in the middle?  Re-open church? yes? no? maybe?  inside? outside?  Can we sing? absolutely not! but I love to sing!!  How much cleaning is enough?  Do we have to swab down the bathrooms every time they’re used?  yes? no? shrug our shoulders?  Can I go outside?  Can I visit the grandkids?  Can they come here?  When is it safe to go to the grocery store?  Eat out?

I don’t know about you, but this is all getting to be more than I expected.  It’s gone on longer than I’d planned.  I’d thought for sure we’d have church inside in the Hall this summer, but at best we’ll have it outside.  I’m going on vacation next month, but where?

But…but …. while it’s unusual for everyone to be dealing with this much stress at once, individually we know it happens.  Three deaths of close family members in three weeks.  It happens.  Move, divorce, change jobs.  It happens.  Stock market crashes and your retirement has to be deferred until your retirement account gains what had been lost.  It happens.

When stuff like that happens, when today turns into tomorrow without ending all this endless stuff, there’s a word from God for us.  One place I hear it is in today’s Psalm:  “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me, but I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a . .  child with its mother…”  Jesus put it this way, “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof…”  And in Alcoholics Anonymous, it comes out one day at a time. 

Do not try to solve tomorrow’s problems today.  Look for the good in this day; enjoy the sparkle of sun on the water, savor the taste of your dinner.  Deal with what has to be done now.  And when it gets to be too much, linger over this prayer, from United Church of Christ leader Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.

June 6, 2020 . . without tarrying for anie…

If they [the magistrates] be of their flocks, why should they tarry for them — unless they would have the sheep to force the shepherd unto his duty? Indeed, the government may force him, but it is his shame to tarry till he be forced. Be ashamed therefore, you foolish shepherds, and do not lay the responsibility on the magistrates, as though they should do that which in building the Lord’s kingdom the apostles and prophets were not allowed to do! They could not force religion, as you would have the government do, and it was forbidden to the apostles to preach to the unworthy or force a planting or government of the church. The Lord’s kingdom is not by force, neither by an army or strength, as are the kingdoms of the world.
Robert Browne, 1528 (https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/browne)

On Saturdays, I try to write about the Scripture readings that are appointed for tomorrow.  This week, the readings are for our annual attempt to preach about the nature of God, which given the general unrest in our world, seems a little off topic.  When it feels like our world is shattering, who cares whether God is three persons, but one blessed Trinity?

In fact, however, there is a lesson there for us and it is this:  we teach that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  We teach that at the very foundation of our world is God as “both/and”.  God is not either Father or Son or Holy Spirit.  God is both Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer.  And here’s how that speaks to today:

Our streets are filled with protestors and police; in some cities, they are fighting as if this were a war.  Fueling this conflict is the idea that protestors cannot be both protesting and good and that police cannot be both protecting and bad.  But there is good AND bad in both.  The insistence on drawing close and high boundaries around each category makes it impossible for us to understand the reality of the problems which drive the protests.  And it makes it difficult to see how the bad apples in our police departments have spoiled the effectiveness of our police all across the nation.

The reading from the Letters for today, from 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, says   “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

It is not peace if we cannot hear the cries of the oppressed.  It is not peace if we ignore the oppression of those bad apples.  It is not peace if we just assume that random acts of violence towards black people are the exception rather than the rule.  God calls us to live in peace, and so we are called to listen, to really hear, and to allow the truth of our ears and the truth of our eyes to break our hearts open.  Today, the nature of the God we follow tells that only when we see the both/and-ness of our world will we be able to clearly see our path forward.

 

June 2, 2020 What Does the Bible Say?

Romans 8:18-25      I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

So, just sit and wait, right?  Things will be better by and by?  Or do we do something to make things better?

Paul wrote “… creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. . . creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. . .”  And with the coming of Jesus Christ, the time for waiting is over.

The time for waiting is over.  It’s time for standing up; it’s time for standing for change and growth, for taking actions.  Of course, that’s true of the work of Christians since that first Easter.  We are God’s hands and feet, voice and vision.

It seems like we’ve been cruising along for the past decades, thinking things were hard – and they were hard – but today’s hardis massively harder than anything since our parents or grandparents dealt with unending war.  Only in our case, it’s an epidemic that threatens us all crossed with yet another example of cold-blooded murder of a black man, and then the special sauce of greed and anarchy, roasted over a slow fire of poor leadership.  It’s a hard to stomach combination.  Oh yes, did I forget the economic depression?  The high unemployment?  The closing businesses?  The dropping stock-market.

Our faith was made for times such as these, for it reminds us that there is more to life than stability, it reminds us that stability is more of an illusion than a reality.  It tells us we were made to stand against evil by the power of our faith.  Our prayers matter.  Our witness matters.  Our lives will be spent in clearing our world not just of the outward signs of racism, such as segregation, but the underlying sin of racism.

But before I (or we) get mired in anger about where we are today, let’s spend a little time thinking about what we can do today.  Because we are not without resources in this situation.  For one thing, our faith tells us that change is possible.  It tells us we, none of us, were born to live in a hurtful society.  That gives us hope; things do not have to be like this.

Now I know we are not a powerful group, at least as the world sees power.  But I also know that each one of us does have power.  Change doesn’t really come from the wealthy or from the government; it’s started by people like us.  Ordinary people.

So here are just a few things we can do:  We can refuse to laugh at jokes that put down people of color.  We can refuse to use derogatory terms.  We can make “not in my house” rules and make them stand.  We can smile at people, say something pleasant to that black person in line behind or in front of us at the store.  We can buy children’s books for our grandchildren which help them think through race and racism; by the age of 5 our children have absorbed our society’s biases and have begun to think that “the whiter the better”.  We can read books like “Stamped:  Racism, Antiracism, and You” or any of a number of other good books out today to help us understand the pressures people of color – black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, etc – live with.

No one person will bring in God’s world by themselves. But when we all work together we can move mountains, make miracles, change our world.  And this is one of those times.

Blessings, Pastor Virginia

June 1, 2020

Psalm 113:5-8
Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

Matthew 18:12  —  What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?

It wasn’t enough that we’re living through a global pandemic, businesses shut, more than 100,000 people dead?  It wasn’t enough that we have to search the stores for toilet paper and can’t even hug the grandkids?  It wasn’t enough?

Apparently not.

So, last week police in Minneapolis cold-bloodedly murdered a prisoner, a black man, and now we have riots all over our country, and even overseas.

Because it was one time too often.  And people are fed up.  But, just to add a special sauce, the news reports tell us that mixed in with the protestors are people who’ve just shown up to make things worse.  Some reports say those folks have come from the far left, others say from the far right…. whatever, wherever, we see stores burning, churches burning, police driving their cars into the crowds…. it’s chaos, and it’s so very wrong.

So, where are we?  How do we react to this?  What does it mean in our world?

Psalm 113 tells us that when there’s a choice, God chooses the poor. When there’s a choice, God chooses the needy.  And in the gospels, Jesus tells us that to the great shepherd cares more about the one sheep that is lost than the ninety-nine who are ok.

Those who do not have (whatever) are more important to God than those who are ok.  That means that God cares more about the homeless living in the woods behind the Church of the Nazarene than for those of us with homes and paid-up mortgages.  And it means that God cares more for those who are afraid that if they’re stopped by a police officer they will be killed, than God cares for those of us who are simply embarrassed.

So, if we are to follow God, we too care more for those who have not than for those who have a lot.  We feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, and when someone is ignored, or put down, or attacked, we stand with them. When our police do the right thing, we thank them. When they do not, we help them see the right way.  Because our God teaches us that when we all feel safe, our community is stronger, safer, more prosperous.

May we have the vision to see, and the heart to care, and the strength to action in these chaotic days.

Pastor Virginia

May 27, 2020

May 27, 2020

Who am I to believe?  The pastor in Rhode Island who says that it won’t be safe to meet for worship until there’s a vaccine, and so they’ve closed the building until (at least) May of next year?  Or the pastor who says, we can all sit far enough apart, let’s get together on Sunday?

Yesterday, the paper said don’t touch shopping carts unless I wear gloves.  My best friend says that when she comes in from shopping, she stops in the laundry room, takes off all her clothes, throws them in the washer and goes to take a shower, all before putting the groceries away – and then she wipes everything down with an antiseptic wipe before putting it away.  But then I read that it’s really unlikely that I’ll catch Covid-19 from touching a hard surface, that the thing to do is to wear a mask and wash my hands frequently.  If it’s safe to get a haircut there, why isn’t it safe here?

Who do I believe?  Whose advice do I follow?  Is it safe to have lunch with m brother?  Can he visit his grandchildren?  Can the kids go out to play with their friends?

Who do I believe, when the world seems to turn upside down every other day?  Well, in practical answer, I give the most weight to the advice that comes closest to home.  I’m much more affected by the prevalence of this disease in my own town, and the rules that are right here, might not be necessary there.  And I note the date on any advice, because every day the medical folks know more and more about what we’re dealing with.

And in a spiritual way?  Well, this Covid-19 has made plain something we preferred to not see – that our control over our world is largely an illusion.  We are well, until we are not, but we didn’t plan for, didn’t expect that.  Our children are all expected, mostly, but we all know times when they are not.  Jobs, marriages, houses, hopes and dreams.  We can plan, we can expect, and then the world turns upside down.  What endures is God.  What we can count on is the love of Jesus Christ.  What we can do is love our neighbor.

(and pay good attention to the health folks in our areas who are doing their best to keep us all safe)

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia

May 25, 2020 Memorial Day

In my family’s home town, there’s usually a big parade on Memorial Day.  Fire engines, tractors, cars with local big-wigs, the elementary school band, the high school band, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H – it goes on and on.  After the parade folks gather around a platform to sing the Star Spangled Banner, and offer the Pledge of Allegiance, listen to a speech, and remember the dead who’ve served our country.

When they remember the dead, they remember the dead.  They’ve kept a record of every town resident who’s served in a war, and all the names are read.  If that person is an ancestor, you’re expected to stand up, as a visible reminder of the service and sacrifice of those brave people.  In the years I attended, I stood when I was told to, and I honor those men (and the women who nursed them!), but the person I most often remember is a man I never met.

I met his widow once when I was young; she was ancient, the widow of a man who’d served in the Civil War.  Much later I discovered that she was his second wife and fourteen years younger than him. She was in her forties when they married.  Twenty years later, some fifty years after he was released from a Confederate prison in Richmond, Virginia, her husband, John Merrick Paine, went out in the woods one day and shot himself.  He had never left Libby Prison behind.

General William Tecumseh Sherman famously said, “all war is hell”.   Truer words were never spoken.  The sharp uniforms and the disciplined drill are not war.  War is about killing and being killed, and sometimes, as for my cousin John Paine, the war never ended.

That’s what I remember on Memorial Day.  I remember that war never really ends for those who’ve been a part of it.  I remember the men I’ve known who never had a full night’s sleep after the war in Europe; who’d have nightmares about having to kill someone walking in a minefield in a bitterly cold Korean winter, before they let the enemy know about the mines by stepping on one.  I remember the dark stains on the pews in my childhood Quaker meeting – we thought they were bloodstains from the building’s use as a battlefield hospital in the Revolutionary War.  I remember the grave for the unknown soldiers behind the meetinghouse.

And I remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, at his second inaugural:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

Our ancestors, those who served in any of our wars, who gave their lives, what they were, what they might have been, all they had – we honor them when we seek to make Abraham Lincoln’s words our words.  When we act with malice toward none; with charity for all… to bind up wounds… to care for all…. that we might live in just and lasting peace.

Today, more than any Memorial Day in my memory, those words burn in my heart.  We live in a world as torn by hatred as our country after the end of the Civil War.  Let us make this our guiding phrase in our world today:  with malice toward none and charity for all…. for a just and lasting peace.

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia

May 21, 2020

Are you getting restless?  Is it time to start doing something?  I don’t know about you, but staying home all the time is getting tedious.  My friends who have housemates (spouses, kids, roommates) tell me that it’s getting harder and harder to avoid arguments.  One wants to stop wearing masks, another wants so badly to see the grandkids and give them hugs…  Someone says, “oh I can’t wait to go to Friendly’s; I LOVE their coleslaw”, and the next thing you know there’s an argument brewing.  I hate coleslaw” or “Friendly’s?  Don’t you mean Slowly’s?  I wouldn’t eat there if it were the last place on earth.”  And so the pointless argument begins.

<sigh>  When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, the journey to their Promised Land took forty years.  That’s a long time to be wandering in the desert, a long time to not know when the journey would end.  In the book of Numbers, we can see that it began to get them down and they complained . .  and complained:

Numbers 11:4-6  The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic;  but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

We remember the spring trips to the newly-opened ice cream spot, or the anticipated trip to Fenway, the visit of kids and grandkids, and all those other things we’ve put off until “don’t know when”.  The Israelites were getting food – good food, free food, good-tasting manna – from God.  But after a while even that paled, and they yearned for seafood dinners in restaurants.  They yearned to worship together and sing.  Just like us.

Well, the story from Numbers says that God responded by giving them so much good (in their case, quails) that they got sick from the good.  And doesn’t that say something to us as we get anxious to get back to the good we know and love?  Take our time, be careful, find ways to work off the “gotta get out of the house” itchies so that we can stay in good relationship with all.

Easter blessings,  Pastor Virginia

May 16, 2020 What’s New?

This morning, while I was drinking my first cup of tea, I attended the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (virtually!), and watched as they inducted their new Moderator.  There were only about seven people in a room which is usually occupied by hundreds, and all the congratulations where on-line, but, despite the pandemic, they found a way to be church.

Scotland is shut-down, much as we are, and like us, the churches in Scotland have found new ways to be church when we can’t use our buildings.  The ceremony wasn’t what they’d always done, the Assembly wasn’t what the new Moderator had anticipated.  Like this year’s high school & college grads, this special moment in the sun was not to be.

But there was something else, and it did the job.  Stripped down to the essentials, and live-streamed online, people participated from all over Scotland, and instead of being silent in their seats, filled the chat box with their good wishes.  In some important ways, people were able to participate more effectively than when they were right there in the room.

“New occasions teach new duties” wrote James Russell Lowell and for sure we’re in a new occasion.  So, what are we learning?  What new things have we been pushed into, things that we’re beginning to think will be part of our future?  And we’re not finished yet.

Someday there will be a reality that will be more like what life was before this year.  Someday, we’ll sit down to big family dinners, and watch the Fourth of July fireworks while sitting in a baseball park.  Someday we’ll be back in church, singing our hearts out.  But that’s not the reality we’re living in right now.  Right now we’re living in a reality which looks and feels quite different.  So, what are we learning?   We’re learning that if we want to see our grandchildren, we need to figure out how to use that iPad or smartphone or Kindle.  We’re learning that we can actually have good meetings on Zoom and removing all the stress of travel to the meeting can actually make it possible for more people to participate.  We’re learning that we can worship online and it can feel like real worship.  And we’re learning that it’s vitally important for us to be with one another.  Virtual works, but real is going to be better.

What are you learning about in this time?  What lessons will you take forward into our tomorrows?  Take note of what you see, how you feel, and what you’ve discovered that you would never have known otherwise.

And enjoy this wonderful weather – a gift to the soul for today!

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia

May 13, 2020 Happy Are Those Who Find Wisdom

Proverbs 3:13-18
Happy are those who find wisdom,
and those who get understanding,

I spent a couple of hours yesterday listening to arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States.  I’d never heard this before – it appears it’s never been on radio before – and it was fascinating.

I’m sure the legal experts have all kinds of things to say, and good guesses as to what the decisions will be.  And it’s not that I’m not interested in that, but what fascinated me yesterday was how pleasant it was, how encouraging it was, to listen to all those people – men and women – engaging in thoughtful, intelligent discussion of such very important issues, thinking about all the sides of an issue, not just the quickest way forward.

It’s not that easy, you know, to take the time to think through the implications of our decisions.  And most of us don’t….don’t think about the next step.  We just take it one step at a time.  At one level that’s right, but if we think “one step at a time” means we don’t need to lift our heads to figure out where this path is taking us, we’ve missed the point.  That was the lesson I took away from the Supreme Court Justices yesterday.  Live for today but plan for tomorrow.

Listening to the Justices was listening to a group of people whose minds are awake.  Age didn’t matter: Justice Ginsburg’s questions were as well-formed  as those of the youngest Justice, Neil Gorsuch.  Experience, it turns out, did matter.  Former professors asked different kinds of questions than former trial attorneys.  But what mattered the most was that each and every one of the Justices clearly had invested time to study the case, to look up background, to think about implications, and had brought all of that to the table.

In Proverbs, we’re told that happiness lies in finding wisdom and understanding, and this is a great example of that truth.  For us in our current position, the understanding we seek lies in learning as much as possible about covid-19 and in taking the time to be as sure as possible that we understand the implications of our decisions. Even more than that, however, the conversations I heard were a reminder of how much sheer pleasure it is to be around people who take the time to really know their subject – whether it’s the law or the best ways to make strawberry jam!  Learning is one of the great gifts of life.

May you all have a wonderful day of learning and joy,

Easter blessings, Pastor Virginia