Where Is Our God Today?

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on May 29, 2022

On Tuesday, nineteen kids and two teachers were murdered.  Seventeen more people were injured.  That’s horrible; we’re all shocked.  But there’s more.

It turns out that the police in Uvalde were in the school, but waited 45 minutes to confront the gunman, while children called 911 and pled for help.  And help didn’t come.  Forty-five minutes, those kids phoned and hoped, waited and died.

There are no words to describe that.  I just can’t imagine how the families are coping with this news.

I don’t want to get into the arguments about why the police made the choice they did, or whether or not it was proper for the Border Patrol to take over and rescue the children.  There’s another place for us to go today.

We hear all this with the echo of Sandy Hook in our backgrounds.  I expect that some of us know someone who had a child die there, or we know people who know people… Connecticut’s a small state.  Sandy Hook was a Connecticut tragedy; we know how folks in Uvalde, Texas feel today because we’ve been there.  This tragedy, this week, coming so close on what happened last week in Buffalo, brings back that awful question – where is God when things like this happen?  What does our faith have to say in the presence of evil?

You know, we’d all like to think that God has a finger on the pulse of every living person, that nothing happens outside the will of God.  I sure wish that were so.  My favorite question from the Heidelberg Catechism says:  

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own,
but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—
to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.
He also watches over me in such a way
that not a hair can fall from my head
without the will of my Father in heaven. . .

That Catechism was a major point of formation for all of Reformed Protestant Christianity.  It’s still used today, more than 450 years after it was first written.  But it is not Scripture, and it is not right in every particularity.  Yes, I belong to my Savior.  But neither God nor Jesus watches over me to protect me from every harm.  

Theology can be something like trying to untangle a knot of yarn; if you loosen it here, it can tighten up over there, far away from where you started.  Here’s the thing:  if you believe that God watches over you and protects you, then what does it mean when bad things happen?  Does it mean that, oops, God’s attention wandered?  Does it mean… that God wanted this bad thing to happen to you?

There are Christians who have followed that idea down a rabbit hole, leading them to teach that bad things are God’s intentional acts, that those things are like a refiner’s fire, making us more and more fit for Heaven. You can even read the Book of Job, in the Bible, and find an entire argument about that way of understanding why bad things happen.

I’ve never been able to assent to that way of understanding evil.  I don’t think God sends bad things, or even allows bad things, so that we can deepen our faith.  In fact, I don’t want anything to do with that kind of God.  Life has sent me all the bad things I can handle, and more; I don’t need more from God!

So, where do I think that God is in the worst kinds of tragedies?  I think God is right there with us when bad things happen.  God is sitting next us in the emergency room, maybe handing us a bad cup of coffee – but it’s warm and feels good somehow.  It’s God who brings meals to my house when I can’t cook.  It’s God who gives me the courage to step into the funeral home when that’s what needs to be done.

Here’s where I got this idea of God:  there’s a lot of places to find it, but for me the key one is Romans 8, starting at verse 31:

If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Romans tells us that nothing can separate us from God’s love.  That means that God’s love is the most important thing.  I dunno, I think God has made us so that when bad things happen, we’re capable of learning from them, growing stronger.  But I also know that sometimes the bad things are so bad that when they happen, we break into pieces.  I went to high school in south Florida; 1/3 of our school was Jewish.  None of my Jewish classmates had grandparents; they had all died back in Europe during World War II.  Sometimes things are so bad that they break us.  But even when we are broken, even when we can no longer believe in God, God is still there, still loving.

When his own son died, tragically, driving drunk, taking the curve too fast and sliding into the winter-frigid water in a small city north of Boston, William Sloane Coffin, then pastor of the Riverside Church in NYC, preached two weeks later and said:

When parents die, as my mother did last month, they take with them a large portion of the past. But when children die, they take away the future as well. That is what makes the valley of the shadow of death seem so incredibly dark and unending. In a prideful way it would be easier to walk the valley alone, nobly, head high, instead of — as we must — marching as the latest recruit in the world’s army of the bereaved.

We know he’s right, we feel it in our aching hearts.  When children die, they take away the future. . . 

Coffin rails against those folks who come up to us in our time of grief, press our hands and say, consolingly, “it was all God’s will”.  When my sister died, a couple of days after her birth, someone told me that “she was too good to live and so she’s gone to live with God”  That’s not a helpful thing to say to a three year old.  It made me profoundly angry with a God who would snatch my sister away before she had a chance to enjoy life.  

We are not three.  We know to fight back from hurtful or damaging ideas.  We know, as William Sloane Coffin wrote, My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.

Why did those children die?  Because Texas has weak gun laws?  Because folks didn’t know how to stop the shooter before this came close to happening?  Because the police didn’t seem to know what to do with an active shooter in their school?  Sure, probably little bit of each of those, and more beside.  But they didn’t die because God wanted it that way, and they didn’t die just to teach us all a lesson.

This is Memorial Day weekend; it’s a time when we routinely honor those who have fought and died in our nation’s wars.  It’s a day when we, for once, recognize that wars inevitably take lives.  Out of each of the great wars our country has fought, have come great movements for peace, beginning with the establishment of Memorial Day itself.  Having seen the horrors of war, having paid the price with the life or health of a loved one, we work to try to make things better.  In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln wrote:

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 lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Today, in the face of what we have seen in the last two weeks, we’re called to step up and challenge those who would make weapons available to all, without restriction or limit.  Today, let’s join the hundreds of thousands of people who are calling for better gun control.  The historian, Heather Cox Richardson, writes in her daily newsletter that today more people than ever are ready for gun control, background checks, and other boundaries around gun sales and possession.  We are not alone; let us not be discouraged, and continue to work to make our world safe for all God’s children.  Let us be the presence of God by our words and our actions, in the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

On the Importance of Paying Attention

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on May 22, 2022

Acts 16:9–15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

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 Tuesday of this past week, President Biden went to Buffalo, New York.  

We know why he went.  

He went to Buffalo for the same reason President Obama went to Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston SC. 

He went to Buffalo because an impressionable kid who had spent way too much time listening to hate talk on television, decided it was his job to kill Black people.  

The kid planned his trip, chose to go to this city, this store, because he knew it to in an area with a lot of African-American people.  He made a recon trip to check out how the store was laid out, to maximize the number of people he would kill.  He identified two other areas in Buffalo – he’d intended to go to each of them and kill more people, more Black people.

That kid made plans, and when it was time drove three and a half hours from his home in Conklin NY to the big city of Buffalo, just to kill people.

We can blame the kid.  We could blame his parents.  We could criticize the law enforcement people who knew the kid had problems.  For that matter, we could blame the problems the kid had, but that’s not going to cut it, not anymore.  

When President Biden stood in Buffalo and said that white supremacy was a poison, he was right. And it’s white supremacy that I blame for the deaths of those people, for the deaths of immigrants, and Blacks, for the murder of Jews in Pittsburgh, for the deaths of people in a Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in California on Sunday afternoon.

The “replacement theory” this kid had been reading about, hearing on social media, and who knows what else, suggests that white people in our country are being “replaced” by people of color. That’s the theory behind hating immigrants.  That’s why keeping people of color out of the US is important. Killing people of color re-balances the races.  These people believe in “whites first, whites only” in much the same way George Wallace used to say “segregation now, segregation forever” – until he got really saved and changed his tune.

Folks who believe this poison think that the only people who should be here are 100% white, 100% Christian people – and by Christian, they don’t actually mean Christians.  They mean people who will use the name, but who don’t need to follow Jesus.  They mean people who aren’t anything else – not Jews, not Muslims, not Sikh, not anything else.  Christians by culture, but not by faith.  Those people are evil and the doctrines they teach are poison to our land.

This is why the lessons of Jesus are so essential.  Jesus teaches us, and the parts of Acts we’re reading in this season remind us, that there is no such thing as “replacement theory”.  We can’t be replaced, because we are all one family.  Everyone is welcome at God’s table; everyone is a member of God’s family.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that what we teach here is just something to fill in the time on Sunday mornings.  There isn’t a member of this church who doesn’t know how pleasant it would be to sit in peace and just read a Sunday paper, or go for a hike, or go fishing on a Sunday morning … and sometimes we do all those things.

But, most Sundays,  between 10 and 11 we gather here to remind ourselves that though we live in a world filled with poisonous ideas and hate-filled people, that is not the end of things.  It doesn’t have to be that way, and we are called to fight against it.  We come here to hear the story one more time, to refresh our energy, to be a community, to confront evil wherever it shows up, even if it’s in our own hearts.  

Today’s story is another of the many stories in Acts about breaking barriers.  This time, it’s the story of how Paul and his companions came to intentionally move from Asia to Europe.  If they’d never made that trip, we Europeans might still be without the knowledge of the way of Jesus.  

Let’s be clear; that wouldn’t have been better – the religious practices of the times before Jesus in northern Europe were sometimes very unpleasant, and could include, did include, human sacrifice.  So I, for one, am very happy that my ancestors heard about Jesus, heard because Paul travelled to Greece to tell the story.

In the latter part of this reading, a part we didn’t read today, we learn that one of the first converts Paul and his companions make in Europe is Lydia, a businesswoman; her example empowers women in a new way.  The trip from Turkey to Greece changed the world. 

It happened because Paul prayed.  It was prayer which changed his plans.  It was prayer that changed our world.

While I’m sure Paul prayed for guidance, I’m going to suggest today that the prayer which led to his journey didn’t begin with an impassioned call to God to give direction.  That’s one kind of prayer, but it’s not the only kind.  I believe Paul was also immersed in another kind of prayer, the kind of prayer which provides a framework for our lives.

Petitionary prayer, the kind of prayer we usually experience as joys and concerns, is always offered in response to a need expressed or a joy experienced.  It is one of the ways we speak to God.  

Formative prayer, however, is one of the ways God speaks with us.  

I think it was formative prayer that was the kind of prayer which prepared Paul to hear the call of God, to recognize the vision of the man in Macedonia, asking “come over and help us”. 

At its most basic, formative prayer is based on a commitment to listen to God’s word as chosen by some one or something other than ourselves.  It might be grounded in a commitment to say the Lord’s Prayer every morning, so that prayer might provide a pattern for the day.

It might be found in faithful reading of a magazine like The Upper Room, or the use of a prayer book, or the reading of devotional book.  The person who decides to read a chapter a day of the Bible is doing the same thing. 

There are thousands of “right ways” to tune into this kind of spiritual leadership.   It doesn’t have to be complicated.  Sometimes we read a chapter a day from a book.  There are devotional books of daily readings, some still in print after a hundred or more years.  There are daily prayer books, with full-blown prayer services for morning, noon and night.

The essence of this kind of prayer is that we follow someone else’s lead in choosing what to read, study or pray about.  It is not about what feels right to me, but the courage to listen to someone else, giving authority to someone outside our own lives.  

Paul founded his faith in that kind of daily, repetitive, openness to hearing God’s will for him.  It drew him out of the land of his birth, the land where his faith was known, into a new place.  His practice of listening for God’s voice opened him to God’s word, gave him vision, courage and strength.

EunYoung Choi, a current Yale Divinity School student , wrote in the most recent, on-line, issue of the magazine Reflections,   “I believe prayer is a force of resistance that raises hope by naming injustice and suffering.  Prayer is not a passive act that merely wishes for dramatic change and breakthrough, but is a stronghold that gathers hearts and instills wonder.”

In a world filled with the poison of  hatred, we need that kind of strength.  We need that kind of regular call to move beyond our own comfort levels, we need that constant reminder of who we are and what we’re called to.

The prayer which forms us is important.  It focuses us, helps strengthen our resolve, clarifies our purpose.  It is a central part of how we stand up to that evil we all see in this world.  It counteracts the hatred which is everywhere these days.  It is absolutely foundational.

Our world is filled with poison; let us in our prayers listen to God’s preparation to be people of peace.

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child

Agreeing Isn’t Easy

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on May 15, 2022

Licenses on file at church office

Acts 11:1-18 Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 

But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 

And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

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.

There are two kinds of people in the world:  the people who want something new and different every day, and the people who, like me, could cheerfully do things the same way for the rest of our lives.

Today’s Scripture is a story about those two kinds of people.  

There were the people – called the “circumcised believers” here – who want to hew as closely to the past as is humanly possible, and the people, Peter and his followers, who were stepping out into new ways.

Except, of course, that parallel isn’t strictly true.  Peter was no fan of change.  Neither were his followers.  What they were, were people who, when they absolutely had to, were open to change, willing to change.  And the other folks?  They simply didn’t believe that change was necessary, in this time, or this place.  

Let’s look at what was really happening in this story:  it’s early days, really early days in the development of the Christian way.  What we’re seeing in this story is the beginnings of the separation of Jesus’ followers from the Jewish faith, not yet an argument between Christians and Jews.  In those days, almost all those who followed Jesus were themselves Jews. They kept the Jewish customs and laws, but, just as some Jews were Sadducees or Pharisees, these Jews were followers of Christ, proto-Christians.

And then gentiles, people who were not Jews, began to follow Jesus.  So the early community began to get into a heavy discussion of just what these new folks would have to do, how they would have to live, in order to be authentic Christians.  This discussion goes on throughout out all of the book of Acts, and shows up in other New Testament books as well.  Did they have to formally convert to Judaism?  Did they have to keep kosher?  And the question here – could Jews and non-Jewish believers eat together?

These are real questions.  What do we have to do, believe, follow, in order to be authentic?  What makes us Christians?

But the focus today is on how we deal with new ideas and change….on how we work out answers.  As I said, this is hard stuff.  I hear it in just about every church I work with:  we’re all willing to do what’s needed, but, wait a minute, what do you mean we’re not going to do that one thing I really like?  Or that thing which I find so deeply meaningful? 

I don’t know about you, but I’m happy as all get out to offer new things for new people, so long as it doesn’t mean I have to give up something that I really love.  And it’s easy to adapt to new ways, new contexts, so long as I feel as though I still have control… right?  You know what I mean???

So when the disciples got all upset because Peter had dared to eat with gentiles, because it destroyed their picture of Peter as a great, trustworthy, guy… it reminds me of those folks who loved their pastor right up until they saw him marching with Martin Luther King…. Or who respected their pastor until the day the church stopped using hymnals, or went to demonstrations, or . . .   

In this case, the folks who felt as though control was slipping from their fingers began to criticize Peter.  Here’s the good news:  they talked with him about their concerns.  They didn’t stand out in the parking lot.  They didn’t meet at Brew Bakers.  They didn’t tell Peter’s wife they were upset.  They spoke to him.  That gave Peter the opportunity to share with them how his mind had been changed by the dream God sent him.  He saw that God was giving him a new way, and the confirmation was when the men from Caesarea showed up and asked for his help.  They were gentiles (you can read their full story in Acts 10)… the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household.  

When Peter told Cornelius about Jesus, Cornelius immediately was struck by the truth of the story and the Holy Spirit fell upon him.  I dare say Peter was astonished, but it served as sure confirmation that God wanted them to be welcoming to gentiles, as they were, without them having to first become Jews.  

As Peter told his story to his fellow believers, they too were convinced that God was telling them to leave behind the requirements they’d lived for so long, and to begin to look at new ways to understand what it meant to live as a follower of Jesus.

As we look into our future, we’re going to find things – large and small – that we need to discuss, decisions that will have to be made that will be difficult, changes that will require us, either temporarily or permanently, give up things that have been so very important to us in order to gain something essential to our witness.  Maybe some of those things will be easy to set aside – like the church which stopped requiring their deacons to wear morning coats when they served Communion.  Maybe the future will ask hard things of us.  Maybe my easy thing will be  your hard thing, or vice versa.  When those times come, remember this:  when we pay attention to what God is calling us to do, it’s easier to see the authentic, the faithful, way to proceed.

I don’t mean to say that when we look to God for guidance that the answer will always be clear or simple, because that’s just not so.  Looking to God, however, pulls us away from our own personal preferences, draws us out of “what I’ve always done” toward the redemptive conversation about how we follow Jesus.  It takes us from “I” to “we”.  Without God, we’re simply debating personal preferences.  With God, we’re basing our decisions on something beyond ourselves.

With God’s guidance, we will find ourselves echoing Peter, when he says, “who am I to hinder God?”

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child

A Good Solid Breakfast

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on May 1, 2022

All licensing info on file in church office

Scripture: John 21:1-14

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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.

Jesus was dead.  Sure there were some crackpot stories about some folks seeing him in Jerusalem, about his body being missing from the tomb, but really, no one believed that.  Everyone who’d gathered around Jesus – so far as they knew – everyone had put aside their hopes, their dreams, their expectations, and now they were hard at work trying to re-create the life they’d known before they met Jesus.

And it wasn’t working.

The fisher-folks went out on their boats.  They went out to their favorite spot, the place where they’d always hauled in nets filled with fish.  But today there was nothing.  Today, trying to do the usual, to do what had always seemed right, just didn’t work at all. 

I think we can all sympathize with them this year.  As we come out of the life-changing experience of COVID, we, like those disciples, really really want to move everything right back to where it was before, back in the good old days of 2019.  Just a couple of weeks ago, someone grabbed me right after a service to ask, why weren’t we doing “this”, or shouldn’t we be doing “that”.  And I know that person isn’t the only one to ask, why aren’t we doing … or when will we stop some COVID practice?  We yearn for a return to that “before” time.  And we struggle with our attempts to adapt what worked then with a now that is significantly different.

Well, if our situation is something like theirs, what happened next in their story?

Discourage, the disciples brought their boat back to shore.  They didn’t have any trouble pulling it up to the shore, it was so empty it floated high in the water.  That’s the kind of good you don’t actually want, you know.  Kinda like the church that never needed to have the walls repainted because nothing every happened there….  

There was a stranger standing on the shore as they came in.  He named what was happening – you have no fish.  They agreed.  They were so discouraged they didn’t even wonder why, or take offense at, his comment. 

This stranger suggested then that they do things differently, that they turn their practices upside down.  In this particular circumstance, the stranger wants them to let their nets on the other side of their boats.  It’s a simple idea, and, the story tells us it was as if every fish in the water had just been waiting for this one little change…. and now their nets were so full they couldn’t haul them in.

In this success, they suddenly recognized the stranger.  The stories were true; Jesus still lived!  And he was still leading them, giving them the courage to step into new ways, steeling them to look thoughtfully at what they were doing.

Jesus didn’t just give people new ideas, he equipped them for their new journeys.  In this story, he fed them breakfast… a good solid breakfast, nourishing, even encouraging.  They ate heartily, and rose up, ready to move into a new life.

Now it’d be really amazing if I could say to each of you that after we take communion, we too will leap from our seats ready to do great things… but it doesn’t work that way – didn’t then, and doesn’t now.  What does happen, what will happen is that as we sit together is that we are not alone.  We are no longer one single person, struggling to survive on our own.  We are part of a community, and that is nourishment to our souls.  We are not alone.

The stories of the early church go on and make it clear that things, going forward, weren’t peaches and cream.  

It’s not just that they had struggles with the civil authorities wherever they went.  

It’s not just that, as Christianity morphed and changed and gradually separated from Judaism, there were painful, destructive fights among the two groups.  

It’s not just that, almost from the very first day, it was clear that there was more than one opinion about the right way to proceed.

It’s all of that, and more.  It’s differing opinions and grating personalities, it’s available resources and local customs, it’s everything that has ever united or divided us, one from another.  That’s the nature of being human; there are a million ways to divide us one from another. 

For those of us who have dedicated ourselves to following the way of Christ, this is the one way of love to bring us together.  No matter what ways we differ – age, wealth, gender, affectional preference, education, nationality or beliefs about the eschaton – the love which is taught by Jesus and practiced by his followers is what brings us together.

Those early Christians worked hard to understand what they were being called to do; they studied, they talked together, they took advantage of every opportunity to gather. In these changing times, that’s an important part of our work as well. Books, meetings, conversations, visits – all are resources for us in the days to come.

Yes, we’re not sure where we’re going.  Sure, some of us still want to return to yesterday, to 2019.  And all of us are disturbed and worried about the future.  Making our way will not be clear and simple, but it will be satisfying so long as it is built on love for God and one another.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child

Making a Way out of No Way

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on April 17, 2022

Scripture: Luke 24:1-12

. . . on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

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.

Easter was always the odd holiday in my home.  At Thanksgiving, we went back to Connecticut to have a traditional family feast at the farm.  At Christmas, we had a tree and presents, just like all my friends.  But at Easter, we were different.  Sure, we observed Easter – but really only in a secular way.  I had an Easter basket, and we had traditional Easter food – a big ham dinner.  But in church, there was little mention of Easter – usually just a children’s story about the miracle of daffodils returning in the spring.  And no new Easter clothing…. not in my family.

I was raised a Hicksite Quaker, in the Philadelphia area, the home territory for our kind of Quaker.  Hicksites were about as theologically liberal as you could get, somewhere over near the Unitarians.  As I learned the story, Orthodox Friends believed Jesus was real; we (proud tone), preferred to think of him as a metaphor for life.   I can still remember my astonishment at meeting a rational adult who thought Jesus was a real person and the stories about him were factual.

Reality, for us, was living in a Christ-like way; everything else was just illustration.

As an adult, as a seminary graduate, as someone who has moved into a denomination where we do believe Jesus was real, it’s been a delight to discover that Jesus was so much more than a metaphor or an illustration.  At the same time, I want to state, for the record, and on Easter, that the physical questions about the realities of Easter are still no where near as important as how we live out our beliefs, about recognizing that Easter is not about resuscitation.  Easter is about  the renewal, the rebirth, the resurrection of all of human life.

Outside our doors, Easter is about Spring…. bunnies, and daffodils, the renewal of the earth and the return of warm weather.  Inside our doors, in our hearts, there’s a whole ‘nother layer to the Easter story.

And it’s a layer that begins with failure, frustration, and struggle, with denial and death.  Let’s be clear, the triumph of Easter is not one of unending good and never ending success.  It’s a story of struggle and betrayal, about being found guilty and being executed.  It’s about being a loser.

And only then, comes the triumph.  Preacher Brett Younger writes that Easter is not for folks who have no worries, for those for whom the only issue is which restaurant to go to for Easter dinner.  Easter is for those of us who have seen the dark side of life, and who trust and hope that light will come in the morning.

A friend’s husband died this week, way too young.  For more years than I’ve known her, he’s been ill, unable to work, housebound with something that gradually ate away at his personality while destroying his body.  It’s been hard.  

Another friend wrote this week that her family’s brand-new sofa, the one they’ve had less than a month, the first brand new sofa they’d ever had, was broken this past week by their teenaged son – a six foot tall teen who engages the world through a welter of cognitive limitations.  My friend recognizes his challenges, and understands, and at the same time mourns the loss of “something nice” that they can’t afford to replace.  It’s hard.

Easter recognizes that life is hard.  Easter tells us that it’s when we really recognize and name our realities that we’re able to move forward, that we are freed from the limitations of tough circumstances, freed to live with joy anyway.

The disciples were lost on that first Easter morning.  They were afraid, hidden away, worried that the Romans would be coming to get them.  They were most likely planning how to slip unnoticed out the city gates and on the road to their homes in Galilee, cloaked in broken-ness.

Then the women came and said “Jesus is gone”.  Nothing about that announcement made any sense.  

No one has ever explained the “how” of the resurrection story in an entirely satisfactory way.  For what it’s worth, I think that’s ok. Building our faith on trying to understand “how”, misses the point entirely.  Because we don’t believe in resurrection because we know how it took place, because we have answers to all the questions the stories bring up.

We believe in resurrection because we see it happening in the lives of the followers of Jesus and in our own lives.  

This is really important this year as we come out of the COVID season.  It is such a temptation to put our lives back together the way they were, to rehabilitate, even resuscitate the life that’s gone before.  The story of Easter points us in a different direction.  After Easter, Jesus did not go back to what he’d done before.  He checked in with his disciples a few times, and then he disappeared.  The disciples did not go back to what they’d been doing.  They took what they had and built something new…. they didn’t throw everything old away; they used the experiences of the past to make something that fit the needs of their present time.

That’s resurrection.  That’s the resurrection we’re facing this year.

We’re not looking back.  We’re not trying to re-create yesterday.  We’re not trying to rebuild the successes of, say, 1965, with a full church and fantastic church school… all the 1965-era appurtenances of success.  We’re not trying to resuscitate what’s dead and gone.  Leave it to Beaver is not going to happen again. We’re aiming to build in the ways this world, this time, needs.  We’re plotting resurrection here.

In the introduction to Katherine S. White’s masterpiece Onward and Upward in the Garden, her husband, EB White, wrote: 

“Armed with a diagram and a clipboard, Katherine would get into a shabby old brooks raincoat much too long for her, put on a little round wool hat, pull on a pair of overshoes and proceed to the director’s chair – a folding canvas thing – that had been placed for her at the edge of the plot. There she would sit, hour after hour, in the wind and the weather, while Henry Allen produced dozens of brown paper packages of new bulbs and a basketful of old ones, ready for the intricate interment. 

As the years went by and age overtook her, there was something comical yet touching in her bedraggled appearance on this awesome occasion – the small, hunched-over figure, her studied absorption in the implausible notion that there would be yet another spring, oblivious to the ending of her own days, which she knew perfectly well was near at hand, sitting there with her detailed chart under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.”

That’s resurrection as well…. plotting and planning for a world most of us will never see.  And it’s the courage of Jesus, setting his face to Jerusalem, hoping and trusting that the God he loved would help his followers bring resurrection to the world.  

You may remember that when Peter speaks to all the followers on the day we call Pentecost, the first accusation he has to deal with is that folks think he’s drunk, even though it’s only like 10am.  Resurrection’s like that as well, something that can seem so absurd to those around us that they think we’ve taken leave of our senses, as foolish as an old dying woman planning a garden she knew she would not live to see.

We see, in Resurrection, the promise that nothing can separate us from God.  We see a promise that, even in the midst of the worst that life can throw us, there will still be good. We see the promise that even if we perish, life will continue. With these promises, what is the scorn of the world?  

I don’t think Wendell Berry was quite writing about Resurrection in his poem Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, but the words describe what I’m talking about.  Whether he intend it or not, there they are there and so I’m going to close today with a part of the poem, a snippet of Berry’s description of resurrection life:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child

You’re One of THEM. . . one of life’s losers

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on April 10, 2022

Luke 22:54-62

All applicable licensing on file in the First Church office

Arresting Jesus, they marched him off and took him into the house of the Chief Priest. Peter followed, but at a safe distance. In the middle of the courtyard some people had started a fire and were sitting around it, trying to keep warm. One of the serving maids sitting at the fire noticed him, then took a second look and said, “This man was with him!”

He denied it, “Woman, I don’t even know him.”

A short time later, someone else noticed him and said, “You’re one of them.”

But Peter denied it: “Man, I am not.”

About an hour later, someone else spoke up, really adamant: “He’s got to have been with him! He’s got ‘Galilean’ written all over him.”

Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” At that very moment, the last word hardly off his lips, a rooster crowed. Just then, the Master turned and looked at Peter. Peter remembered what the Master had said to him: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” He went out and cried and cried and cried.

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.

Every year, every year, we get to this point and stall out.  Because, you know, the front story is nothing but success… crowds, palms, loud hosannas, the whole thing just says, “we’re winning!”.  You can just picture the disciples sitting around a fire in the evening and counting up what they’ll have next week.  They know it’s coming.  They’re going to be in charge.  They will be the ones who overthrow the compromising religious authorities.  They’ll tell the Romans what for.  Yes, the army may stay, but they’re going to be the one occupied country the occupiers respect.  

Yes, indeed.  The crowds are behind Jesus, and winning is inevitable.  

But, looking ahead, this week is going to be one of unending failure…. one bad day after another, each worse than the one before.  On Sunday, Peter is Jesus’ right hand man, next in charge, about to become really really important.  But by Friday, he’s cringing in the shadows, denying he even knows Jesus, frantic to save his own life.  On Thursday night, he’s willing to kill for Jesus, but on Friday night, he’s not even willing to stand with Jesus.

This week, this Holy Week, is the most important part of the story.  It lays the foundation for the triumph of Easter, because Easter is about winning despite failure.  Without Good Friday, without the betrayal of Judas, or the denial of Peter, the new life of Easter doesn’t make sense.

On Thursday, we know, Jesus will eat the meal we remember as Holy Communion.  We remember it because the story tells us it was his Last Supper.  But even more importantly, we remember it because it was a meal with people he loved, including the man who would betray him before the evening is over.  Jesus loved Judas.

Later in evening, after the arrest, Peter was hanging around the edges of the crowd at the Chief Priest’s house, trying to find out what was happening.  And it was there that he was caught – you sound like a Galilean, the maid said – he responded, not me.  Not just once, but three times, Peter denied he even knew Jesus, much less that he was a leader in Jesus’ movement.  And still Jesus loved him.

Being good isn’t easy.  Peter was all in, right up to when he realized that it might cost him his life, and that hadn’t been on his radar before.  Stuff happens, but we are still loved, still accepted.  

Following Jesus isn’t easy.  We try and fail, and try again, and sometimes fail again.  We work as hard as we can, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference.  It’s discouraging.

And part of the challenge is the illusion that what we do, who we are, isn’t worth much unless we succeed all the time, unless we always have it together, unless we never never fall short of the goal.  If there’s one thing to learn from this COVID epidemic, it is that the idea that we control our world, that everything will be good, and well, and pleasurable is fake, that life is not about unending success, . . . and, yet, in the midst of all this difficulty, we are loved, we are welcomed, we are strengthened to go out and do it again.

Years ago, when I was in seminary, we had a professor who was enormously intelligent, and notoriously impatient with students.  It seemed to me that one of the challenges that teacher had was that they didn’t realize how much smarter than most of the students they were.   Lfe is not all that different:  when all is going well, we don’t realize how well off we are, how much better off than some, or even what extra help our good jobs, ample funds, well-made homes, sturdy health, give us in navigating our world.

And then a pandemic hits, and while what we have is good, it’s ever so much easier to see what we don’t have – no more guaranteed health, no more sure work, no more this, no more that… and, if we pay attention, we develop more sensitivity to the challenges others face.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the greatest rabbis of the twentieth century, once wrote:  “A religious person is a person who holds God and humanity in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”

Peter failed, but he didn’t give up.  He took all his experiences and allowed them to enrich and strengthen his life, his work.  

That is the gift of this week of despair.  Yes, it’s about failure, betrayal and death.  And it’s also about new chances, new opportunities, about growing through all our challenges.  Don’t close your heart to the times when things have not gone the way  you wanted.  Don’t turn away from pain, even death.  Live with all life gives us.

And trust in the truth that no matter who we are, no matter where we are in our lives, no matter our struggles, no matter our successes, we are always loved by God.

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child

The Race is Long, but We Do Not Run It Alone

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on April 3, 2022

All required licensing on file at the First Church office

Philippians 3:4b–14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

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’re gathered here this morning for two purposes – first, of course, we’re here to praise God, to bring our lives before God’s love and unfailing acceptance, to be reminded once again that, even as we fall short of our own goals, much less God’s, we are still loved, still valued, still part of God’s loving community.

And secondly, we’re here to be refreshed and restored, equipped and sent out to live out that love and acceptance in our world.

That sounds easy, and sometimes it is.  And sometimes it’s surpassingly difficult.  In today’s Scripture reading, Paul is talking with us about the difficulties of life.  He, of all people, should have had it easy, he says.  He belongs to the elite.  He comes from the best of families.  He’d taking all the right positions – religiously, politically – in every way.  Think of  him as someone from the best family in Middletown, someone descended from Colonial settlers, someone who drives a great car and has a summer place down on the Sound…. and maybe even someone who went to Wesleyan or Yale.  Every single way that could be made easy for him, has been.

And yet, his life is one challenge after another.  Not one of those important things has turned out to be important.  Who he was born to be, doesn’t matter.  How much money his parents had, doesn’t matter.  What school he went to, what profession he undertook. . . not one bit of it mattered in the long run.

What matters, he says, is following Jesus.  What matters is getting your foundation right, building your world on God, not on who you are.  

Now, I know you’ve heard that before.  But it strikes me that today, it’s helpful to remember that this isn’t a quick kind of thing, it’s not a once and done experience.  We build our lives on Christ – and maybe we started in elementary school, building on a church school education.  And that was good.

Some things never change.  There’s very often someone who’s desperate to know the one right way to do something – maybe the right kind of dish soap, maybe the one right way to hold a vote, or the one right way to offer a prayer.  Or someone who’s struggling with addiction, someone who’s hiding their adultery or deception. . . someone who thinks they have better taste, or better fishing skills, or something, that makes them a better person. . .   In today’s portion, Paul is writing about thinking you’re better than anyone else.  The key for us today is this line:

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.

He’s saying, to those who think they’re so important, that nothing else matters but one thing – following Jesus Christ.  We are not good because we’re naturally good, but good because we attempt to follow the way of Christ.  We’re not important to our community because we’re important, but because we attempt to follow the way of Christ.  

Whether or not we suffer from self-importance, this is true for us as well:  what really matters, what is the true north of our internal compasses, is following Jesus Christ.  

Around the times of the Reformation, when Protestants began to see that there was more to know about being Christian than just memorizing the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, we began to develop question & answer series – called catechisms – to help us learn what we needed to know.  One of the first, and one of the best, is called the Heidelberg Catechism (because that’s where it was written).  It begins with this question and answer:

What is your only hope, in life and in death?

That I am not my own, but belong— body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.

There it is again… what matters to us is Jesus Christ.  It is Christ who leads the way, Christ who shows us how to live.

When our Pilgrim and Puritan ancestors came to this land, they wanted to re-create the church of Jesus Christ in a way which would be more faithful to Christ’s example than what they had known in England.  They weren’t sure what ways would be right, but they were sure that some things were wrong.  

Over the years, we’ve discovered that some of their ideas were no more than reflections of how things were done in their day, but others really did create a way to draw closer to God while creating a more loving community.  And always, we have learned, it is when we look to Christ that we are able to see our actions truly.

It is in looking to Christ that we find our true direction.  Christ is our north star, Christ the one who calls us to check out all the options, to look at those alternative or different paths.  It is Christ who helps us when we get so discouraged that we’ve not yet made all the changes we need to make in our lives, in our world.  

We are not alone.  We are never alone.  Wherever we are, wherever we go, Christ goes with us.  In the depths of the pandemic, when it all threatened to be too much, I’d listen to the anthem We Are Not Alone, sung by the Oasis Chorale, and be reminded that we do not travel this way alone.  Christ is with us.

It is Christ who gives us the courage to let go of what worked yesterday, but doesn’t today.  It is Christ who helps us see new ways, but ways that simply give us new paths to be the same faithful followers.  Jesus doesn’t care what color our carpet is; he cares how we live out our relationships with one another and with our community.  

We are not condemned to live all this out, depending on yesterday’s answers for today’s problem. The journey’s not done, but we are not alone.  

In Clarence Jordan’s “Cotton-Patch” translation of the Philippians letter, Paul says:

Brothers [and sisters], I don’t think I’ve caught on even yet, but with this one thing in mind, forgetting everything that lies behind and concentrating on what lies ahead, I push on with all I’ve got toward the prize of God’s invitation to the high road in Christ Jesus. So then, let all of us who are mature set our minds on this. Even if you should see things somewhat differently, this too will God make clear to you. Let’s just live up to the progress we have already made.

Here’s our future.  The questions aren’t settled, the answers aren’t clear yet.  But the map is right there in front of us – It is nothing more or less than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The journey has begun, and now, as we do each month, let us join together to re-dedicate ourselves to following the Christlike path as we eat and drink the bread and cup of Holy Communion.

Let’s look forward to a faithful, if yet unknown, future in Christ.

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child

Why?  Why Do Bad Things Happen?

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on March 20, 2022

All necessary licensing is on file at the First Church office

Scripture:                                                                                                     Jeremiah 29: 1-9

These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. . . . 

It said: Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.. . . 

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.

Super Saturday yesterday:  Dean Sarah Drummond said “planning in this COVID season has been something like building castles in the sand” …. And much of the time, dry sand, with no stability.

Who here doesn’t know what she means?

As I’ve been thinking about this sermon all week, I’ve been constructing a mental list of all the challenges we’ve faced in the last, oh, five years or so:  

Remember opening the paper, or turning on the radio/tv every morning to find out what new horror had happened in Washington?  

And then, add on a new, creeping, epidemic…. Some weird, unfamiliar disease which seemed to really kill people, lots of people?  Remember those pictures of hospitals with refrigerated trucks outside the doors?

The epidemic got worse and worse: how many of us washed our groceries with Clorox?  Who here stripped to the skin every time they came home, to change into clean clothes before entering the main part of the house?  We lived in fear.

Yay, an election.  O my God, an insurrection!  Yay, a vaccine…. Oops, it needs boosters…. No, not another wave!!!

Missing high school, graduations, teaching in person., starting school and making friends… all gone, and for a lot longer than we had expected.

And now, today, a European war.  I don’t know how much more can go wrong.

We feel close to the edge.  This past week a number of you have shared with me your exhaustion.  And when we look back at all that’s happened, exhaustion makes sense.  It’s been a hard time, and it’s not over yet.

In our conversations, we’ve talked about the things we might do to lower our stress level…. more walks in the woods, maybe get a pet.. take naps.  

I stopped watching tv news about a year ago.  It just began to be all bad, all the time, and when the show was over, I felt worse.  And have you who use Facebook seen how easy it is to find yourself in an argument there?  In these tense times, it’s ever so much easier to get angry than it ought to be.  Read the newspaper instead, read it on line.  Nothing’s going to happen so quickly that we need instant news reports to survive.

Back in the day, I knew two couples in a local church.  As it happened, they were long-time friends of one another, all semi-confined to their homes because of failing health.  Visiting them was a delicate thing – though Frances and Joe were struggling, they were totally upbeat and always a pleasure to be around  But Alice and Larry lived for bad news.  They were so determined to find the bad in everything that it was difficult to be around them.  The day I met their visiting nurse after one of my visits was life-changing.  I discovered they had the exact same effect on her.  After that, it was easier to be with them, easier to cope with their worldview – because now I was not picking their gloom up and giving it houseroom in my heart.

Sometimes these days, it’s as if we’ve moved permanently into that world my friends inhabited.  No matter what good’s out there, we’re so overwhelmed, and rightfully so, with all the bad, that we’re losing the ability to see anything else. We’re exhausted.

I think it’s the shock of moving from a world where we pretty much knew what the future held, where our world was mostly stable. Our problems, when they came, were serious, but generally just about one person, one family, one company at a time.

Today is totally disorienting.

The real power and importance of our Christian faith is in times like these.  Christianity was built for the times when we can’t see the way forward, when we just don’t know what today is, much less what tomorrow will bring.

The reading from Jeremiah that I shared gets right to the core of things.   All the leaders, probably all the literate people, in Jerusalem had been driven into exile in Babylon.  Google tells me that’s about 1600 miles, or 5-6 months, walking all the way.  It’s not a competition, but I think we can agree that their experiences were as bad as ours.

And, it looks like, just as with us, they began to run out of resilience.  They had arrived, but it was as if they were in suspended animation.  What next?  Where would they focus?  On returning to Jerusalem?  Or on living in this new place?

Jeremiah, who had stayed behind, wrote:  settle into to your new place.  Don’t spend your time pining for yesterday, when you had nice tidy homes back here.  Build new lives.  Plant, harvest, marry, have children, encourage your children to marry and have children.  Look for what is good where you are, and trust that God will be with you.

We want to get settled and to know what’s going to happen, and live in happy expectation of better and better.  But God says to us, don’t wait until you know all that – you may never know!  Go ahead, build on what is there now.

We’re filled with worry about what might happen tomorrow…. Jesus said to us, “So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today”   Take a deep breath.  

Step away from the worries about a new COVID variant.  If it shows up here, we know how to deal with it.  We’ll bring out our masks, and go back to all the other cautions.  We know how to handle COVID when it comes.  But while it’s not here, by golly, we’re going to live.

Is the war in the Ukraine going to end soon?  I don’t know.  Will it spread to other countries?  I hope not.  Can I do anything about it?  Yes, I can send relief money and I can pray.  But I can’t stop it in its tracks.  So, let’s do what we can do.  Pray about the Ukraine.  Give of our resources to take care of refugees.  

In the midst of these terrible times, let’s follow Jeremiah.  Don’t let the bad stuff keep us from seeing the good in our midst.  We’re not asked to close our eyes to the evils in our world; we are only asked to keep an eye on the good as well.

Last week, the Civil Rights icon, and UCC minister, Andrew Young, celebrated his 90th birthday by preaching at First Congregational Church in Atlanta, Georgia.  He said:

“What I have seen after these 90 years is time and time and time again we come to the edge of a cliff and an angel comes in our path and rises up and we rise up and find ourselves in a new power, in a new spirit. And that’s where we are now.”

Amen.

© 2022, Virginia H. Child