Adding Positivity in Turmoil

goose and dog

Quotes and inspiration from Shasta Nelson’s “Friendships don’t just happen! The Guide to creating a meaningful circle of girlfriends” Turner Publishing Company. 2013. 

Have you ever tried to make friends when your life was in turmoil? 

It is a challenge to say the least.  


On the first day of orientation to Divinity School, I was eager to make new friends. 

These people would be my future colleagues after all. 

After that first day of orientation I returned to my new apartment on the second floor of a three floor house, each with a separate apartment on each floor.  

The house was surrounded by reporters.  

It was then that I learned that the woman who lived in the apartment above me had gone missing. 

For days no one knew where Annie Le had gone –  

but she had left her cell phone and purse in the science lab where she worked, so something was suspicious.  

On what was to be her wedding day they found her remains:  

she had been brutally murdered.  

Hearing her mother’s cry was the most heart wrenching sound I’ve ever heard.  

Understandably, I was in shock too. 

Div. School orientation was not nearly as much fun. 

Given the shock and trauma of Annie Le’s murder, I couldn’t quite be happy and outgoing. 

New colleagues would ask me to go out for dinner and I was too scared to go out at night. 

New friends would be chatting about where to buy groceries when all I could do was replay the sound of Annie’s mother crying.  

While my colleagues, future ministers, were kind, we weren’t quite close enough yet for me to share the full trauma of the experience.  We were hardly even contact friends, let along committed or community friends.  

Needless to say, making friends was a challenge. 


While friends certainly can help us through times of trouble,  

We don’t seek friends in order to have “more people to take care of, more people whining and complaining in (our lives), and a few more people who have unmet needs that overwhelm (us).” (127) 

As Shasta Nelson says, “we seek out friendship because we want to feel more love, increased happiness, and increased hope.  We crave positivity.” (127)  


We don’t cherish friendships because they bring us stress and headaches, 

We cherish friendships because they bring us joy, hope and positivity.  


How do we add positivity to relationships when we are experiencing hardship? 


Our scripture today comes from the prophet Isaiah, writing in the early Persian period. 

The Jews have been in exile from the Promised Land. 

However, history is about to change and they are about to return from exile and rebuild Jerusalem. 

Isaiah predicts God’s blessings to come and shares how the people are to get there.  


Let’s listen to Isaiah 55 


Isaiah proclaims that joy is on the way.  There will be singing! Nations will flock to Israel with honor! 

People might be thirsty and without water now, but joy is coming. 

At that time food and drink were symbols of wisdom, so  

The author’s command to buy drink and bread is a metaphor for the people to seek wisdom.  

So, Isaiah is calling the people, and us, to seek wisdom and follow God’s ways to joy.  


When we are amid hardship – exile, loss, illness – we can follow God’s ways to joy.  

And if we want to add positivity to our friendships, we ought to follow God’s way.  


Positivity and joy does not necessarily mean rolling over in belly laughs.  


Shasta Nelson defines positivity as, “being as honest as we can about our reality, holding it with gentleness, and engaging in the real process of moving to an authentic place of greater wisdom and healing.” (129)  


Shasta gives 5 tips ways to add this positivity to friendship. 

Now, maybe it’s because she was a pastor for many years, but her 5 ways are all used by Jesus! 


Jesus used Shasta Nelson’s 5 Ways to add positivity to friendships! 

Or more likely,  

Shasta Nelson looked at the way of Jesus and saw 5 means of adding positivity to friendships.  


1 – Affirm  


Give your friend compliments, not just about her pretty scarf or stellar homerun – 

But also about fears overcome, goals reached, peace held.  


Jesus is a pro at affirmation. 

He calls us beloved children of God. 

He forgives all sorts of sinners: 

People who commit adultery, steal money when collecting taxes. 

Jesus called each one into God’s embrace 

Notice – he doesn’t say all behavior is good,  

He overturns the tables of temples and criticizes the Pharisees for being too strict.  

Not all behavior is good,  

But Jesus affirms and encourages people to embrace loving and good behavior and praises them when they do.  


As our bff, Jesus affirms that we are each created in God’s image,  

fearfully and wonderfully made, beloved children of God.  

And so he eats with outcasts, touches those who are untouchable by society, and sees those the world ignores.   

Nurturing a friendship with Jesus involves giving thanks and praise for God’s creation – including ourselves! 


2 – Ask Meaningful Questions –  


Don’t just talk about the weather. 

Ask to hear stories.  

Research has shown that people who spend more time telling and hearing stories or engaging in substantive conversation are happier. (136) 


Jesus was a pro at story-telling. 

He shared one parable after another. 

He got his friends to think. 

“Who do you say that I am?  What do you think?” 


As our bff, Jesus invites us to share our stories in prayer and also to listen to his stories – 

The parables of the Bible as well as his life story of death and resurrection.  

Nurturing a friendship with Jesus involves reading the Bible stories and sharing our stories today.  


3 – Validate Feelings  


“validating feelings creates safety, trust, and acceptance.” (139) 

All positive things! 

“Validating someone’s feelings doesn’t mean we agree with them; it means we’ve heard them, we understand how someone could feel that, and we accept them right where they are.” (140) 


I see Jesus validating feelings when he goes to Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus. 

It is pretty clear from the story that Jesus knows what he is going to do: 

Jesus is going to raise Lazarus up from the dead. 

Even though Jesus knows what is to come, he does not brush away Mary and Martha’s tears. 

He weeps with them. 


Jesus will always know more than us, yet Jesus also understands our feelings. 

He has wept at the loss of a friend. 

He has suffered betrayal and isolation. 

He has experienced joy and love. 


As our bff, we can bring our feelings to Jesus and trust that he understands.  

We can bring our anger, our confusion, our sadness, our joy, our pride. 

Jesus will not diminish or negate the feelings, he holds us right there where we are. 


After Annie Le’s murder I cried a lot. It’s wasn’t thinking and crying, just crying. 

In those weeks of tears, I often felt a warm presence surround me.  

It was gentle.  A Holy presence. 

Not trying to make lemonade out of lemons, just sitting with. 

Jesus just being there, validating the feelings. 

It was a healing balm, bringing comfort in that stark time.


4 – Create Memories  


“Shared memories are glue.” (141) 

Church members smile when they tell me of  

The time Lil Saunders broke a table because she was dancing on it – again. 

The time you all cleaned out, cleaned up, and repainted the entire Woodward house. 

The time your youth group’s car broke down. 

The time Xena hurt her foot at Silver lake and requested a piggy back ride all the way up the hill back to the lodge. 


Memories create a common story – an experience to point back to in joy and say, “yes, we were together through that!” 


Jesus was particularly talented at creating memories. 

He had a bit of an advantage. 

He could whip up some pretty incredible miracles like bring sight to a blind man and the ability to walk to one paralyzed since birth.  


As our bff today, the miracles may not always be so instant and obvious.  

Maybe it’s a relative stranger – a common friend- taking you out for lunch.  

Maybe it’s someone sharing a special song with you. 

Maybe it’s hearing just the right song on the radio or seeing something in nature that reminds you of one who has died.  


We nurture our friendship with Jesus when we acknowledge the miracles and take time to make memories together in worship, on retreat, or in church activities 


5 – Add Laughter  


Jokes.  Inside jokes. Knock-Knock jokes.  

Not gossip. Not put-downs.  

Jokes that connect and unveil truth.  


Jesus was a funny guy.   

His parables were filled with humor, most of which is lost in translation and takes a bit of time and explanation for modern audiences to understand.  


We can nurture laughter in our friendship with Jesus in our prayer life – 

Prayers do not need to be solemn to be holy. 

Notice the funny “coincidences” of life. 

Watch some Christian comedians on youtube 

Allows ourselves to laugh.  


Positivity is vital to our friendships – friendships between people and our friendship with Jesus.  

Affirmation brings positivity. 

Meaningful Questions brings positivity. 

Validating feelings brings positivity. 

Creating memories brings positivity. 

Laughter bring positivity.  


By bringing hope and healing, positivity enriches our lives and deepens our friendships.  


Often friends can bring such positivity – hope and healing to our lives. 

Yet, Jesus is our BFF – no one else;  

Jesus may use friends to comfort us,  

but no friend is God alone.  


The Anthem we just heard said it well – Jesus is my friend: 

“When I am sad to him I go, no other one can cheer me so” 

“Beautiful life with such a friend, beautiful life that has no end; eternal life, eternal joy, Jesus is my friend.“ 


May we sing with joy, for Jesus is our rock, our bff, our anchor in the storm. Amen.  

Dare to Imagine

God can do more than we can imagine! 

Can you stand on one foot? 

Can you hop up the stairs on one foot? 

Can you balance a book and stand on one foot? 

Can you climb in a boat on one foot? 


[Picture of Lee Spencer]

There is a man named Lee Spencer who only has one foot. 

He is a Royal Marine with the English Military. 

He lost a leg in a car accident when he was helping a person stranded on the road. 

He not only climbed into a boat – he rowed the boat all the way across the Atlantic Ocean! 


[Picture of Atlantic Ocean on Map] 

The Atlantic Ocean is big 

The Atlantic Ocean has big waves! [Pictures of waves] 

How did he get across the ocean? 

People helped him out – gave him money for food and cheered him on. 

Here is a picture of the boat he used.  


Do you know why he did this? 

He wanted to show that “no one should be defined by a disability.” 

Sometimes we might look at someone and think they cannot do something,  

But God wants us to look at people with open imagination: 

He could row across the ocean! 

He could be a new friend! 

She might help me with math! 

They might have a cool idea! 

As you meet people, be open to all that God could be doing through them. 


Let’s pray. 

God of all creation, you can do more than we can ever imagine! Open our minds and hearts to all the different people around us.  Amen.  


News Story: 

Open to Friendship

hens over puppiesLast week I talked about the circles of friends: 

Contact Friends are those we are friendly with when we see.   

Ex. The lady you always chat with at coffee hour.  

Common Friends are those we share something in common with.   

Ex. The lady you do church activities with; you go out for lunch after church and talk church.  

Community Friends are those we share not just common interests, but other parts of our lives. 

Ex. The person you met at church, but who you also go to the movies with and talk non-church things  

Committed Friends are those we share most of our lives with and are there through ups and downs.  

Ex. The person who visits us in the hospital, treats us to ice cream when we achieve a goal,  

wipes our tears after a breakup.  

Perhaps you wondered about friends you were once very close to, but no longer see or talk to that often. 

They are people who you might only talk to once or twice a year,  

But when you do, there is a strong bond and connection.  

“They knew you when.” 

These are called “confirmed friends”.  

Each Circle is important and valuable.  

If you are like most Americans, you noticed that there was some lack in some of your circles. 


The fact is our lives are always changing: 

Kids come and grow, jobs change or we movewe get marrieda loved one dies, illness strikes 

And if our lives aren’t changing, then others’ are: 

A friend has kids, a friend loses a job and can no longer get pedicures every month 

the couple you go on a double date with gets divorced 

With all this change it’s no wonder half of our friends change every 7 years. (12) 

With all this change we are often in a place to make new friends. 

As the Girl Scout song goes, “make new friends but keep the old” 

When I got married, I sought out married friends. 

When you retire, you may seek out other friends who are retired and free during the day. 

It’s not that the old are no good, it’s just that other friends are needed too. 

Needing new friends is not a shameful thing, but a regular part of life. 

Thus, this Lent we are focusing on friendship. 


In our scripture today, the Pharisees and Jerusalem reject a friendship with Jesus. 

Finding closed hands, hearts, and minds, Jesus leaves – at least for the time being.  


Scripture ReadingLuke 13:31-35 

Why did the Pharisees reject Jesus?  

The Pharisees had an idea of what the Messiah would look like – 

The person to save them from injustice and suffering was going to look and act the way they thought  

And Jesus, this guy who riled up their overseer Herod without organizing and army, was certainly not it. 

So they pushed Jesus out and were not willing to hear his message. 

We might have an idea of what a good friend looks like,  

Yet, the people who become our closest friends may not be the ones we think. 

After a big break up, before I met my husband CJ, I sat to make a list of what I wanted in a partner. 

Faithful. Kind.  

A good cook who loves to prepare delicious meals, every night.  

okay, I’ll settle for most nights.   

CJ did check some of those boxes, the important ones,  

but there were a lot of boxes he didn’t. 

The home chef being one.  

But I love him anyway. 

If I got hung up on the boxes he did not check, things would not have gone very far. 

Truth be told, by the time we met, I had let go of wanting a partner to fill my exact list.  

I was open to what could be, learning anew with each date what was really important 

Any relationship, including and especially friendships, starts with openness.  

Jesus can send us friends, potential friends,  

But if we are closed off,  

They will only ever stay acquaintances.  

Friendship starts with openness. 

Open to the amazing things God might have in store for us. 

Open to a relationship beyond our imaginations.  


A common unspoken friendship barrier is age. 

People mistakenly think that every friend needs to share their exact experience,  

When in fact listening and learning from each other is far more important to building a meaningful relationship. 

A young person might think an older person is stuck in their ways, can’t possibly understand their current struggles or simply move too slow. Ouch.  

An older person might think a young person is foolish, doesn’t know anything and doesn’t respect authority. Ouch.  

When I was 16 I was visited my bff, Aine. 

She said her friend Fran was coming over for dinner too.  

Fran was in his 70s. He shared great stories, but he also asked us about our lives. 

We shared back and forth. 

Age was not ignored, but enhanced the evening of mutual sharing and respect.  

In reality, age differences mean different experiences, and there is merit in both. 

An older person might have a historical understanding of an issue, in part because they lived through it. 

A younger person might see things in a new and innovative way, unscarred by past failures.  

Learning can go both ways, if we are open to listening seeing the possibilities. 


Sometimes the learning happens in unexpected ways. 

Aileen Casey, our communications specialist, certainly knows more about technology than I do, 

Even though I am younger than her and grew up with the internet.  

Really funny moment when she was teaching me how to use instagram and discovered many of my friends on it! 

On the flip side, I’ve been teaching her about church history, structure and theology: 

“we say x instead of y, because of c” 

Mutual respect has fostered a delightful relationship of growth and learning. 


Sometimes we are surprised to learn that someone we thought was a certain way, is quite different.  

People often prematurely judge me if they learn I’m a minister – 

They assume I believe certain things or act a certain way. 

Sadly, they assume I will judge them and look down upon them.  

So I tend to wait awhile before I “come out” about my ministry.  

In fact, a dancing “friend” warned CJ not to ask me out because I was a minister! 

I’m glad he didn’t listen! 

When we assume we know what a person is like – because of their age or job or any other characteristic, we can miss out on some potentially amazing friendships. 


This does not mean every time we reach and try to get to know someone, we will hit the jackpot of friendship. 

Rachel Bertsche spent a year searching for a new bff by going on 59 friend dates.  

She wrote a book about it “MWF Seeking BFF”.  (Nelson 83, 68-70) 

She said yes to every invite. 

Walk after work? Yes. Lunch Sunday? Yes. Movie Friday? Yes. Roller Skating Saturday? Yes.  

She tried asking her current friends to recommend potential new friends. 

Know anyone I might get along with?  I’m looking to meet new people! 

She started a hobby and joined a class – an improv class, to be exact.  

She became a “regular”: 

same coffee shop every morning,  

Spinning class every Thursday,  

church every Sunday 

Well, she was Jewish, so she went to a young Jewish professionals’ group. 

She tried to volunteer 

She joined a couple online networking sites that set-up groups – a sort of speed dating for friends. 

Of the 59 friend dates, 40% she never saw again and a total of 22 become friends of some degree… 

Resulting in a total of 37% chance of a single friend date growing into an actual friendship.  (Nelson 83, 68-70) 

My conclusion:   

Better not to put all your eggs in one basket. 

Try and try again.  

Be open and initiate often. 

If at first you don’t succeed, try again…or even if you do succeed, try again anyway because life constantly changes.  

Friendships change, they come and go; 

We change and our friendship needs change.  

So, may we be open to the changes and open to the new friendships emerging around us.  Amen.  


While personal stories are from Pastor Kelly Jane Caesar, the quotes and content of this sermon is based on chapters 5 & 6 of “Friendships don’t just happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends!” by Shasta Nelson. Turner Publishing Company. 2013.

Also referenced is “MWF seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend” by Rachel Bertsche. Ballantine Books. 2011.

Friends Matter!

animal friendsQuotes and content inspired by Shasta Nelson’s “Friendships Don’t Just Happen: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends” Turner Publishing Company. 2013

“Almost 50% of Americans have virtually no close friends outside of one relationship, leaving us vulnerable after a divorce, breakup, or death.” (46) 

This statistic echoes what I hear and see in many of my pastoral care interactions inside and outside the church.  

Loneliness is an epidemic hindering our personal and global health.  

So this Lent I felt called to focus on friendship.  

Friends are angels God sends to us to nourish and encourage us. 

In our scriptures today we hear about angels that came to support two very important people in the Bible. 

Scripture:  Matthew 4:1-11 & 1 Kings 19:5-8

You don’t need to be Jesus tempted by the devil in the desert or Elijah fearing for your life  

to appreciate how friends can nourish and encourage us when we need it. 

Jesus and Elijah faced real temptation and trial, yet God sent them angels. 

The angels did not take away pain, but they did offer support along the journey. 

I believe God uses friends to be as angels to us: to support us along life’s journey. 

How friends support us will differ, depending what circle they are in at the moment.  

It’s unfair to expect a contact friend to suddenly drive us to to work every day or to share with them our deepest struggles.  

It’s unfair to expect one committed friend to understand every aspect of our lives (Aine, dance friend). 

Fostering a variety of friendships is necessary for our health.  


Friends matter for our physical, mental and spiritual health. They help us along on our life journeys.  

Hill Study conducted at the “university of Virginia where students were asked to estimate the steepness of a hill as they stood at the base with a weighted backpack.  Those who stood with a few estimated less than those who stood alone.  Additionally, the longer the friends had known each other the less steep the hill appeared.” (45)  

Friends make life’s challenges more manageable. 

Numerous studies show that with friends we recover from surgeries faster, get sick less frequently, exhibit less stress, and are happier.(45) 

Dr. Olds, a psychiatrist, points to friends as a key factor in longevity, right next to exercise. (44) 

Brigham Young University did a longitudinal study that concluded that “low social interaction can be compared to the damage caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being an alcoholic, or not exercising.”  

Interestingly, “many studies reveal that friendship has an even greater effect on health than a spouse or family member.”  

In conclusion, Friendships increase our survival by 50%! (9) 

I think part of those statistics is that like biblical angels, friends bring support and encouragement during life’s challenges.  

Friendships also strengthen our souls for life’s challenges. 

It is through friendships that we develop our capacity to forgive, to love, to find peace, to rejoice, to ask for and receive help, to share and give help,  

Friendships are A place to learn how to trust people with our shame, fear, and anger- as well as our hopes, our gratitude, and our strength (67)…(69– gymnasium for the soul) friendship is a place to love and be loved.  

Throughout Lent we will look at many of the spiritual skills friendships develop in us,  

These spiritual qualities help us navigate the ups and downs of life and  

are important to our personal well-being, as well as the well-being of our world, 

Not to mention they develop us as disciples of Jesus.  


This Lenten focus on friendship is not just for our personal well-being;  

friendship also helps our world move towards the kingdom of God: 

Love on a personal level and one a global level. 

Friends matter for the health of our world. 

Shasta Nelson has a theory that “Friendship can save the world.  

Friendship helps the world become more like the reign/Kingdom of God 

Yes, friendship across difference is key to world peace. 

As Shasta says, if we can’t do relationships with people we love, then what hope do we have of doing so with people who live on the other side of the world? Who have different religious or political view? (69 

This is not just about having a black/gay/Jewish friend or colleague, a contact or common friendHaving a diverse group of contact or common friends is nice, it’s a step passed segregation…but there is a way to go.  In these circle of friends you don’t need to talk about the deeply painful parts of life.  A common gay friend you goto he gym with won’t share the trauma of being kicked out of his family for his sexuality.  

For friendship across difference to go deeper, to a community or committed circle, takes some deeper learning and commitment.  

In college my girlfriend was Jewish.  we talked about religion a lot, but she made it clear that she didn’t want to be responsible for teaching me about Judaism or about antisemitism.  She didn’t want that burden– it was tiring work for her She wanted our time to be on our relationship, not her having to explain everything to me.  She wanted me to go learn for myself.  So I took classes, read books, watched movies.  The more I learned, the better able I was to understand what her life was like, how she saw the world – why certain words or actions struck a cord with her, but didn’t with me.  The more I learned, the easier it was to sit with her when she was struggling after an anti-Semitic action. The more I learned, the more she felt comfortable sharing and the deeper our relationship could go.   

I agree with Shasta Nelson that friendship can save the world, 

But it takes more than simply having contact or common friends who are different than us. 

Just as our personal lives need friends in every circle, 

Our world needs diverse friendships in every circle.  

This week are two learning activities to help develop interracial friendships.  

Today’s Lenten Luncheon will be led by Rev.Chip Hurd, a pastor driving down from the Springfield area, to lead an interactive program about different types of racism.  

Wednesday’s Movie Night is a documentary on the kkk that has a streak of humor.  

Both will give common language and insights into racism in our world today. 

These programs are not about guilt or shame, they are about deepening understanding so friendships can go deeper and really be there for one another, to nourish and encourage…not brush away with platitudes or judgment or blank stares.  

God sends us friends, for our personal journeys and for the betterment of our world.  

May we not be afraid to seek and nurture diverse friendships in every circle. Amen.  

A Prayer for Communing with God


Divine Love enlighten us to your way and show us your path.  

You who formed creation, parted the Red Sea and guided your people to peace. 

You who brings healing, feeds the hungry, and inspires the brokenhearted.  

You who challenges us to give all and serve humbly. 

You who came to us in human form, suffered on the cross, rose again to new life, and promises to come again.  

We seek you.

We do not fully understand or know you. 

Open our hearts to feel your love in our lives. 

Open our minds to comprehend your work in the world. 

Open our hands to serve as you have served the least and the lost. 

Open our feet to travel the road you set before us.  

Open our souls to trust in your eternal power. 

Open us to your presence here and now. 

May the Holy be so alive within us that we are utterly transformed. Amen.  


Adapted from the prayer written by Pastor Kelly Jane for Transfiguration Communion

Embodied Faith: How to Bless

objects to bless

We are going to learn how to give a blessing! 

A blessing is calling or acknowledging God or the holy in a situation or object.  

Steps to giving a blessing: 

  1. Hands in blessing position (on prayer shawls, on sick person, on backpacks or outstretched over object or person, or holding hands) 
  2. Call God (ex. Holy One, Holy Spirit come, God be here…) 
  3. Describe situation (ex. It winter here! This new home signals a new beginning…) 
  4. Ask for what is needed (ex. May this shovel clear the way to work and play.  May this house be a home filled with love and comfort) 
  5. Amen 

Let’s do a blessing!  

Bless a shovel: 

Creator of the world, it’s cold here and snow is on the way. Bless this shovel that it may clear the way for work and play and keep us safe from falls. Amen.  

Bless some toys: 

God who created us,  some times the world is stressful. Bless these toys that they may bring joy and creative rest to our minds and souls. Amen.  

Bless the children: 

Jesus Christ, you came to us as a child and know what it is like.  You blessed the little children and we ask your blessing on these children.  May they experience your love in this place with these disciples that they may grow to be your faithful disciples too. Amen.  

Responding to Critique

grey black elephant on green grass field
Photo by Pixabay on


Today I would like to talk about an aspect of growing that is vital and often difficult: 

How we respond to critique and mistakes.  

Part of growing is failing – making a mistake and learning from it. 

Sometimes it is a big mistake, sometimes small.  

In our scripture this morning the disciples had a very unsuccessful night at work – 

They failed to catch any fish. 

Let’s listen to what Jesus does. 


Scripture: Luke 5:1-11 

Peter had not successfully caught fish AND  

Peter did not really believe Jesus would do any good if he threw the nets into the water, 

But Jesus called him to be a key disciple anyway.  

Jesus has a habit of forgiving imperfections and using people anyway.  

The people forgot to bring food to listen to his day-long sermon – he forgave them and fed all 5,000 of them.  

The disciples had little faith in midst of the storm – he forgave them and calmed the waves anyway. 

Jesus brought healing to people who stole goods, like ancient tax collectors  

Jesus forgave and brought healing to people who sold goods they shouldn’t, like Mary Magdalene. 

All the imperfect people he helped and healed grew and became better people because of him. 


Just like the ancient disciples, we will make mistakes and need forgiveness. 

How we respond to our mistakes is key to reaping the benefits from the experience. 

None of us are fishermen, so let’s do a modern day role play.   

This role play is a made up scenario, but you can imagine a more serious example.   

In fact, the responses I will enact are based on true experiences I had just a couple weeks ago, when I attempted to address sexist remarks made in two different settings. 

Brenda, would you come forward? 

Younger ones, if you want a closer look, come on forward. 

As you watch, think about how the action makes you feel. 

Setting the scene: Brenda and I were at a meeting and I said something hurtful. Brenda wants to help me grow, so she is going to try to bring it to my attention.  

Scenario One:  

Brenda, “Pastor, in the meeting you said, ‘elephants are stupid’ and that hurt my feelings.” 

Pastor: [cut off Brenda] “it was just a joke! Don’t be offended!” Slink away.  

Brenda tries to follow up, but pastor ignores and dismisses and walks away.   


Debrief: what did you feel? Notice?  

ignored, frustrated, angry, more hurt, sad;

Body language and tension between us.


Scenario Two:  

Brenda: “Pastor, at the meeting, you said, ‘elephants are stupid’ and that hurt my feelings.” 

Pastor: “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. Can you tell me more?” 

Brenda: “well, I’m good friends with a number of elephants and they aren’t stupid.  They so often are called dumbo and it might seem like a joke, but it breaks down their self esteem.  One little elephant refuses to even try at flying because he is so used to people saying elephants are stupid.”  

Pastor: gosh, I didn’t realize the impact these words have on elephants.  I will certainly be more aware of what I say.  

Brenda: thank you.  You know, elephants are herd animals.  They take care of one another and when one suffers, they all suffer.  They care for one another, like our faith family cares for one another.

Pastor: Wow, I didn’t know that about elephants.  Are there resources you recommend I read to learn more about elephants? 

Brenda: Yes, I would be happy to share with you.  In fact, the next time I hang out with my elephant friends, would you like to come along so you can get to know some elephants yourself?

Pastor: Yes!  That would be great. Thank you for sharing with me and once again I’m really sorry.  


Debrief: what did you feel? Notice?  

Calm, sit down, eye contact, listened, apologized, made effort to learn more;

Respectful of each other, courage of Brenda to share, growing in our relationship with each other.


How we respond to criticism not only helps us grow, but it also impacts our relationships with others.  

Peter could have refused to listen to Jesus, not tried again, and kept his nets in the boat. 

But then Peter would have missed out on growing in relationship with Jesus.  

The Girl Scout Law starts with, “I will do my best” and I really like that line – 

We are not perfect, but we can do our best.  

As we go through life, may we do our best to follow God and love one another.  

When we make mistakes, may we sit down and listen, consider it carefully, apologize sincerely, and seek to reap the benefits from the growth experience.  Amen.  

Sharing Your Gifts in Love

Gifts shared in loving communion

We are all a part of some team, some larger body – 

Whether you are part of a church or a family or a friend group or a workplace or a partnership, 

You are on a team that must work together. 

Being a part of a team brings common challenges: 

Jealousy, misunderstandings, conflict of ideas or personalities. 

Our scripture this morning is a letter Paul wrote to the early church in Corinth.   

The Corinthians were trying to figure out how to be holy people in the ancient world 

And were a community with a fair amount of conflict.  

The Corinthians thought the gift of speaking in tongues was particularly awesome. 

If you could speak in tongues, the rest of the church would beam in pride, greet you enthusiastically at the door, and listen to what you had to say.  

The Corinthians so valued the gift of speaking in tongues, that they were starting to devalue other gifts.  

Perhaps there has been a time when you felt your gifts were not fully valued,  

So let us listen to what he has to say. 

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 

If Jerry would say, “because I am not a dancer, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make him any less a part of the body. 

And if I were to say, “because I am not a singer, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make me any less a part of the body. 

And if Louise were to say, “because I am not a preacher, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make her any less a part of the body. 

And if you say, “I am sick and cannot do what I want to do,” that does not make you any less a part of the body. 

And if you say, “I don’t read the Bible every day or exercise every day,” that does not make you any less a part of the body.  

And if you say, “I can’t read very well at all,” that does not make you any less a part of the body. 

And if you say, “I don’t know the social cues yet and I stand when I should sit,” that does not make you any less a part of the body. 

And if you say, “I don’t agree with so-and-so on politics or doctrine or how to raise children,” that does not make you any less a part of the body. 

You are a part of the body.  


18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 

You are a part of the body.  

Each member carefully chosen. 

Each member with a gift to share.  


21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. 

Paul uses a popular Greco-Roman metaphor: the body.   

In the Greco-Roman world, society as a whole was seen as the body, with the elites at the head, ruling the rest of the body.   

Paul twists this metaphor to a distinctly Christian understanding:  

Christ is the head and the body is governed by mutuality, not hierarchy.  

Mutuality, not hierarchy, in church, in relationships, in community.  

Each has an important and vital role – each is to be valued.  

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 

Each has a gift and a role, a special place. 

In church, today the usher will welcome and collect prayers,  

deaconesses will divide flowers for delivery to homebound members,  

deacons will serve Communion.  

At home, one family member cleans, another does finances.  

In my home CJ does the technology and it doesn’t work well when I try. 

To belong to the body of Christ is to respect and honor the gifts and roles of others. 

Attempts to “do it all” serves our egos, but it does not serve God.  

By doing it all or doing the role of another,  

we diminish their God-given place and neglect our own. 

After naming many types of gifts and specific roles, Paul continues: 

31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way. 

What are the “greater gifts”? Paul answers in the very next line, with our second scripture. 

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing….13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (CINDY can be seated) 

The “greater gifts” is, in fact, the gift of love.   

Love is the gift that infuses and informs all the others. 

All spiritual gifts spread love AND are given in love. 

We each have unique and special gifts (hold up heart),  

but how we share the gift is as important if not more so than the gifts itself. 

If you have the gift of insight,  

but share your insights with condescending yelling,  

your gift will fall on broken hearts. 

If you have the gift of foresight and planning,  

but share your schedule with accusations and belittling,  

your gift will be ignored. 

How we share our gifts is just as important as the gifts themselves. 

So our gifts are written on hearts because spiritual gifts not only spread love. 

Spiritual gifts are also given in love. 

Communion is a means to share our gifts in love. 

Ozlem Cekic was the first Muslim, immigrant woman to serve in the legislature in Denmark. 

She had a gift for leadership and insights about the country. 

Sadly she received hate mail admonishing her to step down: we don’t need you! They cried.  

Like many, her instinct was to hide  

– but with a push from a friend, she chose a “communion” of sorts 

She reached out and met with those who wrote the hate mail.  

She was practicing “everyday communion” – 

Not the Christian sacrament, but the spiritual practice underlining Communion.  

As we sit beside one another at the Communion table, 

Ozlem sat beside those who wrote her hate mail. 

This act of mutuality is key to sharing our gifts in loving communion.  

My gift will not take up all the space or overpower others. 

When I share my insight, I share it and then allow space for others to share theirs. 

Our gifts will sit beside each other: 

In worship those with the gift of song sing for a time, those with a gift for preaching speak for a time, those with a gift for dance dance for a time …no one gift dominates the entire service.  

When we share our gifts in loving Communion, we sit beside one another sharing the space.   

Olzem not only sat beside those who sent her hate mail, 

She trusted them enough to meet in their own home. 

Talk about trust and courage! 

Trust is key to sharing our gifts in loving communion.  

Just as we trust in God’s presence when we come to the communion table, 

To share our gifts in loving communion,  

we need to trust that the holy is present in the other. 

And we need to trust the holy is present within us.  


Communion is a means to share our gifts in love.  

We share our gifts in love in mutuality, side by side; 

We share our gifts in love by trusting God is present within us and others,  

We share our gifts in love by honoring the unique place each one has.  

So let us share our gifts at the Communion Table. 

You are invited to bring forward your heart and put it on the Communion table  

As a symbol of your willingness to share your gifts in loving communion.  

Sharing our spiritual gifts in love is a great offering to God. 

Let us have the courage and faith to share!

Sharing our spiritual gifts in love is a great offering to God. 

Let us have the courage and faith to share!

Gifts shared in loving communion

Listen to the story about Olzem Cekin here.

Sermon: Miracles Take Work

Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar on January 27, 2019

Photo from CARES mentoring program

In 2006, Hurrican Katrina hit the southeastern part of the United States. 

Some of you went on service trips to help rebuild homes.  

Many of you know of the homes destroyed and inequality revealed. 

A miracle was needed.  

Not just for new homes, but for lasting guidance and support. 

Susan Taylor witnessed the needs of young people of color in vulnerable neighborhoods: 

Children wrestling not only with the aftermath of the hurricane,  

but also with the trauma of poverty and the legacy of racism.  

“The traumatic stress children in poverty live with fuels mental illness and physical disease, including anxiety, depression, hypertension, substance abuse, obesity, and violence.” 

She also knew what countless scholars have discovered: 

Direct mentorship from relatable and responsible adults can propel a young person out of poverty by inspiring hope and building resiliency.

Susan sought mentors to support these young people. 

Black women and men cared deeply but lacked the structure to bring them into the mentoring work.  

So Susan Taylor spoke around the nation and wrote reports for Essence magazine. 

Community leaders and clergy responded, first in Atlanta and now in over 50 cities across the nation. 

A structure to recruit, train, and deploy committed Black adults to mentor local children was born. 

CARES has garnered national attention from President Obama, Rev. Barber, and countless others. 

Today CARES is building a group-mentoring program for use in under-resourced schools in high-need communities.  

A miracle was needed, and through hard work CARES has provided 140,000 mentors to over 200,00 children in 58 cities.  

The holy worked a miracle with the hard work of Susan and mentors across the nation.  

To learn more about CARES, visit their website: CARES

In our scripture this morning we hear of a miracle that took some hard work. 

Scripture: John 2:1-11 

I often focus on Jesus or Mary in this scripture, but Rev. Joanna Harader in the Christian Century magazine, drew my attention to the servants who fulfill Jesus’s call to “fill 6 stone jars.”  (Read it here)

At 20-30 gallons a piece, that was A LOT of water.  This was in a time without faucets or hoses, so to fill all 6 jars to the brim was no easy task.  It would have been enough water to purify 200,000 thousand people at the temple.  Now, I’ve heard of big weddings, but 200,000 is extreme. (The Knot reports 20,000 being the largest wedding guest list). 

In any case, this simple and sweet miracle to save the hosts from the shame of running out of drinks at a wedding, took quite a bit of work from the servants filling those jars.  Maybe they thought it was ridiculous or did so begrudgingly.  Or maybe they did so with great hope that the party would continue on in celebration and honor of the family.  In any case, with their hard work, Jesus worked a miracle.  

Miracles take hard work, even miracles conducted by God.  

The miracle of healing happens with the hard work of doing the PT exercises and taking the medicine.  

The miracle of maintaining a healthy body weight happens with the hard work of eating well and exercising. 

The miracle of nourishing and supportive relationships happens with the hard work of consistently reaching out and showing up.  

While there is no guarantee that doing the hard work will bring a miracle, we know that without the hard work, the miracle probably won’t happen.  

Miracles so often take hard work done in faith.  

The miracle of the Red Sea parting took the hard work of Moses holding his staff up (Exodus 14) 

The miracle of the crippled man healed took the hard work of his buddies lowering him down through the roof to meet Jesus (Luke 5) 

The miracle of the resurrection took the hard work of surrendering on the cross and resting in the tomb. 

Miracles take hard work done in faith.  

What drives us to do the hard work? 

I think the servants in our scripture today did the hard work of filling the jars with water in hopeful faith. 

After all, it was not their boss who commanded the filling – their boss, the steward, thought the wine came from the bridegroom.  The servants filled the jars, not in response to their boss, but in response to the call of Jesus.  Perhaps it was something in his very presence.  Maybe it was Mary’s confidence in her son’s power.  Maybe the servants simply wanted to see what was possible.  Maybe they would receive punishment if the wine was indeed out – perhaps the owner of the house would come back to blame the servants for serving the wine too quickly.  In which case, the miracle of turning water to wine, not only saved the reputation of the bridegroom, it also saved the servants from the reprimands of their boss.   Jesus has a way of working miracles for poor and wealthy at the same time.   

Whatever motivated the servants, they believed enough to carry out the hard work of filling the jars and Jesus worked a miracle for everyone involved.  

We do the hard work in faith that God is indeed weaving a miracle.  

Our world needs many miracles still today.  

We often pray for miracles, but 

Prayers are but empty words if we neglect to invest our bodies.  

Miracles take some heavy lifting.  

Miracles take the hard work of researching and learning about an issue. 

Miracles take the hard work of showing up. 

Miracles take the hard work of budgeting and planning our finances. 

Miracles take the hard work of hands sorting food or setting up chairs or typing letters. 

Miracles take hard work done in faith that God is weaving a miracle.  

May we have enough faith to do the hard work Jesus calls us to. Amen. 

“Anxious to Talk About It” Book Group

Read and discuss the #1 Bestselling book published by Chalice Press in 2018: “Anxious to Talk about it: Helping White Christians talk faithfully about racism”. This group will meet weekly through Sunday, February 17th.

This book study will feature interactive sessions designed to deepen our understanding of racial identity development (for white people and people of color) and build concrete skills to talk wisely and well about racism in our world today.

No need to read the book in advance, the Book Group will read a few chapters at a time to facilitate discussion. You can order your book on Amazon (see link below), if you need help securing a book please let us know.

Purchase Book

To sign up please visit this link on Facebook:

Through MeetUp:

“Anxious to Talk About it” Book Group

Sunday, Jan 20, 2019, 12:00 PM

First Congregational Church of East Hartford
837 Main St East Hartford, CT

1 Members Attending

Read and discuss the #1 Bestselling book published by Chalice Press in 2018: “Anxious to Talk about it: Helping White Christians talk faithfully about racism”. This group will meet weekly through Sunday February 17th. This book study will feature interactive sessions designed to deepen our understanding of racial identity development (for white pe…

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