Vulnerability in Friendship

When I ask people their favorite part of worship, 50% of the time they say it’s the music.

The other 50% say the sermon.

Some will say the prayers of the people.

No one ever says confession.

Today I propose the beauty and power of this ancient practice.

Prayer

It’s been a joy working with our new members – they are thoughtful people! During our new members class,

we spent a good amount of time discussing one line of the UCC Statement of Faith:

“You (God) seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.”

We talked about how hard it is to admit that we might need “saving”.

In our “pull yourself up from your bootstraps” culture,

To acknowledge we need help can be taboo.

Yet, one person noted that our world is filled with aimlessness and sin.

Our world does need help, but more than just help – saving.

Saving implies that the one in need is really in need.

If you help someone out of the pool, you offer a hand to balance on as they climb out.

If you save someone from a pool, you jump in and pull them out.

To admit that we need saving means we admit that we are utterly unable to do it on our own.

When people are recovering from surgery or amid illness,

One of the greatest spiritual challenges is giving up one’s independence

And relying on others.

Many of us struggle to lean on anyone other than ourselves.

To be vulnerable in any way is scary.

So we insist on taking care of ourselves, even when we need help.

We refuse to reach out, even though we are faltering.

We hold tight to secrets or shame, fearful of what will happen if we are really honest.

We do not particularly like to acknowledge our faults or share our vulnerabilities.

Yet, our tradition and ancestors in faith have insisted on the practice of confession and vulnerability for centuries. Today’s scripture is one of seven core penitential psalms, often read during the season of Lent. The psalmist shares how avoiding confession harms body, mind and spirit. The author then points to the benefits of practicing honest confession.

The Message version uses modern language to allow the meaning of the psalm to shine through.

Psalm 32

The psalmist explains what it was like to hold in a secret, to refuse confession, to hide one’s self:

“When I kept it all inside,

my bones turned to powder,

my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up;

all the juices of my life dried up.” In the NRSV:

“While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

To keep silence, to hold back, to refuse to be vulnerable and share honestly – It takes a toll on our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.

Shame keeps people trapped.

On Tuesday evening the EHPD hosted a Sex Trafficking Seminar

It was a heart wrenching seminar about the many ways predators manipulate, coerce, or force people, often teenage girls, to have sex for money.

67% of girls in “the life” live at home with their parents.

Human trafficking happens everywhere, across economic, social and racial lines.

A major factor keeping people in “the life” is shame.

Their trafficker blackmails the victim with shame.

When the victim begins to realize what they are doing and realize they don’t want to be doing it, shame keeps them from telling their parents, or law enforcement.

EHPD arrested a girl 8 times for prostitution. Each time she lied about her age and name. She was too ashamed to tell anyone what was really happening and who she really was.

Shame is the fear of disconnection. If I tell someone, they won’t believe me or will think poorly of me or will distance themselves from me.

Shame traps people in an invisible cage of isolation.

Holding secrets can tear us apart.

In the case of human trafficking, the physical, emotional and mental trauma leaves lasting scars.

Scientific studies back up the ancient words of the psalmist:

Secrets, hiding ourselves, shame take a physical toll on our bodies.

More specifically, if there is a secret we are constantly thinking about,

The efforts of concealing it release stress hormones into our bodies,

Keeping a secret breeds anxiety, fear, and depression.

Read more here: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/05/shhhhh/526581/

Here is the thing: We each have a shadow side.

If you don’t think you have a shadow side, consider people or situations you think poorly of.

Not always, but often, our shadow side can be found when we are busy judging others:

(Ex. Nagging CJ to do a tax thing until I realized I hadn’t done my part.)

When you find yourself overly critical of another,

take a good look at yourself in that regard and you may find something worth confessing.

We each have a shadow side.

To ignore it or silence it simply denies God’s grace.

God desires to love us.

Grace is God forgiving us and loving us, shadows included.

When we are too afraid to be honest, to share our vulnerabilities, we are rejecting God’s grace.

As one theologian said, “Silence is the rejection of grace.” James Mays (Psalms 147)

Quite simply, we cannot feel God’s forgiveness if we refuse to name our faults.

And so the psalmist proclaims: (Message Version)

“Then I let it all out;

I said, “I’ll make a clean breast of my failures to God.”

Suddenly the pressure was gone—

my guilt dissolved, my sin disappeared.

These things add up.

Every one of us needs to pray; when all hell breaks loose and the dam bursts we’ll be on high ground, untouched.

God’s my island hideaway,

keeps danger far from the shore, throws garlands of hosannas around my neck.

[for NRSV v1-2]

“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

When we find the courage to be honest, to share vulnerabilities,

Pressure is gone. We are happy. There is freedom and joy.

Shasta Nelson in her book on friendship names the importance of sharing vulnerabilities with friends.

Friendships grow deeper with vulnerability.

We crave being known and loved – we want committed friends.

We don’t just want contact friends – as nice as they are.

In order to be known and loved, we must take the risk to be known.

This does not mean you should go up to a stranger and tell them your deepest darkest secrets. Not every friend needs to know everything about you.

We have different circles of friends for different reasons and they are all important.

Often what brings a friendship from a contact or common friend into a community or committed friend, Is the extent to which we are vulnerable with one another.

Vulnerability is required at each step:

We must be vulnerable enough to initiate a conversation. This begins a contact friendship.

We must be vulnerable enough to ask a potential friend on a friend-date. This begins a common friendship.

We must be vulnerable enough to share a challenge. This can deepen a community friendship.

We must be vulnerable enough to share our doubts and fears. This strengthens a committed friendship.

Vulnerability is a gradual thing that grows with trust.

Shasta Nelson gives some helpful tips on how to be vulnerable in a way that nurtures friendship.

When sharing vulnerabilities with friends, mutually is key.

If one person is sharing intimate details while the other is chatting about the weather – The imbalance is going to bred resentment.

If only one party is sharing, then it isn’t a friendship.

We can be vulnerable with doctors or therapists, but those are not mutual friendships.

If only one person is doing all the talking, then it’s probably not an honest friendship.

Friends “share the spotlight” – both people share what is happening,

Which means one might share the pain of a break-up,

But the other has time to share about their new cat as well.

Friendship is a mutual two-way street.

When sharing vulnerabilities with friends,

Shasta reminds us that gratitude and positivity are key.

If every time we call a friend we grip, complain, and confess all our shadow parts,

On a practical level, the friend is going to eventually get exhausted. On a spiritual level, we miss out on the goodness God created us with. We do have shadow parts, but we also have bright parts.

God formed us and called us good. Beloved.

So when sharing vulnerabilities, it is not about putting ourselves down,

It’s about being honest about our shadow and our light.

When we are honest about our whole selves, we give others the opportunity to love our whole selves.

If we only or mostly share our shadows and our struggles, we ignore God’s goodness.

If we only share the bright spots, we will never know if we can be loved in our shadow.

We have got to be honest to be honestly loved.

So may we share the positive and the shadow, gradually, as the relationship grows.

In doing so may our relationships become deeper and we experience grace beyond measure.

May we trust that we are enough;

God made us and formed us and called us good.

May we be faithful enough to be honest about who we are, That we might be honestly loved. Amen

Circles of Friends

Children’s Message

Based on Shasta Nelson’s book, “Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends” Turner Publishing Company. 2013.

God gives us different friends for different reasons The first circle of friends is… 

 

Big Hulu Hoop: contact friends 

It’s a big circle because it includes most of the people you come in semi-regular contact with. 

Contact friends are people we come in contact with at certain places, like church or school or work or tai chi. 

Everyone here in worship is a contact friend.  

God gives us contact friends to help us feel like we belong somewhere:  

You come to church, see some contact friends you recognize and don’t feel like an outsider the way walking into a room of strangers feels. 

God also gives us contact friends to help connect us to resources. 

During coffee hour an adult at church might recommend a good book or restaurant 

Or you might teach one of the other kids a fun game.  

Contact friends are great!  

 

Medium large Hulu hoop: common friends  

Common friends are friends you have something in common with and you bond over that shared activity. 

They are different from contact friends because you  see common friends more often or share more 

but you only really talk about your shared activity. 

God gives us common friends to support us in specific activities or life stages.  

If one of you tai chi friends comes over after class to practice tai chi,  

that’s a common friend supporting you in learning tai chi. 

If you and a church friend get together to make crafts for the fair, 

Or weed the community garden, 

Or read the Bible and pray, 

That’s a common friend helping you practice your faith. 

Common friends are great! 

 

Medium small Hulu hoop: community friends  

Community friends are friends you share more than a common interest with. 

You see them frequently outside of your shared activity and do or talk about things unrelated to your initial shared activity. 

If your tai chi friend comes over and you not only practice tai chi, but you also do homework and play games, 

That’s a community friend to have fun with 

A community friend will still be there if you stop doing tai chi. 

If you and a church friend go on a hike every week or phone chat every few days, 

That’s a community friend who will visit you in the hospital or call if you aren’t at church. 

God gives us community friends to enjoy life with, to encourage us and make us feel special. 

Community friends are great!  

 

Small Hulu hoop: committed friends  

Committed friends are your best friends- the friends you share youdeep joys and you deep sadness with. 

You see them often and talk deeply. 

Committed friends are there “no matter what” 

Not everyone is in this circle. 

You can really only have 3-5 at a time. 

God gives us committed friends to practice loving and being loved. 

They help us to grow to be the best we can be by challenging us, reminding us of our goodness, and showing up at the last minute to help with a project. 

Committed friends are great!  

 

God gives us different friends for different reasons and that’s great!  

 

Prayer: God thank you for friends. Help us to cherish our friends, whatever circle they are in. Amen. 

Preparing for World Upheaval

YouTube Video  of the anthem:  Blest Are They ( Matthew 5:3-16: “The Beatitudes” )   by   David Haas 

That anthem is one of my favorites.  

The composer, David Haas, has a way of melding words and notes to lift the spirit. 

The beatitudes, the scripture we just heard sung, are often considered “feel good” scripture. 

They make us want to rejoice and be glad, for we feel blessed and loved. 

The composer bases this anthem on the version found in the gospel of Matthew. 

Matthew has a softer, more spiritual take on these famous words of Jesus.  

However, the lectionary draws us to the beatitudes in the gospel of Luke. 

Luke gives us a more uncomfortable, but probably truer version. 

It is tempting to tune out when we hear something hard.

I encourage you to pay attention to this 10 minute sermon and not write out your grocery list. 🙂

Listen closely to the words of Jesus found in the gospel of Luke. 

 

Scripture: Luke 6:17-26 

 

A couple big differences.  

Luke only has four beatitudes: 

Poor, hungry, weep, hated 

Notice it is not “poor in spirit” as it is in the gospel of Matthew. 

Luke does not spiritualize the words of Jesus. 

Blessed are the poor. 

Luke is literal here. 

Blessed are those who are physically hungry. 

Blessed are those who weep when the bills come in. 

Blessed are those who are excluded or looked down upon in disgust. 

Blessed are the poor. 

Jesus is not glorifying poverty here. 

It is not that the poor are uniquely holy. 

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.” 

Jesus is offering a prophecy of what is to come. 

He is describing the world as it will be when “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” 

When God’s Kingdom is fully realized on earth, 

There will be no more poverty. 

Those who were poor will no longer weep and no longer starve. 

 

At the same time, those who are rich will have a difficult time. 

So Jesus says, “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. 

Woe to you who laugh, for you will mourn.” 

Tough words. 

 

When the Kingdom of Heaven is realized on Earth, will it simply be a role reversal? 

Will those with wealth now be poor and the poor now rich? 

Perhaps. 

Perhaps God’s anger at the injustices in our world will result in punishment for those who wield power and wealth today. 

God has been angry at the injustice in our world for a long time. 

Most, if not all, of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, 

decry the neglect of the poor and call for justice for all God’s people: all should have enough to eat. 

Jesus throws out the money changers in the temple for the way they rip off the poor. 

Jesus would be enraged by the scams to strip people of their livelihoods and infuriated by the living conditions many of our fellow human beings’ face. 

My parents are in Namibia, Africa right now to visit a client, and describe a poverty beyond imagination: 

Houses concocted out of tin siding. 

My dad, a technology guy, was shocked that the capital loss all WiFi the day they arrived. 

Little sanitation facilities, so people go on the side of the road.) 

Our world is not only far from equal, it is far from humane. 

A role reversal would not be entirely unfair. 

However, our God is also one of grace and forgiveness- 

even forgiving those who sentenced Jesus to death on a cross. 

Jesus called the tax collectors and spoke to the rich. 

So I don’t believe the rich will be punished simply for being rich. 

 But when the Kingdom of Heaven is realized on earth, the rich will have some serious adjusting to do. 

The rich will no longer be given special treatment. 

The rich will no longer be able to buy people’s affections or courteous service. 

The rich will not be able to use money to hide their mistakes. 

To lose such privilege and power will certainly cause some grief, some weeping, some hungering for what was. 

 

The beatitudes offer hope to the poor that this too shall pass. 

 When the Kingdom of Heaven is fully realized, poverty will pass away and those who were poor will rejoice. 

The woes warn the rich that this too shall pass. 

 When the Kingdom of Heaven is fully realized, special status will pass away and those who were rich will weep. 

This too shall pass. 

 

Jesus may have been referring to the end of times, but his words ring true today. 

We can work to reform our society and lessen the impact of poverty.

Indeed, Connecticut worked hard to house nearly every chronically homeless person.

(read about it here)

On the flip side,

The housing crash startled many Americans out of safety and into unemployment homelessness. 

When I was a teenager my church took me to Boston for a program on homelessness. 

In future years I would work with multiple homeless ministries, 

But I still remember the first story I heard. 

The man looked like my dad, but with a sturdy pair of boots and a beard. 

He had been living on the streets for a number of years, 

But it hadn’t always been that way. 

At one point he had a nice house, a car, a salary job with benefits. 

Then one misfortune after another and before he knew it, 

He was on the streets of Boston. 

He finished his speech with the warning: 

Anyone can become homeless. We are all just steps away. 

 

This too shall pass. 

The wealthy can be brought down by addiction or illness or natural disaster. 

The poor can be lifted up through luck or lottery or the hard work of reforming society.  

This too shall pass. 

Sorrow passes and moments of joy come. 

Joyous moments simmer down to everyday life. 

This too shall pass. 

Depending on where you sit, that may bring joy or it may bring sorrow. 

How then can we prepare ourselves for the unexpected upheavals and changes of life? 

How can we prepare ourselves for the coming Kingdom of God? 

 

Great structural changes need to be had to reform our society: 

Healthcare reform, a living wage, and treating mental illness and addiction, would all help bring justice for all, drawing us closer to the Kingdom of God on earth. 

But any big structural change is rooted in the spiritual practice of sharing our resources with one another. 

Whether you believe the government should provide support or private non-profits should do so voluntarily, 

both require those with more sharing their gifts. 

It is not unlike the gift-sharing we started this month with. 

At the beginning of the month we each wrote a gift we had and offered it in love on the Communion table.  Louise and Nancy took the hearts and made one big heart.

heart of hearts

On the front of your bulletin is a picture of our individual hearts come together into a big heart, 

Each heart has someone’s gift, offered in love. 

When all the gifts are shared we have a powerful force of love in our world. 

A force powerful enough to truly bless the poor, the hungry, the broken-hearted. 

A force powerful enough to realize the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. 

When we share our gifts, not only do we help build up the Kingdom of God, 

 We also prepare ourselves spiritually to live in that kingdom. 

If you are rich, sharing what you have prepares you to live in a world of mutuality- 

If you are poor, sharing what you have prepares you to live in a world of mutuality- 

A world where you are respected and valued for who you are. 

What we offer or share will be different- some have finances, some time, some skills, some insights- 

But it is our gifts together that bring blessings to our world. 

 

Whatever gifts we have been blessed with,  

May we have the faith and strength to offer what we have to build God’s kingdom. 

May we have enough hope and faith to trust that our gifts can make a difference in building up God’s kingdom. 

May we have the courage and the heart to follow the call of Jesus. Amen.

Galentine’s Day Friendship Tea

Enjoy a special tea in celebration of friendship!

Inspired by “Leslie” from the hit show “Parks and Rec.”, this tea is a joyful way to honor friends of any gender.  In addition to sweet treats and delicious tea, Rev. Kelly Jane will lead a short game about spiritual friendship.

Watch out – a special guest will share a special friendship!

When: Wednesday, February 13th at 2:00pm

Where: First Congregational Church, 837 Main Street, East Hartford

RSVP by calling the church office at:    (860) 528-3133

 

 

Embodied Faith: Power Poses

This embodied faith practice was originally shared as a Children’s Sermon on January 13, 2019 by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar

Is power good or bad?  

It depends. 

Let’s look at water.  Water is a powerful force of nature.  Water is also associated with the Holy Spirit.  (probably because when Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan the Holy Spirit descended upon him.) 

Water is powerful. 

What is this a picture of?

Image result for flooding house

When water is powerful in floods and hurricanes, what does it do? 

[destroys, harms] 

Water can be powerful in another way.  

Image result for animals drinking from river

When water is powerful in these pictures, what does it do? 

[provides nourishment, growth, life] 

Water can be powerful in a good way or in a bad way. 

Power can be used for good or for harm.  

In our scripture this morning we hear about two people trying to use power in very different ways. 

Simon wants power to do magic tricks and manipulate people.  

Peter uses power to draw people to God and community.  

Let us listen. 

Scripture: Acts 8:14-24 

Peter had the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Simon wanted to pay money for it, but Peter says “nope! You can’t buy the Holy Spirit’s power!” 

You see, Simon wanted power for himself.  

[stand in power pose, fists up]

He wanted power over people.  

Earlier in the Bible (Acts 8:9-14), we learn that Simon was a trickster,  

a magician who used power to gather a following. 

When Peter comes with the Holy Spirit,  

all the people stopped following Simon and started following Peter. 

When Simon seeks to pay for the Holy Spirit power, 

Simon wants the power so he can control the people again. 

Simon wants the power for his own personal gain, 

So he will be popular and in control.  

Simon wants power over. 

Power over is not very strong though. 

  • We get tired easily in this pose 
  • Easy to push over, because it’s just me by myself. [push an adult over] 

The apostle Peter has Holy Spirit power – power with. 

Peter lays hands on and blesses people with the Holy Spirit Power. 

[power pose of arms blessing, outstretched] 

Peter does not hoard this power, instead he shares it with others who are open to it. 

HS is power with, a power that connects. 

So we can stretch out our arms and connect with others.  

[wrap arms around each other] 

Peter used the Holy Spirit power to connect people to one another and to God. 

Instead of using power for himself, he used power to help the common good. 

Like when water is powerful in a good way, Holy Spirit power nurtures growth and new life. 

Holy Spirit Power is a power with that is very strong. 

[kids try to push adults linked together over] 

Power can be good or bad, depending on how we use it. 

If we use power over others, we will ultimately fall. 

If we use power with others, we will grow strong together.  

We all have power.   

Sometimes we may not feel like we have power:  

we are not the boss, not the president, not the parent. 

Yet the earliest disciples of Jesus were not in charge,  

they were not Roman emperors, 

but they wielded power in such a way as to rock the world. 

We all have power. 

We each choose how to use that power. 

We can attempt to dictate and control, power over. [pose] 

However, money or muscle or status will likely defeat us. 

We can use power with to connect  

and grow a strong community. [power pose] 

Even though we know the strength of power with,  

Fear that we won’t be enough reverts us to power over. [pose] 

Like Simon, feeling unworthy or less than  

can incite attempts to grasp control over others.  

Let us reflect on how we use the power granted us. 

For when we can see the misuse of power,  

we can begin to correct.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, send your power on us, that we might grow strong together. Amen.