An elf left 13 Candy Canes in the office! Louise and Kelly Jane found them all with much laughter and joy. #holidayfuncontinues
An innocent mis-communication resulted in an additional Christmas Tree being set up in the church dining room over a month ago. We wondered from where it came and what its purpose was. Then, a few weeks ago the Woodward House mentors learned that Megan did not have Christmas Tree. Aha! The Holy Spirit had placed a Christmas Tree in the church dining room for Megan! So the house meeting shifted gears. We gathered the tree, found some ribbon, stumbled across some decorations and made one Woodward House resident very merry.
This congregation has given a gift that perhaps not everyone has had the opportunity to see its fruits. Once a month for over a year now this congregation has provided space, food, and pastoral leadership to a budding group of young adults under 40 years old to explore spiritual matters. The group averages around 12 people every month, with a total of 27 adults participating at some point in the last year. We have called this group “Food for Thought” because we have thoughtful conversations around a meal. It’s a model Jesus started with the 12 disciples at the Last Supper.
This program of the church has been incredibly meaningful.
We had a year-end written reflection and I asked, “has food for thought run its course for now and is ready to take a break?” All 12 respondents enthusiastically said NO! Those who participate regularly obviously wanted to continue, but so did those who can only come occasionally, and one respondent who moved away wrote, “even though I cannot participate from afar, I love seeing the photos and seeing people enjoy the church space! It makes me smile.”
Why such an enthusiastic response? Participants love cooking together, the summer campfires were a great hit, and the special paint night especially fun – but those are all means to a deeper spiritual need for community, friendship, and spiritual discussion.
When asked “how has Food for Thought helped you grow in your spiritual life?” Respondents shared the deep value in discussing ideas in a small group of similar age people and the new friendships that are forming. One wrote, “it has been impactful for me to spend time with other young adults who share my faith. Most of my friends are not Christian and so it made a difference to not feel alone.”
To many millennials and people under 40, church is seen, at worst, as unsafe and harmful and, at best, boring and out of date. However, one Food for Thought participant wrote about finding healing through this church group. Food for Thought has provided a safe space for young adults to bond and grow deeper in their faith. As one wrote, “Food for Thought day is something to look forward to and have meaningful conversations. We learn a little something from one another each time.”
Indeed, I have personally enjoyed this group – they are authentic, honest, vulnerable and incredibly insightful…as well as a ball to hang out with.
As is probably clear by now, the Food for Thought group has an immense amount of gratitude for the opportunity to come together. So members have each pitched in to offer a “Christmas Gift” to the congregation.
The idea to give this gift came organically from the group, for it truly has touched people in ways words can hardly explain. So thank you all for supporting the Food for Thought program of the church!
Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree! You Stand in Splendid Beauty!
Chances are you will have some time to stand this December. Standing in line, waiting to buy that last-minute gift.
Standing for carols or standing in airports.
Standing at the crowed festive party.
So, stand like a Christmas Tree.
Ground your feet.
Soften your knees (too rigid and you topple). Tuck your tailbone and lengthen your spine. Roll the shoulders down.
Let your arms relax down and out to the side,
Just a bit, forming a little triangle shape.
The hustle and bustle of the holidays can threaten to blow us over. Trees, though they sway in the wind, don’t topple down –
When they are well rooted, Deep into the ground.
So, root yourself through the winds of the season.
Ground yourself in the spiritual,
And let your branches spread out in everlasting love.
The Community Thanksgiving Dinner filled many bellies and hearts last Thursday. A record 218 meals were served!
This decades long service of the Church is made possible by many generous people – Clarence & Pam Douglas of the Friendship Center prepare the meal with a league of volunteers, Riverside cooks the Foodshare turkeys in their big ovens, Stop and Shop donated baked goods, and Rich & Abbie Beebe coordinate the whole deal with Cindy & Delilah serving as sextons for the day. The many church members and community members who attend make it a joyous occassion for all. Thanks be to God!
If God is the potter, then God must be REALLY patient. With gentle, but firm hands. Willing to re-mold and start again. Using all the elements to form us into loving creatures. And a rather fun-loving creative and forgiving God. There were parts of my clay cross that I wanted to erase, but couldn’t do so without ruining the rest. So my cross is a bit imperfect, but I suppose that gives it character. Thank you potter Jamie Fitzgerald and all who participated in pottery night at #firstchurcheasthartford. A fun and heartwarming time on a cold and rainy night. #Godisthepotter#claytripperct
To be honest, Friday’s strike for the planet wasn’t much of a strike for me. Friday is my day off to catch up on adulting things like bills and housework (who doesn’t want to strike from housework?!). In any case, advocating for the least of these in the public sphere is part of my “job” as a Christian minister. So, not a strike for me, but certainly a strike for the union workers present. Certainly a strike for the thousands of young people who were out of school for the day trying to raise awareness about climate change and calling elected representatives to take swift action to keep fossil fuels in the ground and invest in renewable resources and green jobs.
The youth really did take the lead. They orchestrated it so that the clergy and older participants started at the steps of the capital in Hartford. Then a stream of youth came up the hill chanting and cheering. Seeing so many young passionate activists brought tears to my eyes. First: I realized I’m getting old at 32. Second: their energy and determination gave me hope that change is possible. The rally was certainly a change from every other rally I had been to.
The music was fresh and fun.The band wore animal hats. We did Tai Chi at one point. The Holy was palpable.
Nearly every speaker was a teenager. They passionately shared what scientists have said for years. There is 11 years left for us to change course and stem the impacts of climate change. Climate Change has caused an increase in the number and severity of extreme weather, like hurricanes, flood, and drought. As such, climate change has created 20 million refugees – more than any war. The poor are the worse hit because they don’t have the resources to flee or rebuild.
As the teenagers so bluntly said, “climate change is killing us.” So the rally ended with a “die in”
Hundreds of people laid down on the cold earth in front of the capitol. The speaker read the death toll from recent extreme weather events. Then there was 11 minutes of silence. 11 years left to change course. In the silence the words of Jesus from Matthew 25 fell on my heart, “whatever you did for the least of these, you did to me.”
Then the call:
As people rose up, there were tears and determination. There was passion and hope in the air. How could there not be when so many hopeful teenagers had taken to the streets to act?
I wore my stole, as I often do when out bearing public witness, striving to bring our world closer to God’s reign of love and justice for all. It was the stole given to me at my ordination, with animals, a cross and a recycling sign sewed with love by the church that raised me. A number of people came up to talk to me. They were curious which church I was a part of. I was happy to tell them about our congregation and the budding green team who had successfully banned styrofoam, moved most church functions to reusable plates, and supported the community garden.
I’m wondering about what is next. Will we mobilize for a green new deal to make sustainable green jobs and stem the extreme weather brought on by climate change? Will we divest from fossil fuels? Will we eat more local food (cutting down on transportation)? I’m thinking of forgoing my car for awhile and riding my bike to church. 11 years. What will we do? What will you do?
Sermon by Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar
Preached on Father’s Day, June 16, 2019
On Wednesday we rang the church bell 49 times to remember the 49 people killed in the gay pulse club shooting three years ago. After the bell ringing, we reflected a bit on the number of shootings in our society. Bunny commented that it was a lot of men, some women, although a lot of men. Indeed, 90% of homicides are committed by men. There are likely many reason or variables behind that statistic, but at least part of the problem is the expectations our society has of men.
A visit to the senior center or a look around the church sanctuary reveals another statistic: men die earlier than women. Again, there are likely many factors behind that statistic, but at least part of the problem is the expectations our society has of men.
What are the expectations our society has of boys and men?
• “boys don’t cry”
• muscular strength valued, “grrrr”
• Breadwinner is a sign of success – your worth is tied to your wealth
• Lifeboats are not for you – your life is expendable/less valuable than women and children
All these expectations limit and diminish boys and men. These stereotypes are reinforced with jokes and assumptions we make in conversation.
Interestingly, when God came and embodied the human form in Jesus Christ, God became incarnate in a male body. Except, Jesus as the man, did not conform to the expectations of his day or our day.
• Jesus never married (most scholars agree)
• Jesus talked to unsavory women (Samaritan woman at the well; Mary Magdalene)
• Jesus showed emotion – crying at the death of Lazarus; pleading with God to be spared the cross in the Garden of Gethsemane before accepting the cost of his loving ways in a broken world
In this morning’s scripture we hear Paul explain to the early church, specifically the Romans, a critical action of Jesus – the act the changes the world. Let us listen, with our ears open to how his actions are received differently because he was in a male body.
Paul is outlining the basic Atonement Theology of Christianity:
Jesus died for our sins and in doing so reconciled us to God.
[Classic atonement theory says God requires sacrifices
to make amends for our wrongdoing.
Jesus offers himself as the perfect sacrifice,
freeing humanity from the eternal burden of our sins.
To be honest, I’m not 100% on board with a vengeful God that requires such sacrifice.
However, a quick glance at the news shows that]
Humans kept messing up and separating ourselves from the holy.
Jesus came as a man, showed us how to love – so much that he was killed for his loving ways.
But then, he returned on Easter to show us that death, violence and oppression has not won.
Love has triumphed.
There is one feminist theologian who tried to argue that Jesus was not in a male body, but most scholars agree Jesus was a man. Even as a feminist, I believe Jesus was a man and that his maleness is, actually, theologically important.
Jesus shows us a healthy and powerful way to be a man.
In this core action – loving, even to the point of death – we see that to be a man does not require great physical might nor military maneuvering.
Even though his society – and ours – expect men to lead the battle, bring home the bacon, and be devoid of feelings, Jesus shows us that one can be the most powerful and holy of men in an entirely different way.
Jesus shows us that
a man can be more powerful by being courageous enough to love in the face of loss.
As much as society has pushed forward harmful images and expectations of men,
There are a number of stories that have lifted up men like Jesus –
Men or boys willing to love in the face of loss.
1. Hiccup in “How to Train Your Dragon” (this example and others found here: https://www.fandom.com/articles/5-best-examples-of-healthy-masculinity-in-film-and-television )
Animated film in 2010 of a viking tribe that is constantly fighting off dragons. The viking world is similar to ours in their valuing of might, muscles, and ability to kill – in their case dragons. Hiccup is a hiccup in this viking society. He is scared to kill a dragon. When faced with the opportunity to do so, the dragon is all tied up, Hiccup is moved to compassion and instead of using his knife to kill, he uses his knife to free the dragon. Like Jesus, Hiccup uses his power to free instead of kill. Hiccup continues to befriend the dragon with compassion and courage. Listening and learning. In time, he trains the dragon and reshapes his viking society to be in harmony with dragons instead of in constant war. It started with compassion and courage. A boy like Jesus.
2. We don’t need to face dragons or be viking those. I read a sweet story published in Reader’s Digest. ( found here: https://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/short-stories-about-dads/ )
Kay Lockridge of Santa Fe, New Mexico wrote to Reader’s Digest about here first flight after receiving her private pilot’s license in hand. She planned to take her dad on a flight around Michigan State University – a big circle before landing at the university airport. Just as she reached 1,500 feet and finished “take off”, her dad said, “okay, we can land now.” Kay reminded him of her plan to take them around the airport. He replied, “I’m not fond of small planes. I just wanted you to know that I have confidence in you.” Even with his dislike of planes, her dad made the sacrifice to be uncomfortable for the sake of his love for his daughter. A man like Jesus.
3. In closing, I need to give a shout out to the men of this church. So many of you are compassionate, giving of their time, skills and energy with quiet humility. I won’t name names, but I see compassionate men behind the scenes, showing up to do what needs doing. Men who use their muscles or their brains or their compassionate hearts to support the many ministries of the church. They do so without boasting, but with a steady presence that I truly admire. The children of our church have some incredible men to look up to and we should all be proud of that. Can we give the men a round of applause for their efforts to follow Jesus?
May men strive to follow the lead of Jesus, who had the courage to love in the face of loss.
May those of us who do not identify as men, support and encourage the men and boys in our lives to feel, to be vulnerable, and to love greatly even when it’s scary.
May our society move increasingly forward to embracing people as unique as the stars in the sky -Each with gifts, feelings, and holy love. Amen.
What men have you seen act like Jesus?
Pride, the personal characteristic, can often get a bad rap (I.e. too full of one’s self),
But today I propose the power and holiness of pride.
Pride can inspire others to faith.
Pride can transform a society.
Pride is the practice of standing firmly in God’s love.
In today’s scripture, Acts 16:16-34, Pride is key to why the jailer comes to believe in Christ.
The jailer was a Roman whose life was entirely changed so much that he brings his whole household to be baptized.
What happens to so transform the jailer?
It probably was not the cries of the slave girl saying they were Holy,
since Paul rids her of the demon crying out from her.
the jailer probably did not come to believe because of the singing of Paul and Silas in prison,
since the scripture tells us he was asleep and awaken by the earthquake.
So Did the jailer come to believe because an earthquake threw open the bars of the jail?
Probably not, since his job was to keep the prisoners confined.
In fact, the earthquake and freedom of the prisoners was so terrifying the jailer sought to take his life.
What saved him was the presence of the prisoners, still in the jail, despite the bars flung off.
Against their own self-interest, the prisoners remained.
Perhaps there was something in the songs of Paul and Silas that motivated their odd stance.
Perhaps they were too shocked themselves to flee.
In any case, the prisoners remain and thus the jailer need not fear for his job or his life.
In this moment The jailer experienced grace:
That is, the jailer experienced love and blessing beyond reason or cause.
There was no logical reason for the prisoners to stay, but they did.
They sacrificed their freedom so the jailer’s life would be spared.
Perhaps the prisoners were practicing a type of sacrificial love they heard about in Jesus.
Jesus suffered and died even though he was innocent.
Being mighty, Jesus could have overtaken his captors, but chose not to.
Jesus practiced a sacrificial love:
A love that refuses to destroy another for one’s own gain.
Sacrificial love is at the core of the Christian faith.
We believe that God incarnate, Christ, showed us how to love by sacrificing his life.
This core tenet of sacrificial love has, unfortunately, been twisted or misunderstood by some.
Some have urged people in abusive relationships to stay,
Sacrificing themselves, their physical and emotional safety, for “love”.
Such an interpretation misses the mark entirely by ignoring the requirement of mutuality and care in love.
Some use the theological tenet of sacrificial love to argue that various groups ought to remain subservient, submission to injustice, weather inequality for “love” or just because that is the way the world works.
Such reasoning ignores the profoundly liberating equity Jesus proclaims is the kingdom of heaven and are call as disciples.
These two wayward interpretations have caused such great harm,
That some swing the pendulum the other direction,
Pushing for no sacrifice at all in the area of love and justice.
The result is selfish boasting that puts down others in order for one to stand.
What we see in today’s scripture is the center of the pendulum.
We see Paul and Silas confident in who they are, beloved of God, followers of Christ.
They do not proclaim their status with annoying cymbals and shouts –
In fact, they rid the girl of demon who is doing so.
Neither are they silent and subservient to the status quo.
They sing praises to God in jail.
They speak their truth.
They do not run away, even when the bars are gone.
By standing proud, the jailer is blessed and comes to believe.
The ability to stand proud and sing the truth, even when confined, takes great faith and courage.
Here is how Paul and Silas are like some certain drag queens.
Fifty years ago a line of drag queens formed a kick-line and sang out with pride as the New York City police tried to arrest them for the “moral indecency” of being men dressing in women’s clothing.
At that time, cross dressing was illegal. You had to have at least three gender conforming articles of clothing, or you could be arrested.
In the 1950s and 1960s people lost their jobs if they were suspected of being homosexual.
The US Postal service tracked where mail of a homosexual nature was sent.
Police worked undercover to entrap gay men.
Homosexuality was illegal in every state but …. anyone have a guess? Illinois.
Vigilantes beat up, name called, and killed homosexual people.
Police sought to cleanse cities of homosexual people by raiding gay bars –
Which were basically the only place gay people could go.
They were not welcome in parks or book stores or dances.
It was a crime to be gay.
The mafia ran gay bars to make an extreme profit. The mafia would pay off the police, but still
The raiding of gay bars was common.
On June 28, 1969 the police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in NYC.
Except this time it was different.
The police came later than normal and were determined to close the bar down.
However, the gay community had had enough.
They did not submissively bow their heads and quietly go into the police wagon.
They fought back and stood their ground.
That night and in the nights to follow the people pushed the police out.
Some call it the Stonewall Uprising:
For the people rose up.
They would not be silenced.
They sang out. Literally.
In a chorus line.
Powerful things happen when people stand proud of who they are.
When Paul and Silas proudly sang and stood their ground,
The jailer came to believe in Christ; and the fellow prisoners probably did too.
When the drag queens and gay community proudly sang and stood their ground,
The gay liberation movement ignited.
A year after Stonewall, thousands of people participated in the first Gay Pride March.
The participants were so nervous that they practically ran the route:
They were justifiably afraid of being attacked.
Instead they were met by smiles and cheers.
This year, 2019, marks 50 years since that march/run.
Gay marriage is the law of the land.
Gay-Straight Alliances are in many high schools.
Many churches now openly welcome gay people.
Yet, the fear of rejection, the fear of exclusion remains.
Heterosexuality is still assumed on most government forms, work forms, medical forms;
In conversations at the store, social events, and churches individuals and couples are most often assumed to be heterosexual, unless they look a certain way.
As the pastor of one of the few churches explicitly open to GLBT people,
Too often I hear the trauma young and old GLBT people experience.
Some came to the church, some during worship, others during the week, to share their story and hear they are loved as God made them.
Many came because we had a rainbow flag out front, so they hoped this place could be a haven.
People who were not GLBT came to the church because of the rainbow flag.
The rainbow flag is a symbol of acceptance.
It originated in 1978 in San Francisco, at the request of Harvey Milk,
for the purpose of creating symbol of pride for the gay community.
It was used that year in the pride parade.
Our first rainbow flag was donated by Peg Spiller and after a few years got a bit raggy.
So we have a new flag, generously hung up by Erin Cattanach.
We also have these rainbow magnets you can stick on your car.
Put one on your car or fridge to lessen the fear that still permeates our society.
Maybe someone will ask you about it and give you an opportunity to share about God’s love for all.
Both are symbols of support and pride in the wide diversity of people God has created.
Let us take a moment to call upon the Holy Spirit to come and bless these symbols.
Would you join me in blessing these symbols of love, acceptance, and pride, by stretching out your hands in blessing – one towards the window where the flag hangs and another towards the magnetics. Notice in stretching our arms we create a circle of embrace.
Blessing of the Rainbow Flag and Magnets
God send your Holy Spirit to bless these rainbow symbols!
May they be symbols of your radical love for all people, especially people belittled or harmed because of their sexual orientation and gender identity or gender expression.
As the rainbow after the great flood bore the promise of your everlasting love,
May they be symbols of your promise to be forever present.
As we strive to learn and grow in our understandings and acceptance of others,
May these rainbows be symbols of our commitment to extravagant welcome and loving embrace of all your beloved creation.
Details about the Stonewall Uprising from the PBS Documentary “Stonewall Uprising” which can be viewed for free online by clicking here.
Our scripture this morning is about loss and change.
In it we find both tremendous hope and a powerful love.
The loss in today’s scripture is the death of a matriarch of the early church:
Tabitha. We are also given her Greek name, Dorcas.
Since we are given two names, in two languages,
We can surmise that this early matriarch of the church did as Jesus called:
She built bridges across social and linguistic divides:
Her death reverberated through the early church; many loved her.
As we hear the story of her death,
We may think of those who have died, those we grieve this day.
We may also think of other losses in our lives:
The ending of a season of our lives:
Maybe graduating high school or college;
Ending our full time employment and entering retirement.
Maybe we have loss some physical ability:
Hearing, seeing, walking, driving
Maybe our children have moved out and the house is empty.
Or as Rev.Jonathan lifted up last week, perhaps we grieve the loss of how the church used to be,
Or the way society or our town used to be. (Read Sermon Here)
Loss is all around us in many forms,
But this scripture offers us tremendous hope and powerful love.
Scripture: Acts 9:36-43
36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas.[a] She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. 37 At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. 42 This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
In the midst of loss this scripture lifts up powerful love and tremendous hope.
Powerful love is seen in the grieving of Tabitha.
Peter is greeted by a crowd of widows.
Tabitha had gathered around her quite a community.
It appears that she had a sewing enterprise going that greatly benefited the widows.
Remember widows were often quite destitute in this time.
The widows show us the power of love in grieving.
First, The widows are gathered in community.
Grieving often needs company.
A recent article in the Hartford Courant lifted up the tendency for people to avoid those who are grieving, afraid to get stuck in sadness. The result is an echoing of the isolation loss can bring.
The widows model the value of sticking together in the midst of grief.
Instead of echoing isolation, they echo belonging.
The widows also show Peter the clothes Tabitha had made.
“Tabitha is dead, but the evidence of her work still lives.” – Christian Century
Love often lasts through work left, impact felt.
The widows remind us to lift up and remember the gifts of what has been loss.
The widows also weep.
Today there is a taboo and shock around weeping.
Yes, our bodies need a physical release to the pain of loss.
Tears can wash out the heaviness in our hearts.
we need somewhere to allow the emotional intensity of loss to flow:
if not tears, then a good yelling bout with God or a run,
sometimes even laughter can help us release the physical emotional tightness loss brings.
The widows model for us powerful love in loss:
They stick together. They weep. They lift up the blessings of what was loss.
However, our scripture does not end with their grieving.
Peter, leader of the church, is called and comes.
He sends them out of the room.
The time for grieving is over.
He needs space for the miracle of new life.
He prays. Tabitha gets up. News of the miracle spreads.
I was bothered by Peter sending the widows out,
But a commentary suggested that the miracle of new life cannot be birthed if the space is crowded in grief.
There is a time to grieve and a time to make space for new life.
While grief is necessary and healthy,
It is not the final word.
Many have heard of the stages of grief.
The stages are not meant to be linear, more like cycles or waves.
Yet, with time and help, there come to be less days of denial, anger, and depression;
More days of acceptance, the 5th stage.
Acceptance of the new norm;
Not replacing or forgetting what was loss,
But making new in order to grow and live.
The move to acceptance involves loving the past without clinging.
The love remains and lasts, but the form changes.
So Peter sends the widows out of the room;
He knows the time for grief is over and so he makes space so the new life can emerge.
Tabitha is restored, rescucitated, although she is undoubtedly changed.
You don’t survive a life threatening illness without a change in your outlook.
The miracle reveals to the widows and to many in the town what faith in Jesus can do,
That there is life after death; a flower from the bulb, spring after winter.
Moreover, Peter shows us that at the appropriate time we must create space for the new life to blossom.
What allows us to release our grip on grief is the hope Peter shows us:
God is breathing new life in the midst of our loss.
New friendships, new understandings, new connections.
God is breathing a new church into being, a new society, new life that is beautiful even as it is different than what was.
If we remain in our grief too long, we miss the beauty of God’s new creation.
So, may we grieve the losses in our lives with weeping, in community, remembering the blessings.
In due time may we allow space for God to breathe new life into us and our community.
May we allow ourselves to marvel at the beauty of the past and also of the future. Amen.