Quotes 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 friend. Having 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 blessing is calling or acknowledging God or the holy in a situation or object.
Steps to giving a blessing:
Hands in blessing position (on prayer shawls, on sick person, on backpacks or outstretched over object or person, or holding hands)
Call God (ex. Holy One, Holy Spirit come, God be here…)
Describe situation (ex. It winter here! This new home signals a new beginning…)
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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?
When water is powerful in floods and hurricanes, what does it do?
Water can be powerful in another way.
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.