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Sermons in print

Updated: May 3, 2021

This page is an ongoing chronicle of the kinds of messages we give and receive to nourish our minds and souls each week.

Guest Reflection: Monica Williams 5/2/21 Self-love

Start with a question: What does it mean to love? Take a moment to call this question into your mind, and then, if you’re willing, share some words or phrases that illustrate your version of what it means to love.

With responses shared: How often have you extended those actions, thoughts, feelings to yourself? What would it be like to talk to yourself and treat yourself with the same love that we’ve called into this space? I know I’m terrible at doing this. I have to remind myself through meditation, yoga, and connecting with nature to calm down and talk to myself with love.

Our centering quote for today: “The only difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment.” Are you a flower or a weed? If you asked me whether I’m a flower or a weed, my first response is, “Of course, I’m a flower!” I never want to call myself a weed; but this week, as I reflected on this quote, I realized that while I project the self-confident image of a flower, I talk to myself more like I’m a weed. “Why didn’t I say this instead of that?” “I should be…” “I should do…” “I should have known the answer to that question.” “Why can’t I ever think of the right thing to say?” And so on. Constant judgment: the only difference between a flower and a weed is that judgment. Judging ourselves turns our beautiful internal flowers into weeds. And what do we do with weeds? Well, if you’re Matthew, you wage relentless war against them. Shoveling them out only to have them reappear overnight. Dig up five and eight more appear the next day. It’s constant work, trying to stop them from appearing.

Matthew and I have different perceptions of those dandelions in our yard. I enjoy their bright yellow flowers and the bees they attract. Last year I even learned that you can eat the leaves as salad greens. Who’d have thought? (Don’t try it if you’ve fertilized or sprayed them with weed killer!) Our neighbor, a master gardener laughed incredulously when Matthew told him he dug out each weed by hand. “No, no,” he said. “You’ll never get them all out that way. Just spray ‘em!”

These three approaches: let them be, dig them out, and exterminate them are also ways we can approach ourselves. Some days, I find that I can let the judgments be. Just watch them float in and out of my consciousness as curious visitors. Other days, I try to excavate them: dig underneath the judgments, analyze their roots, and wonder at their tenacity. Like the dandelions, they always reappear. On my more pessimistic days, I wish I could just spray them so they’d leave me alone. Maybe that’s what my occasional glass of wine is for! But still, they reappear; just as dandelions reappear every season. The last two approaches are more judgmental: the plants are weeds. Trying to get rid of them just makes them stronger and us more determined to stamp them out. It’s a vicious cycle.

So, do you talk to yourself as if you are a weed or a flower?

To talk about loving ourselves is frowned upon in our society. We’re labeled as too self-absorbed, obsessed, over-confident, delusional. We can profess our love for others, for nature, for music, and even for things (ice cream?). I love the show Six Feet Under. I love practicing yoga. I love hot tea on a rainy day. I love writing. I love snowboarding. I love camping.

I love myself. Screech! Hold up. You what?

I said, “I love myself.”


We wouldn’t know what to say. What if you hugged yourself as you do other people? Well, that would look weird. What if you cradled yourself as you do a child who’s hurt? Tuck yourself in when you’re sick (physically or mentally)? All of that seems too weird.

I know that I am terrible at loving myself. I can be strong. I can be confident. I can enjoy my own company (sometimes). I can let myself take breaks to hike, eat, nap—all of that self-care stuff. But love is deeper than those loving actions. It’s a feeling. To be sure, doing those things can help cultivate love, especially when we make conscious efforts to connect those actions with loving ourselves. But they are not love in and of themselves.

In the centering video, Alessia Cara reminds us of the social influences all around us that tell us that we shouldn’t love ourselves just as we are. She sings:

“Oh, she don't see, the light that's shining Deeper than the eyes can find it Maybe we have made her blind So she tries to cover up her pain”

We don’t see the beauty in ourselves. Instead, we need to starve ourselves for the “perfect” body. Then, we’d be happy. We need to buy the latest fashionable clothes. Then, we’d be happy. We need to paint our nails, get a decadent coffee, go on vacation, brighten our teeth, shine our hair, lift weights…the list is endless. All of these share the underlying message that we can’t love ourselves because we’re not perfect in the way that society defines perfection. Society has made us blind, so we try to cover up our pain, our lack of self-love, by “fixing” ourselves.

I love the refrain in her song:

“But there's a hope that's waiting for you in the dark You should know you're beautiful just the way you are And you don't have to change a thing The world could change its heart”

The world could change its heart. The ultimate “It’s not you, it’s me.” (And this time, it’s true). It’s not you, it’s society. To me, self-care means cultivating love for ourselves so that we can truly say, with the same depth of feeling as we love ice cream, “I love myself.”

When I’m feeling particularly blah or uninspired, I crank up Meghan Trainor’s song, “Me Too.” The part I connect with the most is when she sings,

“I thank God every day (uh, ha) That I woke up feelin' this way (uh, ha) And I can't help loving myself And I don't need nobody else, no, uh

Her confidence inspires me; the song reminds me that no matter how I am today, I can thank god that I am. The last part, “I can’t help loving myself,” reminds me that self-love is the most important. Even when I can’t actually feel it.

So, how do we cultivate the supreme self-love exemplified in these songs? I think about how I’ve grown to love anyone in my life. I’ve spent time with them, gotten to know them. I find out what we have in common. I let them know me. I play with them. Play is really important. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Be silly. Dance. Wiggle your arms. Be a Mr. Floppy.

For me, visualization meditations really help me connect with myself in loving ways. I visualize a feeling, see it as if it were a thing in front of me. I talk to it: I am here. What do you need? What are you most afraid of? How can I help? Through lots of practice, I’ve come to see myself as a flame. It lives in the base of my torso. Sometimes, depending on my mood, it glows tall, right up to the top of my ribs. Other times, it’s barely a flicker; hard to find. Either way, I visit that flame often, usually once a day at least, to remind myself that love burns inside me no matter what.

When I read the scripture for today in light of these ideas about self-love, I saw it differently than I ever have before.

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God in them.” When we cultivate self-love, we’re cultivating god, right here on earth.

“Love will come to perfection in us when we can face the day of judgment without fear…” The goal isn’t to stamp out judgment, but to face our judgments with love, not fear. We will judge ourselves, that’s inevitable. We must react to those judgments with love; love will drive out fear.

In the second part of the scripture, I’d add a few things. It talks about how we can’t say we love god if we hate our neighbor or brother or sister. I think we can’t say we love god if we do not love ourselves. If we love god, we must love ourselves as well. We are creations of this universe, the force and energy that gives life to everything. That connection reminds me that I must love myself as I love all of god’s creation.

The one thing we can all do for the world, especially when we’re feeling down, inconsequential, or defeated, is to cultivate love for ourselves so that we can proclaim—without guilt, irony, or dishonesty, “I love myself.”

I want to end with a poem that I wrote after one of my meditation sessions.

I am a miracle of stardust.

A thousand particles came together to form the unique combination that would produce me.

Radiant yellow light sits in a jar in the base of my stomach.

Waiting to be let out.

When I can’t see for the fury, anger, frustration, grief, confusion

The redness of this ball of raw emotions spreading throughout my body.

It waits.

For just the right moment.

When I unscrew the lid, the light bursts forth,

Illuminating me from the inside, flooding every pore of my body.

Then, I am a star.

I cannot be red and raw because I am glowing and warm.

Kind, accepting, loving

I am myself again.

Cozy within my own body.

My love.

My home.

May it be so.


Rev. Lorrie Gaffney Easter Sunday 2021 Resurrection Dance

Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus? That question has been used as a litmus test to determine who is a real Christian, and who isn’t, by some for whom “correct belief” is the cornerstone of faith. In the United Church of Christ we consider ourselves “progressive” meaning that we are aware of our limitations of understanding and open to new and evolving ideas of the great mystery we call God, Infinite Love, Creator, or any ofthe many names for the One Beyond Knowing. But really, it’s a fair question and one I’ll pose to you today on this Easter Sunday?Do you believe in the resurrection? Peter Rollins,Northern Irish writer and radicaltheologian has made his answerclear. Rollins states: “Without equivocation or hesitation I fully and completely admit that I deny the resurrection of Christ. This is something that anyone who knows me could tell you, and I am not afraid to say it publicly, no matter what some people may think… I deny the resurrection of Christ every time I do not serve at the feet of the oppressed, each day that I turn my back on the poor; I deny the resurrection of Christ when Iclose my ears to the cries of the downtrodden and the oppressed. Every time I do not serve my neighbour, every time I walk away from the poor. I deny the resurrection every time I participate in an unjust system. However there are momentswhen I affirm that resurrection, few and far between as they are. I affirm the resurrection when I stand up for those who are forced to live on their knees, I affirm the resurrection when I speak for those who have had their tongues torn out, I affirm the resurrection, when I cry for those who have no more tears left to shed. I affirm the resurrection each and every time I look into your eyes and see the face of Christ.” So friends,how about you? Will you affirm the resurrection? What does that look like for you? I would like to share a glimpse of some hospital staff who show us what affirming resurrection looks like. In the face of long, stressful, risky work, that often required intubation and ended in death, there were moments of resurrection. There were those special times of removing the intubation tubes as a patient recovered. Here is what resurrection looked like then: Dancing Hospitalstaff Resurrection looks like everyday people giving their all and keeping their hearts open to life and love. Clarence Jordan was one who shows us what it means to truly affirm the resurrection. Carl Gregg in 2012 Patheos article describes Jordan this way: Clarence Jordan (1912 – 1969) was born in Talbotton, Georgia in 1912, the seventh of ten children.A white family, the Jordans,were active memberof the local Southern Baptistchurch. At church Clarence was taught a vision of racial equality (“Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in God’s sight…”), but he was increasingly botheredthat these lyricswere in stark

contrast to the racial discrimination he regularly witnessed outside church walls, not to mention the racial segregation on Sunday mornings.” Wikipedia states that Jordan earned a degree in agriculture in 1933 from the University of Georgia, hoping to improve the lives of sharecroppers through scientific farming techniques. He then received a PhD in Greek New Testament from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Jordan joined his education in agriculture and scripture with his passion for a living out Christian discipleship by buying 440 acres of land in 1942 to start Koinonia Farms, a name coming from the Greek word for fellowship or communion. Gregg writes, “but trouble came almost immediately. From the beginning they had put racial equality into practice by inviting the workers on the farm to eat together, irrespective of race. This choice quickly spurred the local Ku Klux Klan into action. There were many causticencounters with local racist residents, and one of his favorite questions for those with loyalties to their southern heritage was, “Your choice seems quite clear. It is whether you will follow your granddaddy- or Jesus Christ.” His lived commitment earned him respect and allowed him to get away with critiquing the status quo. One famous example was when a pastor showed him an expensive cross the congregation had just purchased for the steeple, and Clarence replied, “You got cheated. Times were Christians (think Jesus) could get them (a cross) for free.” Koinonia Farms eventually birthed Habitat for Humanity International under the leadership of MillardFuller, who was deeply inspired by Clarence. So what does Clarence Jordan believe about the resurrection? He said this: The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church. This my friends, is what I read as the key teaching in our resurrection story. The point isn’t what physically happened 2000 years ago to Jesus’ body. I am more intrigued by what happened to the disciples who had experienced Jesus mocked; his suffering and unjust murder; those who had gone through the loss of their friend, a leader who had lived a new way of being; shown a new world possibility. Yes, they were afraid at first. Of course they were. They knew they would likely be hunted down next and exterminated. But here is the real power of the story we get to reflect on today. In spite of the spirit of fearthat first surrounded them, they allowed the spirit of the resurrected Christ - the spirit of Love that Wins, to fill them and use them. They now knew for certain that even death was no match for the Spirit of Infinite love. They got to see up close and personal the limitations of fake power over. It would notand could not have the last word.

Rev. Roger Wolsey, in an Progressive Spirituality article says it this way: “Every time we act upon Jesus’ lordship, every time we follow His teachings, we’re demonstrating His victory! Every time we refuse to be controlled by a political or economic system... every time we claim Christ’s freedom over our fear; tear down the walls of race, class, and sex; love our enemies; stand with the poor; forgive those who’ve wronged us, or resist the violence of the nations by acting for peace, we’re demonstrating the victory of Christ in the world!”

The questionfor us on this EasterSunday is will we find the courageto affirm the resurrection by bringing life toplaces of death, hope in timesof despair, and returning hate with love.

Tony Adkins is one who does just that. He is a physician assistant at Children’s Hospital inOrange County. He is most popularly known as the Dancing Doc. He enters a room and asks if the patientwants to dance and lets them pick the music, often bringingsmiles parents haven’t seen in a long time. But his sense of joy has come from his own struggles. Tony was raised by a single working mother in a rough neighborhood of S. Los Angeles. He saw violence, friends die, and older brothers stuck in gang life. It wasn’t safe on the streets and so he often stayed inside and watched music videos, yet he longed for something more for his life. After joining the army he went to college, eventually earning two master degrees -one inglobal health and epidemiology and another in health sciences which led him to the job, he so obviously loves,as a physician assistant - affirming the resurrection by bringing life to placesof death, hope in times of despair.

I was honored to officiate at my daughter Jessica’s wedding last week and one of the things I reflected on was how creative dance was in her soul. On her high school senior yearbook we posted part of the lyrics to Lee Ann Womack’s song, I Hope you’ll dance. The lyrics say, “I hope you’ll never lose your sense of wonder. And when you get the chance to sit it out, or dance... I hope you’ll dance.”

Friends, I hope you will never lose your sense of wonder. Open to awe at Beus pond . Look around at the gift of those gathered here today. Hug a loved one. Smile at a stranger. And when you get the chance to sit it out or dance. I hope you’ll dance.

Let us learn about the resurrection dance from the hospital staff that dancesto Don’t Stop Believing, each time a COVID patient is released.

Don’t Stop Believing

So friends, don’t stop believing. Believe in the resurrection. But don’t stop at believing. Live the resurrection where love cannot be stopped. Where the story is not about an empty tomb but about our full hearts in the midst of all life gives us.

On this Easter Sunday let us know without a shadow of a doubt that Love is Risen. LOVE Is risen indeed! And LOVE will rise, again and again and again around us, in us and through us. May it be so.

And may the love and peace of the resurrected Christ be with you, now and always.

SILENT MEDITATION (from movie Wonder Woman 2017)

I used to want to save the world. To end war and bring peace to mankind; but then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learnt that inside every one of them there will always be both. The choice eachmust make for themselves — something no hero will ever defeat.

And now I know... that only Love can truly save the world. So now I stay, I fight, and I give — for the world I know can be. This is my mission now. Forever.


Rev. Lorrie Gaffney 3/21/21 Whole and Hole-Hearted

One of the Lenten Practices you have been invited into is remembering that everything belongs and that you are most whole-hearted - even, especially, when you feel hole-hearted. Rita Berglund became my spiritual director while at Iliff School of Theology in Denver and for years later. She is one who knows what it means to be whole-hearted - allowing even the hole in her heart to belong. When her son Brandon was 5 years old he developed a brain tumor and was expected to die. He lived for almost 20 more years, but in a very different way than Rita expected. I invite you to hear a glimpse of her sacred story: Rita has described Brandon’s dying as when he was “healed into death.” What stood out for you in her story? Everything belongs reminds us that, like all diversity, the joy and the challenges are not meant to compete but to complete. The richness is found where all is included, even the greatest failures and worst sufferings. Consider some of our most well-known Bible characters: King David with his selfish acts of adultery and murder, yet knowing he still belonged to God. The Apostle Paul, before his conversion, responsible for working to brutally destroy all followers of Jesus, later becoming one of the most powerful voices of Christianity. Fearful Peter, repeatedly denying Jesus, and later accepting his shame - but not allowing it to not have the last word. Jesus, living a simple life, yet receiving the extravagant anointing of expensive oil prior to his death- money some thought should have been used to feed the hungry. Jesus violently murdered, stripped naked, mocked, yet not letting death have the last word. Over and over these become stories where the failures and sufferings become the place of greatest strength and life - if we allow it. Franciscan priest and author of the book Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr, says this: “As we grow in wisdom, we realize that everything belongs and everything can be received. We see that life and death are not opposites. They do not cancel one another out; neither do goodness and badness. There is now room for everything to belong. A radical, almost nonsensical “okayness” characterizes the maturebeliever, which is why we are often called “holy fools.” We don’t have to deny, dismiss, defy, or ignorereality anymore. What is, is gradually okay. What is, is the greatest of teachers. At the bottom of all reality is always a deep goodness, or whatMerton called “a hidden wholeness.” Friends, can you feel this truth of wholeness within you? Rohr invites us to reconsider our purpose of worship and prayer. We attend worship, enter prayer, not to see God, but to allow God to fully and lovingly see us. Imagine, not worrying about what words you should say in prayer or worship. Instead “simply allowing Love to look at you - and trusting what God sees!” Rohr says to “simply” allow Love to look at you.But it isn’t actually simple is it? It’s hard for us to feel naked and vulnerable and to be deeply seen. Weautomatically feel unworthy, ashamed of

our weaknesses, failures to do, or actions of harm. We don’t like being naked in the garden so we search for fig leaves to quickly cover our private shame. It’s hard to simply receive God’s loving and all-accepting gaze. But here is why we can allow Love to look at us. “When God looks at us, God can only see “Christ” in us.” God peels away the messy wounded human and sees the wholeness we are created in. And so, if we want a friendship with this mystery of Love, then let it be mutual. In the words of Meister Eckhart, let the eye with which I see God be the same one with which God sees me. My eye and God’s eye is one eye,and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.” Loving friendship with God, and ourselves, is mutually intertwined with loving others. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that we are “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” What affects one, affects all. We are not simply disconnected, compartmentalized pieces of ourselves, and we are not separate, isolated people. The earth does not have state or country lines drawn on it, asthe COVID pandemic has so clearly shown Marianne Williamson, when she was running for President said, “ “Rugged individualism” is a good thing, and an aspect of the American character that has led to greatness. But over the last few decades our rugged individualism has transitioned into rugged narcissism, leading us to live lives too often, and in too many ways, separate from the people who live around us.” When we allow God to see the wholeness of Christ within our own messy lives, we can extend that gaze to others. How far might we extend that gaze? Becca Stevens allowed the painful experiences of her life - a car crash that caused the death of her minister father, followed shortly afterwards by child sexual abuse at age 5 from the church Deacon- to be healed into wholeness for herself and others. In 1997 Becca opened the first home for 5 women survivors of trafficking, addiction and prostitution with the faith-based concept that “Love Heals.” The women did make great strides in recovery but continued to struggle due to employment barriers and so they began making candles in a church basement and Thistle Farms enterprises was born. The website states, “At Thistle Farms we don't ask, "What did you do?" We ask, what happened to you?" Most of the women we serve first experienced sexual abuse between ages 7-11 and began usingalcohol or drugs by age 13, and first hit the streets between the ages of 14 and 16. Traumatic childhood experiences give way to homelessness, addiction, further abuse, andincarceration, often compounded by poverty.” The Thistle Farm website continues, “We believe that love is more powerful than all the forces that drive women to the street, and a strong community willhelp them not only heal but thrive.” I burst into tears when Arlene sent me the song Love Heals with the images of these beautiful, transformed, full-of-life women who support one another to live lives of grace, generosity, vitality, spirit and love. I hope they may show to you the healing power of whole- hearted love. Love Heals

You have a homework assignment this week. You get to write yourself a Permission Slip for whole-heartedness.

Consider what you typically shy away from. If you are talkative andboisterous, give yourself permission to listen

and be quiet. If you always go go go, give yourself permission to rest. If you have a closet full of fig leaves to cover every inch of yourself when you go out, give yourself permission to be seen in a new way. If youthink of yourself as strong, how might you let yourself be vulnerable? If you are sure you are defined by mistakes or inadequacies, give yourself a permission slip for knowing your worthiness for the day. If you cover yourself with anxiety for the messy world we are in, permit gratitude and awe to flood into your day.If you close yourself to the suffering of

others, give yourself permission to gaze at another’s suffering with the eyes of Christ.

Option 2, if you like to engage art.

Draw or cut out a heart.

Write on scraps of colored paper those things that are easy for your heart to hold and live out. Glue them on your paper heart. Then write down on scraps of paper those things that are harder for you to hold in your heart. As you commit to allow those parts of you, glue them inside the heart until you have the beautiful mosaic God already sees!

Remember it is impossible to color outside the lines of God’s love.


A LAUGHING MATTER * by Reb Fleming FEB. 28, 2021

A long, long, time ago, before the days of COVID placed masks on each of our faces, I met a new papa in the grocery store who was holding his baby son. The mama was picking out tomatoes in the produce aisle but the daddy was totally engrossed in holding and gooing over this little child. I stopped to admire because I am a sucker for newborn babies and my first thought was, “Wow.This is a unique looking little creature.” I felt free to issue this baby critique because trust me, I was a funky looking little baby which must have been difficult for my mother to process since I was third born after two gorgeous sisters. While the dad and I chatted, I tried not to think about how funky-looking the baby was because the daddy obviously thought the child was better looking than Brad Pitt and just as that thought ricocheted across my mind, the baby’s eye caught my eye and the child laughed right out loud. A new-bornLaughed …like he knew what I was thinking and he’d caught me at it but rather than take offense he intuitively calculated the transitory value of human appearance as a joke and he laughed. In an instant, in less than the minutes measurement of time, I saw that child as a man, an adult, grown, and tall, fully developed and he was earth-shatteringly handsome … handsome because he was bold and confident and positive and assured, he was optimistic and hopeful…..a mature man, level-headed, reliable, wise and still …he laughed …out loud, right out loud, without reservation or restraint, he laughed out loud. Now I, and I dare say three-quarters of the women on the face of the earth, will tell you that nothing, not straight white teeth, nor wavy hair, nor dreamy eyes, makes a man as downright handsome and intriguing as the man whose laughter breaks the sound barrier of propriety and incites a room full of hilarity. Laugh terit is contagious … and once unleashed it is hard to contain. I grew up in a family of court jesters. Even as children there was a clear understanding that Flemings will tease you till you bleed and you’d better develop a thick skin and a sharp wit or you aren’t going to survive. Practical jokes were carried out with the precision of army maneuvers; teasing was a competitive sport; reunions were gatherings of hilarity bordering on hysteria.

Dinner at our house could turn into an amusement park ride when eveyone was on a roll. After one elegant fish dinner in an elegant Los Angeles fish restaurant with my adult siblings, I woke the next morning to find one fish eye ball staring up at me from my jar of expensive face cream. A gift from my sister … the same sister, I might add, who one weekend when I was out of town filled my bathtub with one hundred gold fish. Even now I know better than to read my brother’s text messages in public, because they are guaranteed and bound by blood to be outrageous and inappropriate and just plain pee your pants funny. Humor was our shield when the wrath of the Thunder God (aka my father) was unleashed. We hid behind it. We applied it like salve on an open wound. It served us well. Sometimes I think I can hear Jesus laughing. In the midst of the madness, amid the world’s folly, not at anyone’s expense, I think I can hear Jesus laughing. Jesus laughing sounds like hail as it bounces off a tin roof; it sounds like boxcar wheels as they roll along an iron track; it sounds like coffee bubbling in an old percolator; it sounds like hearing my name called out in the middle of a crowd in the middle of a strange city. I hear his laughter and the atmosphere suddenly smells of shampoo and dryer cloths. I hear his laughter and the sun reflecting off a broken piece of green glass on the side of the street seems to reflect the image of my mother at 34 years of age in Hollywood wearing high-heeled shoes and holding my hand. I hear his laughter, and the air is filled with static electricity like when you rub a comb against your arm and hold it to your hair. I hear his laughter and I laugh too because only a fool wouldn’t join in that kind of merriment. I hear his laughter. Elation. Exuberance. Merriment. Gaiety. Amusement. Delight.

Those of you who years ago were in the UCC Adult Sunday School class that met in the house up on the hill will remember those Sundays that Marion or Marty or Roger with his slow, smooth wit, would get us so off track with their outrageous stories, we’d simply abandon the lesson plan and spend the morning laughing together. As much as I miss sitting in church together I miss more sitting together down in the church basement that smells of a thousand pots of coffee and is filled with the collective memory of laughter poured into those walls by Ben and Felicia, and Leslie, and Chris, and Eloise and Ralph, and Jerry and Jeanine, and Ken and Teddy and by each of you all of you gathered here this morning. Jesus must have understood that laughter connects us to one another It humanizes us I think that is why he instructed us to FORSAKE NOT FELLOWSHIP Fellowship. That time when we really come to know one another. Know and learn from one another. That takes time. That takes trust. Until you feel you can afford to be real. Until you trust enough to be vulnerable. Because vulnerable and fragile we all are. And laughter serves us well. Like vitamins and supplements build our immune system, laughter and a merry heart are good medicines that strengthen our souls. We need that strength because each of us here knows full well that life is not always a laughing matter. Its no laughing matter when you spread your cash across the kitchen table and there’s not enough to make ends meet. It’s no laughing matter when the nightly news is so grim and so violent you don’t want your children to watch it. It is no laughing matter when the flag seems to fly continuously at half-staff over yet another act of violence. It is no laughing matter when you are in physical or emotional pain.

It is no laughing matter when your aging body, your aging mind, can’t and won’t perform as they once did. It is no laughing matter when all of your money and resources can’t change your loved one's diagnosis. It is no laughing matter when all of your intelligence and power can’t pull your child back from the lure of the shadow land and you can’t protect them from themselves. It’s no laughing matter when racial inequality runs rampant in our street when, as Juanita reminds us every week, transgender persons are stabbed and shot just for being who they are. Its no laughing matter as Maddie said last week when try though you might to be the person you really want to be, you seem to continually default into that old mode of anger or outrage or pouting or retreat that does not serve you or your neighbor or bring about the highest good for yourself or the ones you love. It is no laughing matter. It is in these times, these hard and trying, challenging times, that God calls on each of us to be the church; calls each of us to take the strength and courage with which we have fortified ourselves with laughter in Fellowship Hall, and become a sanctuary holy and sacred, a sanctuary set aside for acts of love and great compassion. It is in these times that God calls this church to move outside and into the marketplace, boldly and bodaciously to echo God’s lovely lilting voice that says, Come on, bubby, we have been through tough times before. I was with you then and I am with you now. Do not despair. We will walk through this together. Our voices are to remind the world that God will never, ever, ever laugh at their problems or pain. We are to remind the world that God will never ever leave them alone. But Promises to be with them, with Us to the end of the

world. God Promises to make a way where there is no way a path in the wilderness God promises I will send my followers to stand by your side. I will give you wisdom I will give you strength

Hope Light Power Peace

Trust me. God says. Trust me. Trust the people I’ve put in your path. They are here to help you through. We are all here to help one another through. And like the baby in the grocery store who stood in my vision as a

magical, mystical adult; Strong and Steady, Positive and Assured, Optimistic and Hopeful; we too so stand for one another.

And we don’t have to wait for that Great-Getting-Up-Morning to see God’s glory because by the acts of our lives and our loves we are God’s glory Here - Now - Loving One Another - laughing with delight because we have seen the light, tasted the truth, been the joy.

When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us and we are filled with joy.”


Rev. Lorrie Gaffney Feb. 7, 2021 Not Broken - Simply Unfinished Fiorello La Guardia was born in 1882 and died in 1947. La Guardia was the longtime New York mayor for whom the airport was named. But before becoming mayor, he served as a police judge. Before his court one day came a sad-eyed man, accused of stealing a loaf of bread. The man said he had been forced to steal. His family had nothing to eat. La Guardia stated that the law made no allowances for that; the man would have to pay a $10 fine. But that is not the end of the story. La Guardia then fined every person in the courtroom 50 cents “for living in a city where a man has to steal in order to feed his family.” When the fines were collected, there was enough to pay the defendant’s fine... with some change left over for the next few loaves. Today, this story invites us into the question, “who sinned?” Was it the man who stole a loaf of bread to keep his family alive? And what of the sin of leaving his family starving? Or was the sin a primarily “Christian” culture that refused to connect with another’s needs; too easily judging others for not “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” as they should. According to the Gospel of John, ch. 9:1–12, Jesus saw a man who had been blind since birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" ... Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Or let us say it this way: Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but in this, God’s work of love might be (more greatly) displayed in him. Jesus is inviting us to see with the eyes of our heart, something more than a disabled blind person. There is something more valuable than outer appearances, than abilities or disabilities. Indeed the blind person may reveal more of God, more of love, than someone who has every comfort or ease in life. Matthew 5:3 is translated in the Message: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” Do you hear Jesus? Being at the end of your rope has nothing to do with sin. It is actually the place of blessing. It is the place where more of God, more of what really matters, can be found. Any of us who have had a life-threatening illness or violence or any close brush with death knows that it can be life-altering. My experience with violence, where I thought I would lose my life, profoundly changed me. I could no longer assume that life could be taken for granted. I knew too dearly that it could change in a moment. I grew to look towards things that are lasting and unchanging. And what, my friends, is lasting and unchanging... but God’s ever present, ever evolving, creative life-giving love. The Speech Pathologist in me has always been interested in words. So much of our life is shaped around the meanings we attach to words. Take the word “sin.” If sin is over here... what would be on the opposite end of the spectrum? What is the opposite of sin? ---

Well I decided to google it. And the opposite of sin is defined in the on-line dictionary as “virtue” or “good.” And so then, digging a little deeper, I googled “virtue.” Virtue is defined as “behavior showing high moral standards.” And “moral” is defined as “concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and goodness or badness of human character.” Aha! It finally made sense to me - why the word “Christian” becomes so problematic. Author and pastor John Pavlovich writes in The Bigger Table that Christians usually fall into one of two camps: One camp looks at a world of dysfunction, discord, and injustice as signs of a fallen creation, “proof of a sinful, rebellious culture rejecting God and paying the price.” Suffering arises from one’s wickedness. To this camp, “sin is the lens through which they view the world and the people in their path.” Everything then becomes about converting, rescuing the sinner and saving their soul for the next-life to come. “Or they see Jesus as an instant magic cure-all for the behavior in others that they find objectionable or uncomfortable. “ These folks are very concerned with judging the goodness or badness of another. This sounds a lot like the folks yelling Bible passages and warning folks of sin during the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6. They were right and “saved” and others not like them were going to hell. These might be called “Turn or Burn Christians”. Pavlovich writes, “Practically speaking, sin management seems easier because essentially all that is required of us is to preach, to call out people’s errors and invite them to repentance.” Then we get to feel faithful. To move away from sin is to move to (accepted) morals. Of course, ideas of morality vary by culture and change so that becomes a problem. Pavlovich continues: The second camp of Christians “see something different when looking at the mess in front of them. They see pain. They see need. They see longing.” There is recognition of humanity and the need we all carry for healing. This group knows that “Jesus’ default response to the fragile humanity before him is not contempt but compassion.” Jesus didn’t see sin, Jesus saw suffering. Jesus saw the beloved wholeness deep within. This group of Christians do not see a spectrum with the opposite of sin as virtue and goodness. No, the opposite of sin, to those who know God’s unconditional love that calls saint and sinner equally beloved, here now, today and tomorrow, on earth and in heaven... in this paradigm, the opposite end of the spectrum from sin, is love. And God is not a judge, God is a Lover. If you want to move away from sin, then you move towards opening to love. Everyone has the same wholeness of heart. But the door to that heart can get creaky, closed and even locked tight. But each of us has the key. Each of us can turn (the key) and open to love. And if we don’t turn the key, opening us to love, God will not burn us. God will wait at the door and knock. And knock, and knock. Can you picture it? God at the door with hands hidden, waiting to give you a Valentine and a hug. Theologian Marcus Borg once had an acquaintance tell him that he didn’t believe in God. Borg asked the acquaintance to tell him about this God he didn’t believe in. After he listed the

attributes of a judging, condemning, harsh God, Borg responded, “Yeah, I don’t believe in him either. Let me tell you about the God I do believe in.” If you ask random people to describe a Christian, what might you hear? (bigots, judgmental, self-righteous....) --- Probably lots of words about “beliefs” but unfortunately not a lot about compassion, openness, curiosity, vulnerability, fierce love. Let us change that. Maybe we need to move away from the word Christian and replace it with... something like Fierce Love Practitioners. Let me know if you come up with something better! Preacher Jason Micheli writes, “Our sins don’t change God’s love, they don’t offend God and they don’t provoke God’s wrath. God unswervingly loves reprobates like adulterer murderer King David, traitors like Judas, and everyday idiots like me or you.” Let us be very careful about the word sin. It is a loaded word that can move us off-track. Sin often gets associated with brokenness. That person committing a crime is a “broken” human being. But poet Amanda Gorman calls us to consider something different. What if we didn’t see that person as “broken”, but as simply “unfinished.” Some of you may remember me sharing the story told by Frank Rogers Jr in Practicing Compassion. It’s the story of Azim, a Fierce Love Practioner whose Muslim faith allowed him to see with the eyes of his heart. Here is his true story: Azim woke up one morning to find that his son, 20-year-old college student Tariq, was murdered during the night as he delivered pizza in a gang neighborhood. Tariq’s car was pinned in by another car and 14-year-old Tony was handed a gun by the older gang leader and ordered to kill the unknown deliveryman. Tony obeyed. Now doesn’t that seem like the ultimate sin, the ultimate in brokenness. And yet as Azim struggled with his pain, despair and rage over the loss of his precious son, he also reflected on the Islamic invitation to resist hatred and find a way to forgive. With meditation and therapy, he began to heal into something greater. He felt a sacred presence surround him and everyone else involved. He began to wonder about a boy so troubled that violence toward a stranger felt attractive. He created a foundation to eradicate conditions of youth violence and to teach a peacemaker’s path of non-violence, forgiveness, and restorative justice. And then he visited Tony in prison. He was anxious as he imagined looking into the eyes of a cold-blooded killer. He became still, he prayed, he entered the visiting booth, and looked into Tony’s eyes. He did not see a killer. He saw a terrified child, beaten down by a world stacked against him. As Azim described it, he gazed straight into Tony’s soul and saw the boy’s humanity. In that moment of connection, both of their hearts broke open and both hearts were touched by a sacred grace. Azim shared- without malice or accusation- the grief of losing a son. And he listened to Tony share the pain of growing up fatherless in a gang-ridden ghetto. He wept for Tony. Tony wept as well, expressing how sorry he was and how he ached for some way to

make it up. Azim offered Tony a way. Indeed, he did more; he offered Tony a job. Upon his release from prison, Tony could work as an advocate against youth violence through the foundation named after the very boy Tony had killed.

Through the grace of a loving God, Azim saw that Tony was not broken. He was not someone to throw away. He was simply unfinished.

Friends if Azim can open his heart in such a way, how about you and me? How are we being called to move away from legalistic judgment of right and wrong and towards grace, forgiveness, and our interconnected humanity? How about if we start with practicing grace and forgiveness with ourselves, seeing ourselves as our compassionate God sees us.

Fierce Love Practitioners, here is your homework this week:

Place a hand on your heart, soften your eyes, smile warmly and breathe in the goodness of your being - not the goodness of your acts or doings - but the deep goodness in your being. After enough practice, try this while sitting with a loved one, breathing in the goodness of their being.

Eventually, after lots and lots of practice, try this with someone more difficult, breathing in their goodness, deeper than any wounds and suffering that may cause them to act in harmful ways.

Centering by Amanda Gorman, Jan. 2021 Inaugural poem (part one)

When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade? The loss we carry sea we must wade. We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace. In the norms and notions of what just is isn’t always justice. And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow, we do it. Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished. We, the successors of a country and a time where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one.


Rev. Lorrie Gaffney

Dec. 6, 2020 Welcome the Mess!

Sue Monk Kidd

I find something breathtakingly hallowed about this truth: that in the midst of pain and crisis God is drawing us to wholeness... I struggled to trust that the whirlwind I was riding was a sacred opportunity- that it wanted to take me somewhere.”

We are the Ones We've Been Waiting For -- Hopi Elders' Prophecy, June 8, 2000

You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth.

Create your community.

Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for your leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

This Advent the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, we are reflecting on the question, “What longs to be born in you?”

As I consider this question and the Hopi prophecy, I hear a longing in myself to let go from the safety of the river’s shore and trust that the currents will take me safely in the right direction. And as importantly to trust myself that I can and will keep my eyes open to navigate obstacles and keep my head above water.

What about you?

Maybe you are feeling a longing to understand a relationship in a more life-giving way, or prioritize time with friends and family... Maybe it is to have more open-hearted awareness around our water and food production. Maybe it is finding more courage for loving truth-telling or vulnerable sharing... You are invited to consider what you would most like to give birth to this Christmas.

But here is the challenge friends. If you have given birth or seen a birth you know very well that it is messy. Blood is shed in the process of birthing. And so, it is with new ways of being.

Religion often tries to paint a sanitized version of spiritual journeys. After all we like to see baby Jesus cooing with lifted arms in sweet smelling hay. We don’t spend time smelling the animal poop surrounding him or seeing pooled blood in a non-climate controlled environment.

Jesus’ coming into the world was messy. It was chaotic... and it shows us the beauty and hope found in the midst of such times.

Author of our Lenten devotional “Low”, author and UCC minister John Pavlovich reminds us that, as much as we want our spiritual journeys to be “comfortable and clean” they are not meant to be something that “we can easily accessorize our lives with.” Pavlovich writes, “Life comes with the collateral damage of living, with failed plans and relational collapse, with internal struggle and existential crisis, and we carry these things with us into this season.”

The good news is we don’t need to discard our messiness to step into this season, and we couldn’t even if we wanted to. Bring every bit of your flawed self and all your chaotic circumstances to this (time). “Welcome the mess.”

“Welcome the mess” sounds so counterintuitive doesn’t it? But Mary and Joseph are our guides here. Mary stayed grounded in the midst of all the chaos and judgment surrounding her, but it was Joseph that really interested me this week. It was Joseph who had to let go of the shoreline, filled with all the religious rules, and expectations, placed on him to discard his pregnant wife-to-be. He could have clung to the safety of simply following the laws insisting on a woman’s purity before marriage. It would have been easier for him, and he could have felt justified by the rules of his faith, to publicly expose Mary, but it would have ruined Mary’s life- and cost him his heart. Instead of public shaming, Joseph chose to let go and trust the river of life and love would take him where he most needed to go on his spiritual journey; that this “whirlwind... was a sacred opportunity-- that it wanted to take him somewhere.” And it wasn’t easy. It was messy. But it did indeed take Joseph somewhere - and we remember him 2000 years later.

Remember when we talked about the problem of assumptions? Imagine the assumptions made about a man who stayed with a woman who became pregnant, through someone else, just before their wedding. The assumptions would likely be that he was morally crazy or weak. Yet fast-forwarding Hopi Elders' Prophecy, June 8, 2000

You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…Where are you living?

What are you doing?

What are your relationships?

Are you in right relation?

Where is your water?

Know your garden.

It is time to speak your truth.

Create your community.

Be good to each other.

And do not look outside yourself for your leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

This Advent the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas, we are reflecting on the question, “What longs to be born in you?”

As I consider this question and the Hopi prophecy, I hear a longing in myself to let go from the safety of the river’s shore and trust that the currents will take me safely in the right direction. And as importantly to trust myself that I can and will keep my eyes open to navigate obstacles and keep my head above water.

What about you?

We often think of heroes as perfect people who are born that special way. But Wikipedia defines a hero as “one who displays courage and self-sacrifice for the greater good.”

Author and psychotherapist Peter Levine writes this about heroes: “Heroes aren’t born, they are cultivated through adversity. The most compelling heroes of ancient lore are the ones who suffer great disappointments and loss. They aren’t ready for the task at hand. They fail at first. They change.” And only then do “They prove themselves to others and to themselves. They earn the support of friends and allies. They persevere. They find their own mastery. They triumph.”

My favorite superhero is Spider-man. As Peter Parker, he was always being misunderstood, undervalued and underappreciated. Yet he didn’t allow the superficial assumptions or opinions of others to define him. He knew he was more even if others didn’t see it. He lived from the wisdom: with great power, comes great responsibility.

Like it or not, you my friends, are superheroes. That doesn’t mean you effortlessly save the day and make everything better. It means you live through adversity, are willing to suffer great disappointment - and losses - usually of the ego that says you can’t fail. Because you will fail - that is the messiness of it all. And then you will change and persevere. And only then, might the hero in you be glimpsed. It’s not all that glamorous after all, is it? It may not be glamorous, but it is indeed sacred. It is where life gets birthed - not only for the hero - but for those watching and longing to find their own way. Joseph had a great responsibility, not only to Mary, but to point the way for others of what a revolutionary love looks like.

Author, civil rights attorney and Sikh activist Valerie Kaur defines revolutionary love in her memoir, “See No Stranger.” Kaur writes:

“Love” is more than a feeling. Love is a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving—a choice we make over and over again. If love is sweet labor, love can be taught, modeled, and practiced. This labor engages all our emotions.

Joy is the gift of love.

Grief is the price of love.

Anger protects that which is loved.

And when we think we have reached our limit; wonder is the act that returns us to love.

“Revolutionary love” is the choice to enter into wonder and labor for others, for our opponents, and for ourselves in order to transform the world around us. It is not a formal code or prescription but an orientation to life that is personal and political and rooted in joy.

Loving only ourselves is escapism; loving only others is ineffective. loving only our opponents is self-loathing.

All three practices together make love revolutionary, and revolutionary love can only be practiced in community.

Revolutions do not happen only in grand moments in public view but also in small pockets of people coming together to inhabit a new way of being. We birth the beloved community by becoming the beloved community. . .. When a critical mass of people practice together, in community and as part of movements for justice, I believe we can begin to create the world we want, here and now.”

Revolutionary love looks like a church member offering to be a supportive presence with someone who is being bullied for being transgender. It looks like courageously examining the not so pretty parts of one’s self. It means continuing to hold hope for the healing of someone who cannot yet admit the suffering they cause - (think perhaps of two young boys destroying property once again). Revolutionary love means forgiving one’s self for failures and continuing on the journey to start again - knowing we never fall back to the very beginning but always start a little further along each time.

Friends, this week consider what longs to be born in you.Then get low.Welcome in the messy. Learn from Joseph.Become a real hero.Share revolutionary love.Because soon we will celebrate the birth of new life!Amen

Nov. 22, 2020

Rev. Lorrie Gaffney We Belong to the Land and One Another Soldier return home video (first 2minutes) If I ever need a good cry I know I can turn on one of these videos of soldiers returning home to surprise loved ones. I wondered about this reaction in me. I know it is true for many others as well. There is a lot going on there that tugs at our heart. Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest, spirituality writer and social justice leader once said he would debark from an airplane and long to have someone there welcoming him back. We long to be welcomed home to the place where we are seen -- and loved anyway! When I was in college I must have unconsciously felt this deep need and so I decided to surprise my parents with a return home during Spring break.I got a ride share from Boulder CO to CC Texas - no small venture. Well, let’s just say it didn’t go like the movies. Life is full of complexities. But still we long to belong. We long to be welcomed home to where we belong to what most matters in life. Wikipedia defines belongingness as “the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers, a religion, or something else, people tend to have an 'inherent' desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves.” You probably know by now that one of the most important stories in the Bible to me, is the story of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus doesn’t put himself above others but humbles himself -- claiming his need for God’s grace that connects him with all sinners and saints. As he is baptised the words of God are heard: This is my son, with whom I am well-pleased. Welcome home to the community of unconditional belovedness. It’s a God-hug. That is the beauty of baptism - the group God-hug of community celebrating this unconditional belonging. You don’t have to experience this only through baptism of course. And a church community, like any human group, will not always respond unconditionally as longed for. God is God and people aren’t God. People come with their own wounds and imperfections. And so we gather, not as perfectly loving people. We gather to claim the grace we are offered. The other story I have been thinking of is the story of the Prodigal Son. There are so many angles to explore. We can take on the role of the Father who graciously welcomes the wayward, undeserving son home with an extravagant welcome. We can enter into the story as the son, selfish, greedy, wasteful, doing our own thing, seeking superficial things in life, then becoming lost and experiencing real grace, real belonging for the first time. Or we could see how we are often like the older brother - wanting rules to win, rather than the messiness of grace. But this week, I found myself wondering about the mother. Now there is no mention of her. But I thought of the story of Mary and Martha. I wondered if the mother was busy supervising the feast. Excited to have her son back. Would she stay in the kitchen, coming out with food as a blessing like Martha? Would she, like Mary, come and sit at her son’s feet and give him her full attention- to listen to his heart? These questions around fostering a sense of belonging made me think of the Five A’s of Love. A concept from PhD psychotherapist David Richo in his book How to Be an Adult in

Relationships. The five ways of mindfully offering love and belonging are attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing. Do you know that babies are wired to look intently at the area of the face between the eyes. Survival depends upon attention. How we offer attention to another by noticing them, hearing their words and feelings can help another feel respected, understood, and valued. Acceptance of another means that the other can be themselves. They can share thoughts or feelings and not fear judgment of rejection, ridicule or being cut off. It brings a sense of security and confidence. It’s living into what we say when we take communion: Differences are not something we tolerate, they are indeed a blessing. The more differences we bring the more the sacred is found in our midst. Appreciation is like food for our souls. Research has shown that couples who stay together, rather than splitting up, are those who give 5 statements of appreciation to the other for every one complaint! We can show appreciation by noticing and saying thank you for qualities and actions of another. Affection is more than physical closeness. Affection is shown through conversation, gestures presence, playfulness, kind and thoughtful words and actions. Finally, allowing means we let go of control and give another freedom to be themselves. This is the real meaning of grace isn’t it. Grace is allowing another to be whomever they may be - even when it isn’t pretty- and still continuing to remember and love who they are most deeply. In the story of the Prodigal Son, can you see how well the father offered the 5 A’s to the son? The father gave the son his attention- even seeing him from a far way off. The son was allowed the freedom to make mistakes and still be accepted and loved as the father awaited his return home to himself. The son was showered with a feast of affection that showed he was valued and appreciated by words and actions. WhenI look at my own skills in offering the 5 A’s I feel like I might need to study and practice more soI don’t get 5 F’s! Thank God for grace! Friends, if we want to feel a belongingness to the land and one another, the key is being open to grace. If we want to know we belong, like Jesus we must stand in the muddy waters with all the other saints and sinners in need of claiming God’s grace in our lives. Most of us are very familiar with the song Amazing Grace but may not know the history as shared in WorshipResources Jan. 2018. “Written almost two and a half centuries ago in 1772, the words for the beloved song were borne from the heart, mind and experiences of the Englishman John Newton. Knowing the

story of John Newton's life as a slave trader and the journey he went through before writing the hymn will help to understand the depth of his words and his gratefulness for God's truly amazing grace. Having lived through a rather unfortunate and troubled childhood (his mother passed away when he was just six years old), Newton spent years fighting against authority, going so far as trying to desert theRoyal Navy in his twenties. Later, abandoned by his crew in West Africa, he was forced to be a servant to a slave trader but was eventually rescued. On the return voyage to England, a violent storm hit and almost sank the ship, prompting Newton to begin his spiritual conversion as he cried out to God to save them from the storm. Upon his return, however, Newton became a slave ship master, a profession in which he served for several years. Bringing slaves from Africa to England over multiple trips, he admitted to sometimes treating the slaves abhorrently. In 1754, after becoming violently ill on a sea voyage, Newton abandoned his life as a slave trader, the slave trade, and seafaring, ltogether, wholeheartedly devoting his life to God's service. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1764 and became quite popular as a preacher and hymn writer, penning some 280 hymns, among them the great "Amazing Grace,"... set to the popular tune NEW BRITAIN in 1835 by William Walker. In later years, Newton fought alongside William Wilberforce, leader of the parliamentary campaign to abolish the African slave trade. He described the horrors of the slave trade in a tract he wrote supporting the campaign and lived to see the British passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807. And now, we see the lyrics...carry a much deeper meaning than a sinner's mere gratitude. Close to death at various times and blind to reality at others, Newton would most assuredly not have written "Amazing Grace" if not for his tumultuous past. And many of us would then be without these lovely words that so aptly describe our own relationship with Christ and our reliance on God's grace in our lives.” The story and the lyrics continued to develop in more modern times as Harriet Beecher Stowe's classic African American novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, has Tom singing three verses of "Amazing Grace," including one verse not written by Newton, which is now traditionally sung as the final verse: When we've been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We've no less days to-sing God's praise, Than when we first begun.”

This week I received a text from Reb Fleming who has agreed to let me share her words with you today. She wrote “the homework assignment (from last Sunday) left me aching for the sacredness of the desert where nature only required opening the front door to solitude and space and silence and stone. Then, low and behold, I opened my back door last evening and over the top of the neighbors houses, squeezed in around fences and cars, was a sunset who whispered, “I was always here.” “I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.

I found myself thinking, Yes...the best preacher I ever heard was a sunset. Or maybe a swan in flight... I think of Mary Oliver’s words: And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?” And have you changed your life?

I thought this week-of the painful disappointment of not receiving the welcome home I had hoped for in my college days. But this is what grace offers us... Because I know the disappointment and longing for welcome, I can write a new story that replaces the one of loss

with one of joyful commitment to offer a welcome to others.

Friends, let us change our lives, allowing God’s grace to fill us and flow through us so that all may hear the words God is always whispering and longing for us to claim, “You are my beloved. In you I am well pleased.” “Welcome Home!” Amen


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