Monday, July 27, 2015

Sermon: "Metamorphosis"

The Rev. Maureen Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
July 26, 2015 – Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21


Let’s get this out of the way right up front.
Many of us struggle with stories about miracles.
Whether we’re talking about Jesus walking on water or the friend of a friend we know who believes that her cousin was healed of cancer solely through the power of prayer.
These are the stories that make some us say to our more secular friends,
“Yeah, I’m not THAT kind of Christian.” 
We’re Christians who believe in Jesus’ message of compassion and justice, and God’s unconditional love and Grace.
But the stories about magically multiplying fish and Jesus moon walking on the sea, surely those stories were meant to be taken metaphorically and not literally like SOME Christians believe.

If you’re a skeptic, you’re not alone.
Founding father, Thomas Jefferson struggled with this so much he went as far at to publish his own version of the gospels. He sat down with the New Testament and removed all the miracle stories. He literally cut out the verses that couldn’t be explained rationally or empirically and pasted what was left into a book that came to be known at the “Jefferson Bible.”   I have a copy of it here if you’d like to take a look at it after the service. But you won’t find today’s scripture reading from John 6 in here – Jefferson cut the entire chapter out.

Our skepticism is normal – We are after all a product of our time.
We live in the age of reason.
The age that upholds the “truth” found in empirical knowledge.
The age of fact checking and forensic investigation.
We don’t just put things under a microscope to examine them more closely, we can now look at and manipulate the very building blocks of life.
We can split atoms to make weapons, and pull molecules and genes apart and put them back together again, creating new plants, new animals, new foods, a new “us” in the process.
The fact that we can do all of this would seem miraculous to someone living even just 100 years ago…..and to someone living 2,000 years ago, the things we do today would be incomprehensible.

Yet those same ancient people would be amazed at how we struggle to understand how one man could feed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread, and how that same man could calm a storm and walk on water. 
Our first century ancestors might shake their heads in amusement at how much time and energy our scholars and scientists have devoted to seeking rational explanations for the miracle stories that Jesus’ first followers shared without question amongst themselves.

We say Jesus couldn’t have really walked on water – it’s physically impossible - it must have been low tide or he was walking on a sandbar or on the surface of a submerged rock.
Or he was actually wading on the shoreline but it was too dark and stormy for the disciples to see clearly. 
Some suggest that Jesus pulled off a magic trick using the science of non-Newtonian fluids – fluids that become solids when a force is applied to them.  
If you Google “Jesus” and “corn flour” you’ll find You Tube videos that demonstrate this phenomenon using water mixed with cornstarch.
If you fill a pool with the mixture and run across it, your feet will rebound as if hitting a solid surface.
No one has yet to reasonably explain how the Sea of Galilee came to be filled with cornstarch right before Jesus walked on it. 
Perhaps a cargo ship carrying baking supplies capsized in the storm.

Our first century ancestors might also be perplexed at how we take the story of the feeding of the 5,000 – a story about the miraculous power of God – and turn it into a moral lesson about sharing and generosity.

Once again, we can’t quite wrap our heads around the miracle, so instead we look for explanations -
Perhaps the people were so moved by the generosity of the boy who shared his meager lunch with Jesus, that they too reached into their picnic baskets and pulled out the bread and fish they had brought for themselves, and shared it with those around them who had nothing.
This is a wonderful and meaningful interpretation of the story.
And we might say the true miracle might be found in how many people had their hearts moved that day because Jesus inspired them to practice such radical generosity amongst strangers.

But in weaving this explanation we make ourselves the focus of the story.
The hungry are fed not by God alone, but by the collective and generous work of the people, who gathered and distributed from their abundance.

Again, this is a wonderful and meaningful message – and it is one that we need to hear – because ultimately feeding the hungry DOES depend on our willingness to share, and it is OUR hands that gather and distribute the resources that God has given us.

But when we seek explanations for these miracles – When we place our hands in the basket, and put Jesus on a sand bar – we miss that these were meant to be stories about the incomprehensible power of God.  
The power that the author of the letter to the Ephesians describes as “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

These are stories about how God transforms us - from the inside out.
Suddenly. Radically. Miraculously.

The people who witnessed Jesus feeding thousands of people with a few loaves of bread were transformed.
The people who witnessed Jesus calming a storm and walking across the sea were transformed.

Right then and there they stopped being the person they had been and they become someone new. Someone different.
Someone more compassionate, more generous, and less fearful.
Someone more open to believing in the life-changing power of God.

Perhaps it’s helpful to think of this change as more of a metamorphosis than a transformation.

A transformation can happen gradually over time, 
as we make changes in the way we think and act in the world.
We decide to drink less. Exercise more.
We try to reel in our anger and make a concerted effort to be nice to the people who annoy us most.
We choose to be more active in our church and in our community – to give back and be more thankful for what we have been given.

Transformation often involves a series of small changes that add up to one big change over time.
Metamorphosis involves a much greater, more sudden, and more noticeable change in how we exist in the world.

Many of you may have heard of or read the classic novella by Franz Kafka, titled “Metamorphosis.”  
It’s the story of a traveling salesman named Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to discover that he has been inexplicably transformed into a giant insect.   Beyond the startling imagery, the story is about how Gregor and others in his life respond to his sudden metamorphosis.
Most are disgusted by him, but others choose to step in and care for him by performing the basic tasks he can no longer do.

We might find parallels in our own lives if we’ve ever made radical changes in how we think, act, or present ourselves to the world…
Changes that were met with both rejection and acceptance….
Giving up an addiction and the friends that came along with it.
Getting a divorce in a faith tradition or an era where it was stigmatized.
Identifying as a Christian – in a public way – in a culture that has a perception that most Christians are judgmental and narrow minded and that faith itself is superstitious, old-fashioned, and irrelevant.

When God reaches in and changes our hearts it can’t help but change our lives and the way we move in the world.

But as Kafka’s travelling salesman discovered, when we long for transformation - a change in our everyday monotonous existence, we should be careful what we wish for.
There’s a humorous story about two men who arrive at the gates of St. Peter only to find that heaven is temporarily closed for renovations.
They’re told that they can return to earth for one week but not as themselves.
They have to choose some other form to take.
The first man says, "I've always wanted to be an eagle, soaring above the Rocky Mountains."
      "So be it," says St. Peter, and off flies the first man.
      The second man mulls this over for a moment and asks,
"Will you be keeping track of us?"
      And St. Peter responds, "No, with the renovations going on there's no way we can keep track of what you are doing. This week's a freebie."
      "In that case," says the second man, "I've always wanted to be a stud."
      "So be it," says St. Peter, and the second man disappears.
      A week goes by, the renovations are completed and God tells St. Peter to recall the two men.
      "Will we have trouble locating them?" St. Peter asked.
      "The first one should be easy," said God "He's somewhere over the Rocky Mountains, flying with the eagles. But the second one who wanted to be a stud could prove to be more difficult to find."
      "Why?" asked St. Peter.  And God replied,
      "Because he's on a snow tire somewhere in Alaska."

Did Jesus feed 5000 people with only 5 loaves of bread?
Did Jesus calm the seas and walk on water?
Does God move in our world in miraculous ways to cause us to look up and take notice and awaken to a new way of living?

Often when we try to explain away these miracles we effectively remove God from the story.
In the feeding of the 5000, the people may have been moved to share what they had brought for themselves, but if we want to tell the story this way we have to be sure to emphasize the miraculous transformation that had to happen to move so many hearts, simultaneously, in such an amazing way.

Similarly, Jesus may have only appeared to be walking on water due to the natural occurrence of a low tide, but we shouldn’t allow our need for empirical explanations to dismiss or disregard the experience that the disciples claimed to have.
They believed they saw Jesus walking on water and it was that experience, that vision, that caused their hearts to move from fear to joy.
They were transformed.
And because THEY were transformed WE are sitting here today, telling the same story, 2000 years removed.

Thomas Jefferson struggled to believe.
So much so that he removed Jesus’ miracles from the gospels dismissing the transformational value and truth they had to offer.
The words of Jesus he did include are words of wisdom.
Words to guide us, inspire us, and change us…..but will the words in this book (Jefferson’s Bible) transform us in the same way as the words in this book (The Holy Bible)?

What would life be like without the miracles?
The unexplained occurrences that cause us to gasp in delight, shed tears of joy, and search for God between the lines.

What would life be like without transformational experiences?
The times when our minds are changed, our perceptions are moved, and our hearts break wide open with love.

It’s okay to be skeptical. No one says we have to check our brains at the door to be members of a community of faith.
But it’s okay to believe in miracles as well.
If we can do wondrous things that would baffle our ancestors,
then God certainly has the power to do wondrous things that are far beyond our comprehension as well.

But if we’re sitting around waiting for a miracle to transform us it’s not going to happen.
We have to be willing to leave our lunch behind and follow Jesus up a mountain.
We have to be willing to step into the boat while the waves rise all around us.

But even when we do, we may not be instantly transformed in the same way that the people who witnessed Jesus’ miracles were.

What we CAN do is continue to seek out opportunities for transformation in our every day lives.

Volunteer in the community. Mentor a child. Go on a mission trip.
Join a small group ministry group. Don’t be afraid to sit with others and talk about your experiences of life, relationships, and faith.
Head over to SHARE in Milford and help out at a community dinner.
Push back when you hear others say something that is racist, sexist, homophobic, or divisive in any way.
Resist the urge to paint all liberals and conservatives, all Christians and all Muslims, with the same brush, and try to do more listening and understanding, and less defending and demonizing.
Read the Bible.
Read the stories of our ancestors who believed in miracles because all things are possible with God.

Open yourselves for transformation.
Fall on your knees, and allow Christ to dwell in your hearts,
as allow yourself to become rooted and grounded in love.

Thanks be to God. Amen

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sermon: "Yin and Yang"

Rev. Maureen Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, United Church of Christ
July 12, 2015 – Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-36

“Yin and Yang”

We live in the age of information.
Most of us carry in our pockets a device that is capable of accessing the knowledge of the world’s libraries, universities, and think tanks.
Through the power of the Internet we can become experts in any field that interests us;
we can read peer-reviewed articles and cull through research that supports or disproves our preconceived ideas;
we can form educated opinions and devise insightful ways of looking at the complexities of our world’s problems and we can use the power of instantaneous communication to work cooperatively with people all over the world to seek solutions to those problems.

Thanks to the Internet, we now have a gateway to knowledge and wisdom unlike any the world has ever known.
And yet what do most of us do with this gateway?
We use it to watch cat videos and to argue with people that we don’t know.

You may have seen the cartoon that shows a man typing away furiously at his computer while he says to his wife, “I can’t go to bed now, honey, somebody is WRONG on the internet.”

Just because the knowledge of the world is available to us at our fingertips, it doesn’t make us any wiser for having access to it.

But the fact that the Internet exists and that we’re collectively adding our knowledge to it and building on it exponentially by the millisecond, shows that we as a species have an insatiable curiosity and desire to grow in our wisdom.
Even if we can’t always trust what we read on Wikipedia. 
We might say the book of Proverbs was ancient Israel’s version of Wikipedia.  While the book is largely attributed to King Solomon, it contains the culled knowledge of a people who passed down oral and written words of wisdom over the course of hundreds of years.
Wisdom that has now become part of our everyday vernacular, such as:
“Pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
“Many are the plans in a human heart, but it is God’s plan that prevails.”

A proverb by definition is a short pithy saying that has a truth or common sense to it. 
Taken on their own these words of wisdom can give us pause and cause to look at an issue, a challenge, or an every day occurrence in a new way.
And amazingly, even as languages change over time, these saying endure.

 “The early bird catches the worm,”  dates back to the 16th century.
“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” is from the 12th century.

Benjamin Franklin is famous for compiling his own book of Proverbs in his “Poor Richard’s Almanac” – in which he shared such nuggets as:

“A full belly makes a dull brain”
“A countryman between two lawyers, is like a fish between two cats.”

We haven’t lost our love of proverbs by any means.
Except now they show up in the form of humorous memes on facebook: 

“Always give 100%, unless you’re giving blood.”
“If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in a dark room with a mosquito.”

And then there’s this twist on a familiar favorite:
“The early bird gets the worm, but it’s the second mouse who gets the cheese.”

Pithy sayings do get our attention and the good ones stand the test of time.
But the Book of Proverbs goes beyond imparting wisdom through the use of clever sayings….The Book of Proverbs gives us the story of Wisdom herself.

Here Wisdom is personified and made real and whole, so that we may better see Wisdom not as a thing to be obtained but as a presence of God that we are meant to live in relationship with.

"Wisdom” is the most developed personification of God's presence in the Hebrew Scriptures; and, yes, the terms used to describe this presence are grammatically feminine in gender.
The word for Wisdom in Hebrew is “Hokmah,” and in Greek it is “Sophia.”

Christian Theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, writes:

         The biblical depiction of Wisdom herself is consistently female, casting her as sister, mother, female beloved, chef and hostess, preacher, judge, liberator, establisher of justice and a myriad of other female roles in which she symbolizes transcendent power ordering and delighting the world.
          She is that presence which pervades creation, interacting with both nature and human beings in an effort to lure them along the right path.1

Wisdom makes her first appearance in the book of Job.
Job asks, “If we can mine the earth for silver and gold, where has God hidden understanding, where can Wisdom be found?”
The answer that Job receives is that only God knows the whereabouts of this treasure, and we can only catch glimpses of her that serve to point us in the direction of God.

After this elusive appearance in Job, Wisdom strides into the Book of Proverbs noisily proclaiming her message to anyone who will listen. 
She is a preacher and a prophet, crying aloud in the market, on the street corners, and at the city gates with a message of reprimand and promise.2    

For centuries, women of faith have found inspiration in this image of Wisdom and have embraced her by her Greek name, Sophia.
Sophia is the antithesis of the stereotypical woman that many of our world cultures promote. She is not quiet, unassuming and submissive. 
She is a street-wise, justice-driven, passionate figure who wants nothing less than for everyone to follow in her footsteps as she seeks both to transform and delight in the created world.3

For Christians, Wisdom is sometimes conflated with the third member of the Trinity - The Holy Spirit - The guiding presence that God sent into the world to be with us when Jesus no longer could.

But while theologians argue that the two are distinct from one another because the Spirit has always existed along with God while Wisdom was said to have been created by God, seeing both God’s Spirit and God’s Wisdom as feminine resonates with the part of the Creation story that tells us that God is pluralistic in nature – and that God is both male and female.

In the first chapter of Genesis, God the Creator says:
 "Let us create humankind in our image, according to our likeness; So God created humankind in his image; male and female he created them."  (1:26-27)

This pluralistic understanding of God is not unusual.
Biblical scholars point out that even the very names used for God in the Old Testament, Elohim and Adonai are plural nouns that were typically used to refer to a collective group of Gods, but over time came to refer to the one true God of Israel.
The one true God that even we Christians see as containing multiple parts.
God the Creator, God the Redeemer in Christ, and God the Sustainer in the Holy Spirit.

Still, to place gender on these aspects of God is troublesome for some of us.
For some, referring to God as a “she” is unnerving.
For others, referring to God as a “he” is unnerving.

And here in the United Church of Christ, despite our move towards inclusive language, and our emphasis on God as being Spirit and therefore genderless, the image of God as Father and God as masculine still prevails, as it does in the wider church and in the wider culture.

One of the exercises we do at the beginning of our confirmation class every year is to have the teens draw a picture of their image of God.
Inevitably, every boy and every girl draws a picture of God as male –
The stereotypical image of an old man with a long white beard or a younger version that looks more like Jesus but is still obviously male.

We might say that 13 and 14 year olds have a limited understanding of God based on what they’ve been taught in their young lives… but what are they missing if OUR emphasis in Sunday School and in worship is always on God the father and God the son – on the masculine image of God – with little to no mention of the feminine image of God – personified in the Holy Spirit or in Wisdom.

We may not think our image of God influences how we treat our fellow human beings, but the stark reality is that even in 2015, two-thirds of religious Americans belong to faith communities that don’t allow women to hold leadership positions.4
As we’ve seen throughout the ages and in most cultures, when God is exclusively male, the male is seen as God, and women are subjugated as a result.

How might Wisdom free us from this limited understanding of our Creator and this limited understanding of ourselves?

The ancient Israelites were on to something when they personified Wisdom as an aspect of God. 
Wisdom is no longer this vague amorphous thing that is hard to define and even harder to obtain.
Wisdom instead takes on form – in this case a female form – that represents justice, compassion, joy, and freedom from tyranny and disorder. 

If we think of the people in our lives who are free and just, who radiate joy and compassion, and how we naturally gravitate towards them and desire to have them in our lives, Wisdom personified is meant to do the same.
And by seeking a relationship with Wisdom we are opening ourselves up to a relationship with God.

Wisdom comes to us through experience, introspection, and insight.
Wisdom comes to us through the relationships we build with others and the often difficult work that we do when we examine our own hearts.
Wisdom is our awareness that we are connected to something so much greater than ourselves.

Out of wisdom flows compassion, empathy, mercy, grace, forgiveness – all the inter-relational acts that say, “I am connected to you, and I value that connection, so I am willing to do what it takes to reach out to you, to lift you up, to heal you, and in the process lift up and heal myself, and bring us back into right relationship with each other and with God.

The words of Wisdom contained in the book of Proverbs point us in the direction that God intends for us to go in life and in our interpersonal relationships, especially in this age of internet interaction.

Proverbs 15:1
 “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

 Proverbs 11:12
“Those who have no sense deride their neighbors, but those who have
understanding hold their tongues.”

Proverbs 22:6
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”

Sophia has wise words for us to heed.
She rejoices in God’s inhabited world, and delights in the human race.
She calls to us from the street corner and the market square and invites us to join her in her quest to help birth a just and joyous world.

And Sophia’s inclusion in the ancient Wisdom texts is an invitation for us to expand our image of God.  
To see God as masculine and feminine.
As protector and nurturer.
As strong and gentle.
As correcting and forgiving.

Where can Wisdom be found?
In the knowledge that we all are created in the image of God,
and we find God in each other.     

Amen and Thanks be to God.

[i] Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992.
[ii] Ibid, adapted.
[iii] Ibid, adapted.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sermon: "Good News and Bad News"

Rev. Maureen Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
July 5, 2015 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Ezekiel 2:1-5; Mark 6:1-13

“Good News and Bad News”

On the night of April 18, 1775, two men set out separately on horseback and rode from the city of Boston towards Lexington MA.
The men were given instructions to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were planning to raid the ammunitions stores in Lexington and in Concord.  
To ensure that at least one of the riders got through the British check points along the way, one man rode the northern route, and the other rode the southern route.

The southern route – through the towns of Roxbury, Brookline, and Waltham – was ridden by a man named William Dawes.
The northern route – through the towns of Somerville, Medford, and Arlington – was ridden by Paul Revere.

In the towns that Revere passed through, the local militia was alerted, church bells rang out, and additional riders were recruited and sent out to warn those in the countryside.  
Before he left Boston, Revere instructed the sexton of the North Church to send a signal by lantern to alert colonists in Charlestown - an act that is known today by the phrase "one if by land, two if by sea".
The news of the impending attack spread like wildfire.
Men grabbed their muskets and flooded into Lexington and Concord, and the next day the British were soundly defeated and pushed back to Charleston by the colonial militia. 
Militia that came mostly from the northern towns alerted by Paul Revere.

In contrast, the local militia in the southern towns that William Dawes passed through were not informed about the impending attack and thus only a few men from Roxbury, Brookline, and Waltham turned out to fight.
In fact, so few men turned out from Waltham that some historians concluded that the town was pro-British.   
It wasn’t.
Waltham didn’t find out the British were coming until it was too late.

The difference between Paul Revere’s and William Dawes’ midnight ride is that Revere stopped in every town on his route to Lexington, while Dawes rode straight through.
Historians speculate that Dawes may have thought it was more urgent to get to Lexington as quickly as possible to bring the news to Hancock and Adams, while Revere took it upon himself spread the news himself along the way.

It’s also worth noting that Revere was a known political activist who had more social networking connections than Dawes. Revere routinely rode through Boston’s surrounding towns while doing business as a silversmith, so on that fateful night in 1775, he knew where to find the town officials and the leaders of the local militia, he knew which doors to knock on first, and he was careful to code his message to avoid tipping off those who might be spies for Britain.

We might say Paul Revere was a colonial-age prophet.
The kind of prophet who takes his message to the masses and risks knocking on the wrong door and finding himself arrested or worse.
The kind of prophet who risks his own reputation if the news he has to share is deemed to be ridiculous, scandalous, or just plain wrong.

These are the same risks taken by many of the prophets that we read about in the Bible.
The rabble rousers who stood on the fringes of society and climbed up on soapboxes to warn everyone that dark days were ahead -  
or to offer reasons why the dark days were already upon them.  

The biblical prophets were often harbingers of bad news.
The most common message was that the people had done something to incite the wrath of God.
But this prophetic bad news was often tempered with some good news.
Through gritted teeth and fervent fist shaking these prophets assured the masses that they could avoid God’s wrath by changing their evil ways.
Renounce sin or suffer.
Turn or burn.
Repent or die.

These may be harsh words to our ears but the sentiment rings true.
The further away we move from God – the force of love, compassion, mercy, and grace in our world – the more disjointed and unfulfilled our lives may become.
We may not believe that we’re risking eternal damnation in the Biblical sense, especially if we put our faith in a loving and merciful God,
but perhaps we can see how wallowing in anger, hate, resentment, and fear can make our lives a living hell.
We may feel trapped in our misery....until we take a step – any step – that moves us towards healing.
And if we’ve ever felt controlled by the forces of addiction, fear, or despair, then we may already know what hell on earth is like.

The threat of eternal damnation may inspire some of us to find a way out of whatever pit we’ve fallen into, but for many of us piling a fear of God on top of our other overwhelming fears does not move us towards healing, and it rarely results in a real or long-lasting change in our lives.

This was true in Jesus’ day as much as it is in ours.

The prophets of old with their frantic turn or burn message didn’t seem to be making much headway in the world until Jesus came along and turned the message on its head.

When Jesus stood up to speak, the bad news became the Good News.

The Good News is that God loves us unconditionally.

The Good News is that God mercy and grace is available to all.

The Good News is that in this Kingdom – this new world that God longs to help us create -  there will be no more tears, no more suffering.
Barriers will be broken down, the oppressed shall be liberated,
the last shall be first, all will be welcomed at God’s table.

When Jesus sent his disciples out into the world two by two he gave them explicit instructions to carry this Good News to everyone they encountered.
Like Paul Revere on his historic ride, they were to enter every town and village they came across, and seek out those who were willing to listen.

But unlike Revere, they were not meant to blow quickly through town, shouting their message and then leaving.
Which is why Jesus instructed them not to carry anything with them except the sandals on their feet, the staff in their hand, and the cloak on their back.

With no bag to carry supplies and no money to buy food or pay for lodging, the disciples did not have the option of being self sufficient.
They had to rely on the hospitality of strangers, who would hopefully take them in, feed them, give them a bed to sleep in…and it was through these trust-building interactions that they would ultimately spread the Good News that Jesus had commissioned them to share.

Jesus didn’t intend for his disciples to be just another group of traveling prophets shouting warnings about God’s impending judgment to strangers on the street,
rather he wanted them to take the time to get to know the people they were teaching and ministering to –
to eat with them and spend several days and evenings with them,
to learn their children’s names,
to listen to them talk about their joys and their frustrations,
their hopes and their pain.
Because we’re much more likely to listen to what someone has to say,
and trust that their words are spoken with sincerity, when we’ve taken the time to get to know them, and when they’ve taken the time to get to know us.

These new prophets sent out by Jesus did not use fear and intimidation to get their message across, instead they sought to build relationships and inspire hospitality.  
They sought to heal rather than harm.

Two weeks ago I traveled to Washington D.C. with 28 teenagers and 5 adult advisors from our Senior High Youth Group.
We spent a week meeting and serving people who’ve experienced enough bad news in their lives. People who have no homes, who struggle to feed themselves and their families, who’ve had their lives spiral out of control because of a lost job, a debilitating medical condition, an abusive relationship, an addiction, or mental illness.

As is usual on our mission trips, our teens from Amherst had their eyes opened to the struggles that many of our fellow human beings wrestle with on a daily basis.
But they also witnessed the resiliency of the human spirit.

One evening the teens cooked and served a free meal to local community members, most of whom bedded down in shelters at night, lived on the street, or simply didn’t have enough money to eat on that day.
Before we ate together, we played board games with the guests and shared stories about where we were from, the passions that move us, and the people who’ve inspired us.
In the midst of this the teens heard some heartbreaking stories.
But what amazed them the most about that evening was the laughter.
That people who seemingly had nothing came in smiling and laughing and willingly sat at tables with nervous teenagers from New Hampshire, played a game of chess or Uno, and shared a sacred piece of themselves. A story, a fear, a hope, or surprising words of wisdom for teens facing struggles that many of these adults had faced in their lives as well.
What the teens and the guests experienced that night was hospitality.
Offered and taken by all.

Hospitality requires vulnerability and letting go.
It asks us to give up control and to be willing to take a risk.
It anticipates rejection at every turn and inspires us to continue to reflect God’s love regardless of whether the door is opened or slammed in our face.

Jesus asks us to carry the Good News into this world through hospitality.
We’re called to knock on closed doors and fling our doors wide open and build relationships that are woven from our experience of God’s love, mercy, and grace.

When Paul Revere road through the streets of sleepy New England towns, knocking on doors, and informing the residents that the British were coming, he did so with the urgent belief that he could not afford to keep this news to himself.

And neither should we.
There are many people out there, living behind closed doors and standing outside of OUR doors, who need to hear that God loves them, just as they are.
They’re longing to know that regardless of who they are and what they’ve done in their lives, the grace of God is theirs for the taking.
They NEED to know that God is not a wrathful God who sends suffering into our lives and holds our feet over an open flame to get us to bend to his will.
They need to know that God is so much bigger than our fear.

If that is not urgent news, I don’t know what is.
This is the Good News of Jesus Christ…
May we carry it with us into the world.