Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sermon: "Just the Three of Us"

Genesis 1:1-2:4a – Scripture Intro

On this Trinity Sunday, as we contemplate the complex nature of our Creating, Redeeming, and Sustaining God, we bring ourselves all the way back to the beginning.
To the story of Creation.
This is just one of the stories that our Jewish ancestors told in response to their existential wonderings, as they looked at one another and asked – Who are we? How did we come to be here? And who or what created everything that we see around us?
In this first chapter of Genesis, God creates the world in six days – separating light from dark, water from earth, and populating the land, sea, and sky with all sorts of flora and fauna, before finally creating human beings – 
male and female, God created them.
This is where God says,  
“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”
For thousands of years theologians and ordinary believers alike have wondered –
 who is God speaking to here?
For Christians, who believe in the concept of the Trinity – the “us” and “our” refer to Jesus and the Holy Spirit – both of whom are a part of God and who were with God at the time of Creation.
The Gospel of John reinforces this interpretation – as it opens with the stirring claim, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
Some would say this is the Christian version of the Creation story – as it places Jesus at God’s side at beginning of our world.

But for the ancient people of Israel, who cherished the Creation story we find in Genesis for thousands of years before Christianity even existed, using plural language to refer to God was not uncommon.
One of the names of God used in this first chapter of Genesis is "Elohim" – 
which means “many gods.”
In Hebrew grammar, the plural form for God is often used to emphasize the greatness and overarching power of the one true God over all gods.
God says “us” and “our” in much the same way human monarchs refer to themselves using the royal “we” to represent the position they hold as a leader of many.

Christians and Jews may have different interpretations of this first Creation story, especially as it applies to the doctrine of the Trinity,
but what we share is the understanding that at the time of Creation, God sent life-giving light into the world – and that light also exists within us – 
to remind us that we too are created in the image of God. 


The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
May 27, 2018 – Trinity Sunday
Genesis 1:1-2:3

“Just the Three of Us”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

If you were raised in the Catholic faith like I was, seeing this familiar gesture and hearing these words may have you nodding in recognition.
Or shuddering…depending on what you carry with you from that experience.

This simple gesture is performed by Catholics multiple times during the daily and weekly Mass:
When entering the sanctuary, in combination with a genuflect when entering the pew or crossing in front of the altar, at the opening and completion of the Mass, and after receiving communion.

A modified version is done just before the reading of the Gospel,
where one makes a small cross on the head, the lips, and the heart as a sign of one’s openness to hearing and speaking God’s word.

In the Roman Catholic Church the sign of the cross is performed with an open hand and moves from left to right across the chest.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church the preferred method is to use three fingers – to represent the trinity – and the hand moves from right to left across the chest.

Many Catholics perform this ritual both consciously and unconsciously throughout the day –
before prayer, 
before meals,
to counteract worry or the feeling that something bad may happen,
or as a sign of blessing or gratitude when something good happens.

Whether you’re about to enter the battlefield,
or you’re about to cross home plate after hitting a home run,
making the sign of the cross has you covered.

Catholics aren’t the only Christians who perform this very Trinitarian ritual – Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, even Methodists, have been known to use it on occasion.
Our Congregationalist forbearers – being the Reformation rebels they were - wanted nothing to do with it. 
Because it was too Catholic.
When the Puritans and Pilgrims broke away from the Church of England, they tossed out the sign of the cross, along with the statues, stained glass windows, and hierarchical structure.

But if we look at this simple gesture as a ritual that’s meant to remind us of God’s presence in our lives, we may see that it has value.
The gesture is a prayer in itself  -  a pause in one’s day -
and a reminder not just of the saving nature of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross,
but of the multiple roles God plays in our everyday lives.

If you struggle with the image of the cross or find the language of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” to be too traditional, too patriarchal – or too Catholic –– you might try naming the roles of God instead:

Creator – Redeemer - Sustainer

We are Created by God who watches over us.
Through Jesus we are redeemed in our hearts.
We are sustained by the Spirit on this earthly plane.

For my mother, a life long and devout Catholic,
this is all she needed to know about the Trinity.
God created us.
Jesus redeems us – or heals us by making us whole.
And the Holy Spirit sustains and guides us.

When I was in seminary in Boston, I was in the midst of writing a paper about the Trinity for my Systematic Theology class when my mother called from NY.
It was one of those not so subtle  – “I haven’t heard from you in a while so I just wanted to see if you were still alive….” calls. 
One of those calls that has just the right balance of concern and guilt that mothers in particular are so good at pulling off.

I said, “Mom, I’m really sorry I haven’t called, but I have this paper due tomorrow on the Trinity and I’ve been spending a lot of time in the library.”
“You’re writing a paper on the Trinity?” she said, incredulously.
“That shouldn’t take too long.”
“Mom,” I said, “The paper has to be 3000 words, or about 10 pages.”
There was an audible gasp at the other end of the phone.
“3000 words?” she said,
“Why would you need 3000 words to talk about the Trinity?

The Trinity is the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost.

What more do you need to say?”

Somehow I don’t think my Systematic Theology professor would have accepted this succinct response.
Maybe if I had written, “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” 3,000 times in a row I may have gotten points for creativity.

In many ways, my mother was right.
Any attempt to explain the Trinity beyond naming the individual parts is an exercise in futility.

In fact, most of the ways we try to explain the Trinity were considered to be heresies at some point in the history of the church – and still are for many keepers of the faith.
For example, saying that God is not three distinct persons within one being,
or is one being wearing three masks or identities,
or using metaphorical language – such as comparing the Trinity to water taking three forms – liquid, solid, and gas,
or even stripping out the gendered language in favor of naming the roles – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – are all considered to be big heretical no-no’s in many Christian circles,
for reasons I won’t go into here.

Suffice it to say, the Trinity is a mystery that by nature cannot be explained.
Because the moment we try to explain it, the mystery is removed. 

So, you may be asking, what relevance does the concept of the Trinity –
and our celebration of Trinity Sunday - have in our everyday lives?
How does reflecting on the mystery of the Trinity or reminding ourselves of God’s triune nature help us to navigate this world that we find ourselves in?

How does it help us understand suffering?
Or overcome adversity?
Or help us move through our day in a way that keeps our focus on love,
and hope, and joy,
rather than on all the things that bring us sorrow, or cause us despair, or tap into our fears?

Acknowledging the Trinity is acknowledging that God is by nature a relational being – however we understand that relationship –
Father – Son – Spirit
Creator – Redeemer – Sustainer
Above us – Within us – Always moving in and around us

Acknowledging the Trinity helps us to understand ourselves…
because we are created in the image of God we too are relational beings.
We have an innate need for connection.
We have a need to connect to something or someone outside of ourselves.
And anything that disrupts that connection causes us sorrow and pain.

In many ways we crave unity, harmony, relationships with others.
When we have disharmony or disconnection - in our family,
in our community, in our country, in our world –
we may feel disjointed or unsettled or we may even feel like a piece of ourselves is missing – or has been torn from us.

That’s not to say that being connected to others is all about holding hands in solidarity and singing Kumbaya.
When people are connected to one another conflicts and misunderstandings are inevitable.
Any time we have to share resources, or take another’s feelings into account, or compromise on our own needs and desires, our self-preservation instinct kicks in and we resist. 

This is the challenge of being a relational being.
We are forever seeking a balance between satisfying our own needs and the needs of others.
It’s a dance we do – as we both crave connection and resist losing ourselves in that connection.   
This is a dance that we learn at a very early age.

My niece, Katherine, recently learned that she’s pregnant with twin boys.
She and her husband already have two boys – Ryan, who is three and a half, and Nathan, who is one and a half.
When she told Ryan that soon he was going to have two more brothers, he looked at her in confusion and said,
“But mommy, when the twins come what are we going to do with Nathan? Because we can’t have THREE babies in this house!”

To her credit, my niece, who grew up with two younger siblings of her own, said to Ryan,
“Well, when the twins get here Nathan won’t be a baby anymore, he’ll be a little boy like you, and you’ll have someone to play with and talk too.”
To which Ryan replied, “Oh, okay.”

God created us to be relational beings.
To live in relationship with one another, to work together on maintaining those relationships, and to feel compelled to do what we can to seek healing, when possible, when those relationships become strained or broken.

As evidence of this, we need only look to the stories that our Jewish ancestors thought to carry with them and preserve in the Hebrew scriptures.
Stories of a Creator God who formed human beings out of the earth to act as companions to one another and all of creation.
Stories that reveal the multitude of ways that we find it challenging to do just that. 

In many ways the Bible we have is one long story about people behaving badly towards one another.
Cain kills Abel, Joseph’s brothers throw him in a ditch and then sell him into slavery, David sleeps with another man’s wife and then arranges for him to die in battle so he never finds out…

But the Bible is also full of stories of people figuring out that they need each other - and that nurturing the connections is for the good of all…
Naomi defies tradition and invites the widowed Ruth into her home,
Esther stands up to a powerful King to save an oppressed people,
Moses leads his people to the Promised Land, knowing that he will never taste the fruits of that land himself.

Nothing about the stories of our faith tells us that we should expect to live in harmony 100% of the time, but still we are driven to seek out and live in relationship with one another, despite the risks.  

Reminding ourselves that God is by nature a relational being made up of Creator, Christ, and Spirit – reminds us of our own nature.
If we remind ourselves of this by making the sign of the cross whenever we’re about to do something prayerful, or risky, or courageous, or completely ordinary – how would it change the way we pray, or speak, or act – as neighbors, as strangers, as brothers and sisters in Christ?

As Lutheran theologian, Karoline Lewis suggests:
Performing this Trinitarian ritual might make us pause and question if what we are about to do is truly “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Our experience might be completely different if there is an expectation that our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer are actually in the room.
The simple act of saying, “in the name of our Creator, of the Christ, and of the Holy Ghost” might give us the strength and the power to take a chance, to take a risk, knowing that God promises to be there.

Because we are connected to one another, 
we too have the power to be a creating, redeeming, sustaining presence for on another – in God’s name. 

On this Trinity Sunday, 
we celebrate that we are created by God, 
in the image of God.  

 Let us rejoice and be glad in it.     


A video which (humorously) presents the difficulty of explaining the Trinity without be heretical:

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Letting Go of the Fence

On this Mother's Day, I'm reminded of a reflection I wrote in 2015 while we (myself and my nine siblings) were in the midst of getting my mother's house ready to sell a year after she had passed away. 
I posted it here and then deleted it because I thought it was "too personal" for my pastoral blog. It was actually a reflection on a reflection - my thoughts about an essay I had written back in 1999 about taking risks, seeking growth, and letting go of the fences that keeps us comfortable yet contained in life. 

Last Sunday, my congregation voted to name me as Acting Senior Pastor as of August 1st, once our current Senior Pastor retires. 
We'll spend the next 6-9 months in discernment, as we allow our still-speaking God to guide us towards what comes next. 

On this Mother's Day, as I contemplate letting go of yet another fence - the one that has kept me grounded and content as the Associate Pastor of this wonderful congregation for the last six years, I am once again looking down the road to what lies ahead. 
I am once again letting go of what has become comfortable and familiar and pushing off into the unknown. 

So, this is now a reflection on a reflection on a reflection. 
2018 looking back to 2015 looking back to 1999....and looking back even further still. 
Happy Mother's Day, mom. 
And thank you for teaching me that fences, while necessary, are not meant to keep us hemmed in forever. 

Today’s posting is not a sermon.
This is a reflection I wrote in 1999.
Before I became a pastor.
Before I went to seminary.
Before I went back to school at the age of 35 to get my undergrad degree.
Before I left Long Island and my job of 16 years and moved to CT.
Before I met the woman who would become my wife.
I wrote this reflection the year before any of this would begin to unfold and before I believed I was capable of doing any of it.

I was reminded of this reflection today while at my parent’s house on Long Island with all nine of my siblings. My mom passed away last July and my dad has been gone for 14 years. For the last few months we’ve been cleaning and renovating the house getting it ready to sell, and today my brothers worked together to remove the rusted chain link fence that ran the length of our driveway for as long as any of us can remember.  Sometime after my parents bought the house in 1950, my dad chipped in with our neighbor to purchase the fence that our neighbor then installed between the houses. We do wonder if our neighbor suggested the fence was needed to keep his three kids in his yard, or to keep the soon-to-be ten of us in our yard and out of his.

A few weeks ago I found a photo of my mom with me perched on that fence when I was four months old.  What’s remarkable about the photo is that up until a few weeks ago I never knew it existed. I had never seen a photo of myself as a baby with my mom.  I never questioned this. I was, after all, child number nine and my mom was notoriously camera shy and understandably busy. But I have felt like I’ve been missing something all of my life, never having seen an image of my mom holding me as a child. It’s a gap I’ve always had to fill in on my own. Until I found the picture of her with me, holding onto that fence.

Today as I watched my brothers cut up the fence and stack the rolled bundles of rusted wire in the driveway, one of my sisters remarked, “I learned how to ride a bike using that fence.”
And then I remembered writing this.
I share this because we all have fences in our lives that we hold onto for dear life and are reluctant to let go of.
Here’s a cliché to live by: Let Go, and Let God.
Try it and you’ll be amazed at how far you will fly. 

Letting Go of the Fence 
September 1999

I remember the day that I first learned how to ride a bicycle. 
I remember balancing precariously at the top of the driveway, holding onto the neighbor’s chain link fence for dear life.  I’d push off slightly with my left hand, quickly moving it from the fence to the handlebar and just as quickly back to the fence again as I tipped and jerked to a stop. I had gained a whole foot. With another balancing act and another burst of courage I’d push off again only to grab for the fence after only a few seconds of freedom. This process continued down the whole length of the driveway until I had run out of feet to gain and fence to grab on to. 
Stopped at the edge and peering up and down the street that seemed so open and dangerous to my six-year-old eyes, I had reached the point of no return.

I could have just used my feet to propel myself up and down the sidewalk as I had done since the day I first discovered that I could reach the ground on my sister’s hand-me-down bicycle, but this day was different.  My parents were away on a rare day excursion and I was determined to teach myself how to ride before they returned.  I was out to prove something.  Something that I felt I would never do under the watchful eye of others and the potential criticism they’d have to offer.
I had to do it on my own, by myself, or I would never do it all.

I don’t remember how soon after I left the safety of the driveway and the support of the fence that I was sailing unaided down the middle of the street, but I did.  I’m sure it took a few false starts, it may have taken all afternoon, but I don’t remember the entire process.  I remember how it felt to start, and I remember how it felt to finish.  I remember how it felt to feel myself fly up and down a street that once felt so forbidden.  The balance that I struggled with only hours before now felt like the most innate ability in the world.  I had not just learned how to ride a bicycle, I had conquered my fears, I had persevered against failure, I had acquired a sense of accomplishment, and I had achieved freedom.

When my parents arrived home later that day and I proudly showed them what I had taught myself to do I don’t quite remember what their reaction was but I’m certain it was positive.  Although I thought at the time I was doing it for them, to earn their pride and their respect, the simple fact that I can’t remember how they reacted makes me realize that I really did it for myself. 
I needed to challenge myself, to learn something new, to face my fears and prove to myself that I was worthy and capable. 
Now of course I push off on my bicycle and never think twice about the mechanics or the properties of balance that it takes to accomplish this amazing feat.  It’s no longer amazing to me, but it is amazing to the six year old that’s watching me as I ride past, the one who is balancing precariously at the edge of her driveway on her first two wheeler, holding onto the fence for dear life.

I suspect that I went through the same process of trial, error, and sense of achievement when I first learned to walk, although not nearly on the same scale of self-awareness.
I’m certain that as a toddler I was not fearful of others ridiculing me as I tried and failed over and over again, and I did not risk damaging my self esteem every time I took an unsteady step and fell.  I’m sure that I did not need to give myself motivational talks of encouragement, or trick myself into doing what I wanted to accomplish by convincing myself that I was doing it to earn the praise of someone else.
By completing these processes of self-teaching I was able to transform what was once a conscious exercise into one that is now part of the sub-conscious.  That in itself is an amazing feat. 

There are many things that I’ve learned in life that now seem to be second nature.  Typing on this keyboard is one of them, but I still make mistakes and sometimes I find that I have to really think about what I’m doing.  Such as when I have to go back and correct the mistake.  Sometimes I zone out while I’m in my car and find myself driving on autopilot, but that couldn’t last very long without me ending up in a ditch at the side of the road.  Even in the act of walking or riding a bike I sometimes find myself thrown off balance and I have to consciously regain my equilibrium, yet it usually happens so fast that I can’t say what it is that I actually did to regain it!
The point is that what once was hard to do and seemed impossible at times is now so easy it’s done without a second thought.  That’s what conquering fear is all about.
 It’s getting from the “impossible” to the “second nature” that’s the hard part!

I still have a few fences in my life that I’m clinging to for dear life.  The ones that keep me from being as outgoing or as social as I’d like to be. The ones that have kept me in the same job and the same town for most of my life.  The ones that have kept me from reaching beyond what is comfortable and familiar.  I’ve held onto those fences for so long that they’ve left permanent marks on my hands, but gradually the fear of letting go is being overtaken by the fear of being left behind.  The fear of missing out on the very life and objective that I was put here to accomplish. Little by little as I let go of the small fences in my life I find myself gathering momentum toward letting go of the bigger ones. The ones that once loomed over me as impenetrable walls but now seem conquerable if I just learn to reach a little farther and a little higher. 
As soon as I make contact and get a good grip on the top then it will only take a leap of faith to push off from there.

Now instead of thinking about what could happen if I let go I now think about what will happen if I don’t.  I will not grow.  I will not discover and achieve what it is that I was brought here to do.  I will not be a guide or mentor for others who are clinging to their own fences.  I will still have not left the driveway when my parents arrive home and I will have never felt the sense of pride and accomplishment that I so desired.
As I find myself at a point in my life that looks very similar to the end of that driveway, I can not help but peer down both sides of the road that I’m about to enter and in my stomach feel both a tinge of fear and excitement.  There is no going back now.  I’ve had a taste of freedom in twelve-inch leaps down the whole length of the driveway and I want desperately to know what it feels like to fly. 
I can feel my fingertips lightly brushing the top of the fence, and in one swift motion,
I let go.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Sermon: "Love, Love, Love"

The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
The Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
April 29, 2018 – Fifth Sunday of Easter
1 John 4:7-21

“Love, Love, Love”

If you drive out of the center of the village up Mack Hill,
just before you get to Jones Rd., you’ll see a stone marker,
standing alone on a grassy patch near the corner. 
The front of the stone reads:
“Here was erected the first Meeting-House in Amherst - May 16, 1739.”

I pass by that maker nearly every day on my morning walk,
and as I do I make a point to stop and touch it –
running my hand along the rough granite surface before continuing on.

It’s a little ritual that I began doing shortly after I moved to Amherst in 2012.
There is something magical and awe inspiring about standing on the spot where a building once stood some 275 plus years ago –
and imagining what it looked like, 
imagining what the surrounding countryside must have looked like, 
and imagining the people – as they came walking up the hill on Sunday mornings to attend worship, at the first meeting house of the Congregational Church of Amherst.

While I love historical buildings, including this NEW meetinghouse that we worship in now, which is a mere 244 years old,
it’s the connection to the people that most enamors me -
as I imagine those first colonial settlers placing a whole lot of trust in God, and each other, as they came together to form a church and a community.

In a very literal way, the stone marker on the corner of Mack Hill and Jones Rd. grounds us in our past.
It connects us to the people who ventured into the wilderness, set up the first homesteads, cut and joined together the wooden clapboards of that first meetinghouse, and leaning on the power of love, committed themselves to walking together as a community of faith into an uncertain future.

It wasn’t long after our church was founded and the first building went up, that the new congregation began to experience growing pains.  
As the town grew, the congregation grew, and in the early 1770’s our forbearers made the bold decision to move out of their beloved meeting house and take on the massive project of building this new, larger meeting house at a new location on the town green.

In its first 40 years, the Amherst Congregationalists demonstrated a steadfast and unshakable spirit in the midst of change.
Given this, the Rev. Daniel Wilkins, who had served the church since its founding, felt that once the congregation had settled into this new space they were ready to take on an even bigger challenge.
In the early 1780’s, he suggested they try a new hymnal.

Those of you who’ve heard this story before know where this is going.

When many in the congregation objected to the contemporary 18th century tunes and language found in the new hymnal, Rev. Wilkins compromised, introducing only one new hymn each week at the end of the service.
It didn’t take long for those who favored the traditional hymns to catch on to this, and soon most of the choir and half the congregation was getting up and walking out before the last hymn was sung.
One church historian recorded,  “The opposers retired from the house rather than hear the words of the devil.”

This continued Sunday after Sunday.
Rev. Wilkins insisted those protesting did not know what they were opposing because they never stayed long enough to actually hear the new hymns.
So he decided to try an experiment.  
One Sunday, he arranged for a pulpit exchange. 
He went to preach at another church, and another minister came to preach here. 
The visiting minister used unfamiliar hymns during the service, as guest preachers sometimes do, and the congregation unquestioningly sang along.  Just before the last hymn, many stood up and exited the sanctuary as usual anticipating a switch to the dreaded contemporary hymnal.
Only afterward did they find out they had been singing from the new hymnal for the entire service.
According to one historian, “After that, their opposition became so ludicrous they were content to say no more about it.”

The challenges that our congregation has faced over the years – big and small – are not unique, as we see when read the first letter of John.
The letters we have preserved in our New Testament offer us a voyeuristic peek into the burgeoning Christian community that existed in the late first century.

Some 60 to 80 years after Jesus had died, the new Christian communities had been around long enough to have a history of their own.
And the church as many had known it was changing.
The founding members had either died or no longer had the energy or enthusiasm they once had.
Long-time members and leaders were leaving – moving on to other churches or founding their own.
New members were coming in who were unfamiliar with the way things were done, bringing new ideas and new expectations that others found challenging and discomforting.

This was a time of transition for the followers of the Way of Jesus -
this once formless and free flowing movement had now existed long enough to set down roots, establish traditions of its own, and become resistant to change – because change upended the feelings of security and comfort that came with what was familiar and predictable.

The writer of the first letter of John, saw this time of transition as an opportunity to remind the community of the reason why they had gathered in the first place:
Love, Love, Love.

“No one has ever seen God;” writes John.
“But if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in God and God abides in us, because God’s Spirit has been given to us.”

We are rooted in God’s love, and God’s love is rooted in us.
It is the unconditional and always present love of God that guides us, sustains us, and grounds us – and births the love we offer to one another.

In the midst of turmoil and unrest – Love guides us.
In the midst of loss and grieving – Love sustains us.
In the midst of change and uncertainty – Love grounds us.

The first part of our current congregation’s Mission Statement says that as a church we are "Grounded in God’s Love."
In all that we do.
In our worship, our music, our fellowship, our attention to spiritual formation and education, our stewardship, our extravagant welcome of all, our service to neighbors near and far.

But it’s important that we also remember that we are Grounded in God’s Love in the midst of the challenges that we face as a community committed to following Jesus – in the midst of shifting membership, budget shortfalls, the demands of an aging building, new structures of leadership, pastoral transitions, and the polarizing cultural climate that we live in today.

As we learn from First John, and the history of our own congregation, we are not the only community of Christ to face challenges.
Some of the manifestations of those challenges may be unique to our time –
neither John’s community nor Rev. Wilkins had to contend with Sunday morning soccer games or Fake News on Facebook –
but the nature of the challenges remains the same –
The challenge of staying Grounded in God’s love amidst the distractions and fears that capture our attention and our hearts.

Being grounded doesn’t mean that we are ummoving or unchanging.
Quite the opposite.
Being grounded in God’s love and our love for one another means that we are intentionally creating a community that encourages and seeks out growth - 
as we look for new ways to experience and express God’s love as individuals and as a community. 

Growth can be exciting and liberating and surprising,
but it also can be painful and messy and at times terrifying.

Novelist Gail Godwin believes we often have no idea what we’re asking for when we ask God to help us to grow. She writes:
“How glibly and thoughtlessly that phrase “God, make us grow” slides off our tongues. As if growth were always a happy matter: Leaves unfurling, blossoms opening, hearts and minds joyously stretching towards more light. Whereas, when we ask for growth we’re asking for a mess. Exploding tempers, privately nursed little Petri dishes of resentments, insecure stumblings into dangerous new places.”

As a community of Christ, God is always beckoning us into dangerous new places.
Places that have us questioning long held assumptions, beliefs, and fears.
As we ask ourselves who is worthy of God’s love – and God responds: everyone is worthy.
As we ask God, who worthy of our love – and God responds: everyone is worthy.
As we continually refuse to believe this to be true and instead seek to rank one another on a scale of worthiness – based on power, wealth, gender, race, religion, ideology, and our own understanding of what constitutes moral or righteous behavior – we stumble and shrink back –
when God urges us to move forward and grow.

A few months ago, a friend of mine posted a picture of the door-frame in her kitchen.
On it she had marked the height measurements of her 5-year old son. 
Looking at the multiple lines and dates you could see that her little boy had grown 4 inches in the last 6 months.
Below the photo, my friend had commented,
“For any and all who been dealing with my moody and crabby 5 year old: I’m sorry. I hope this visual explanation helps."

It’s been so long since many of us have experienced literal growing pains,
That we sometimes forget that growth often hurts.

Our toes get pinched when our shoes no longer fit.
And our hearts get pinched when our assumptions, expectations, beliefs, and fears no longer fit.

The Good News is despite our flaws, and our resistance to change, God has gifted us with the capacity for tremendous growth…
And gifted us with capacity to give and receive tremendous love.

At Bruce Fraser’s memorial service on Friday, one of his granddaughters described her grandfather’s love as being “perpetual and unwavering.”
What a wonderful gift it is to feel such a love.
And what a wonderful gift it is to offer it.

But authentic love such as this often involves risks.
Especially when we seek to express it as a community.

When I run my fingers along the stone that marks the spot of our congregation’s first meetinghouse, I feel connected to all those who took a profound risk – out of love – in our past.

Those who built the timber frame of that first meetinghouse and called their first pastor years before they even had a roof on the place.
Those who saw the potential for growth and left 'what came before' behind to build a new sanctuary on the green.
Those who adapted to the changing times and the separation of church and state by hauling the church off the green and setting it down on this spot.

Those of you here – and those who have since moved on - who invested money and time and took on great debt to build classrooms and meeting spaces to accommodate the needs of an overflowing church school, and a future that was not yet known.

Those who chose to stay, or leave and return – after conflicts divided the church and it seemed as if we had forgotten how to love each other as a community of Christ.

And more recently, those of you who wrestled with long held beliefs and discomfort and participated in many years of difficult conversations - and yet still voted “yes” to become an Open and Affirming congregation –
and explicitly welcome those who are explicitly not welcome in most Christian churches.
People like myself - 
who had otherwise given up on finding a faith community that embodied the perpetual and unwavering love of God.

“If we love one another, God lives in us,
and God’s love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in God and God abides in us,
because God’s Spirit has been given to us.”

As a congregation – in this place and time –
we ARE Grounded in God’s Love.
Whatever the future may hold.
Whatever challenges may come.
Whatever changes we embrace or have thrust upon us.

As long as we have love,
We will endure, and grow, and thrive…

Thanks be to God, and Amen. 

Artist's conception of the pre-1835 Amherst meetinghouse before 
it was moved off the village green and remodeled. Drawing by Philip S. Avery.