A Pastoral letter shared with the congregation this week.
Dear Friends in Christ,
It has been a hard year for many of us. The absolute worst. Over the course of the last year, we have had nine funerals and memorial services for members and friends of the church. In addition, many of us have lost family members or close friends during this time. And yet, we have had moments of joy interspersed with our grief. The birth of babies. The calling of a new pastor. But still, many may wish that they could bury their heads in the sand and avoid the month of December all together, because it will be too hard. Yes, it will be hard.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the massacre in Newtown, and as we enter the Advent and Christmas seasons with the weight of grief from so many losses, I want to offer up some ideas to help our community get through the upcoming month. First, recognize that we are still grieving. It is okay if you feel sad or angry. Second, you may want to consider a media fast during this time. Many news outlets have been and will be running stories about the anniversary. We do not need to live through it again. Third, surround yourself with loved ones and rely on each other to get through the rough days. And lastly, don’t feel guilty if you find yourself experiencing some joy this December too. Advent and Christmas are God’s time for breaking into our lives to show us light in the darkness.
Friends, as we continue to live into the new realities of our lives we need to remember to rely on each other to walk with us in our struggles. God is patiently working to create new beginnings for us when we are ready. God is looking for the opportunity to break into our lives with the promise of new life. God is preparing the resurrection for us.
On the morning of Saturday, December 14th, the sanctuary of the church will be open from 10:00 – 12:00 as a quiet place to come and pray. That evening, the Stratford Interfaith Clergy Association will be sponsoring An Evening of Remembrance at 7:00 pm at the First Congregational Church in Stratford.
And on Sunday, December 22nd at 7:30 pm, we will be having a Longest Night service, also known as a Blue Christmas service. This worship experience is designed for those who have trouble finding joy in the Christmas season. We will light candles for those we are remembering, share in communion and lift each other up in prayer. I hope that you will find this a meaningful experience.
It is my prayer that we will all be able to see glimpses of God’s love and joy this Advent and Christmas season.
Grace and Peace,
This sermon was preached on Sunday, November 17th focusing on Isaiah 65.17-25
Life seems so easy when things are going well. When everything is on track, going according to the plan in your head that you have for yourself and your family, it seems so easy. We have a sense of fullness. And when things are going well, it is easier to process and handle the sadness that does come your way – an expected death, minor illnesses, friends in need. When everything is going your way – you have the job you wanted, the family you dreamed of, the life you always imagined – you have all the meaning to help you through the minor dips and struggles.
But then you get the phone call. The diagnosis. You turn on the TV. And your life is turned upside down.
This sermon was preached this morning on Jeremiah 8.18-9.1. The lectionary passage followed by the news of more violence this past week brought along this sermon on loss and grief.
It’s happened again.
On Monday another mass shooting occurred, this time at a US Naval installation. And then Thursday night thirteen people were shot at a playground in Chicago.
As I heard the news, yet again my mind turned to the U2 Song, Sunday Bloody Sunday:
I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away
How long must we sing this song?
Too many people have been affected by violence. Our church even has been rocked by the effects of violence, when one of our own died in Sandy Hook. It is hard to feel hopeful in the wake of so much loss and grief. We may feel that our hope died with Vicki. We’re angry. We’re sad. We find it hard to see joy. Even though we want to honor Vicki with the way we live, it’s hard to “Live, Love, Laugh” when we have so much grief.
The texts for Ordinary 24 can be found here. My focus will be on Luke 15.1-10.
Luke’s Gospel brings us two parables this week about losing something and finding it again. The first is the parable of the Lost sheep and the second is the parable of the lost coin.
On first glance of the texts this week, I am reminded of the camper I had at Silver Lake this past summer who had lost his left shoe. For the life of him, he could not find it, even after looking through the whole cabin. So his cabin mates decided to help him out and all cleaned up their stuff to see if they had accidentally put it away with their stuff. They didn’t find it then, so one camper helped the by now panicked boy painstakingly go through his stuff. Lo and behold, there was the missing left shoe. At the bottom of his own duffle bag. The young camper came bursting out of his cabin screaming “I found it!” with great joy and relief.
Also presenting itself in the text is a differentiation between sinner and righteous. Here Jesus makes no judgement good or bad about those who are righteous – just mentions that they have no need to repent. Worth exploring more as I prepare for Sunday.
What does this text bring up for you?
One of the more popular interest groups at Silver Lake Conference Center is ceramics. Here you get to make something out of clay, glaze it, and then have it fired in the kiln. The younger conferees typically make shapes and other solid pieces, but when you get older you might have a chance to try out the pottery wheel and make a bowl, vase, or cup on it.
Have any of you tried to make a piece of pottery on a wheel? It’s hard work. First you actually have to throw the lump of clay onto the wheel so that it sticks. And that takes a few tries to get it centered. Then you need to work at your piece. You must be firm with the clay, but not too firm, or you will mess it up. As you get closer to finishing, you need to be delicate with your touch, or you will mess it up. And you will mess it up several times regardless. And when you do mess it up, it’s frustrating, so frustrating you want to smash it. And that’s what you have to do. Because it is easier to start over with the clay and re-work it into a fresh lump than to try to fix your mistake.
“Jeremiah received the Lord’s word: Go down to the potter’s house, and I’ll give you instructions about what to do there.”
Much of the news in the past couple of weeks has been dominated by the civil war in Syria and the potential for the United States to enter the fray as a response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Many people have differing opinions as to the proper response. How are we, as people of faith, to form our own opinions? Even faith leaders disagree as to the best way to act, or even if we should act. The following articles are being shared with you to help you think about the issues from a perspective of faith.
First some background information - 9 Questions About Syria - not faith based but provides a broad overview of the situation.
Maria Teresa Davila, Asst. Professor of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton Theological School, shared these resources alongside her thoughts with alumnae and friends earlier this week.
Religion News Service (RNS) collected these thoughts from leading faith leaders and ethicists. As you can see there is no consensus among these voices on whether or not to act.
The Rev. Chuck Currie thinks we should respond militarily.
The Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite does not.
As Christians, we are called to look at the world through the lens of faith. But that doesn’t mean each of us will come to the same conclusion – and that’s OK.
I first stepped foot on the property when I couldn’t even walk. My father had taken me to meet the man who saved his soul, and the place that rescued him from a life of uncertainty. It was here that my father grew to know God and learned what he wanted to do with his life.
I started attending Silver Lake Conference Center in the summer before I entered 4th grade. I had been looking forward to being away for a week at camp for years. I remember when the camp brochure came out that spring, sitting down on the floor and pouring over my options for days before making up my mind on which camp I would go to.
I also remember asking my dad over and over again what I would expect as a camper. He just said “wait and see,” further piquing my curiosity and anticipation.
After 7 years as a camper, I became a counselor at Silver Lake and then later a dean – leading a conference of my own.
Over the years, people have often asked me what was so special about Silver Lake, why I kept going back year after year. I could have given them a thousand reasons. I could have told them about the spectacular setting in the hills of Northwestern Connecticut. I could have told them about the amazing sense of authentic community felt there. I could have told them about how it is a safe place for young people to be themselves and explore their relationship with God and their peers. I could have told them about worshipping at the shores of the lake, or in the small chapel next to a waterfall, or about communion in the round with 200 people passing the bread and cup serving each other.
But I didn’t.
Instead of telling them all these things, I usually offer up an invitation – Come and See. Come and see for yourself. Experience the magic that happens in what we in Connecticut call God’s Backyard. Read more…