Monday, December 22, 2014

“With All of Our Hearts” - Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014

“With All of Our Hearts”
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 21, 2014
Richmond Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
Rev. Katelyn B. Macrae
Luke 1:26-45

Prayer: Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.

In this season of watching and waiting, we have come to the fourth and final Sunday of Advent – the day of Love. We are approaching Christmas, it’s only 4 days away now.
This sense of anticipation is echoed in our story from the Gospel of Luke.
Two unlikely characters -
Mary, who is very young; and Elizabeth, who is long past child bearing age, both learn that they are pregnant.
Luke is the only Gospel writer to tell this story and he does it so beautifully and shows us the connections between John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus.
There are so many parallels – the angel Gabriel visits Simeon in the temple to share the Good News that his wife Elizabeth will conceive and the Angel Gabriel also announces the news to Mary.
 There are some great lines from this story.
 In verse 29, it says Mary was much perplexed by his (Gabriel’s) words, and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
But the Angel Gabriel’s words are meant to reassure her. Gabriel exclaims, “nothing is impossible with God.” Gabriel further elaborates Elizabeth, who was barren, is now six months pregnant with John. Nothing is impossible with God!  
Can you imagine what it would have been like to be in Mary’s position? Unmarried and yet finding herself pregnant. She was at real risk to be pushed to the margins of society.
The fact that Mary responds to the angel Gabriel with a positive affirmation “Here I am, a servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”
Instead of “Ahhh, Not me, NOOOOOO! Or, even, “I don’t believe it” like Simeon responded, is incredible.
Mary was a very courageous woman in a very vulnerable situation who took the Angel’s words to heart, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
Before Mary became venerated as “The Virgin Mary” or depicted by artists as “Mary the Mother of God” – she was just Mary, a humble, faithful brave young woman. The poet Ann Weems captures the spirit of Mary in her poem Mary, Nazareth Girl. Weems writes:
Mary, Nazareth girl:
 What did you know of ethereal beings
 With messages from God?
 What did you know of men when you found yourself with child?
 What did you know of babies, You, barely out of childhood yourself?
 God-chosen girl:  What did you know of God that brought you to this stable
 Blessed among women?
 Could it be that you had been ready
                             For the footsteps
                                      Of an angel?
 Could it be there are messages for us if we have the faith to listen?

Could it be there are messages for us too if we have faith to listen?
Friends, I will be the first to tell you that I’ve been kind of distracted this Advent by the violence that I continue to read about and hear about in the news. My heart breaks over and over again at the continued and heightened racial tensions after the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York City, the report released by Congress about the CIA’s intelligence gathering practices and human torture, school shootings in Peshawar Pakistan, and a threat called into my own high school in Maine on Thursday that caused the police to evacuate the building. Last week was also the second anniversary of Sandy Hook. My cousin was a 4th grader at Sandy Hook Elementary. She was there in the school during the shooting, and her family still lives up the street from shooter’s house. Even with the horrible tragedy in Sandy Hook, there have been 96 school shootings in America since then - an average of one a week.
This level of violence is not what God intends for our world. And it can make us feel kind of powerless, kind of numb, kind of stuck – wondering if and how to respond.
Yet Weems words echo too - Could it be there are messages for us if we have faith to listen?
On this fourth Sunday of Advent we light the candle of love and we remember that God comes to us at Christmas and that ordinary vulnerable people, people like Mary and Elizabeth, were chosen to help prepare the way for the Christ Child to come into the world.
God is born anew in our hearts at the time of the year when we need the reminder the most – when the nights are the longest and the daylight is the shortest in our hemisphere.
Love comes down and Love is born among us.
Could it be that this might be the message for us too if, like Mary, we have faith to listen to all that is unfolding around us?
If we have faith to see beyond the wreaths and the tinsel and the gifts, and the clean, happy baby wrapped in swaddling clothes surrounded by well behaved animals and remember the grit that really gives this story its substance and meaning.
Jesus comes to us on Christmas as baby, a vulnerable wrinkled baby.
He doesn’t look like the Gerber baby.
And he’s born to a young mother, who had to give birth in a smelly stable with cattle and hay and poop, no midwife, no hospital bed or clean sheets. This was not a place fit to give birth – it was a vulnerable place.
We call him Emmanuel – God with us –
God came and chose vulnerability.
God chose to be with us. God didn’t have to do that. But God did.
In this season of Advent, we are preparing for the baby, for the real, vulnerable infant. 
And he needs our help, he needs us to help to prepare the way for his coming, to proclaim the Good News to the world that in spite of whatever muck and mess and violence is happening, God choose to be with us and continues to be with us.
In this Advent season may we, like Mary, be open to experience God’s gift of love which will soon be born again to us this year.
When Mary sings her Magnificat, her song of praise a few verses after this passage, she proclaims “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
As I said in the children’s message, we all are called to be Magnifiers, “people who bring God’s love into close focus for others.” (Stan Purdum pg 33)
Friends, this Advent season, in this deep midwinter, when frosty winds make moan and earth stands hard as iron,
let us be Magnifiers,
Let us have ears open to listen for the messages of the angels and the cries of a newborn babe,
Eyes open to see God’s light which shines brightly even in the depths of night,
Hearts open to feel the Love that is stronger than all of the violence in the world,
and Mouths open to proclaim God’s hope, love, joy, and peace.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

"Living with Hope in Advent" - December 7, 2014

Image result for hope images
“Living with Hope in Advent"
December 7, 2014
Rev. Katelyn B. Macrae
Richmond Congregational Church UCC 

Texts: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1: 1-8

Prayer: Dear God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O God our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.

On this second Sunday of Advent our theme is Hope.

There is a great Chinese proverb, “Plant trees under whose shade you will not sit.” This proverb is one way of talking about what it is to live with hope.

Sometimes hope is joyful. When we plant a tree, teach a child how to read, or begin a project for the benefit of someone else, we experience the joy and potential present in that distinct moment, all the while knowing that we may not see the true fruits of our labors.

Living with hope is often  joyful, but it can also be frustrating at times.  For those who were impacted by construction and paving on Route 2 this summer, we know what it is to hope for a project to come to completion even when we still cannot fully see its results.

Hope – is such a fabulous, wonderful, weighty, even complicated concept. So in an effort to better understand Hope, today let think about what each letter might represent to us as we live with Hope in this Advent Season. 

H, the first letter in Hope, is for humble and honest. As we begin the second week of Advent, our texts from Isaiah and Mark remind us that Advent is a penitential season and it requires preparation. Nacham, the Hebrew word used for "comfort" in the opening words of Isaiah 40 is also translated as "repent.” It’s like the prophet Isaiah is saying, “Repent, but also take comfort, console yourself.” Nacham reminds us that we cannot automatically leap to the comfort and joy we hope to feel on Christmas Day without first getting ourselves ready.

We get honest in this season, honest with God, honest with ourselves, and even honest with our shopping budgets. When we humble ourselves in Advent, we get to the spiritual bottom line – are we ready for the Christ-child to come into the world again?

O, the second letter of Hope, could stand for overloaded, overworked, over consumed, overtired, overcommitted, and overburdened. These are some of the feelings we may also experience in this season where everything glimmers and sparkles and calls out for our attention.
But there are also other elements of this season more in line with HOPE –

O also stands for open, opportunity, and ongoing.

There’s a certain spirit present in this season (if we pay attention to it). People are more generous, more in tune, open to the possibility that things could indeed be different. I saw it yesterday at the Holiday Market standing outside ringing the bell for the Salvation Army bucket. With the snow falling down outside and people walking around joyfully, it felt really good to be a part of this community that seeks to support and encourage each other.
Because people seem to be more open and receptive this time of year, we have an opportunity as people of faith to proclaim, over the voices that say I’m overloaded, overworked, over consumed, overtired, overcommitted, overburdened and just plain out-of breathe, out of luck, out of hope, and over it - that Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us, is coming into the world again.
In Advent, we also remember God’s ongoing endeavor to bring about peace and justice. This is what the Hebrew Prophets like Isaiah taught, and this is how Jesus taught us to live. For the past two weeks I’ve been following and praying for seminary friends and church colleagues on facebook who’ve been involved in peaceful demonstrations in Ferguson, MO and New York City. My heart breaks over and over again at the racism and violence which still plagues our nation. Their testimonies teach me that we still have a long way to go. But I also believe God hears the protesters’ cries for justice, and responds when people say, “We can’t breathe.” God wants us all to be able to breathe AND to have life and life abundantly. Martin Luther King said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” King’s words are not an excuse for our present condition, but a powerful and necessary reminder that God’s work in the world is ongoing and God’s call to join in this work is also ongoing, not just in Advent, but every day.

The third letter of Hope, P, is for potential and persistence.

In the financial world, you hope for growth, and you invest in the potential of stocks and bonds – but you spread out your investments to minimize your risk. Depending on how close you are to retirement depends on how much risk you take – do you go with the volatility of putting your stocks in a technology start up, or do you go with more stable bonds?
But when it comes to our spiritual portfolios the advice is different. Instead of spreading things out to minimize risk and maximize potential returns we are urged to consolidate and put our hope into one thing – and that one thing is God! In Advent, we are reminded that Hope is a verb. We imagine the potential of what could be, but, as I noted above, sometimes realize we are a long way away from where we’d like to be, which is why our hope must be persistent.  
In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul gives a great explanation of Hope 24For in* hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes* for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8: 24-25)
When we live with our Hope in God, we take the long view, we must be patient. We imagine the potential and invest in the possibility God is about to do a new thing in our midst, even though we can’t see it yet. Which leads to the last letter, E.

E is for Expectation.

Still in the beginning stages of this Advent season, there’s a whole lot of expectation going around. Many children write letters to Santa and put together Christmas Wish Lists with the hope (and the expectation) that on Christmas morning, Santa will have visited the house and there will be some presents that they asked for under the tree. There are also the adult expectations that come with this season – expectations about providing a Christmas experience for our families, expectations of what to cook, what songs to sing, lots and lots and lots of expectation.
Expectations can sometimes weigh us down – I can already hear my mental to-do list going as I talk to you – but there’s also something about hopeful expectation, like Mary, being pregnant with expectation.
Expectation is an essential and exciting part of Advent. What are we expecting this year when Christ comes? Can we open our minds up to new possibilities?
The gospel of Mark that we heard this morning begins with expectation – verse one says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” And to us as we hear these words again two thousand years later, this is still good news. Mark realized that he didn’t and couldn’t capture all of the Good News of Jesus in his gospel. In the UCC we say that God is still speaking. The Holy Spirit is still moving and acting and thinking in the world. God has not done all of God’s work yet. God equips, inspires and empowers us to be God’s hands and God’s feet in the world.
In this Advent season, may we with humility and honesty, be Open to the Potential God has for us and for the world.

May we use this time to prepare ourselves for incredible possibilities, despite the things we see that make us want to protest.

And may we live with hopeful Expectation and eagerly embrace the Spirit who is coming to us, the Christ Child, who promises that this is just the beginning of the Good News.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o'er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Cornucopia of Blessings - Thanksgiving Meditation 2014

“A Cornucopia of Blessings”

Rev. Katelyn B. Macrae
November 23, 2014

Prayer: Dear God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight. O God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Friends, what a joy it is to join together ecumenically and celebrate Thanksgiving! For this I give thanks!
As we approach the beginning of the holiday season, it is a time of family and friends gathering together, celebrating, and sharing. It is a time of tradition. In my family our Thanksgiving tradition is that everyone goes around the table before we eat, and says what they are thankful for. In that same spirit, today I invite us to think about our Thanksgiving Meal, not only as a feast for our stomachs, but as a feast for our souls, cornucopia of blessings for which we might give God thanks.

Taking center stage at the Thanksgiving feast is the Turkey of Time – God gives us life, and the opportunity to use the hours and days as to pursue our vocations, spend time with family and friends, to rest, recreate and enjoy nature. Time, and the ability to choose how to spend it, is a gift from God.

Gravy of Grace – God pours grace over us like a small child pours gravy over their mashed potatoes. It pools at the top and then runs down and covers the whole plate in goodness. God generously bestows grace on us, no matter who we are, what we’ve done, or what we’ve encountered. Elie Wiesel, a surivivor of the Holocaust, and winner of the Nobel Peace prize writes, “For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile.”

Cranberry of Compassion – Whether your cranberry comes from a can, or you make your own cranberry orange relish, the cranberry on the Thanksgiving table reminds us of compassion. We give thanks for the times when other people have shown compassion towards us, and we remember Christ’s call to be compassionate, to Love Our Neighbors (even the ones we don’t get along with) as God has loved us.

Stuffing of Simplicity – Martha Stewart might make gourmet stuffing with cranberries and roasted chestnuts and truffles, but stuffing does not need to be complicated to be delicious – sometimes you just need bread and butter and broth. Stuffing reminds us that sometimes it’s good to simplify, to simmer down, to find time for stillness, and open ourselves to the Spirit. As we approach the Advent season, I invite you to make some space for simplicity.

Mashed Potatoes of Music – Mashed potatoes are a staple in the thanksgiving feast, just as music is an essential part of our worship life. King David composed psalms on his harp to praise God. Like David, let us raise our hearts and voices in songs of praise and Thankgiving this day and this week!

Green Beans of Blessing – In Genesis 12 it says, “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Just as the green beans on our plate nourish us and give us the energy to go out and do what needs to be done, let us be a blessing to others as Christ is a blessing to us. Be blessed. Eat your vegetables. Share your blessings!

Pumpkin Pie of Patience and Peace – God knows that waiting is hard – when we’re waiting for exciting things like the birth of a child, or when our waiting is filled with anxiety, such as when we are waiting for news from the doctor about test results. God also knows that the holidays can bring stress, and so we ask God for patience and pray for peace within our hearts, within our homes, and within our world. When we practice patience and find peace, it is even sweeter than a piece of pumpkin pie!

Apple Pie of Awesome – Now, apple pie is good, especially when you get a nice homemade crust, but our God is grand. Our God is an Awesome God worthy of all of our Goodness and Praise!

This year as we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, may this meal feed our bodies and our souls. May we be reminded of the ways that God has blessed us this year. May we give thanks. And may we be a blessing to someone else. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Divine Currency - October 19, 2014

“Divine Currency”
Rev. Katelyn B. Macrae
October 19, 2014
Prayer: Dear Lord, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

What’s the value of a dollar? What can a dollar buy?

At the Rummage Sale that our church hosted on Friday and Saturday, we learn that a dollar can buy quite a bit, especially with $5 bargain bags on Saturday morning. I got a DVD player for $2! It doesn’t have a remote, but it works.

When I first got my driver’s license, I remember a time when you could get a gallon of gas for $0.95. However, now even a chocolate bar at the grocery store, especially the fancy ones, cost more than a dollar.

In the time of Jesus, a day laborer in the vineyard typically earned one denarius per day.

 A rabbi earned half a denarius a day, and a scribe earned 2 denarii

At the market bread cost 1/12 a denarius.
A cucumber or an amphora of olive oil cost 1 denarius.
Rent for a house was 4 denarii a month, a calf cost 20 denarii and an ox cost 100 denarii.

Then, as it is now, people struggled to make ends meet. Then, as it is now, the people were taxed. Have you heard the saying that there are two constants in life – death and taxes?

Some things haven’t changed in 2,000 years.

In Jerusalem there were two kinds of taxes and two kinds of currency – as I showed the Sunday School kids during children’s time, there were several kinds of coins in use including the shekel – a Jewish currency, and the Roman currency, the denarius, which had the image of Caesar Augustus on it and the words Tiberius, Caesar Augustus, son of the Divine Augustus and Pontiff Maxim – High Priest.

The temple tax, which was mandated by Moses, required every Jewish man 20 years of age or older to pay a half shekel, which was used for the upkeep of the temple.

The second tax was a toll for the public use of bridges and gates. However, when Judea became a Roman Province under Emperor Caesar Augustus, he also levied a tribute tax, which was required to be paid in one’s birthplace and in the roman currency, the denarius.  If you recall the birth narrative from the Gospel of Luke, when Mary was pregnant, she and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem in order to register for the census and pay their taxes.

Undoubtedly, people felt burdened by their taxes. In addition to the tax, there was also the expense of having to travel to their hometowns to pay them. However, few people dared speak out against the Roman Empire.

This is situation we find ourselves in in the Gospel of Matthew today.

Our story begins a chapter after Jesus has banished the money changers from the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus has already irked the ire of the Jerusalem authorities, and they are watching him closely.
 The Herodians – people loyal to Herod Antipas and the Pharisees collude together to trick Jesus.

First they flatter him.

Jesus, we know that you show no partiality.

They lay it on thick.

Then, here comes the question – is it lawful to pay taxes to Cesar or not?

If Jesus answers yes, then he will be seen by the Pharisees as anti-Jewish and in cahoots with the Roman Empire. For the coin used to pay the tribute tax goes against the first two commandments, thou shall have no other gods before me, or make any idols.

If Jesus answers no, then he will probably gain more popularity with his followers, but such a response could spark an insurrection against Rome.

Jesus saw through the trap. Or as Matthew writes, he perceived their wickedness and asked “why do you tempt me, you hypocrites? Show me the tribute money. (Matt 22:17-19).

Jesus didn’t have any denarii on him….

Which was part of his point.

Jesus would not be carrying the coin with the image of Cesar Augustus, and the words, divine son of God, in his pocket.

Jesus has caught them in their own game.

Whose coin is this? Whose image is this?

It’s Caesar.

Well then, that’s who it belongs to.

In Jesus response, “render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and God what is God’s” he upends the entire system of Roman authority that viewed Caesar as divine.

Jesus doesn’t tell people to stop paying taxes – sure, give Caesar back this coin with his image on it.

But give to God what is God’s.

And what is God’s?

Everything is God’s.

The prophet Isaiah says,”See I have inscribed you in the palm of my hand.” (Isa 49:15-16).

We’ve been minted, imprinted, inscribed, pressed, molded, shaped and created with divine intention. Our whole being bears the image of God. 

The entire world, including us, is God’s divine currency, and therefore, we must render to God what is due to God – and that is everything!

When Associate Conf. Minister Jim Thomas came to speak at Richmond Congregational Church a few weeks ago he pushed us to think about Stewardship as a year round endeavor, and to consider all of our resources – including, but not limited to our dollars and cents, as gifts God has entrusted us with to use for God’s purposes.

All that we have and all that we are comes from God.

Our US currency is actually minted with a reminder “In God We Trust.”

Unlike the Roman denarius which proclaimed Cesar Augustus as God, our currency reminds us to trust in God and use the principles and practices of our faith to guide how we allocate the resources that have been entrusted to us.

I will be the first to admit deciding how to use resources, particularly my fiscal resources, is challenging. I have many things I render unto Caesar – student loans, rent, car payment, credit cards, utilities, gas, and groceries.

After rendering unto Cesar, there doesn’t seem like there’s a lot left over and it’s downright frustrating. It doesn’t put me into a spirit of love and generosity or gratitude for the gifts that God has given me.

Please do not hear this as a complaint about pastoral compensation.

I’m using myself as an example because I have struggled with my relationship with money for a long time. In this text from Matthew I hear Jesus’ challenge loud and clear, what are you rendering unto God and how are you doing it?

Our Stewardship theme this year is blessed to be a blessing. For we have each been blessed with this life, and we are each called, as followers of Jesus, to be a blessing to others in whatever way we can.

Our church is called to this mission too!

How could we shape this local community, and even our global community if we not only viewed all our resources as gifts from God, but got together to allocate them?

At the rummage sale this week, one person’s trash became another person’s treasure.

For some, the rummage sale is an opportunity to clean out the detritus that occupies our garages and attics.

For others, the rummage sale is a place to find a great bargain – and for some – perhaps one of the only places that one can afford to go shopping.

A local Methodist pastor came to the rummage sale and found several kitchen items to help a homeless family who is moving into an apartment.

In addition to being a clearinghouse for low-cost items, the rummage sale also provides community for the people who work the sale, and the folks who come in and have an experience of hospitality while shopping. There were baked goods and apple juice for free at the door. You don’t find that when you walk into Macy’s.

But for the first time this year, the rummage sale decided that they would donate a tithe, 10% of the proceeds from the sale to Our Community Cares Camp – a 6 week summer camp at the middle school that feeds kids for free - as a way of sharing out from the resources entrusted to them – to help it go a little further to help even more people in the Richmond Community.

This is a shining example of how the church can get together and be a vehicle for sharing God’s resources.

Here’s a secular example.

In Seven Days this week there was anarticle about van pooling. Vermont Transit is trying to increase vanpooling and carpooling initiatives in Vermont. The challenge to getting more people on board is helping them to give up some of their autonomy of having their own car and the flexibility that gives them in their commute.

The vanpool commuters report that the advantages of vanpooling outweigh the disadvantages. They report savings in commuting costs, the reduced stress of driving and the friendships developed with fellow commuters, and the ability to distress from the day and transition on the ride home. In addition to having more fiscal resources, these commuters also perhaps have better mental resources when they get home from work!

Friends, these two examples illustrate what can happen when people try something different by getting together to share the resources they have. It’s no longer every person for themselves - its neighbor helping neighbor.  

So, here’s my challenge, and I invite you into it too.

In the 12-step community they have a saying, ‘Act as if.”

If you change your actions, your thoughts and attitudes will begin to change too.

Usually I reach for my phone and check my email each morning before getting out of bed.  That is not the way to start my day!

I get a UCC daily devotional email each morning, but lately I admit it’s not the first thing I read. So I’m going to read it first and pray. I’m going to start my day with an attitude of gratitude.

And I’m going to say “thank you” to God when I pay my bills instead of complaining, because God has given me the resources to do it.

And most importantly, I will take a serious look at my personal budget to see where I can make different economic choices that help better support the community and spread God’s resources further.

I’m going to commit to these actions, and I’m going to report back to you to how it goes in November. I invite you to join me in intentionally discerning how God is calling us to allocate the resources God has entrusted to us – these resources are fiscal, emotional, physical and mental. God has entrusted us to be good stewards of these resources, and Jesus encourages us to “render unto God what is God’s.” Friends, may we rise to the challenge.


Blessing of the Animals - October 12, 2014

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

One Bread, One Body - October 5, 2014

“One Bread, One Body”
Richmond Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
Rev. Katelyn B. Macrae
World Communion Sunday – October 5, 2014

Prayer: Dear God, May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. O God our creator, redeemer and sustainer. Amen.
Today’s text from Exodus is known as the Decalogue – or as we commonly call them, the Ten Commandments.

What do you think of when you hear the Ten Commandments?

Perhaps you might picture Charlton Heston playing Moses in the movie the Ten Commandments, holding the stone tablets.

Or maybe a particular commandment comes to mind –
Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.
Or, do not covet your neighbor, and your neighbors property.

Or perhaps you think about the debates about displaying the Ten Commandments in Courthouses and on public property?

But the question for today is really a question of purpose and significance. The Hebrew Bible is full of laws such as the priestly codes in Leviticus. There are guidelines about diet and clothing, and what is clean and unclean. In the book, the Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs, the author tries to live all of the biblical laws over the course of one year. AJ finds it nearly impossible to live all of the laws at the same time – following one law means violating another. Many of us our violating that law right now by wearing mixed fibers – even my preaching robe is a mixed fiber garment! But these laws came later than the Ten Commandments.

For the Hebrews, wandering in the desert after escaping from Egypt, these ten laws, also known as a Decalogue, we are an initial way to establish how they should conduct and comport themselves together. They had been oppressed in Egypt, they didn’t have the power to make their own laws.
Now they are a new people, shaping and forming a new identity. These laws help them draw some guidelines and basic cultural norms – this is how we’re going to be, and this is what we agree on.
Later, more laws were added to govern more specific things as concerns arise. The Ten Commandments are both a legal and a cultural founding document, much like our Declaration of Independence and Constitution in the United States or our Constitution in the United Church of Christ.

The Premble to the UCC’s Constitution “affirms the responsibility of the Church in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.” The preamble to the United Church of Christ’s Constitution, like the Ten Commandments, lays out foundational core beliefs which shaped a covenant between God and the People. In the case of our denomination, the Preamble exemplifies the theological consensus that brought four distinct traditions, and two denominations, the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches, together in covenant at the uniting General Synod of 1957.

As a United Church of Christ congregation, we continue to relate covenantally with other local UCC churches in our Champlain Association, to the Vermont Conference of the United Church of Christ, and at the national level to our denomination, which gathers every two years at General Synod to conduct the business of the church.

In the United Church of Christ, each level of the church is encouraged to honor our covenantal relationship. We balance our covenantal relationships with congregational autonomy. Each level of the church, can speak two, but not for, any other part of the church. At its best, our polity, the way we are governed, allows the United Church of Christ a great flexibility and opportunity to be on the vanguard of responding to social justice concerns. For example, the national setting can pass a resolution about worker justice, and develop resources to help states and local churches respond to the issue. Or, as the Association in San Francisco did in 1972 when they ordained William Johnson, the first openly gay male to be ordained in modern times. The Association ordained Johnson prior to the national setting passing a resolution allowing the ordination of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Our denomination has great theological diversity – there are very conservative churches, and some that identify as post-Christian. We don’t always agree. And yet, we are still a part of the same denomination – called “in each generation to make this faith its own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.”

A few weeks ago, Jim Thomas, the Associate Conference minister in Vermont came and met with members of our Stewardship Team on a Thursday evening. Jim said that UCC Vermont churches that are vibrant hold something in common – they have an outward gaze. They care about what is going on in their community and their world and seek to find ways to respond– whether it’s through prayer, hosting meals, fundraising, mission trips, or advocacy.

At RCC this past week we hosted our 67th annual Chicken Pie Supper. We served 642 Meals. We had so many people here that we ran out of chicken! RCC is known for our Chicken Pie. People from as far away as Canada, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Alaska were here. We are a church whose identity is rooted in feeding people. We can cook! We feed people physically as well as spiritually. But what is at the root of this feeding, beyond the fun, and the fundraising and the community and the tradition – why is feeding people, and being fed, so important?

God has always been in the business of feeding people. For the past few weeks as we’ve heard in the Exodus narrative, God provided manna, quail and fresh clean water for the Hebrew people to drink while they were wandering in the desert after escaping from Egypt.

            Feeding was also central to Jesus’ ministry. Jesus dined with people that society called undesirable. He broke bred with tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes. Jesus also dined with his friends, the disciples. One night, he shared a special meal with them in an Upper Room – a meal of bread and wine.   

Today we remember this meal as we celebrate World Communion Sunday.  From New Zealand to Zimbabwe people are gathering together today for a holy meal, and celebrating both the great unity and diversity of the Body of Christ.

I think that we need this meal today, just as much as people did when World Communion Sunday first started at Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh in 1933. We need this meal to remind us of our connectedness as people of God – people who strive to follow the greatest commandment to love God, and love our neighbor.  We live in a world where there is great violence and discord. We need this meal to remind us that we can find commonality despite differences of opinion. We need this meal to remind us of God’s way of love and peace and justice.

Friends in Christ, it is a blessing to celebrate and share a holy meal with you, it is a blessing to know that we are connected across time and space through people around the world, and it is indeed a blessing to be able to help serve someone else – to help feed someone else who is spiritually or physically in need.

It is not only a blessing, but it is our call, as God’s people to be in relationship with each other – to celebrate with joy, help each other with needs, and work for a world where all may have enough.

May we answer the call this day to “make this faith our own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.”

May it be so.  Amen.