Sermon 2009-08-30

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Sermon, August 30, 2009 (Pastor Lise Sparrow)

Union Service, First Congregational Church                                               .

SCRIPTURE READING                         James 1:17-27

James 1:17-27 (New International Version)

17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.

Listening and Doing

19My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 

20for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

21Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 

23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 

24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 

25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

26If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. 

27Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.____

SERMON                “Here I Am” 

Before I begin I’d like to acknowledge that this entire service has been in process for quite few weeks.  Debbie, Carra and I spoke long ago about using Water as the theme which was highlighted as annual meeting but which might “flow” nicely through the summer union services.

Two weeks ago Carra found the prayers we have used and she and Debbie selected hymns to match the prayers.   Peter and George selected the anthems so in the end it was left to me to pull together some of the themes which emerged as we discussed the state of our three churches and the themes present in the epistle of James. 

So, with gratitude for their thoughts and meditations, I offer you a homily which is mine and not mine at all for your consideration.  Going back to our Vermont Annual Meeting I would like to read to you from the covenant we recited together on the first night:

Our leader read:           

“speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament in which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”

(Ephesians 4:15-16)

And we responded:

“We covenant with one another to sustain a congregational culture in which we will communicate with integrity and mutual respect, and in which our creative energy – both individual and collective –will be free to flourish.”

As I read these words I was standing in the company of dear colleagues.  Debbie was not present because of the death of her father-in –law but Cara and I were there as was Susan Tarolli, pastor of Putney Church, a church whose life would draw to a close two  weeks later, again with all, of us present, sharing memories and sharing grief.—each part working properly—promoting the bodys; growth in love.

We don’t often as congregations have the chance to stand together as the Body of Christ.  More like neighbors than family we often live only a few miles apart each, sharing holy days and national tragedies (and maybe union services)-- but by and large – we live our lives, births, deaths and all which is in between, in our own company.

And yet, when seen, together the truth that we are the Living Body becomes so much more clear.  Like the planets we can see the seasons manifest and changing, season by season. The Putney Church, doors closed only two months, in what appeared to be a winter  tragedy, has now given birth to a new life, the building lifted up by the historical society , the pastor with a job as Associate Conference Minister in Connecticut, and the small congregation now bringing life to other congregations.   Like small droplets of manna their beautiful story can bring other congregations hope.

In less than month Centre Church, after what seemed like interminable years of waiting and hoping, now has its springtime of hope and promise, as they prepare for Carra’s installation and their steeple and siding changes almost invisibly day by day to it’s fresh new form.

Guilford Church at the moment is blessed with summer abundance and all the work that takes to keep things taken care of, a new storage shed, a new teen group, decisions about what to harvest and what to mow under, to keep the ground fertile and ready for what God has next in store.

And, just as the chill of autumn comes to the Vermont landscape, we worship here together in West Brattleboro, where you, once again,  face the autumn grief of letting go, of harvesting all which is good and beautiful and of planning for the next spring. Autumn , more than any season, asks us to face the truth of change and letting go. 

Autumn, more than any season, reminds of the importance of working together for the harvest. The crunch of leaves, the honk of geese, the rush of wind reminds us to listen for the coming and going of all good things.

Last night I found a found a striking passage in a book by Joan Anderson called A YEAR BY THE SEA.  She writes:

            I’m learning that what’s important is not so much what I do to make a living as who I become in the process. Simple labor is soothing my edges, teaching me to crave work not because it might make me special or wealthy but because the job pleases my spirit, makes a more pleasant person, and meets my financial needs.

            Like our scripture lesson for today it holds up the question of who we are alongside the matter of what we do.  Simple labor is soothing my edges, teaching me to crave work not because it might make me special or wealthy but because the job pleases my spirit.

            John Calvin used this scripture to inspire him to begin the work of Hospitals dedicated to the poor.  Congregational women used this scripture to inspire the founding of hospitals in the nineteenth century.

James writes:

Religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

The pollution he writes about is anger and all which prevents us from seeing who we are and who we are called to be in any season; from listening to what and who God is calling us to be ( …insert story…)

Make no mistake, this restless non-listening can besiege any of us—whether it be in times of great hope or great busy-ness—in times of deep grief and loss or of great change.  We can use any excuse to talk too much and listen too little.

We can see it in the Bible—whether it was the Israelites moaning, groaning and complaining  in the barren wilderness only to wake one morning and find dew upon the very ground thy were walking on—dew that would feed them day by day until they reached the promised land---or whether it was the disciples tossed about in a storm on the Galilee, afraid for their lives—only to have Jesus awaken to remind them it was in their own power to calm the seas of their despairing.   Our ancestors wanted to remind us that the Living Water comes in many forms—whether as the perfect daily bread or the vast wide open sea—but that we are called to be the ones at the well ---offering  the living water of love, generously, to others. James remind us:

Do not merely listen to the word. Do what it says.

Don’t forget:

the ones who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continue to do this, not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

It is easy to lose heart--in any season—but let us not forget the living water comes in so many forms—the snow, the mist, the summer rain, the pounding storm—all call us back to look, listen and to remember who we are and who we are called to be for God and for each other.  Amen