Ron’s Sermon for September 30th

One of the most popular teachers in my high school was Mr. Beumel. He taught Spanish and civics. He was so well liked because he had a great sense of humor, One of his favorite phrases was oft repeated. “You be Frank and I’ll be Earnest.” This was a play on two men’s names but with a second funnier meaning.

So today, I’ll be Frank and I ask you to be Earnest. Today’s scripture lesson is from the book of James. Scholars believe that the author of this letter was the brother of Jesus. They also believe that it was probably written around the year 60. It was written when the fledgling church was beginning to move out from Jerusalem to the surrounding countryside.

Paul was taking the church farther afield to the shores of the Mediterranean.
But James was specifically interested in the church as it was forming in Jerusalem.

So, now allow me to be Frank and I pray that you will be Earnest.
Pray. . .that is central to today’s scripture. James writes: “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

Ok, here is the frank part of my sermon. Do you believe in the power of prayer?
When we pray in church or when you pray individually do you believe that God hears?

Or is it just a polite or hollow exercise in which you have no expectation that your intercessions will be heard? Those are good questions. Especially when the situation has changed so much in the nearly 2000 years since James wrote his letter.

When someone was sick, in the time of James, they didn’t immediately go to the doctor they went to their Rabbi. But James is Christianizing this practice by encouraging church members to go to the Elders of the church. There the Elders would pray for the person who was ill and anoint them with oil that in the time of James was already an ancient ritual.

Frankly, there was a shortage of doctors in the time of James or they only served wealthier clientele. The average person when sick was left with few options. If you become ill or injured today, your first stop is probably not your pastor or the deacons of the church. If you are fortunate enough to be able to afford medical care, or have good insurance, you head straight to the doctor.
Sadly, not everyone has that as an option. But let’s assume that a doctor or hospital is one of your options for healing. What does that mean for prayer? With the miracles of modern medicine is prayer still relevant for one who is sick or injured?
Being frank again, why do we pray in church for those who are undergoing medical treatment? Surely, at some point in time you have questioned the power of prayer. That’s OK. We should never allow our religious beliefs to circumvent going to the doctor. Modern medicine truly is able to perform miracles. It seems that almost daily we learn of some new wonder drug or medical procedure that has enhanced the healing arts.

So, what are we to make of prayer, what does it accomplish, if anything. I would offer two reasons to pray, whatever your opinion of its efficacy.

We pray to remember. When we lift up those who are ill or injured, we connect with them in a significant way. We think not only of ourselves, we think of the one who is suffering, whatever the malady. In our prayers in worship we become a connected community in which we lift up those in need and pray for their healing. Whether that healing comes from God or at the hands of a skilled physician we become part of the healing process.

But the second reason we should pray is for those who must forego medical treatment because of their financial situation. Not simply to remember them, but to be mindful that Jesus never turned away anyone in need of healing. We pray for those who can’t afford a doctor’s visit, not simply out of hope but that we ourselves might be changed. That we might demand of our society that everyone deserves the best medical help available. In our prayers we link our belief in God with the God given skills of doctors, nurses, and caregivers. Both are needed.

So, let us continue to pray for those who are ill or injured. Offering our prayers to a healing God. And let us live as a prayer, may we be advocates of universal health care whatever our ideological position. Knowing that all people are children of a loving, compassionate and healing God. I’ve tried to be frank, I pray that we as a church may be earnest. Thanks be to God.

Support the Korean Peace Process

This week, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong Un met for a historic summit in Singapore to discuss peace and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.  This meeting was unimaginable just a few months ago. On Tuesday, these two leaders shook hands and issued a joint statement, committing to deepening relations and agreeing to “build a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

UCC DOC Korea ResponseThis meeting is an important first step, yet media coverage and responses by members of Congress to this event have been mostly negative. The criticism that the outcome statement lacked specificity, verification, timelines, and definitions of denuclearization is valid. And yet, to only see the limitations of this historic moment is to miss the overwhelming opportunity it presents for peace to a Korean people who have endured conflict and separation for nearly 70 years.

The United Church of Christ has worked and prayed for peace alongside our Korean Global Ministries partners for decades, waiting for an opportunity such as this. Much has yet to be defined, but now is an important moment to express hope for a peace process in Korea.  

Leaders from the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) issued a statement in support of the Singapore Summit and its aspirations, acknowledging it as a first step in a long process. This support aligns with past General Synod statements, including a 2015 resolution which recommitted the UCC to continue its work for peace, justice, and reunification in Korea.

As a Just Peace church, we are called to engage in the long-term work of peace building and diplomacy, patiently working like a hammer fashioning a plow from a sword (Isaiah 2:4).Congress needs to hear voices of support for peace right now. Contact your Senator to express your support for the peace process.

Pastor Ron’s Sermon for June 10th

I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. John 17:20-21a, NRSV

For us, this is an anniversary of sorts. It was nine years ago, on the second Sunday in June that I became your pastor. Time has flown.

But I must say, that after these nine years, preceded by 10 years in the United Kingdom, I have reaffirmed my love for this denomination of ours -the United Church of Christ. I wish all of you could have joined Marilyn and I in Syracuse these last three days as we attended the Annual Meeting of the New York Conference of the United Church of Christ. That annual meeting featured inspiring worship, powerful workshops, justice oriented resolutions, good food and fellowship, and yes even the business plenaries were tolerable. I return energized and enthused.

It always seems to happen. Spending time with minister colleagues and lay folks from churches from around the state leads me to be hopeful about the future of our church.
Not only the greater church, but OUR church -the church with the long name – Wantagh Memorial Congregational church.

A few weeks ago I shared some insights in my sermon from a book recently published by our own Pilgrim Press by the Rev. Dr. Emily Heath entitled Courageous Faith. Emily is not only an author, she is the Pastor of the Congregational Church in Exeter, New Hampshire. She was the keynote speaker and preacher at this year’s annual meeting.

Emily is also an avid fly fisherwoman. In her sermon she spoke of a recent fishing trip that she took to northern New Hampshire, which she described as just three steps from the Canadian border. And reflecting on the theme of courageous faith she spoke about the courage it takes to enter the icy water, strong currents, and slippery rocks of a New Hampshire trout stream.

She spoke of our need to be courageous in our faith -to step into situations that test us, that challenge us, that take us out of our comfort zones. I think Jesus was talking about that same reality in today’s lesson that Keith read. This is a portion of a prayer that Jesus prayed as he was facing his own death. Even in this time of trial, his concerns turned to his disciples as they would face challenges to their faith after Jesus’ death.
“They [the disciples] do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.
I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”

Life for us Christians means being in the world, even though we do not belong to the world. Our faith makes for an imperfect fit in our culture. Our faith makes demands on us that often go against the desires and demands of our society. To use Emily’s analogy, our faith calls us to wade out into the river, into the icy water, into the rapid current, our feet seeking balance on slippery rocks. It takes courage to be a Christian in the roaring stream of life.

But the prayer of Jesus didn’t end there. He knew that being faithful took courage, and since he had shared our common lot, Jesus knew that we can’t go it alone. The stream is too cold, too rapid, and too slippery for us to journey as Christians on our own. We need each other.

So the prayer of Jesus included these words: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”

That they may all be one. Those words are displayed on the United Church of Christ logo. They are a reminder to us that we are not a person of faith, we are persons of faith. We are a community. Or as was pointed out in this year’s Annual Meeting we have a common unity.

For these past nine years you have waded out into the stream with me, I have been able to step out in faith, knowing that even when you may not have seen the method to my madness, you have persevered. You’ve endured our new hymnal even when some of the hymns are unfamiliar, and the words of some old favorites have been altered. You have endured some of my more controversial signs even when you disagreed with their sentiment.

I can only say, that my efforts have been to strengthen our discipleship and strengthen our covenant with our beloved United Church of Christ. I truly believe that we are a denomination that wades out into the icy, rapid, slippery streams of life.

So lets wade out together. Even in our diversity, let us continue to be one. Let us be courageous, as our Savior was courageous. We need each other, if we are to grow in our faith. As Jesus prayed for his disciples, he still prays for us today: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”

Pastor Ron’s Sermon for June 3rd

Our reading from Deuteronomy which Benno read this morning is probably familiar to most of us. It is the fourth of what we call the Ten Commandments. Commandments -something to be adhered to. They were the ten rules that were central to defining the Jewish community. They were given to Moses on Mount Sinai and written on tablets of stone.

Like the people of Israel we still see the the ten commandments as central to our life of faith. This fourth commandment is explicit in its instructions. We best heed these words.

One of the things we do every Sunday. at the beginning of our worship service the Chancel Deacon opens the Bible on the table. It is a reminder to us, that the word of God is central to how we see ourselves. Or as one theologian put it in easy to understand language, we are people of “the book.” And yet, on Sundays like this one, when we share communion the Bible is nowhere to be found. Instead it is replaced by the bread and cup. It is a reminder to us that we are not just people of the the book but are people who define ourselves by this sacred meal. A sacrament instituted by Jesus on the night of betrayal and desertion, expounded upon by Saint Paul, and carried forth for nearly two thousand years as a central definer of the Christian community

When we view the elements we are reminded of Jesus. When we view the Bible we often see it as a book or rules and regulations. We often give the Bible the lofty title of the word of God.

Our ancestors in faith held the Bible in high esteem. Those who joined to form the United Church of Christ from what had been simply known as the Christian Church made as the third principle of their church this forthright statement -“The Holy Bible is a sufficient rule of faith and practice. Our church has used the Latin phrase, sola scripture -which roughly means scripture alone

We are indeed people of the book -the word of God. What does the word of God mean in our time?

In June of 2014 Chick-fil-A employees near Orlando, Fla., went to work on Sunday after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in the city, breaking a longstanding restaurant policy of remaining closed on Sundays. Employees provided food to people who were donating blood and to law enforcement officers who were part of the response effort.

The chain has been closed on Sundays since 1946 to allow restaurant employees a day of rest and worship. However, workers at that location decided to make an exception. They posted on Facebook, “We love our city and love the people in our community. Pray for Orlando.

This, I think, is an example of what Jesus is talking about in this passage. Observing the Sabbath was important, and it was right to recognize it, but not at the expense of hurting people. Jesus reiterated for the Pharisees that reaching out to people was more important to God than outward observance of the law.

It’s the same today.  In our visitors brochure as we try to tell people who we are as a community of faith we include the sentence -“We take the Bible seriously without taking it literally.”

Jesus was no biblical literalist. In today’s lesson from the newer testament Jesus defends his disciples when they picked grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry. And even more shockingly, he enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and heals a man with a withered hand. Again, actions that break the fourth commandment.

It is important that we reflect on what the Word of God means. Robert McAfee Brown reminds us that “The basic meaning of “the Word of God” for Christians is Jesus Christ. The word Word (dabar in Hebrew and logos in Greek) has meanings both clear and subtle.

The prologue to the Fourth Gospel, after describing the Word of God as the Word of God as the creative power of God that brought the world into being and sustains it, goes on to say that the same Word was “made flesh,” giving embodiment in a human life, in Jesus of Nazareth. The Word of God, then, is present in our midst, as one of us, in the person of a first-century Jewish rabbi who provides us, in a fully human life, with the best clues we have about God.”

After we recognize Jesus as the Word of God it puts our other ways of knowing God into proper perspective. Second, is the Bible, the Jewish and Christian scriptures, provides a written account of the story of Jesus as the embodiment of the creative power of God. Third, our traditions is a further source in understanding the Word of God.  Finally, Robert McAfee reminds us that we are called to use our human conscience.

Sometimes Jesus’ message is manipulated; sometimes the biblical message is misunderstood; sometimes tradition goes askew. When this happens, sooner or later individuals and groups rise up, pit their consciences against such distortions, and help us to set the church on a new track, nourished out of their own exposure to the Word of God in ways that our not self-serving.1

We can do this because we know that Christ is with us.  We have our scriptures, our traditions, and our conscience -a gift from God.  But most importantly we have the presence of Christ -the Word of God -known to us in the breaking of bread and drinking from the cup.
Thanks be to God.

1 Liberation Theology: An Introductory Guide, Robert McAfee Brown, 1993

Pastor Ron’s sermon for May 27th

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8a, NRSV)

When I attended the Army chaplain’s course in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey I was able to spend time with people from a variety of denominations and faith traditions. It was a wonderful experience and changed my life forever. The conversations and interactions outside of class time were as rewarding as those when we were receiving instruction from the staff of the school. I was the only United Church of Christ student and that led to many hours of discussion about how I viewed my faith tradition and its place among other Christian denominations.

Before class one day, I was approached by a fellow classmate who had in his hand and article from his denomination’s newsletter. The article was an attack on our United Church of Christ’s Statement of Faith. The clipping said that it proved that the UCC was non-trinitarian. In other words, the article stated that we do not believe in the doctrine of the trinity. I was baffled, at first, but it was something I had heard before. In fact, there was a joke that circulated in seminary that the acronym UCC stood for Unitarians considering Christ.

After our exchange I brought the young man a copy of our Statement of Faith the next day. He carefully read it and after a brief pause he said that we were indeed trinitarian and was troubled by his denomination’s article. I told him not to worry -that it was not something I hadn’t heard before.
I explained that in our desire to be inclusive we didn’t always use blatantly trinitarian language.

Our Statement of Faith, that we will read in today’s service, doesn’t explicitly use traditional trinitarian language. But it would come as a surprise to Laura and Kristine if we weren’t a trinitarian denomination. After all, at last Sunday’s baptism, we baptized their daughter Charlotte in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. You can’t get anymore trinitarian than that.

What does belief in the trinity mean to Christians? When I try to explain that doctrine to confirmands their eyes glaze over. It is a difficult concept which is more a product of the early church than it is our Christian scriptures. The doctrine is first expounded upon in the ancient Nicene Creed which was written in 325.

So what is the relationship between that creed and our Statement of Faith?One of our principles is that as members of the UCC we don’t require tests of faith, but simply testimonies. That is why our denomination accepted a Statement of Faith before we wrote our a constitution and bylaws.

So what does this mean for all of us? Margaret read our lesson from Hebrew scripture today. At first, it doesn’t seem that this lesson from Isaiah is particularly trinitarian. It is often viewed as the call of Isaiah. Isaiah is called as a prophet of God and has a vision of the throne of God. Isaiah, like most of us, does not believe that he can follow through to the call of God. He is only a man, after all. Only a sinner, not really ready or capable of being God’s prophet. Yet, the seraphim, who have been singing and praising God, bring a coal from the altar and touch it to Isaiah’s lips.
Isaiah is purified. When God calls, Isaiah responds with hope and courage, “Here am I; send me!”

Do you feel unworthy to answer the call of God on your life? Be in prayer my friends. Have no fear. Respond to God. God takes the broken and mends. God takes the lost and finds. God takes us, each as we are, and uses us.
Be willing to respond, “Here am I; send me!”

Parish priest and liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez writes, “Our methodology is our spirituality. Reflection on the mystery of God can be undertaken only by following in the footsteps of Jesus.”

The trinity will always remain a sacred mystery. Whatever language we use only scratches the surface of the nature of God. But the trinity is best known when we follow the footsteps of Jesus.

Today Kristine and Laura join in membership our congregation. As they become part of our community we pray that together we can follow is the footsteps of the one who came to us and shared our common lot. We pray that God’s Spirit will rest on each of us, and challenge us to be a church that shares the good news through our worship and our mission. And in all of these things we give thanks to God -Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As our closing hymn says: Triune God, mysterious being , undivided and diverse, deeper than our minds can fathom, greater than our creeds rehearse; help us in our varied callings your full image to proclaim, that our ministries uniting may give glory to your name. Now that’s the trinity. Thanks be to God.

Interesting article from The Guardian

‘Jesus never charged a leper a co-pay’: the rise of the religious left

From healthcare to tax and immigration, Rev William Barber and the Poor People’s Campaign are driven by faith to focus on the disadvantaged

by in Washington

As one group of faith leaders celebrates the fruits of a decades-long alliance with the Republican party, another is mounting a multi-faith challenge to the dominance of the Christian right, in an attempt to recapture the moral agenda.

“There is no religious left and religious right,” Barber, a pastor and political leader in North Carolina, told the Guardian. “There is only a moral center. And the scripture is very clear about where you have to be to be in the moral center – you have to be on the side of the poor, the working, the sick, the immigrant.”

Frustrated by conservative Christians’ focus on culture wars over issues such as abortion and gay marriage, Barber leads an ascendent grassroots movement that is trying to turn the national conversation to what they believe are the core teachings of the Bible: care for the poor, heal the sick, welcome the stranger.

The Poor People’s Campaign, a revival of Martin Luther King’s final effort to unite poor Americans across racial lines, last week brought together activists from several faiths, the Women’s March, the labor movement and other liberal organizations to launch 40 days of civil disobedience and protest against inequality, racism, ecological devastation and militarism. As many as 1,000 people were arrested during the first wave. More expect to be held in future.

Barber, a co-chair of the campaign, says some conservative faith leaders have “cynically” interpreted the Bible’s teachings to demonize homosexuality, abortion, scientific facts and other religions. They are guilty, he says, of “theological malpractice” and “modern-day heresy”.

There is no religious left and religious right. There is only a moral center.  Rev William Barber

Religious conservatives are listening to Barber’s criticism. On occasion, they have returned fire. After he excoriated a group of conservative ministers for praying for Trump at the White House and accused them of not caring for the poor, the pastors held a press conference and suggested Barber visit their churches.

“They say so much about the issues where the Bible says so little,” Barber said, repeating a refrain he often deploys to criticize the religious right. “But they speak so little about the issues where the Bible says so much.

“Jesus set up free healthcare clinics everywhere he went. He healed everybody and never charged a leper a co-pay.”

He reserves particular contempt for politicians who rely on racial dog whistles, voter suppression and gerrymandering.

“Slavemaster religion had a strange morality that somehow you could worship on Sunday and still have slaves on Monday,” he said. “But as we would say today, those preachers were not practicing religion. They were practicing racism under the cover of religion. We still see some of that today.”

“We are surely trying to impact politics,” said Liz Theoharis, a co-chair. “And we are surely trying to make sure that our elected officials take these issues seriously. But this goes far beyond any one election or election year.”

Barber and Theoharis imagine a new “southern strategy” that undoes racial divisions. For months they have barnstormed poor and working-class communities deep in Trump country, in an effort to build a multi-faith alliance.

These issues are not seen as progressive or Democratic. They’re seen as human rights issues.  Liz Theoharis

“We visited homes where there was raw sewage in their yard,” Theoharis said. “In these communities, these issues are not seen as progressive or Democratic. They’re seen as human rights issues.”

Daniel Schultz, a writer at Religion Dispatches and a minister in the United Church of Christ, has long argued that the left is ill-equipped to rival the Christian conservatives’ alliance with Republicans. He believes progressive people of faith would be better served by a model like Indivisible, which trains local activists to resist Trump’s agenda.

“Rev Barber has a great moral message,” he said, “but I don’t want the next Democratic candidate for president to feel he has to kiss his ring to get elected.”

Nonetheless, the religious right helped deliver the White House to Trump, a thrice-married billionaire accused of sexually harassing more than a dozen women and of paying off a porn star over an alleged sexual encounter. They are seeing results.

Trump has moved the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which many evangelicals believe accords with biblical prophecy. He has installed several judges and a supreme court justice who appear likely to advance anti-abortion causes. He also ended taxpayer funding for clinics that facilitate abortions, moved to restrict transgender people from serving in the military and strengthened the ability of religious leaders to preach politics from the pulpit.

And yet Trump’s policies on immigration, healthcare and the environment are also mobilizing faith-based activists on the left. The Poor People’s Campaign wants to kickstart a voter mobilization effort. It does not plan to endorse candidates or join forces with any party. But it certainly hopes to gain political sway.

“This isn’t just about the next 40 days,” Barber said. “This is about building a movement that lasts.”

Sister Simone Campbell, a liberal Catholic activist who supports the campaign, said she feared the movement’s broad demands may be an obstacle to building long-term cohesion. But, she said, “they’re trying to create a counter-energy that can make a difference.

“I’m a person of faith so I live in hope.”

Pastor Ron’s latest letter

Dear Friends,

What a wonderful Pentecost celebration this past Sunday.  We baptized Charlotte Lea Gagliardi and welcomed five confirmands, Jack Benedetto, James LeWarn, Emma Morandi, William Morandi, and Krystal Sulin into the life and membership of our church.  Such special days reinvigorate us after a long winter.  As we prepare for the summer season, it is good that we were able to enter what the church calendar calls “ordinary time” in a service that went far beyond the ordinary.

As I said in my sermon, I am proud that we are a part of the greater United Church of Christ.  Our openness, inclusion, and prophetic voice is what attracted me to this denomination more than 30 years ago.  As I have served in this denomination for over 25 years, my love for the United Church of Christ has only grown.

Kristine concluded our service with a powerful rendition of Malotte’s, “The Lord’s Prayer.”  As one of Charlotte’s two moms, it was a fitting conclusion to our worship.  Her voice is truly a gift from God.

Our anthem was provided by Laurie Nunez, another gift from God.  Laurie sang, “Come to the table” by a Christian group, Sidewalk Prophets.  It is a song from the evangelical side of the Christian faith and adds to our eclectic mix of people who call WMCC home.  What an appropriate song for a communion Sunday.  Some of the lyrics need repeating.

Come meet this motley crew of misfits
These liars and these thieves
There’s no one unwelcome here,
So that sin and shame that you brought with you
You can leave it at the door
And let mercy draw you near

 We are a church that offers extravagant welcome –even to misfits and thieves.  Sunday was a day that should have reminded each of us what makes Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church so special.

Sincerely,

Ron

Pastor Ron’s charge to the confirmands and the newly baptized

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men (and might I add women) shall see visions.” (Acts 2:17, NRSV)

Powerful words, these. First uttered by the Hebrew prophet Joel and then on the day of Pentecost spoken by the disciple Peter.

The church in our time needs daughters and sons who prophesy and envision a different world. To the newly baptized Charlotte and our five confirmands we need you. We need your energy, we need your way of looking at the world, we need you to speak freshly prophetic words to our sometimes stale religion.

This past Monday, the United States government opened our embassy in the holy city of Jerusalem. Two Christian ministers offered prayers to the assembled crowd. One has stated that Jews, Mormons, and Muslims will all go to hell. The other minister said that God had allowed the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were murdered so that the Jewish people would return to Israel. One preached a sermon entitled “Gay is not OK.” The other said that Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans on the very day that a gay pride parade was scheduled to take place.

I say again, to our confirmands and Charlotte, we will need your energy, we will need you way of looking at the world, we will need your prophetic words if the church of Jesus Christ is to survive. If Pentecost means anything, it means that Christ’s church is called to be a place of compassion, a place that is inclusive, and a place where as John Robinson said “more truths are to break forth from our holy scriptures”.

The prophet Joel said that the Spirit will pour out on all flesh. He didn’t qualify the Spirit’s work to some select group of humanity. All flesh.

In the years ahead the congregation has offered Charlotte, Kristine and Laura our love support and care as Charlotte grows in faith. The congregation has also prayed for our confirmands, now full members of our church.

What do those prayers and promises mean? They mean that you are an essential part of our church. I don’t want our confirmands to think that they have now graduated from church. Although confirmation is a ritual that signifies the end of childhood, it also signifies that the church considers you as adults – a rite of passage. As your pastor, I intend to find ways that you can be a vital and vibrant part of our congregation. I hope that together we will shake things up a bit.

You are also part of the greater church – our beloved United Church of Christ. That means something. In a world where the church is often seen as bigoted and xenophobic, the United Church of Christ attempts to offer a ministry and mission of peace and justice.

Fresh eyes will help us live out that sacred task. So to Charlotte, Emma, James, Krystal, Jack and William I say -welcome. We need you. You are not the church of the future – you are a vital part of the church of the here and now.

“In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men and women shall see visions.” Thanks be to God.

Poor Peoples Campaign launch in D.C. and at U.S. state capitols

Thousands of activists calling for a just world for all people rallied on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol and more than 30 statehouses around the country on Monday, March 14, during the launch of 40 days of action by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. This campaign, which continues the 1968 initiative of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is a nationwide call to action, aimed at changing legislation that penalizes poor people. The movement calls for justice for the most vulnerable, an end to systematic racism, ecological devastation, and an economy built around war.

“Sadly, a Poor People’s Campaign is as relevant and timely today as it was 50 years ago,” said Sandy Sorensen, director of the UCC Washington, D.C. Office. “The UCC strongly supported these historic efforts and will continue the struggle in the days to come. It is simply morally unacceptable that so many working families live in poverty in the richest nation on earth.”

PPCDCleaders.jpegWashington, DC PPCDCpolicelinne.jpegWashington, DC

Carrying signs that read “Fight Poverty, Not the Poor,” “Starving a Child is Violence,” and “Dismantle White Supremacy,” participants in the Poor People’s Campaign are demanding a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, repeal of the 2017 federal tax law, implementation of federal and state living wage laws, universal single-payer health care, and clean water for all.

Sorensen was one of more than 100 people in Washington, D.C., arrested for standing in the street outside the Capitol. The co-chairs of the campaign, the Rev. William Barber and the Rev. Liz Theoharis were also arrested for refusing to move.

In dozens of communities across the country, the initial action of the 40 day campaign aimed to underscore the issue of poverty in America, outlining the hardships facing children, women and people with disabilities. Monday’s actions came as the administration pushes work requirements for SNAP recipients and seeks to cut $7 billion from the Children’s Health Care Program.

In Annapolis, Md., clergy of the UCC Central Atlantic Conference (CAC) joined people from all walks of life to speak out against what the Rev. Marvin Silver called “the distorted moral narrative of this country.”

“When 44 percent of people in Maryland are poor or low income, and the income for the top 1 percent has grown 160 percent, while the income for the bottom 99 percent has increased a mere 26 percent, there’s a moral crisis that needs to be addressed,” the CAC Associate Conference Minister continued. “There were disabled people, clergy, people of faith, people not of faith — all there to bear witness and raise our voices.” Eleven people, including two UCC leaders, were arrested for blocking traffic.

PPCDCSandy.jpegWashington, DC. AnnapolisAnnapolis, Md.

In St. Paul, Minn. the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Executive Director of the Center for Sustainable Justice at Lynndale UCC in Minneapolis, led the prayers at the statehouse rally for a living wage. She said hundreds gathered there in the pouring rain, “because they are coming for the innocent and we are called to put our bodies in the way. We are here today at the Capitol because corporate interests are trying to pass pre-emption.”

About forty of those advocates opposing pre-emption took action. Armed with signs which read “preemptive means poverty” they occupied the office of Rep. Pat Garofalo (R). He authored a bill designed to allow state law to pre-empt local community ordinances, taking away the municipality’s ability to pass $15/hour wage laws or laws that protect sick time. Thirteen people were arrested, including two men from Lynndale UCC.

“As people of faith, as targeted communities and co-conspirator communities, we stand against pre-emption and for a living wage because we affirm the Creator’s sacredness in humanity and in creation,” Voelkel said.

In Des Moines, Iowa, the Rev. Jessica Petersen, who serves Congregational United Church of Christ in Newton, organized a group of participants hoping to have a word with Gov. Kim Reynolds. Ten people were held by Iowa State Patrol officers for refusing to leave the capitol building. Petersen told the local paper her group is “calling for change in our nation’s moral discourse.”

PPCMinn.jpgSt. Paul, Minn. PPCDCSandy.jpegBoston, Mass.

In Topeka, Kans., 31 people were arrested outside the Kansas capitol. One of the group’s organizers, Rachel Shivers of First Congregational Church in Manhattan, Kan., said, “It’s not only tragic — but also immoral and unacceptable — that millions of people in the U.S. lack access to adequate, affordable healthcare and housing in one of the wealthiest nations in history. It’s my personal conviction and commitment to use any power, privilege and resources I have to help lift up the voices of vulnerable groups of people who are suffering under oppressive practices and policies.”

In Boston, Mass., no arrests were made, though more than 300 people gathered to pray and sing on the statehouse steps. Three UCC ministers — the Rev. June Cooper of the City Missions Society, Rev. Cathlin Baker, pastor of First Congregational Church of West Tisbury, and Rev. Kelly Gallagher, Associate Conference Minister of the Massachusetts Conference — shared a call to “bring good news to the poor.”

“Stories of impact from women who have suffered from inadequate services for PTSD, immigration and healthcare were interspersed with calls from communities of faith to come together and repair the breach dug so deep between us,” Gallagher said. “Clergy and congregation members from many UCC churches across the state joined hands with ecumenical and interfaith siblings, and claiming faith in humanity as together we sang, ‘Someone is hurting our people, and it has gone on far too long!””

PPCMinn.jpgBoston, Mass.
PPCDCfist.jpegTopeka, Kans.

The Poor People’s Campaign spent two years building a broad and deep national base in preparation for this movement — rooted in the leadership of poor people and reflecting the great moral teachings — in an effort to unite our country from the bottom up. Coalitions have formed in 39 states and Washington, D.C. to challenge extremism locally and at the federal level and to demand a moral agenda for the common good.

For the next six Mondays, faith leaders and other activists will join together for civil disobedience, marches, rallies and prayers to honor the legacy of MLK Jr., fifty years after his assassination — to call attention to the evils of poverty, racism and militarism. Actions each week will have a different issue focus. The effort culminates with a mass rally on June 23 in Washington, D.C.

At a time when Congress has passed the largest Pentagon Budget in history and slashed deep cuts in funding for vital human needs programs, leaders say the time for a revival is upon us.

“Fifty years ago, Dr. King called for the poor and dispossessed of all races to unite and take action together—to become ‘a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life,'” said the Rev. Theoharis, co-chair of the Campaign. “Today, as poor people all over the country take action and refuse to be ignored any longer, that ‘unsettling force’ has arrived. They’re heeding Dr. King’s call: ‘We’re here, we’re poor, you have made us this way and we’ve come to stay until you do something about it.'”

 

PPCMinn.jpgSt. Paul, Minn. PPCDCfist.jpegWashington, DC.

Pastor Ron’s Sermon for May 13th.

We have arrived at the final Sunday between Easter and Pentecost. This past Thursday many Christians celebrated Ascension Day the mythic day when Jesus was portrayed as ascending into heaven.I have chosen the Gospel lesson for that day as my sermon text for this morning.

But I don’t want to focus on the supernatural aspects of the text. I want to focus on the actions of the disciples in light of all that had happened. Particularly I want to focus on the last two verses of today’s lesson. Which are also the last two verses of St. Luke’s Gospel. “And the [disciples] worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.”

That seems like a suitable way to live out our faith in this season between Easter and Pentecost. What better way to be faithful than in worshiping and praising God. In the season of Eastertide we have celebrated Christ’s resurrection with an eye toward the future. As we hear in our communion liturgy we await Christ’s coming again at the end of history. But the Ascension of Jesus story contains a poignant reminder of something that will happen prior to the end of history.

Jesus promised that ”I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” That’s the promise of Pentecost that we will celebrate next Sunday.

And what a celebration it will be, we will accept five confirmands into membership and baptize the daughter of Laura and Kristine. Pentecost is the birthday of the church, it is appropriate to celebrate.

But Pentecost is something more than a time of celebration, it is a time o empowerment of the Christian community. At Pentecost we are empowered to continue to proclaim the kingdom of God in both word and action. We are empowered to continue to do Christ’s ministry in our own time and place.

What Jesus promised and what became a reality at Pentecost was the coming of the Holy Spirit. Next Sunday we will again hear about those tongues of fire descending from heaven and each hearing the Good News in their own language.

How do we prepare for something like that? How do we prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps more importantly, how is the Holy Spirit manifested in our time?
I can almost assure you, that if we promised tongues of fire, a mighty wind sweeping through the sanctuary we would have a full house next Sunday.

I think the Holy Spirit manifests itself in our time in ways that are not as discernible as tongues of fire, mighty winds, or many languages. But the Spirit still manifests itself in our time.

On Tuesday afternoon I attended a meeting with Anthony Achong and Reverend Jack King at the food pantry. It was discouraging. The continued financial crisis of the Long
Island Council of Churches is threatening the viability of its most visible mission -the last remaining pantry in Freeport. The reasons are many, but the reality is that the next month and a half are crucial. Other grants and promised funds will arrive over the summer, but the pantry is facing limited operating funds until that money arrives.

I quickly realized why Anthony encouraged me to attend this meeting. I had informed the pantry after the Annual Meeting that we would be donating $6000 from our Community Fund for 2018. Anthony, the office manager, and since the elimination of the Executive Director position, the face of the Long Island Council of Churches was hoping that our support could come earlier rather than later.

That’s how the Holy Spirit has worked throughout history. The Holy Spirit speaks to us through human institutions in regard to human situations.

Since that meeting, I have prayed about what we should do. I am prepared to ask the Community Fund to give the pantry our yearly donation at this time. As I have said on numerous occasions, our small church has been honored every year since I arrived because of our mission and ministry with the pantry. We are partners with them. Our Christian mission is in many ways defined by our unselfish support of the pantry. And I want us to strengthen that sacred relationship.

The Long Island Council of Churches has made painful decisions to remain solvent. They have reduced their paid staff from thirteen people to four. They have closed their pantry and offices in Riverhead, they have closed their pantry and offices in Hempstead.
The Long Island Council of Churches is now only present in Freeport. It would be easy to remain discouraged.

But as I have gone through this week, I see the current situation filled with possibilities. I believe we can help the pantry and Long Island Council of Churches to thrive once again. I believe that’s how the Holy Spirit works. She takes difficult situations and offers new visions and possibilities.And its not about numbers of people or the size of a particular congregation. Remember, Pentecost started with twelve faithful disciples and spread to the far corners of civilization.

Over the next few months we will prayerfully consider our relationship with the pantry by continuing our leadership in that organization. But today, we do what Christians have always done on that period between Easter and Pentecost. We worship and praise our God who became most known to us in the person of Jesus, our risen and ascending savior. Thanks be to God.