Posted in Giving

Made Well

  • November 21, 2017

Luke 17:11-19

Jesus is on the border between Samaria and Galilee when ten people approach him. We don’t know if they are Galileans like him or foreigners, outsiders, Samarians.  We don’t know anything about these people, except that they are afflicted with the disease of leprosy. They call out to Jesus: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Jesus sees them, and he sees their affliction.  He hears them calling out to him with the name his disciples use for him. He hears them asking for mercy. Jesus says: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”  They go, and as they go, these ten people are healed.

So far this story is not very remarkable, at least in the gospels. Jesus is, by nature, a healer. He heals whoever he comes across. He heals people, no matter where he finds them. He heals people, no matter who they are. Jesus’ healings are often simple, like this one. He doesn’t make a big show of what he can do. And the healing often takes place after the fact, as it does here.

The healing in this story is not very remarkable, at least for Jesus. The twist in the story comes after the healing. One of the people afflicted with leprosy – a Samaritan, a foreigner –  notices that he has been healed. And as he notices, he changes direction, turning back towards Jesus. He praises God with a loud voice. He prostrates himself at Jesus’ feet. He thanks Jesus. And Jesus tells him: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well. Your faith has saved you. Your faith has made you whole.”

In this story, ten people are healed from leprosy: a physically debilitating and socially isolating disease. For at least one of the ten, something else happens as well. He responds with praise, with worship, and with gratitude. His physical healing changes his heart. His heart is made well, he is saved, he is made whole. Jesus witnesses his transformation, and sends him out, to find an entirely new way.

The practice of being grateful is a hard one to learn. Day after day, I ask my children, after they have received something: “What do you say?”  Still, with all this drilling, they rarely come up with an unprompted “Thank you.” Learning to notice what we have been given, to delight in it, and to be truly grateful for it: this is a spiritual practice that most of us struggle with throughout our lives.

Christian blogger Glennon Doyle calls the shift from complaint to gratitude “putting on our perspecticles.”  As if gratitude is a pair of spectacles for the heart that can fundamentally change the way we view the world. (more…)

Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning

  • November 14, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten young women take their lamps and go to meet a bridegroom. Five bring back-up flasks of oil. Five do not. Unfortunately, the groom is late — very late — so late that everybody falls asleep and the lamps begin to go out. Finally, at midnight, the groom shows up, ready to start the party. Five young women refill their lamps with their back-up flasks.  Since these women refuse to share their oil, the other five women are forced to leave and seek oil elsewhere. When the women return from their errand, the door has been closed against them. The groom will not let them in.

I confess that this story is not one that I like very much. A whole group of young women, or virgins, or bridesmaids, waiting for the arrival of a tardy groom: It seems like the set-up for a cliché and sexist romantic comedy.

I also have practical questions.  Why would failing to bring an extra oil flask to a wedding get you kicked out?  And who would actually be available at midnight to sell supplemental oil to desperate guests?

My biggest question, however, is: what are we supposed to learn here? It is challenging to draw any sound moral lesson from this tale.  Consider the heroes we have to choose from. The five supposedly wise women refuse to share.  The breathlessly awaited bridegroom is so late his guests fall asleep waiting for him. This is rude enough, but then he bars the door and denies ever knowing the five women who take a few minutes to purchase more oil. Talk about a double standard.

Thankfully, Jesus ends this story by dropping a big hint to let us know what it is really about. “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (more…)

Sweet, Sweet Spirit

Here’s our teaser video for Sweet, Sweet Spirit: Our Congregational Giving Appeal for 2018. Thanks to Ruth for putting it together with photos from Tony Rinaldo and Kathy for getting it up on the web! On Sunday we had lovely members of our Junior Choir singing Doris Aker’s “Sweet, Sweet Spirit” alongside it:

There’s a sweet, sweet Spirit in this place
And I know that it’s the Spirit of the Lord;
There are sweet expressions on each face
And I know they feel the presence of the Lord.

Sweet Holy Spirit, Sweet heavenly dove,
Stay right here with us, filling us with your love.
And for these blessings we lift our hearts in praise;
Without a doubt we’ll know that we have been revived,
When we shall leave this place.

Glorifying God

  • November 6, 2016

dsc_0691-m2 Corinthians Ch.8 & 9

Sometime around the year of 55 in the common era, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church in Corinth. He encouraged the Corinthians to financially support their fellow believers in Jerusalem, where wants were many, resources were few, and conflict was intensifying between Gentile and Jewish followers of Jesus.

When I read Paul’s giving appeal, I have to laugh, because it has so much in common with how we encourage one another to give here at West Concord Union Church. If you read the 8th and 9th chapters of this letter, Paul starts by telling an inspirational story about other givers, Christians in Macedonia – just as we ask our members to share their testimonies to inspire us.  Then Paul reminds the Corinthians of how generous God has been to them – just as we remember how God has been generous in our lives and in the life we share together. Paul is careful to clarify that financial gifts should reflect a household’s means: “if the eagerness is there,” he says, “the gift is acceptable according to what one has – not according to what one does not have.”  Similarly, we emphasize the importance of discernment and the value of every gift.  Finally, Paul wraps up his message with these words:

“Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver…Share abundantly in every good work… [and] glorify God… by the generosity of your sharing.”

In the end, Paul says, make sure that you give joyfully, remembering what your giving is for: doing good work and glorifying God; in this case, lifting up the Christians of Jerusalem and binding them together.

Another appeal went out in the year 1909, as the West Concord Union Church decided to rebuild its meeting house: the first renovation! The intention was to rotate and expand the church to meet the needs of a growing community, keeping only the frame and foundation of the original 1893 structure.

We still have the gift list from this appeal. It makes for amazing reading. Two hundred and four gifts were received ranging from 5 cents to $500.  The most common gift was $25.  The top giver was the Ladies Union, and the second on the list is the Sunday School Primary Department. The Young Ladies club contributed $100 and the Sunday School contributed $50.  A few of the families who contributed have relatives here now or in recent memory: Damon, Montague, Hatch, Forbes. These saints stepped up to build this beautiful sanctuary almost from scratch.  I wish they could have known how many people would benefit from their gifts, more than 100 years later.  I wish they could have seen what good work would be done in this building, and how God would be glorified in this sanctuary.

This October, an appeal went out to all of you, asking for pledge commitments to support our shared ministry in 2017.  In the appeal letter, you can see pictures of what we do together and read quotes and descriptions about what happens here: music and prayer, fellowship and hospitality, learning and service.   We try to capture in this mailing how money gets turned into ministry.  But it’s so hard to fit it onto one piece of paper. There’s no way to tell all the stories.

For example, one of the smallest line items in our budget is for prayer shawls.  But the cost per benefit analysis on this line item is astounding.  The money goes mostly for yarn, which gets packed up into bags with patterns.  Then folks who are among you today pick up the yarn, and take it home. They put in stitch after stitch and prayer after prayer until there is a finished shawl; and then, after all those hours of work, they return it to the church. They do this, having no idea what will happen to that shawl, where it will end up.

Having these shawls at the church is amazing, kind of like a reserve fund of love that I can dip into when things get hard.  It’s been my privilege to deliver them to many people in the years that I have served here. They are often greeted with tears.  Members of this community have worn them while praying for family members, while recovering from surgeries or accidents, and while receiving chemo.  I was grateful to receive one myself right before I became a mother.  Several of these shawls have been passed on beyond our community, to friends and relatives or strangers, going from one person to another as special needs came and went. Just in this fall I have seen our prayer shawls spread over a mother in a hospice bed and wrapped around a girl at her brother’s graveside.

Just $150 in our budget and through the service of those in our community and the work of the Holy Spirit, these shawls are a magnificent ministry, expressing love and offering comfort in the hardest times.  Talk about good work. Talk about God’s glory.

In the end, Paul says, make sure that you give joyfully, remembering what your giving is for: doing good work; glorifying God.  And so we dedicate our gifts here today, and throughout the year, taking part in the good work and the glorification of God that goes on through West Concord Union Church.  I hope you do it joyfully.

And I wonder: what other good work is there for us to do? How elsecan we glorify God?  This is a question each of us can answer only for ourselves, and a question for a lifetime. But I wonder if I might make two suggestions for this week.

  • I hope that you will take part in the good work that is done by our nation by voting on Tuesday, letting the wisest and deepest parts of your heart guide your decisions, helping to build up the justice and hope of our country.
  • I hope that you will take part in the good work of knitting together this beautiful and broken nation in whatever ways you can as the election passes by, stitch by stitch, step by step, prayer by prayer.

What good work is there for you to do joyfully? How can you glorify God with what you give, and how you serve, and who you are?

Children were invited up and the whole congregation joined in blessing the prayer shawls:

Holy God, we thank you for our people, who gave the funds for this yarn, and then knit it together, stitch by stitch, prayer by prayer, to bless those in need of special care.  We add our prayers to these shawls this morning: May they bind up the brokenhearted, and warm those who wait, and comfort those in pain. May they be messengers of your love, and of the love of this congregation. In your grace, may we all discover how we are bound together.  May our ties be strengthened through gifts, service, and the work of your Spirit. Amen.



Lauren’s Testimony

  • October 23, 2016

laurenI began going to church when I was seven years old. It was the late 1970s in Seoul, Korea, and my parents encouraged me and my sisters to grow up in Christian teaching. When I was a child, my mother gave me a small amount of money every Sunday morning, and I simply took it to church and put it in the offering basket. I knew the meaning of giving offerings to God, but I never had to work to be able to give. Even after I graduated college and came to the US to study, my parents supported me and I had no problem taking a part from the money they sent and giving it to God and to church.

After I got married in my mid-twenties, there was still not much challenge in giving to God. My husband Robin also grew up in Christian faith and had no objection for giving tithe. He got his first job and we were still living in a college town in Indiana where things were relatively inexpensive. We were not saving much, but still able to make the ends meet.

Things began to change when we moved to Boston in the late ‘90s. We found a wonderful Korean church in town and we were very happy to be a part of it, but over the next several years, we had to face challenges in our careers, finances, and family relationships. It was difficult times, but we learned great lessons. God was with us all those years, and I know and believe that God led us to find a place to live in West Concord and became members of this church two years ago.

I feel blessed when we share joys and concerns during the worship. I know that there is not a week that we have nothing to be thankful for, and there is not a week that we have no concerns or sorrows. I see that God allows us both happiness and sadness during our days on this earth, and it is, indeed, very comforting to me.

Regarding to our giving, we made our first pledge last year and we were so thankful that we could fulfill it. It was much smaller amount than tithe, but we were very grateful that we could start giving again after the several years that we could not. We have pledged again this year, but I confess that things have been more challenging and we are quite behind the schedule. I am praying and hoping that we could fulfill it, and we could give more generously in the future.

I give thanks to God for being with us always and leading us to where we are now. And I thank God for this community of faith that makes me to have fresh views on familiar things and broadens my eyes on our life and the world we live in.

Susan’s Testimony

  • October 18, 2016

adams-bill-susanI came to West Concord Union Church for the sake of my children.  That is what I thought in 1985:  For my children.  I wanted them to have what I had had at Lakewood Methodist Church—a place, other than school, to figure out how to be in the world; at least a rudimentary knowledge of Bible stories; exposure to and participation in great church music; and witness to good people performing good works in the community.  Though they got all that and more here, I am envious of the wonderful Sunday School and children’s choir that I observe now, richer than what I and other parent volunteers could offer in the old days of the 80’s.

But now that our children, aged 38 and 36, are launched, I have to ask myself why I am still here.  What keeps me coming back?  It can’t be just that I like our organ better than any other in Concord.  How has it come to pass that so many of my activities in retirement are church-related?  That was not necessarily how I had imagined things.  I was supposed to be cleaning my closets and getting my house in order!

Hannah used a phrase in her sermon a few weeks ago that resonated with me so much that I grabbed the little pencil from the pew in front of me and scribbled it in my bulletin.  She spoke of “the kingdom of God within and around us.”  That is what I sense here in the people and in the activities that I have been and continue to be involved in at West Concord Union Church.  I feel the kingdom of God in this church every time I enter the door, and I feel the kingdom of God within myself when I work on behalf of the church.  That kingdom comforts AND challenges me.  I give my time and money to the church to ensure that I continue to be comforted and challenged and that the church continues to offer that same comfort and challenge to others.

Joanna’s Testimony

  • October 10, 2016

s-joannaThe Congregational Giving Task Force asked me to reflect on my experiences and approach to charitable giving, and I have to say this has been an interesting task. Historically, in my younger adult life, there was never much extra money to go around, so I volunteered time instead. For instance, as young parents in western Massachusetts, David and I joined the board of our children’s daycare center. This particular center catered to a transient mix of grad students and local families, many of whom were on public assistance. It was a rich melting pot of different cultures, skin colors, and experiences, totally groovy, and operated on an absolute shoestring budget. The board’s role was to roll up our sleeves and solve any problems that came up, with essentially no budget – fixing the road sign when the snow plow knocked it down (again), dismembering a tree that fell onto the playground, dealing with a migration of biting ants across the blacktop, applying for grants, and working toward accreditation. It was so gratifying to have played a role in sustaining the mission of that wonderful daycare center.

But then we finished grad school and moved to Concord for our “grown up” jobs. Now fast-forward 9 years. We are so fortunate and so blessed. And now we have more than just time to give. But where do we focus our money, how much do we give, and how do we decide? In the past, it’s been a very haphazard process, perhaps responding to current events, or specific pleas from organizations. But last year, we decided to be more discerning. I asked the kids over dinner what issues they felt strongly about. Their response? Climate change. So this year we have given more to Mass Audubon and Environment Massachusetts, while continuing our support of the Heifer Project and Planned Parenthood. The largest share of our charitable giving, however, goes to West Concord Union Church, because this is a community of people who mirror our values, and I think that by putting our resources together, we can accomplish so much more. Do we tithe? Actually yes, in 2016, but only because of our donation to the renovation project. Our typical pledge ranges around 6% of our gross income, and we try to increase it every year. For me, it’s about watching the Holy Spirit at work through Sunday Fellowship, the Youth Group, our Mission projects, and our focus on Justice.

Please join me in considering how you see God at work in this church, and where you might offer up your blessings. Thank you.