The Children’s Ministries apple picking tradition lived on this year! 27 adults and children safely gathered on a bright and sunny Saturday morning to reconnect after a VERY long spring and summer apart. What a wonderful morning it was! Enjoy the smattering of pictures as we crisscrossed each other in the orchard, rejoicing in each other’s company.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, the WCUC staff lined up in front of our church to wave and bless a steady stream of cars as we kick off our fall season together. It was wonderful to see so many smiling (we could tell under the masks!) faces. Enjoy the pictures of our reverse parade!
Being connected to other people isn’t easy, but Jesus has some words of wisdom for us. How can we stay connected with one another and with our purpose in this difficult time?
At the end of the sermon, Hannah taught motions to the song, “Like a Rock”. Here’s the composer, Linnea Good, singing it in several languages for you to enjoy!
Check out the pictures to see what many of our families were up to this summer!
Preached August 23rd at West Concord Union Church
Pharaoh’s daughter walked down to the river to bathe. I imagine this path was well-trod, that the heat of Egypt made bathing in the river a regular, maybe daily, practice. She would have known the best time of day to go and the way the shadows of the reeds fell first on one another and then played along the water’s edge. She would have known how the water created eddies along the bank as she walked to her usual spot. In today’s reading from Exodus, we hear of one particular day, when she noticed something different, a basket maybe bobbing on the water maybe caught in the reeds. I like to think that it was, in part, her familiarity with this stretch of bank and perhaps how the reeds stood angled to the side and the water stirred differently that drew her attention right to the basket. I like to think that her knowledge of the riverbank is part of what led her to find the baby: this baby who would one day liberate a people. I like to think that our own knowledge of our surroundings and attention, to what’s close and routine, is essential in these times.
Pray with me: Loving God, may the words of my mouth and the mediations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer.
I want to start by reading the most famous line of today’s gospel one more time: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Jesus declares Peter the rock on which the church is built. In Greek, the pun is obvious: Peter, Petra from petros, rock. Usually, I approach this passage thinking about Peter. Peter who is so zealous he tries to walk on water, Peter who wants Jesus to wash not only his feet but his hands and head, Peter who denies Jesus three times. Peter hasn’t ever seemed very rock-like to me.
But what do I know about rock? I haven’t spent much time considering the other half of the metaphor. Rock: it’s solid, stable. It makes a firm foundation. Or at least, that’s what I always assumed. But I’m sure a geologist would have many more answers for me. Or a rock climber. A stone-worker would have more insights or a farmer hauling granite chunks from her field might have another angle.
I had two pieces of help this week pondering rock. They run along a similar vein. First, it was this week that I found my children in the middle of the lawn, pounding bricks together. The bricks had once served as a border to a garden. Over a couple of afternoons, they collected the red dust from the bricks for potions and used it to paint their bodies. They sculpted the bricks by hammering on them with stones. I had been walking by these bricks for years and all this potential had escaped me.
But the second piece of help had been a book that was lying on my desk when I discovered this week’s lectionary texts. It’s Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone. We had it checked out when the library closed in March and have been taking our time reading through it. Andy Goldsworthy is known for his collaborations with nature, he has a new piece right down the road at Decordova in Lincoln. He makes site specific art—never knowing quite what he’ll do before arriving in a place and spending time on the land.
Goldsworthy takes playing with rock to another level. When he first started making art people accused him of being childlike, and at first he didn’t like it. He didn’t like the implication that his work was play. But then he had children of his own and saw the intensity with which children discover through play and acknowledged that this is in his work too. [Stone 6]
To work with stone, Goldsworthy says, “I had to forget my idea of nature and learn again that stone is hard and in so doing found that it is also soft.”
Especially now, when I and maybe so many of us spend so much time in one place, I appreciate the placed-ness of Goldworthy’s work. He spends time in a place—he learns it’s natural history and sees what catches his eye. Then, he’s often curious about what happens over time. He says, “I revisit some stones, as I do places, many times over. Each work teaches me a new aspect of the stone’s character. A stone is one and many stones at the same time—it changes from day to day, season to season.”
Let’s return to the scripture: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Peter is the rock on which the church is built; what does it mean for the church to be built on a rock?
Let’s see what Goldsworthy has offered us:
- to know a rock, we need to observe it, explore it, even play with it
- we could also return to it with curiosity, again and again
My unexamined understanding of rock: as something solid, stable and unshakable seems, at first to be a lot more comforting when applied to the church. And yes, in many ways, rock is solid, it is used in foundations, but it’s also a bit more interesting. Solid doesn’t mean that there’s still not a lot to learn or explore, or that the rock doesn’t have more to offer than we might first assume.
Do we want to use what Goldsworthy offers us about rock in relation to the church? Do we want to think of the church as built upon something hard to pin down? Something we need to return to? A year ago, we might give varied answers. But now? Given the past six months we can see that if the church were rigid and unbending, it would be broken by now.
And West Concord Union Church, you seem far from broken. Who would have imagined a year ago, what church looks like now? To me, it seems like you’ve held onto the essentials: You still gather together. You still pray and sing and hear scripture and sign. You are still you. You are still church, but you had to adapt as all around your stone shifted. I don’t know if it’s fair to say you played with the church and its structure, except if we add Goldsworthy’s caveat: that you’ve focused in on church with an intensity that has allowed you to know it differently. As you looked at the church in the midst of these months, you got to see what was essential and to leave behind some pieces that weren’t. That’s not to say that much isn’t missed. But you have kept church going, you have this rock on which to be in this very challenging time.
It’s been five months since schools closed. The seasons have shifted. Some pieces of this COVID era have become normal. For some of us the grief, the fear, the worry pulses high in our consciousness and for others these threads are more subdued. For some there’s a restlessness growing. So much is being asked of us on all fronts.
But keep heart. The truth that Peter spoke is that Jesus is the Messiah, that God is with us and loves us no matter what and especially when times are the hardest. The church, this community is striving to be God’s hands and feet in the world, striving to do justice and love kindness, the church is built on a rock. And the rock is alive with it’s own energy, both hard and soft as Andy Goldsworthy tells us. We must continue to pay attention to the church and the call on the church today to let it live today. Could it be more alive now than it’s ever been before?
And we must pay attention. I love that Moses isn’t named for the water, but for the fact that he was drawn out. Can we pay enough attention, can we look so deeply that we can draw out, the very precious parts of the church and its tradition that are utterly needed? Can we take what was old and handle it lightly, play even, to make it new? Can we look to the past to be part of a future that is more just, more holy, and with more equity for God’s children?
I wonder how you will continue to be the church in this time not just beyond the four walls of the church, but these four walls?
This is a strange and terrible time and it is a time full of possibilities. I wonder what could be floating down the river towards you. I pray that you will keep your eyes open, even on a circumscribed path. For God is at work. God is with us in the reeds and in the rocks. May we be open to play, open to continue seeing the church with new eyes. Let us be open to the newness of life that God offers, each and every day.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” May it be so. Amen.
A sermon on 1 Kings 19:9-15.
A sermon on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
Romans 7:15, 20-25a; Matthew 11:25-30
Growing up, the 4th of July was my favorite holiday. I can’t claim that it had much to do with enthusiasm about our country. I liked dressing up, riding in a bike parade, and eating bratwurst. Plus, because my birthday is on the 3rd, the 4th seemed like an extended celebration of ME, complete with fireworks.
But this holiday is not about my birthday, or bratwurst, or bikes. It commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Continental Congress’s announcement that it would no longer be subject to British Rule. Independence Day has become a day to celebrate our nation more generally, whether that means remembering our highest ideals and most dedicated servants — or eating red, white, and blue cakes at family barbecues — or both.
Perhaps I am not alone in coming to this year’s celebration with more trepidation than usual. While there is a great deal about our country to celebrate, there is also much to repent of. This has always been true, and it is a mark of both my privilege and my ignorance that it has rarely weighed on me as much as it does this weekend.
One of the most famous Independence Day speeches was given by Fredrick Douglass, who spoke in 1852 by the invitation of the Rochester NY Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. If you’ve never heard or read this speech, I commend it to you. If you know it already, I think it bears another hearing. I’ll quote just a tiny portion of it here.
Douglass praises the founders of our nation for their bravery. Then he reminds his audience:
“I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your [ancestors], is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? …Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them…
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals … more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which [they are] the constant victim. To [them], your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to [them], mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes … There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour…”
Let’s not miss, either, what Douglass has to say about the church on that day:
“The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission…Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive…”
The United States does not now have the kind of enslavement that was carried out in 1852, when this speech was given. But Douglass’ words ring true today nevertheless. Whose freedom do we celebrate on our Independence Day? What stories do we tell about who we are as a nation? If we fail to tell stories of stealing land from native peoples, of stealing lives from enslaved Africans, how can we claim any honesty in our accounts? And if we have not yet fully acknowledged these, our original sins — and all of our crimes against human freedom in more recent years– how can we build a future in which every person within our national boundaries may truly enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?
As Christians, the weight of our moral failure to use our power to abolish slavery and other forms of oppression is heavy. If churches had together upheld the preciousness of all human life at any point in our national history, how might that history have been different?
At the same time, I feel the great gifts that our faith has to offer, in confronting the past and present of our country.
In our scriptures today, Jesus describes God’s wisdom as best understood by those who are like children. The apostle Paul confesses the power of evil that threatens to overcome him from within, even when he desires to do good. Both speak to the importance of immense humility in our ability to grow: humility, and a reliance on a power greater than ourselves.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We, the people of this country, have a choice. We could continue to carry the weight of our ignorance and sin around, refusing to admit it even exists, while it continues to cause destruction. Or, we could acknowledge it, and seek the help of a power greater than ourselves, in getting ourselves free. We could accept the shared work of discovering how to escape the roles of oppressor and oppressed, for the common cause of mutual liberation.
Please pray with me.Holy God, with great aspirations, willful ignorance, stunning greed, and terrible suffering, we have strayed so far from your dream for us. Thank you for meeting our guilt and our grief with compassion. Help us to bring humility, curiosity, and determination to the work of freedom in this land: a freedom we must achieve together. Amen.