A Sermon preached by the Rev. Robin Bartlett
on May 5, 2019
at the First Church in Sterling
in honor of Rachel Held Evans #becauseofRHE
Rachel Held Evans shockingly died yesterday after a freak illness. Rachel was a progressive Christian author and a woman of valor many of us knew and loved through her brave, funny, beautiful writing. She was only 37. She leaves a husband and two kids 1 and 3. I quote her because her words deserve to live long upon the earth, even though her body does not.
“This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.”
We are prone to believe we are not worthy to be God’s disciples, because we don’t believe ourselves to be good and faithful enough. We forget that all we ever needed was to be hungry and say “yes.”
Today, I have a confessional story. Because if we’re going to be a confessing church, it’s my job to go first.
A couple of years ago, I was more depressed than usual. Depression is not a new phenomenon for me, and not something you have to worry about. I have struggled with mild depression for much of my adult life. It’s just a part of who I am, and I know how to manage it.
My depression was dark enough to truly scare me only once—eight years ago during my divorce. I found my way into darkness so deep then I wasn’t sure I’d come out. But I did! And I’m here! God takes old broken things and makes them new. Sometimes he names them Andy and Isaac.
But here’s what depression looks like for me most days: My average, every day, nuisance of a clinical mental health disorder has been manifested since childhood as this inner jerk in my brain who tells me that I am a terrible person.
Despite self awareness, years of therapy, psychology school and divinity school, many brilliant books, great friends, an award-winning sense of humor, plenty of Zoloft, a loving husband and family and congregation, and lots of ice cream and pedicures, I haven’t been able to fully evict that jerk from my head.
Two years ago, I knew I needed to go back to therapy to get some help for this. Just cause it was winter and my life consisted of couch and work and back to couch. I have been in therapy many times in my life, but hadn’t found one here yet. And I found a therapist who was really quite good. I liked him enough to keep going to my appointments.
And then one day in the darkness of winter, I forgot I had a therapy appointment. For no reason. I was home on my beloved couch, vegging out. I wasn’t doing anything important. But I realized I had forgotten about half way through the appointment. I was frozen, too embarrassed to call, because this was the second time I had forgotten.
My therapist called ME. He left me a message because I saw the caller ID and didn’t answer. “Where are you?” He said. “I thought we had an appointment today! Call me back!”
And I felt so embarrassed that I hadn’t called him to begin with, that I didn’t call him back.
“If you call him and tell him that you just forgot, he’ll think you’re a flakey, irresponsible idiot who is undeserving of your job,” the jerk in my brain said. So I put it off.
Then a week and another week went by, and I was so ashamed that it took me so long to call my therapist back that I…..didn’t call him back.
“I’ll call him next week,” I thought. And then a month went by, and another month.
“You’re so irresponsible. You hate it when people do this to YOU,” the jerk in my brain said.
The jerk in my brain often tells me to “ghost” people because that’s easier than healing.
“Maybe I’ll write him a letter,” I thought. “I mean, he’s used to depressed and flakey people, and I’m sure he doesn’t take it personally.”
But then a year went by, and I was too ashamed to write him a letter a year later.
The jerk in my brain told me that I didn’t deserve a good therapist since I couldn’t even keep an appointment, or be responsible enough to call him and tell him why I disappeared.
My depression made me particularly forgetful and unable to move from my couch to do anything besides go to work. And my paralysis made me mad at myself. So I got stuck in a shame spiral that kept me from my own healing.
That’s a loop many of us get stuck in. Often when you have disappeared from church, you have a story like that for me.
The jerk that has taken up residence in our brain telling us we are worthless and its too late has a louder voice than God, and so we deny our discipleship and stay home.
I swear if we listen hard enough, we might be able to hear: “Follow me. I will lay nothing heavy or ill-fitting on you. Come away with me, and you’ll recover your life.” You don’t have to be perfect. You are loved. You deserve healing. Just show up.
When we deny our discipleship, we don’t need God’s forgiveness. We already have that. We need to forgive ourselves.
This week, in the final resurrection appearance, we encounter Peter, the disciple who denies his discipleship. In fact, as predicted, he denies knowing Jesus three times after his arrest. Peter betrayed his friend, his Lord… He ghosted because he was scared. I’m sure the shame of that made mourning Jesus’ death worse.
“He told everyone you would deny him,” the shaming jerk in Peter’s brain declared. “You are not worthy to follow him.”
In this scene, Peter decides that it’s time to push the regret aside and return to his life. So he gets off his couch to go to work. Everyone needs to make a living, and a broken heart still goes on beating. He sets out in the darkness to fish.
“We’ll go with you,” the disciples say. They, too, have to go back to the every day-ness of their lives, after all. So they do what we all do after someone dies—just the have-tos. The taxes, the laundry, the 9 to 5. It doesn’t matter that the world will literally never be the same, it still goes on.
So the disciples get into the boat, cast their nets in the water, and come up empty. They can still fish, but without their beloved friend, all is empty.
Just after daybreak, the risen Jesus appears on the beach and says to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you? Cast your net on the other side, and you will find some.” And the disciples do what this strange man says, and catch so much fish then that they can’t even carry the nets to shore.
Peter recognizes Jesus right away. “It is the Lord!” He puts his clothes back on to swim to shore. It’s not too late to dine with his friend, after all! He will show up disarmed and ready!
“Come and have breakfast,” Jesus says to his friends. It’s the first communion with the risen Christ.
Rachel Held Evans says, “My Jewish friends like to joke that you can sum up nearly every Jewish holiday with, “They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat!”
Communion is a weekly celebration of just that.
He took bread, and gave it to them. He took fish, and gave it to them. Bagels and lox.
Now they all recognize him. Love is always recognized at the table, in the taste of food. Just like we can taste the love baked into the pie made from our grandmother’s apple pie recipe long after she dies, the disciples can taste and see that he is always with them, and that his Love lives on in abundance.
They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat.
The story doesn’t end at the table. After breakfast, Jesus says to poor, broken hearted Peter:
“Do you love me?”
He asks him three times, as many times as Peter denied Jesus.
“Of course I love you, Lord. You can have my heart if you don’t mind broken things,” Peter says.
“There’s only one response, then,” Jesus says. “If you love me, feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Follow me. Stretch out your hands. Go where you do not want to go.”
Beloved, this is the Gospel. If you love God, forgive yourself. Then feed. Tend. Follow. Stretch out your hands. Go where you do not want to go.
If you love God, give God your heart. God doesn’t mind broken things. In fact, God makes all things new, even banged up, bruised, lovable you.
If you love God, come out of the shame spiral the jerk in your brain talked you into. Get naked and swim to shore. Believe God when God tells you who you are.
If you love God, don’t just commune with creation alone on a beach. God is there, and the ocean is beautiful, but its not enough to heal. Show up in relationship. Show up in human community, even the ones who don’t pay you to be there. Go where you do not want to go. Stretch out your hands.
If you love God, feed one another. At the dinner table and the communion table. Your presence is enough and the table is already set. So just show up, regardless if you brought something for the potluck. Regardless of if your best friend died, or your favorite pastor is on sabbatical. Regardless of if you’re angry or brokenhearted or depressed. Don’t ghost because its easier. And if you do, it’s never too late to come home.
You are already forgiven. So forgive yourself, and show up for your life.
If you love God, follow God. To the places where the forgotten people are. To your knees, where you serve from. To the cross, because we are all marching toward calvary. To the resurrection, because love always rises.
I want to share these words with you from Glennon Doyle wrote about her friend Rachel Held Evans yesterday, because they should sound familiar to all of us who have lost a loved one who relentlessly told us we were more than our brokenness.
“Whenever I want to scare myself, I consider what would happen to the world if Rachel Held Evans stopped writing…..”
Doyle said yesterday that this was the first sentence she wrote in the foreword of one of Rachel’s books.
“Rachel died today,” she said.
“Rachel was a friend to the hurting, the questioning, the outcast, the underdog and the forgotten. I have never seen anyone - no one- match her courage and relentless commitment to use her pen and heart and might to fight for the least of these within the religious establishment. She refused to abandon us. She was relentlessly brave and she always won for us- she always came out on top because in brilliance: she had no peers. No one could out smart her or out brave her or outlast her. She was our warrior.
We needed her.
Without her, I feel scared.
In the world of people claiming to speak for Jesus- Rachel was the closest I’ve ever known. Without Rachel, we are going to need to become as brave and beautiful as she believed us to be. We are going to have to become leaders, now that our leader is gone.”
Beloved, this is the resurrection message.
This is what Jesus was trying to tell the disciples. I know you’re scared. If you love me, become as brave and beautiful as I believe you to be. Show up, shameless, for your lives. You are going to have to become leaders, now that your leader is gone.
Be a friend to the hurting, the questioning, the outcast, the underdog and the forgotten. Be relentlessly brave. Be a warrior for love. All you have to be is hungry. All you have to do is say yes.
An Easter Sunday Sermon
preached on April 21, 2019
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
“He is risen!” I said this morning to my husband, Andy, at 5 am.
“Shut up,” Andy said.
You’re supposed to say “he is risen indeed.”
“Shut up," Andy said.
The women were the first to proclaim the resurrection. The men didn’t believe them.
“You’re the pastor of this church?!” someone who attended a funeral I led said to me once. “But you’re a cute chick!”
“You’re my first woman priest,” another says. “You did pretty good, considering.”
“You don’t LOOK like a preacher,” another says.
“Thank you,” I say. (I mean, what else does one say? I feel truly lucky that I don’t have a beard. Yet.)
Folks tell me in one way or another all the time that “chicks” don’t belong leading Christ’s church. That’s the unfortunate message the church has given its flock for millennia.
Remember, the church is not God.
The message given by the Church to and about women in general over the years has been an abomination, in fact. If the Church were Christian, every corner of it would ordain women pastors, preachers, teachers and priests. If the Church were Christian, it would LISTEN TO WOMEN.
Because women were the first witnesses to the resurrection, and the first commissioned to preach the Gospel.
Perhaps that’s because they stuck around to witness the pain of the crucifixion.
According to all of the Gospel accounts, the women were the ones to stand unflinchingly by the cross while the other disciples ran away, denying and betraying their Lord. You can’t blame the disciples, really. Stuff was getting REAL and they believed themselves to be powerless against the might of the Roman empire. They were rightfully afraid.
I read somewhere once that FEAR is an acronym for Face Everything And Rise.
The women were the ones who stayed to face everything. They were the ones, who in the midst of their terror and grieving, bore witness to the death of the One they loved. Even Mary, Mother of Jesus stood at the foot of the cross…her body, her blood, her only son, crucified before her eyes.
It was not easy, but the women knew that together they could do hard things… Even watch, helpless, as their friend; their teacher; their rabbouni; their God; bled out, struggled to breathe, died in front of their eyes— along with all of their dreams.
The women didn’t just stay to watch him breathe his last. The Gospel accounts say they accompanied his lifeless body to the tomb.
Even then they didn’t leave. They came back to the hastily buried body the next day early in the morning while it was still dark to anoint the body with spices.
Because the women faced everything and rose, they were the first to see that he was no longer in the grave where they laid him.
Early in the morning, they approach the tomb, trembling. A stone was rolled away. Inside there were grave cloths, but no body.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Two men, transfigured in dazzling clothes ask. “He is not here. He is risen. Remember? He told you this would happen.”
The scripture says the three women are terrified…but they rise. Yes, they remembered. Yes, they believed. So they ran to tell the others.
Shaking, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary, mother of James ran back to the city to find the apostles. They proclaimed, breathless:
“He is not there! He is risen!”
The men didn’t believe them.
But the women knew what they saw. They stayed at the cross, so they witnessed. They remembered, so they believed. They believed, so they proclaimed.
He is risen!
Our work as the church is to be like the women in the crucifixion and resurrection accounts of the Gospels: to accompany one another to the cross, to journey to the tomb where the lifeless are laid, to bear witness to the resurrection.
To witness, to remember, to believe, and to proclaim.
Too often, with a little bit of embarrassment, we make the mistake of marking this day as if this is a historical, even fictional, event that we are remembering together. The product of some ancient hallucination.
But beloved, we don’t sing Jesus Christ “has” risen today, we say Jesus Christ IS risen today.
The resurrection is not a moment in history. Jesus is not over. Jesus is now. He is not a “has been,” he IS an “is” and a “was” an “all that will be,” and an “always will be.” He is the risen Lord: the Love of God that cannot be killed or swept away.
AND HE COMES BACK IN THE MIDST OF ALL THAT IS DEAD TO PROCLAIM LIFE! Love has won. LOVE IS WON.
Why do we need this message on this day, and every day?
Far too many of us die before our bodies have died.
What’s that horror movie where the creepy girl says, “I see dead people?”
I see dead people who aren’t yet dead. Everywhere I go. Death before death.
People who are numb. Who believe themselves to be alone, and act like it. Who are too afraid to love because of what they might lose.
And it’s not just people who are going through the motions of living a life.
We watch death on the news every day. And not just on the streets of Chicago, or at the mosque at Christchurch, New Zealand, or in the war-torn streets of Syria...we see death in the division of this country.
We see death in the dehumanization of God-imaged people. We see death where walls are built instead of bridges. We see death in the mindless consumerism that so often takes the place of building meaningful, life-giving relationships. We see death in our addictions that keep us numb so that we don’t have to feel our emotions. We see death in the internet comment sections, and in the words of the pundits demonizing the other side as if there are sides in Love’s kingdom.
We are rotting from the inside out.
But there is life before death, and life after death.
In Orthodox iconography of the resurrection, Jesus is never alone. He is always depicted taking the dead by the hand and pulling them out of their own tombs. As the song goes, “made like him, like him we rise. Alleluia!”
Many of us are alive today because someone reached out their hand to pull us out of the grave. A teacher, a mentor, a friend, a parent, a pastor, a therapist, a doctor, a lover, an AA sponsor...Someone held out their hand and helped us rise up out of the darkness we found ourselves in. Someone stayed at the cross with us; bore witness to our pain. Someone who didn’t stop loving us, even at our most unlovable. Who didn’t turn away when the going got hard, or when the rot began to smell.
That person reminded us somehow that Love rises up, and rises us up.
So believe it. Why do you keep looking for the living among the dead? He’s not sealed away in a tomb. Christ is right here. Christ is right now. He is risen indeed.
So, Beloved, be an Easter people. Face Everything And Rise.
Witness to the suffering of the world without flinching. Don’t turn away.
Remember you are impossibly, extravagantly beloved by God, and you are to love one another as God loves you.
Believe that God’s future belongs to all times and all seasons. To believe in God, we must believe in US. For we are glorious.
Proclaim heaven is here on earth! (ooo baby do you know what that’s worth?) Preach that Gospel. If necessary, use words.
Jesus is not over. His story is not over. You are his story. Made like him, like him we rise.
A Palm Sunday Sermon
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached on April 14, 2019
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
Being a Christian should be far more dangerous than it is. I suspect that the church is dying in the West precisely because it is so safe.
I have a beloved congregant who shall remain nameless. He LOVES and supports our justice and outreach activities with his whole heart...and he always says that he just doesn’t want our congregation to end up on the 6:00 news. I know what he means.
But if the Church were Christian, it would probably end up on the 6:00 news all the time. I suspect he knows that deep down, and that’s why he worries. Especially with me at the helm.
If the Church were Christian, it would be worthy of its true leader, the One who rides into Jerusalem to foment a love revolution and gets killed in the process.
Revolution foments when people know their worth. Jesus is dangerous for that reason. What wondrous love is this, O my soul! Of course, this kind of riot doesn’t just end up on the six o’clock news on Palm Sunday (What’s the buzz, tell me what’s a happening?)...it gets Jesus killed five days later.
So seriously, I know why my friend worries. Especially with Jesus at the helm.
“The reason I love church is because I know the rules,” Glennon Doyle says. “The rules are that everybody’s welcome and you are allowed to make mistakes, and that there is no shame.”
Those are the kind of rules that break all the other rules. Love overrules.
Unfortunately, too often the Christian church has made a business of shaming people for their sins instead of celebrating the potential and worth of God-imaged people.
Doyle was reading a Christian review of her first memoir, and she recalls it saying: “How is it that she can have so little shame about her abortion?”
Doyle said: “I get so confused by that because all of Christianity is based on the fact that we are forgiven. Forgiven for everything. That’s the beauty of it. I feel so bad for the people who come to Christianity and refuse to dance with grace….. It reminds me of going to a party and just standing against the wall and refusing to dance. And not only that, but refusing to let other people have a good time dancing. Don’t be mad at me because I’m shameless...Jesus told me to be shameless. And you know what? I’m a recovering drug addict, alcoholic and food addict. Grace is the only buzz I have left. And you will take it from my cold, dead hands.”
If the Church were Christian, it would be a dance party of shamelessness.
Palm Sunday sure was. The Palm Sunday partiers included multitudes: the religious outcasts and the inner circle, those on the margins, the lepers and the lame, the strangers, the aliens, the prostitutes, the homeless, the sick. Kind of a scrappy bunch of sinners and saints, hypocrites and adulterers, drunk and sober, scoundrels and thieves, blind and deaf, religious leaders and religious followers, men and women, the healed ones and the ones still in need of healing. You know, just like us. Just like our scrappy banged up band of sinners and saints here in this church dancing in the aisles.
After being stooped over with their shame for far too long, they were finally standing up straight, perhaps some of them for the first time.
They shouted “Hosanna! Grace is the only buzz I have left and you will take it from my cold, dead hands!”
They were anything but peaceful.
Jesus was born during a time of “peace,” but it came at the cost of heavy-handed oppression. The Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”) existed only because Rome squashed all dissent. In Rome, the peace was kept with force and displays of intimidating military might.
Shane Claiborne says: “A counterfeit peace exists when people are pacified or distracted or so beat up and tired of fighting that all seems calm. But true peace does not exist until there is justice, restoration, forgiveness. Peacemaking doesn't mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.
The festival of Passover was a threat to the Roman authorities because freedom was a threat to their power.
This was the week the Jewish people remembered God’s liberation with feasting and with story-telling. When people get a literal taste of freedom, they can get out of hand.
This was the week the Jews celebrated their chosen-ness; their beloved-ness in the eyes of their God. And when people dare to remember they are beloved and worthy, THEY CAN GET OUT OF HAND.
This was the week that the Jews celebrated a God who led them out of slavery and bondage, and through the gates of freedom. And when people are reminded that they are still in chains and they were promised more, THEY CAN GET OUT OF HAND.
And they have a new leader now: Jesus, the one who comes in the name of the Lord. The one who was consistently reminding the voiceless ones that they are worthy, and maybe not so powerless after all.
Yes, it was a dangerous week to be in Jerusalem. Insurrection was in the air, and this gleaming procession of imperial power—the long arm of the law--was prepared to do whatever it took to stop it.
Jesus was not to be deterred, and so he led his shameless followers in another kind of parade. There were no fancy saddles and horses and chariots for Jesus…just a donkey with some coats laid over it to ease his seat. This procession didn’t look at all like a kingly procession—there was no gleaming armor or guards or weapons.
But it was LOUD. It was the volume you might expect from a group of people once silenced; who have just found their voice.
They were singing and shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!”
“Teacher, order your disciples to stop. Tell them to be quiet. This is getting out of hand,” some Pharisees in the crowd said. They were standing up against the wall and refusing to dance with grace, and they didn’t want to let others have fun dancing either. It was too dangerous.
“I tell you,” said Jesus, “if these were silent, the very stones would shout out.”
When we were in Bible study on Wednesday night, one of the participants asked, “I wonder, what does this mean...that the very stones would shout out?”
One of the participants, one of our newest newbies, who was worried that her ideas were too radical for Bible study, suggested this:
“I think Jesus meant that if the crowd was made to be quiet, they’d start throwing rocks.”
I had never heard that interpretation before. This is why it is good to have have people who think they are too radical for Bible study in your Bible study.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. called a riot “the language of the unheard.” Riots don’t happen when people have enough food in their bellies. Revolutions aren’t needed when all people are free.
Early Saturday morning on June 28, 1969, police staged a raid at the Stonewall Inn, a mafia-run gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood. Unlike the many previous raids that had taken place at the Christopher Street establishment, this one inspired the bar's patrons to fight back. The Stonewall Riots, as the days-long protest became known, is credited as the spark that ignited the modern-day LGBTQ-rights movement.
The week following the protests, Village Voice writer Howard Smith described the "strange mood" when when police first ejected Stonewall’s patrons out onto the sidewalk under a full moon.
“Loud defiances mixed with skittish hilarity made for a more dangerous stage of protest; they were feeling their impunity,” Smith wrote. “This kind of crowd freaks easily.”
What had been a routine crackdown on an illegal bar took a turn when pennies and dimes started to whiz through the air and toward the police. The cops barricaded themselves into the bar, and then the gay mob outside the bar began to throw bricks and rocks toward the door and tried to break through the boarded up windows.
The first Gay Pride parade happened in New York City, one year later on June 28th, to commemorate the Stonewall riots...the day God imaged people dared to hope for freedom; and together proclaimed their own sacred worth. They marched into New York shouting “You will take grace from my cold, dead hands! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of LOVE! And love is love is love is love is love.”
The Pride parades that have happened every year since are Palm Sunday processionals: celebrations of Shamelessness.
The Church is slowly waking up to the fact that it is more Christian to show up at a Pride parade with signs that say “I’m sorry” than to protest one. Christian author Jen Hatmaker brought her husband, Brandon, and members of her church community to Austin Pride to give out "Free Mom Hugs, Free Dad Hugs, Free Grana Hugs and Free Pastor Hugs like it was our paying jobs.”
"Our arms were never empty. We 'happy hugged' a ton of folks, but dozens of times, I'd spot someone in the parade look our way, squint at our shirts and posters, and RACE into our arms. There were the dear hearts who said:
'I miss this.'
'My mom doesn't love me anymore.'
'My Dad hasn't spoken to me in three years.'
'Please just one more hug.'
You can only imagine what 'Pastor Hugs' did to folks. So we told them over and over that they were impossibly loved and needed and precious. And we hugged until our arms fell off. This is what we are doing, what we are here for."
This church is saving lives. LGBTQ teens are dying at alarming rates. If the Church were Christian, we would show up with free hugs instead of judgment and condemnation. God’s people all over the WORLD are shouting “Hosanna! I beg you to save!”
Barbara Brown Taylor says that “salvation is not something that happens at the end of a person’s life. Salvation happens every time someone with a key uses it to open a door he could lock instead.”
And beloved, salvation doesn’t come from safety. If you want to bring about the revolutionary love of Jesus on this earth, don’t stand against the wall anymore. Don’t be safe.
Get LOUD. And don’t forget to dance.
A Sermon preached at the First Church in Sterling, MA
on April 7, 2019
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
I was listening to this American Life yesterday afternoon, and there was a story about a preschool teacher tired of being the judge and jury for every dispute in her classroom. She installed a chunky red dial pad phone on the wall where the kids could go to tattle on each other. She called it the “tattle phone.”
After getting the other parents’ enthusiastic permission, David Kestembaum put a recorder in the tattle phone for the sake of this story for NPR. The outgoing message said: “Hey there, you've reached the tattle phone. OK, tell me what happened after the beep. Tell me the whole story.”
The kids went to the tattle phone all day every day except during nap time, and so Kestembaum recorded hundreds of messages.
“Eli told me a lie.”
“Seamus wasn't sharing with me, and I don't like it, and I'm very upset.”
“Nathan farted in my face, and I said, yuck, Nathan. And he didn't say excuse me.”
The real crime? He didn’t say “excuse me.”
The tattle phone made the kids feel better because they got to say aloud the things that felt unfair or made them mad. They felt heard, and the teacher didn’t have to step in to solve every fight and hurt feeling. The classroom was remarkably more harmonious. One kid said talking on the tattle phone felt like eating ice cream.
It made me wish that the church was also outfitted with a tattle phone.
However, the reporter said that eventually the kids stopped using the phone as much.
“Why?” he asked one of the children.
“It stopped working. I tattled on my brother who pinched me, but the phone didn’t make him stop.”
“I know,” the interviewer said to the boy. “You want actual justice.”
Sometimes, it’s not enough to speak up and have your voice heard when an injustice has been done. Reconciliation is hard and holy work. It involves more than listening and being heard. It involves humility, repentance, forgiveness, grace, and the hard work of repair. It requires asking ourselves, “what if I’m wrong?”
“Earth is a forgiveness school,” Ann Lamott says. “You might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can wear comfortable pants.”
Most of you don’t know this. But this Church in the midst of a fairly heated conversation about a Bylaw change proposal for the May annual meeting that would put the power into the hands of the church as a whole instead of in the hands of the denominational societies to choose its diaconate members, and how it spends benevolence money.
I sent out an email to all of our “undeclared” congregants—those of you who have chosen to remain “interdenominational” or “blank” in our database, to see if you wanted to “declare” a denomination, and be a part of the upcoming conversations about the bylaw proposals. It was an administrative task for me, in other words. It had surprisingly swift and passionate results. I received email after email from dozens of you declaring you would not “choose” a “team,” that the whole idea of a denominational “society” was anathema to your understanding of this church’s mission. The word “society” was not a Christian word, you said.
222 out of our 359 members, in fact, have officially “refused to choose.”
In the meantime, several of the members of both the Unitarian and the UCC societies have tried to mount a defense against the Bylaw proposals, worried that losing the power to choose who serves on the diaconate is losing a piece of our history; of who we are.
My dearest friend and colleague the Reverend Claire Feingold-Thoryn preached at my installation in 2014, saying:
“Now (First Church in Sterling) has three denominations, which is a lot,
but think of the Christians who worship at the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem.
Many people believe the church was built on the very spot where Jesus was entombed, and rose again.
The place is so sacred that within that one building there are six Christian traditions worshipping:
Greek Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, and Egyptian Coptic.
The Armenian Apostolic priests have ownership of a
small worship space within the large church,
but the Greek Orthodox own the ceiling of that room.
Hard to imagine how that got worked out.
The story goes that recently the lightbulb burned out
on the ceiling of the small Armenian chapel
and unless the Armenians wanted to worship in the dark, they needed to change the bulb.
However, it was difficult to get to the bulb to change it,
Because the Greek Orthodox wouldn’t let the Armenians
touch their space--
the ceiling where the bulb was.
And the Armenians wouldn’t let the Greek Orthodox touch their space--
which included the floor.
In the version I heard from a tour guide,
leaders from both denominations were on the phone with the Israeli police arguing that they should have the right to change the bulb.
So the next day, the chief of police went down to the church very early in the morning,
just happening to casually be carrying a ladder.
He strolled nonchalantly into the room
with the burnt-out lightbulb,
replaced it quickly
and went back to his office.
Then he called the leaders and said,
“I was just there…
and the lightbulb seemed to work just fine!”
Where are we pushing a door shut,
and worshipping in the dark?
Where are we allowing our cries of “liberty!”
to imprison us?
Where are we laying sole claim
to something that could be so easily shared?
How many Christians does it take to change a lightbulb?
There is another section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that has been fought over by the Egyptian Coptic Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox for centuries.
It’s a little bit of flat roof, baking in the Middle Eastern sun.
Currently the Ethiopians control this space,
however, the Coptics have a monk stationed in a folding chair on the roof every day,
to express their claims on the territory.
One hot day eleven years ago, the Coptic monk in the chair moved from the agreed-upon spot
to a place in the shade a few feet away.
This was interpreted as a hostile move,
leading to elderly monks throwing furniture and punches over the crossing of an invisible line on the church’s roof.
How we fight over the roof while the whole foundation crumbles.
How we hoard our history while losing our mission.
How we draw lines invisible and hard as glass
to protect ourselves
and then find ourselves in jails of our own making.”
Reconciliation is hard when there is change afoot: when “the way we’ve always done things” is threatened by people who don’t share our past. Those of us who have been serving on committees and in societies and making the coffee for decades or even generations get anxious when new folks are given equal say and equal rights to the church’s inheritance.
Enter the famous story of the Prodigal Son.
This is the story of a ridiculously, embarrassingly loving father who bestows grace upon grace on his younger, johnny-come-lately son. His younger son demands his inheritance before his dad even dies. His dad dutifully gives it to him! And then the son goes off to the city and squanders his dad’s money on extravagant food and women, and before you know it, it’s all gone. He ends up a pig farmer, toiling in dirt in the hot sun with animals he was raised to believe are unclean. And the prodigal son thinks to himself, “my dad’s slaves are better off than I am! I think I’ll go home!”
He returns home to beg forgiveness. He tells his father he’ll work for him with his father’s slaves, and he weeps apologetically. And his father embraces him right away, and commands his slaves bring out a feast for his son, and they have a gigantic welcome home party to celebrate.
Earth is forgiveness school. You might as well start at the table.
The older brother is furious. He stayed home this whole time, tilling the fields, doing what had to be done, working hard to earn his inheritance. How come his good-for-nothing brother gets the spoils? His dad answers, “Son, we have to celebrate, because your brother was once dead, and is now alive, was lost but now he’s found.”
God’s grace is offensive. It’s unfair. It’s unjust even. It doesn’t matter what the brother did, or even why he came back. He’s welcomed home with a hero’s welcome. He’s given equal stake in the Father’s assets. His voice and his life matter just as much as his brother’s.
Frankly, the older brother is right. He’s right that his father is ridiculously permissive and wasteful with his love. His brother likely wouldn’t have come home and apologized if he hadn’t run out of cash.
In the story, the younger brother doesn’t even ask forgiveness from his older brother.. Clearly, he knows that his father will be easier on him. It’s much harder to reconcile with one another than with God. Reconciliation among equals requires the surrender of pride, the surrender of ego, the surrender of the privilege of being right, the surrender of everything that keeps us estranged.
Sometimes we have to swallow our desire to be right for the sake of relationship.
Now, I love being right more than anyone on the planet. However, I don’t know about you, but relationship is why I’m here. Relationship not just with God, but with all of you. Therefore, I’m starting at the table. This is the table where unity is possible; where we get a glimpse of earth as it is in heaven.
And so, I want to come to this table to re-pent, to re-think. To ask myself the most holy of all questions, “what if I am wrong?”
I identify with this dinner table only. I am no longer interested in identifying with any of the groups that separate us from one another. I choose this table, with all of you. I choose our mission, which is to create heaven on earth. I seek to identify only with the One who calls us all home.
Why? A denomination is not a religion. The Church is not God.
God is one. We are fragmented, God is not. The Church is separated, God is not. The world is a hot mess of groupishness, God is not. God is not a democrat or a republican, a Unitarian or a Trinitarian, a Christian or a Muslim. God is not black or white. God is one, and Father of all.
If you want to follow the way of Jesus, figure it out, and get back to the table.
Get back to the TABLE OF UNITY,
Get back to the table OF AN END TO DIFFERENCE and INDIFFERENCE,
Get back to the TABLE OF REMEMBRANCE,
Get back to the TABLE of REPENTANCE,
Get back to the TABLE OF FORGIVENESS,
Get back to the TABLE OF RECONCILIATION.
Our mission is nothing less than fomenting a LOVE REVOLUTION. We can’t do that when we are distracted by in-fighting. So figure it out and get back to the table. COME HOME. Because THEN we will be gathering in the spirit of Jesus. Then we will understand a little bit about the kingdom of heaven we seek to create in the world.
QUESTIONS DEEPEN OUR FAITH
I invited your questions about God and the church. I asked not because I have all the answers (I don't) but because a church that doesn't invite questions in favor of shallow answers is more interested in maintaining the institution than deepening faith. Here they are, broken into categories. I will attempt to respond to them in sermons, in newsletters, in Facebook live videos...whatever way I can. I was in tears reading them. May you know that you are not alone in your questioning, beloved. We are so lucky to be fellow travelers on the journey.
Questions about how hard it is to love human beings:
Questions for the Pastor/Questions about our church:
Questions about the role of Church and the Bible in people’s lives:
The “Big Questions”/Ultimacy questions:
Questions about God’s gender:
Personal questions for God:
preached on March 17, 2019
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
Love will stitch humanity together. Love heals; love restores; love mends. It takes time, but love mends.
I just can’t shake the sadness that the city in New Zealand in which the hateful slaughter of 50 Muslims at prayer was named Christchurch. The terrorist who committed this atrocity was poisoned by the heresy of “Christian” white supremacy. He didn’t just shatter the sanctity of the mosques with his death dealing. He shattered the sanctity of Christchurch and Christ’s church. He shattered the sanctity of prayer. He shattered the sanctity of humanity, raining bullets of hate on God-imaged people. In the Koran, it says that killing one person is killing all of humanity. On Thursday, all of humanity was killed once again.
White supremacist, extremist right-wing terrorism is on the rise. A study came out that this month that said almost two-thirds of terror attacks in the (United States) last year were by white men and tied to racist, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Semitic, fascist, anti-government, or xenophobic motivations.
As the Church we must clearly and unequivocally say NOT IN OUR NAME. Not in Christ’s name.
If you know folks who think that terrorism goes hand in hand with Islam, please do your best to correct the record. If you are one of those folks, please do your best to learn something different.
To repent means to re-think. This Lent, cross the borders of creed and culture to know differently through love, as Christ taught us. And join us at the Worcester Islamic Center on Wednesday, March 20th to have dinner with our Muslim friends, learn something new about God, and show our love and support. If you can’t come, write a prayer for our friends there on our prayer banner. Our friend, Mona Ives has gone to every vigil for every tragedy after September 11, 2001 to lend her Muslim voice to say “not in our name.” She has spent her adult life trying to undo the image of Muslims as terrorists by speaking in interfaith spaces and educating non-Muslims. She couldn’t even go to the vigil at her own Worcester Islamic Center on Friday. She was too tired, too heart sore, too exhausted trying to convince white Christians that she is worthy of dignity and life.
We are all weary. Our humanity is slowly being murdered hour by hour, day by day, by forces of hate and fear beyond our control.
As Christ’s church, we must learn the unforced rhythms of grace. Come to Jesus. As Love’s people, we must re-humanize one another, repair what has been broken, and return to God.
If the Church were Christian, gracious behavior would be more important the right belief, Phillip Gulley says. If the church were Christian our job titles would simply be: Professional Lovers of God and People.
The Christian church plays a part in anti-Muslim, anti-semitic ideology. One of the heresies of the Christian church is the idea that we have somehow cornered the market on Truth. If we want to stop the rise of ideological extremism that leads to white supremacist terrorism, now is the time to re-claim the values of Jesus.
Too often, this book about Jesus has torn people apart. There are many who believe that God himself wrote it with God’s holy pen. There is a “right” way to read it, and a “wrong” way. Every word, some say, is literally true, God-ordained and should hold up in every age and culture.
When I came to First Church, I would ask occasionally why a long time member left years ago. “They said they wanted a church that was more bible based,” was sometimes the answer. That always confused me. It took me awhile to figure out that this was code for “they wanted a church that didn’t marry gay people,” or “they wanted a church that was less inclusive of different understandings of God.”
So let me just be clear. This church is most certainly Bible-based. This church’s foundational text is, in fact, the Bible. The shimmering, clear, God-kissed message of this complex and rich and sometimes problematic story of God’s people is unfailing, indestructible love. And the Law of Love always wins over the letter of the law.
Folks think that people like me cherry pick the texts to make God into who I want God to be—a social justice warrior who loves and accepts everyone. A liberal snowflake God, if you will. And maybe that’s true.
The truth is, we are all being selective about which parts of the Bible to take more seriously than others. That is no more true of religious progressives than it is of religious conservatives. We all pick and choose. I just happen to admit it.
So let’s ALL stop cherry-picking to use this text as a weapon against our opponents and instead re-claim the values of Jesus.
Jesus was also asked to choose which parts of the text were the most important, too. In perhaps the most famous text in the Gospels, He was asked by a lawyer which commandment was the greatest. He answered “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second commandment, he said, is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Loving others is how you love God, Jesus said. Love, not doctrine, is the only thing Jesus really went to the mat for. Love is what he lived and died for.
If the Church were Christian, mirroring the compassion of Jesus would be more important than echoing the orthodoxy built up around him.
Jesus taught that compassion is a verb not an adjective.
Who remembers what story Jesus tells when the lawyer asks him who is neighbor is?
In the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells the story of a man crossing the street to save a bleeding victim of a robbery; a bleeding man avoided by a priest and a Levite. The man who helped and healed and brought him to safety was a Samaritan. Jesus was a Jew. Jews and Samaritans hated each other. But it is the Samaritan who crosses the borders of race, creed and religious law to heal. And so Jesus calls his so-called enemy “good.”
“Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.
“Hello, Brother.” That’s what the first victim of Thursday’s white supremacist terrorist attack said to the gunman as he entered the Al noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. 71 year old grandfather Daod Nabi called his killer “Brother” before he was murdered. We know this because the carnage was filmed live for 17 minutes and broadcast on the internet in real time, all over the world.
That video was 17 minutes of hate, but what we will remember is Daod Nabi. The killer wanted his message spread, but we will spread Nabi’s message instead.
As he faced a rifle, Daod spoke peaceful words of unconditional love. That’s as much a profound statement about who he believed God to be as it is about who Daod was.
He resisted letting his killer’s hate become his own, even as he faced down the barrel of a gun. He stayed faithful to the God who made us all brothers and sisters, to his last breath.
“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” Jesus cried out on the cross as he took his last breaths. He did not let even his murderer’s hate become his own. He sees in his enemies the face of a brother and sister, and asks for their forgiveness.
Re-claim the values of Jesus. Re-claim the values of Love. Love mends. Love restores. Love heals.
I spent the weekend at a UU Christian Fellowship revival trying to get closer to God by learning fiber arts, of all things. They kept trying to teach me to knit and to mend, and I kept failing.
It is probably a sign of my generation more than anything else to say that I don’t know how to mend things. This was not true of my parents and grandparents. Clothes used to cost more in their day, and things were made to function and last. My mother made a lot of my clothes as a young child. My grandmother and mother patched holes in jeans, darned socks, hemmed clothes.
Now when I get a hole in a garment or even lose a button, I throw it away and buy a new one. I’m not proud of this…I’m just telling you the truth.
I’m not the only one who treats my clothing as expendable. I found out this weekend that the fashion industry is second only to oil as one of the primary polluters of the world. God help me to repent of this habit for the sake of your creation.
God doesn’t see us as expendable. You and I may not know how to mend…garments or relationships or our own brokenness or the world torn asunder…but God does. We may throw what we create away, but God doesn’t. God saves the pieces, and carefully stitches us back together into whole cloth.
Elizabeth Spelman says that “repair is the creative destruction of brokenness.”
After the flood in which he destroys the world and starts over, God re-recreates humanity with the remnant of what is left. And then God promises us with a rainbow never to destroy us again. Now when God makes us new, she doesn’t throw us away in a scrap heap and start over. God continually repairs and reinforces us until we are strong at the broken places. God gives us one another.
We need to be in the business of mending, repairing, of healing, of RESTORATION together. Together, resistance and reconciliation is holy work. Together, we are a force for love in the world. Together, we have as many chances to see the face of God as we have people to meet and know. Together, we have everything.
Gather up all the fragments, beloved. Of your family, of your community, of our county, of our world. And get to mending.
A sermon preached by Rev. Robin Bartlett
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
on the first day of Lent, 2019
March 10, 2019
In Jesus’ upside down kingdom, the Power of Love overcomes the Love of power.
”Do not put The Lord Your God to the test,” Jesus says. I translate that: “Do not put Love to the test.”
Love wins. Every time.
When we baptized Mia and Olivia, I dedicated them to the service of truth, and the practice of compassion. I dedicated them to the ways of peace, beauty, and love. These aren’t easy tasks to dedicate a person to.
Over the course of their lifetimes, they will constantly have to be reminded of who they are, who they’ve chosen to be, and who God has called them to be. Because those things will be put to the test all the time. Especially in middle school, amen?
Satan, the accuser, stands ready to claim us as his own, manipulating our human desire for power and control when we are tired and starving. Willing us to choose power over peace.
We have to stand firm and say, “Do not put love to the test.”
Because there will always be people who try to get you to question who you are.
Jennifer Senior says that “purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power” in an article from the New York Times I read yesterday. The article had nothing to do with Church (it was about the cancel culture in teen literature). But it reminded me of the ways in which denominations are tearing themselves apart right now, not for Love of God, but for love of power.
All of the human groups you and I are involved in have purity tests. From the “clean eating” movement to the mommy wars; from political activist circles to religious denominations.
There is a language we are supposed to know, and a group of norms we must not stray from. There is a a “right” way and a “wrong” way to be a patriot, a parent, a conservative, a liberal. There is a right way and a wrong way to be part of the group. There are ways to signal you are “in,” and ways to be summarily ousted.
Even slacker moms like me try to out-slacker the other slacker moms. “I forgot to feed my kid breakfast today.” “Oh yeah? That’s nothing. I forgot to feed my kid breakfast all week.”
The only people who can pass the purity tests administered by the standard-bearers of these groups are those most untainted by the poison of nuance and complexity. In other words, none of us, including the standard-bearers themselves.
The Church has historically attracted people who desire power and authority, and who have a tendency to abuse that power. This is because the Church has historically attracted humans. (And one more time for those who missed it last week: the Church is not God.)
Church wars throughout the ages have been fought by the standard-bearers over these questions, among others: Is slavery ordained by God? Should women be ministers? Should priests be celibate? Should gay people be ordained or married? Should wives submit to their husbands? Who should be allowed to take communion?
The answers to these questions by church leaders have often had more to do with a desire for power and control of other people’s bodies than a desire to live as Jesus did.
Not all power and authority in the Church is used for bad, of course. Phillip Gulley suggests that the question for the church’s leadership should always be: "Does (the use of authority) build others up or does it put them down?”
If the Church were Christian, Phillip Gulley says, peace would be privileged over power. Putting people down is an act of power, and building others up is an act of peace. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” If the Church were Christian, its leaders would be a constant check against fanaticism disguised as purity. If the Church were Christian, it’s leadership would look for ways to lift up those who are cast out, build them up, and follow their lead. Love would be the only “test” we would administer to determine worth. Mercy and forgiveness would be our study habits. Grace would be the only way to “pass.”
In the Church, scripture is considered authoritative. Therefore it makes sense that the Church’s weapon of choice in the quest for purity and power is the ancient words in this book. But this book is not God. In fact, Jesus taught us that we can judge the authority of scripture based on whether it builds others up or puts them down.
That’s our lesson from today’s scripture. Anyone can quote scripture out of context. I can. You can. The devil can quote scripture, too. But Love will always win.
In our passage from the Gospel of Luke on this first Sunday of Lent, Jesus is bone tired. He is literally famished after fasting in the wilderness for forty days. He is weak and exhausted. He is in a state of utter desperation, both mentally and physically.
It is at this point when Satan puts him to the test.
Jesus is offered bread at his hungriest. “If you are the son of God, turn this stone to bread,” Satan says. Jesus turns him down. “It is written, ‘one does not live by bread alone,’” he says.
The devil leads him up to the top of a mountain, and shows Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world. “To you I will give all of the glory and authority, if you worship me.” And Jesus says, “It is written, worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”
Then, Satan brings him to the pinnacle of the temple. “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here.” And then, catching on to Jesus’ affinity for the Word of God, Satan quotes the words of the psalm we read this morning: “for it is written,” Satan says, “he will command his angels concerning you, to protect you.”
Even the devil can quote scripture.
Jesus says to him, “do not put the Lord God to the test.”
“Do not put Love to the test,” Jesus says.
The identity test for Jesus is not so much a test of who he is, but how he will live out his identity as Son of God. The devil knows perfectly well who Jesus is. The devil does not question who Jesus is, but tries to get Jesus to question who he is -- and Jesus does not fall for it.
There will always be people who try to make you question who you are. The test is not so much a test of who you are, but how you will live out your identity as beloved by God.
This past summer, I received a message to the First Church in Sterling Facebook page. It was from a Facebook profile with a picture of a man wearing Nazi insignia on his sleeve, though I failed to realize that when I first read his message. He asked me if our church was welcoming to people in interracial marriages and to the LGBTQ community. Naively, I answered him cheerfully in the affirmative. “Yes, all are welcome. We believe all people are children of God.”
When he received my response, he proceeded to answer me by quoting long scripture passages about the immorality of black people and white people inter-marrying, and scriptures advocating that homosexuals be put to death. I responded by blocking him and reporting him.
Soon afterward, he gave our church a one star review on Facebook saying that “this church and its minister are false prophets who fail to take into account the truth of scripture, and they block you rather than admit they are harmful liars.” And then he posted a picture of his gun on his profile with veiled threats to harm people who “do not take the word of God seriously.”
Our church responded by leaving dozens of five star reviews on our Facebook page.
Kristin Turner wrote: “The thing about love is - it doesn’t run out. We’ve been given bountiful, overflowing, endless, grace and love. At First Church it’s yours. We love First Church because it encourages us and reminds us to share love as Jesus did, carelessly, with all, especially those who have trouble loving us back, especially those who hate us, or who are hard to love. Often the people hardest to love, need love and grace the most - and thankfully, we’ve been blessed with enough of both to share it.”
Ann Taft wrote: “First Church of Sterling literally saved my life. After being hospitalized for major depression and suicidal ideation, my first public outing was to First Church. I was met with such unequivocal LOVE. As an ex-Catholic, I feel welcome here. My family who are atheists feel welcome here. My family who are American Baptist feel welcome here. I’m also proud that my children are being raised in a community where they are not told “Believe this,” or “Don’t believe that,” but are instead asked “What do you believe, Beloved?”
Jayne Perkins wrote: “This loving church community will love the hate out of our world by spreading love to all. Those who write lies about us are easily noticed as they contradict everything we are. But we will pray for every person who has hate in their heart. Especially those who create bots to spread their horrible messages.
God is LOVE. Love will always win.”
DO NOT PUT LOVE TO THE TEST. Not when First Church is on the job.
The post has since been removed, but perhaps the most beautiful moment was when the First Church “mob” started engaging with the man’s post on our page, citing Bible passages about loving your neighbor and the enemy. “We’ll pray for you. We believe you, too, are beloved by God, internet Nazi.” Jeff Maxwell even invited him out to coffee. I told him that was a bad idea.
The internet troll eventually left us alone because we bored him with our love, and he disappeared into the ether. His hate did not become your hate.
There will always be people who try to get you to question who you are, who will try and put you to the test. The test is not so much a test of who you are, but how you will live out your identity as beloved by God.
Here’s a reminder:
You are made in the image of God, all of you. You were fearfully and wonderfully made, and created for God’s glory. You are known and named Beloved. You were called to build bridges, not walls. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” You were called to be the hands and feet of THAT peace. The Power of Love will overcome the Love of power because of YOU. The Church was made for such a time as this because the Church is YOU. Even the devil can quote scripture. But you—you must never forget who you are.
Bring peace where there is no peace. There is no time but now, no people but us, and no way forward without turning toward each other.
A Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday
preached on March 3, 2019
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
Patti Griffin wrote the song, "Up to the Mountain" for Dr. Martin Luther King, based on the prescient "Mountaintop speech” he gave right before he died, recalling the words of the prophet Moses.
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” King told an overflowing crowd in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 3rd, 1968, where the city’s sanitation workers were striking. “But it really doesn’t matter to me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
Make no mistake about this: Dr. King was not the vaunted hero he is now. Listening to him meant asking for trouble. Listening to Dr. King meant crossing boundaries. Following him was dangerous. He was, in fact, one of the most hated men in America the year that he died, with a 75% disapproval rating in polls. Less than 24 hours after giving the mountaintop speech, Dr. King was assassinated.
When I’m tired and despairing about the world as it is, I play this song. I imagine singing it to Dr. King. I imagine Dr. King singing it to Moses. I imagine Jesus singing it to God: the Father he called “Daddy.”
“Sometimes I just lay down, no more can I do. But then I go on again, because you asked me to.”
Here’s what we know from the biblical prophets, from Dr. King, from Jesus: We will get to the Promised Land. It may not be in our lifetimes. But we keep going on again, because God asks us to.
There’s a reason God is often speaking to people on the tops of mountains. Sometimes like the disciples, we need to be up high to see. We need a revelatory experience to appreciate who God is. We need to see a vision of the Realm of God; the Kingdom of Heaven; the promised land. (What does that look like? Help me preach this sermon).
Once we get a glimpse of all that, we need to come back down and create it here, right where we are.
In our Transfiguration scripture from Luke, Jesus asked three of his friends, Peter, James and John to follow him up to the top of a mountain to pray. As he was praying, a grand supernatural event occurs, and Jesus’ appearance changes. He is bathed in a warm, white light, and he is transfigured before them. Suddenly, Elijah and Moses appear in the clouds.
And God’s voice booms out “This is my Son, the Chosen. Listen to him.”
Peter, James and John had been about to fall asleep, but luckily they stayed awake for this moment. They are appropriately amazed. “Listen to him?” They think. “I can do that.”
“It is good to be here,” they say to Jesus. “We like hanging out with you like this, chillin’ with Moses and Elijah and God,” they say. They say, “let us make three places for each of you to live, and we’ll just hang here forever, listening to you.”
I’m sure it was good to be there—far above the hot mess down below. Up there, Peter, James and John could just worship their Lord. They could listen to his stories, sing some Christian rock, put up their Jesus hands and sway: “my God is an awesome God”….feeling blissful and above it all FOREVER.
Unfortunately, Jesus made them leave.
It turns out that “listening to him” didn’t mean gathering up his words like golden nuggets and using them later out of context as a weapon against other people. Listening to him didn’t mean worshipping him on a mountaintop and shutting out the world. Listening to him meant following him down the mountain the next day. Listening to him meant listening to the fathers who are begging, “heal my son.” Listening to Jesus meant casting out the demons that threaten to swallow up a faithless and perverse generation.
Make no mistake about this: Jesus was not the vaunted hero he is now. Listening to Jesus meant asking for trouble. Listening to Jesus meant following: crossing boundaries to heal. Following Jesus was dangerous. He was one of the most hated men in Jerusalem just a few weeks after his transfiguration with a near 100% disapproval rating, and he was assassinated.
Like the disciples, we wish it were less dangerous to listen to Jesus. It is easier to stay up on our mountains. It is nicer in our safe church buildings with our gilded crosses and our organs and our polite New England manners. Here, we can listen quietly to Jesus’ sweet words once a week before returning to our lives of relative comfort and prosperity.
We need to ask ourselves what we are willing to risk to follow Jesus down the mountain. We need to ask ourselves what demons we need to cast out of our own faithless culture. We need to ask ourselves what boundaries we are willing to cross to be the people God has called us to be. And we need to ask ourselves who needs our healing.
This year all through Lent we’ll be considering the book, “If the Church Were Christian” by Philip Gulley.
He puts it this way: The church has been too deeply concerned about its own power and wealth. It has insisted upon a level of respect it has not earned, and it has been silent at critical junctures of history. It has far too often aligned itself with the powerful and the immoral, and in the process has neglected its responsibility for the outcast.
Gulley says, if the church were Christian, it would welcome the other unconditionally. If the church were Christian, it would lose its fascination with law and doctrines, it would befriend the poor and marginalized, it would welcome the rejected. If the church were Christian, Gulley says, Jesus would be a model for living rather than an object of worship.
If there is one thing I want you to take away from my sermon today, it is this:
THE CHURCH IS NOT GOD.
It’s been a tough month in the life of the Christian Church.
The Catholic Church had its first ever summit on child sexual abuse by priests, gathered by the Pope. The church leadership listened to survivors tell their stories.
Five anonymous abuse survivors addressed the gathering via a video.
A survivor from Chile said the church's leaders had discredited victims and protected the priests who abused them.
"You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed, in some cases, into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith," he said.
In the Catholic Church, priests are considered to be Christ’s representatives on earth. That’s the theology of priesthood. Imagine the catastrophic spiritual devastation it causes when one’s Priest becomes one’s abuser, and the leadership believes him and not you. God seems no longer accessible to you. It seems that Christ himself has become your abuser.
This was an effective summit; a first step on the path to healing, perhaps.
Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle choked up when he told the gathering that "wounds have been inflicted by us, the bishops, on the victims. ... We need to help them to express their deep hurts and to help heal from them," he said, adding that perpetrators need to face justice.
I want you to hear this again:
The Church is not God.
You were fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God.
What harms your body harms God’s body.
There are many who want to blame this disgusting abuse of power on the Catholic Church as if abuse of power is unique to the Catholic Church.
We found out two weeks ago that since 1998, about 380 Southern Baptist leaders and volunteers have faced allegations of sexual misconduct, according to a sweeping investigation by two Texas newspapers that came out last month.
The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News also found that in the past 20 years, more than 700 victims have been abused, with some urged to have abortions and forgive their abusers.
As your pastor, I have heard countless stories about the ways in which the Christian churches you grew up in or attended in the past have failed you and victimized you.
Abuse of power happens anywhere power can corrupt, which is any institution human beings are involved in.
So I want you to hear this again:
The Church is not God.
You were fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God.
What harms your body harms God’s body.
What harms your body harms the Body of Christ.
In a contentious meeting years in the making this week, the United Methodist Church—the United States’s third-largest faith community—voted to emphasize its opposition to same-sex marriage and gay clergy. The vote was deeply split, and will probably result in a split of the denomination.
Many American ministers in the United Methodist Church already perform same-sex marriages and approve of the ordination of LGBT people as clergy, although the church’s rules officially forbid these marriages and ordinations.
Many Methodists hoped that the church would amend those rules this week. Instead, a group of more than 800 clergy and lay leaders from around the world voted to affirm the church’s traditional view of sexuality — and to punish disobedient clergy more harshly than before.
I want us to imagine what it might be like to wait your whole lifetime for your church or your denomination to debate your worthiness before granting you full fellowship in the Body of Christ. I want us to imagine what spiritual damage that might inflict upon actual, in the flesh, God-imaged people already endowed with sacred worth by our Creator.
It is literally killing people.
The Reconciling ministries of the UMC had to send out suicide hotline numbers after the vote at the General Conference this week to its thousands of LGBTQ constituents and clergy who have been waiting for a lifetime for their full inclusion in the denomination that raised them up. If one has to send out suicide hotline numbers following a vote of a Christian organization, one can surmise that the action taken may not have been Godly.
I want us to be careful about tooting our own horn in this moment as an open and affirming Christian church. Because far too often we like to notice the speck in our neighbor’s eye without removing the log from our own. I want us to be proud of the work we’ve done to expand our welcome, yes. I want us to lift ourselves up as a healing sanctuary for the folks the Christian church has cast out, yes. I want us to be a public voice for the Christian Church to become more like Jesus, yes, yes, yes.
But at the same time I want us to be able to say, “we’re sorry it took us so long. We will do what we can to reconcile with the God-imaged people we have harmed with our silence and complacency." And then, most importantly, we need to say: “We will be silent no more.”
That’s what it might look like to take a step toward healing, I think.
ONE MORE TIME FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK.
The Church is not God.
What harms your body harms the body of Christ.
God is Love.
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love. It cannot be killed or swept away.
So beloved, join us this Lent to take a step toward healing. Join us to repent for the ways in which the Church has fallen short of the glory of God. Join us this Lent to HEAL the body of Christ, beginning with ourselves. Come down off your mountains! Walk toward trouble, take the highway to the Jesus danger zone, listen to the parents weeping for their children and do something about it. Join us this Lent to bravely follow the most hated man in Jerusalem. Join the Love REVOLUTION! Do not be afraid.
Some days I look down
Afraid I will fall
And though the sun shines
I see nothing at all
Then I hear your sweet voice, oh
Oh, come and then go, come and then go
Telling me softly
You love me so
The peaceful valley
Just over the mountain
The peaceful valley
Few come to know
I may never get there
Ever in this lifetime
But sooner or later
It's there I will go
Sooner or later
It's there I will go
A Sermon delivered at the First Church in Sterling, MA
on February 23, 2019
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
A man who had reached his 100th birthday was being interviewed by a reporter.
“What are you most proud of?” the reporter asked.
“Well,” said the man, “I don’t have an enemy in the world.”
“Wow! What a beautiful thought! How inspirational!” said the reporter. “What’s your secret?”
“I outlived every last one of them.” Said the man.
I like his strategy. There’s one problem with it though: the only person I know for sure you and I can never outlive is ourselves.
Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Just like we can’t love our neighbors if we don’t love ourselves first, we can’t love our enemies if we don’t love ourselves first.
The first rule of preaching is to never talk about your process. But I’m going to break that rule because I like breaking rules. I struggled mightily with this sermon. I rewrote it probably 6 times. It was because I got stuck on one question I just couldn’t get past.
Like the lawyer who tries to trick Jesus with the question, “Who is my neighbor?” I got all caught up in this question:
“Who is my enemy?”
It’s not that I don’t have an answer to that question. It’s just that I have too many complex answers.
I’ve created more than a few enemies in my life. Sometimes I have produced enemies from hurtful mistakes I’ve made. But mostly I’ve made enemies by taking bold action, or telling hard truths.
Notice Jesus doesn’t advise us to be more likeable in his sermon on the level place.
He tells us instead to love those who hate us. My colleague Taryn said, “If everyone’s your friend…you’re doing life wrong, which is partially what Jesus meant. Get yourself an enemy! Then love them!” Or, as someone once said, “live your life in such a way that Westboro Baptist comes to picket your funeral.”
I did a funeral for one of the great pillars of this church who now joins the saints in light—Bob Smiley—on Thursday. He had every leadership position there was to have in this church, from Moderator to deacon. Apparently he used to advise lay leaders that it was good to be in trouble with someone at First Church. It meant that something positive was happening…that some good change was afoot. I took that advice immediately to heart, as I am always in trouble with someone around these parts.
So, I intended to preach some version of Taylor Swift’s immortal words: “haters gonna hate.” Love anyway. I was going to preach Howard Thurman’s wisdom: Don’t let other people’s hatred become your own. Don’t become the thing you disdain.
But still, I kept getting caught up in this question: “Who is my enemy?”
So, I did what preachers do—I looked to the scriptures for other instances of the word “enemy.” It’s in there a lot.
Because I did two funerals this week, I recited the 23rd psalm a bunch. The part of the 23rd psalm that is most compelling for me is the line that says: “God sets a table before me in the presence of my enemies. He anoints my head with oil, my cup over flows.”
Sometimes I imagine an extravagant table filled with bread and chocolate, fine linens and silver candlesticks, and my cup overflowing with wine. I picture God setting a place before me in the presence of my ex-mother-in-law, the mean girls from Rundlett Junior High School, the first man who broke my heart, domestic terrorists and Ann Coulter.
I imagine God serving up a big pot of steaming chicken soup with dumplings, beckoning me to sit down. My enemies are watching me carefully place my napkin in my lap and they are salivating.
I imagine Jesus teaching me to pray before we eat: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us as we forgive others. And then—maybe Jesus gives Ann Coulter the stink eye before saying— “And Deliver us from evil. Amen.”
But, in biblical terms, there are two kinds of enemies: the demonic kind and the human kind. In the 23rd Psalm, David is referring to demonic enemies.
David’s not referring to my ex mother-in-law at all, but to the ways in which Satan, the Accuser, attempts to steal our own worth. God is there in the midst of all that reminding us of the banquet he’s set before us in the PRESENCE of all that holds us back from Love’s glory.
“What about when enemies have a human face, Jesus?”
I decided to ask you all who your enemies were when I got home from a day long pastoral care training for lay folks yesterday. On Facebook. Late at night. I got hundreds of answers. The answers weren’t really wearing human faces like I thought they would be. They were more “what” than “who.”
Who is YOUR enemy? I asked.
You said things like ignorance, fear, autocorrect, expectations, ego, oppression, hatred, worry, alcohol, capitalism, fossil fuel companies, disco, the New York Yankees, secrets and systems that support them, apathy, exhaustion, judgement, people who ask for Saturday night sermon help…
Some of you named people who have harmed you, Nazis, your exes, or people who deny the humanity of others.
But here’s what surprised me: most of you said that you are, in fact, your own worst enemy.
More than half of you said some version of “the voice inside my head is my enemy. The part of me that second guesses every decision, that tells me I’m worthless; that I’m not good enough. That’s my enemy.”
You didn’t answer the way I expected you to: with your political opponents, the people in the internet comment section, the kids who always picked you last for teams in gym class, your critical grandmother who told you you we are fat and lazy, the people who have violated your bodies over the years with violence.
You told me that the accuser resides inside of you.
The enemy, it seems, is not just external to us, but inside of us. It’s like the horror movie when the actor suddenly realizes, “the call is coming from inside the house.”
But here’s what I KNOW to be true:
God is there, too, inside the house. God sets a table there in the midst of our fears and insecurities and our apathy and our anxiety and our tendency to beat ourselves up and says:
“Your worth is determined by my Love, not the accuser’s hate. Here, have some soup.”
Jesus says “love your enemy.” Just like we can’t love our neighbors if we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love the enemy if we don’t love ourselves.
The word used in this passage from Luke for love—agape in Greek—is not the Hallmark kind of love. It isn’t the doormat kind of love. It is the rebel kind of love. It is the brave, whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for the well-being of the other. Expecting nothing in return.
I want us to imagine together what it might look like to give brave, whole-hearted, unreserved, unconditional desire for our own well-being. Expecting nothing from ourselves in return. Not a thinner body, or a reprieve from foot-in-mouth syndrome, or remembering to send thank you notes.
Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest and writer, thinks we should pray naked in front to the mirror.
Bear with me.
She recommends that from time to time we take off our clothes, look at ourselves in the mirror, and tell ourselves with as much tenderness as we can, "Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address."
Thankfully, Jesus left us a blue print for how to love. He told us how to see the divine in the faces of our enemies, even if we see the face of our enemy in the mirror.
So beloved, if your worst enemy is yourself, go home tonight and pray naked in front of the mirror. Look at yourselves with as much gentleness as you can muster. Look at every stretch mark and wrinkle and mole and hair or lack thereof…let your body tell the story of where you’ve been. Embrace yourself with the kindness that can only come from a wastefully, extravagantly loving God. Your life has been shaped in that body. It is your soul’s address. Let God carefully set a table before you in the presence of all the demonic forces in your life that have led you to believe you are not worthy of Love.
And then sit down at that table with God and have some delicious enemy pie.
preached by Rev. Robin Bartlett
on February 3, 2019
at the First Church in Sterling, MA
Sermons are better heard/seen/in the flesh. Join us at 10 am on Sunday mornings.
I call this “churches gone wild week” in the lectionary.
Congregations are capable of great love, and great destruction. That’s the uncomfortable lesson both Jesus and Paul have to teach us this week.
In our scriptures from Luke for the last two weeks, we have followed Jesus to his hometown congregation, where he preaches his first sermon.
I recently had a similar experience, for the sake of field research.
On October 7, 2018, more than 24 years after I graduated from Concord High School, I stood in the pulpit of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, New Hampshire. This is the church where I was born and came of age in. My mother was the music director for 18 years. My father is still on the buildings and grounds committee. My stepmother chairs the stewardship drive. I know about every fight the church has had in the past 40 years, every minister they ever ran out of town, and who was on which side. I also know them to be capable of loving me into the person I am.
I hadn’t been back on a Sunday morning in at least 20 years, maybe more.
I swallowed hard, my mouth suddenly dry. I looked out into the congregation to see my father, my brother, my niece, my sixth grade teacher, my high school English teacher, my grade school piano teacher, my Sunday School teacher, my childhood friend, my friend’s parents and my parent’s friends. “These people will never take me seriously,” I thought.
(How many of you grew up in this church? Show of hands. I started to realize what you all feel every Sunday.)
The elder of blessed memory who scolded me after I played an angel in the Christmas pageant telling me I “acted more like a devil than an angel up there,” had long since gone to live with God. I’m not saying I’m relieved that she died, only that her absence that morning took some pressure off.
I had never been so scared to preach a sermon in my life.
At the risk of comparing myself to Jesus, I preached the good news Jesus preached to his own hometown congregation, from the scripture you heard Megan preach last week:
The spirit of Love is upon me because I have been anointed to bring good news to you who are brokenhearted. All of you who are held captive will soon be released, the blind will see, and the oppressed will receive justice. And I am proclaiming this—2018--the year of Love’s blessing—the year of the Love Revolution.
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
Tears streamed down my face as we sang the closing hymn. I was home.
In the receiving line, person after sweet person held my hands and told me how proud they were of me. “That was the best sermon I have ever heard.” “You are so beautiful.” “I can’t believe it’s you.” “Who knew you had this in you?” “Aren’t you Beth’s daughter? Please tell her how much we miss her.” It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I just couldn’t believe they remembered me—just one of the church kids—24 years later. And that they came just to see how I’d turned out.
The congregants were also quick to point out to me that my theology was now so different than theirs that I could never be their minister. “You’re a Christian now? How does *that* work?” The subtext was "Thanks for visiting, but that would never fly here.”
You can never go home again.
“Isn’t he Joseph’s son? He is so gracious,” Jesus’ hometown congregation praises him when the service he preaches at is over. But Jesus knows long before his triumphant entry into Jerusalem that groups of humans can turn on a dime. He knows that humans can close each other off to heaven just as quickly as they rain down grace.
He knows you can never go home again.
So Jesus goes ahead and ruins all those good vibes in the receiving line. He predicts that they will reject him before they do, so he heads them off at the pass: “I’m sure you want me to heal you. But I know from scripture that prophets are rejected in their hometowns.”
When the congregation heard Jesus say this, they turn on him. His prediction comes true after he says it out loud, which kinda sounds to me like the very definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy, no? The congregation flies into a rage, drives him out of the synagogue, and out of the town. They don’t just stop there, they try to hurl him off a cliff!
Jesus passes right through them, which is such a beautiful image of non-anxious leadership. He just kind of rises above their anger and perseveres, and goes on his way. May we all be like “chill Jesus,” amen? When someone is so angry they want to hurl you off a cliff, it’s not you, it’s them. Just take a deep breath, pass through the midst of them and go on your way, my friends.
Our reading from first Corinthians is one of the most famous readings from the scriptures. It is most often read at weddings, and people cross stitch it onto wall hangings. We are tempted to think that this reading is trite, romantic or lacks nuance.
But this reading is not at all Hallmark sentimentalism. It comes from a pointed letter Saint Paul wrote to the church in Corinth rebuking them for becoming a petty, nasty brood of vipers.
The people of the church were in the midst of being total jerks to one another. They were passive aggressive, or just aggressive. They were giving each other the silent treatment, making dramatic threats to leave, and threatening to lower their pledges if they didn’t get what they wanted. They were talking about each other behind each other’s backs in the church parking lot. They were undermining leadership with petty gossip. In short, they were behaving badly. They couldn’t figure out how to live with one another, much less how to love one another. They didn’t even like one another!
And so Paul says “Look: we can say we are all for creating heaven on earth and gathering in the spirit of Jesus, but if we don’t have love, that means absolutely nothing. We can study scripture and pray and generally know a lot about God, but if we don’t have love, that’s all a worthless endeavor. Might as well go bowling. Even if we give all of our possessions away to the poor and don’t have love, we gain nothing. Meaningless.”
And then Paul tells them what Love really is when you are no longer a swooning teenager, or a princess on your wedding day. When you are an adult, Paul says, Love is not a feeling, but a way of being. Love is patient. Love is kind, he says. Mostly he tells the church in Corinth how NOT to be in Love:
Don’t be envious
Don’t be boastful
Don’t be arrogant
Don’t be rude
Don’t insist on getting your own way
Don’t be irritable
Don’t rejoice in wrong doing.
“There’s no room for any of that nonsense when you are adulting,” Paul says. “Stop trying to throw one another off the cliff.”
He’s not talking about LOVERS, he’s talking to the church.
Now this church is blessedly not particularly oriented toward petty fights at all. Mostly, we are a beloved community with a sincere focus on our mission. And we can still get outraged about the small things every now and then. We are only human and doing the best that we can, amen?
In August of 2016, I came home from vacation and my thoughts were turning to homecoming and getting the church ready, I sent an email out to the operations team leadership saying, “Hi all! When is our new sign going to be installed on the front lawn?”And Doug wrote a “reply to all message” that said, “I saw the sign! It is amazing. Probably installed Wednesday.”
This was in the evening and I was in my house which as most of you know is quite close to the church. I swear to you I was fully sober. And I was so excited to see it, that I ran immediately over to the church to witness with my own eyes the newly installed church sign Doug was talking about.
What I saw looked exactly like our old sign. Forest green, with just the words “The First Church in Sterling”, barely visible, and back from the road, fading into the green bush behind it like camouflage.
At first I was confused, and then I was just mad. In fact, I had never been so furious with this church. My belly was in KNOTS. I considered going back to therapy.
“We spent all this money on the sign, one that was supposed to stand out and SAY WHO WE WERE, and the new sign we made is exactly the same as the last one!” I yelled at my husband.
I wrote to my best collegial friends: “They changed the sign plans without telling me. And it fades into the bushes and doesn’t have our denominations on it, and doesn’t have my name on it, and it was supposedly going to! What do you think this MEANS?!”
My colleague friends said, “maybe they are trying to tell you that they don’t want too much change too fast. Maybe they figure they are the town church, and they should go for small and tasteful. You got too much press last year! They didn’t like it. Maybe you should use this as an opportunity for conversation about communication and mission and change.”
For a full hour, I was enraged. “I’m just curious,” I wrote in an email to the church leadership who worked on the sign. “Did something change with our sign plans? This new sign looks just like our old one. Did I miss something?”
Chris Roy finally wrote back, after I had slipped further into the abyss until there was practically no return. “You missed something alright. The sign is not going to be installed until this Wednesday.”
And Jon Guild replied, “in case folks don’t know, Doug saw the new church sign yesterday…on a smartphone. If the “new” sign is green, has peeling paint, and looks very similar to our existing sign…that’s probably not the new sign.”
“Whoops,” I said to my colleagues. “It turns out that was the old sign I was looking at.”
And they died. “Thanks to your nervous breakdown, Robin, we have sermon fodder for WEEKS,” they said. We will call our sermons, “I saw the sign,” “signs and wonders,” “Signs, signs, everywhere are signs”.
Sometimes we are a little too quick to hurl each other off cliffs without having all the facts, without assuming good intent, without offering abundant grace instead. We jump to wild conclusions without asking our friends directly, trusting their intentions, or waiting for an answer. We are only humans, and doing the best that we can.
In the spirit of doing the best that we can, three years ago your church leadership did some really good work. In January of 2016, several of your congregation’s leaders got together to create what they called a behavioral covenant, after multiple afternoon workshops and work sessions on “Walking in the Way of Peace.” They learned skills like active listening, speaking the truth in love directly to people you have a concern with in a timely fashion, and assuming good intent. They learned about avoiding “parking lot” conversations, triangulation, Facebook comments section debates, and “reply to all” emails, or emails with emotional content when a face to face meeting is called for.
This is how to treat love not as a feeling, but as a way of BEING, they told us. It’s not easy, which is why we have one another to keep us accountable.
Here is the covenant we made, articulated beautifully by Janet Baker and Vicki Gaw:
As a congregation, we gather in the spirit of Jesus to create heaven on earth. To succeed in our mission, we must practice open and honest communication among ourselves and with others:
We will speak from our hearts and without judging; seeking facts, ideas and inspirations.
We may disagree, and we will do so with respect.
When we have concerns or questions, we will bring them directly to the person or group with the responsibility.
We will do so with the expectation of being heard and understood and the possibility of deepening our own understandings.
In all this, we will speak with love and nourish our connections by sharing our laughter, our prayers, our lives, and ourselves.
These promises are how we practice being Love, here in this place.
Beloved, be patient. Be kind. Rejoice in the truth. If you incite rage in others, remember it’s not about you. Don’t let anyone throw you off a cliff…big breath, and go on. Be humble enough to say you’re wrong. Offer forgiveness like it is water for the thirsty. Begin again and again. Open up the heavens by remaining open to one another. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Reverend Robin Bartlett is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, with dual standing in the United Church of Christ. She is the Senior Pastor at The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts.