A Sermon for Jesse Lynes
for celebration Sunday on the occasion of his baptism
by the Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached at the First Church in Sterling, MA
June 16, 2019
You were born to one of my dearest friends on my 43rd birthday. In addition, we share the same “godfather.” I know we have only met twice. We have been letting your mom get to know you before we do. But, you’ll soon realize you’re stuck with me and all of us. We loved you before you were born, just like God did.
On your baptism day, we do what must be a strange and confusing ritual to your baby eyes and senses, though I’m sure everything that happens in your world right now is strange and confusing:
We poured sacred waters on your head to remind you that you are connected to All That Is, and we touched you with a rose that you might live your life as a beautiful unfolding.
Speaking of roses, ever since I found out your name, every time I hear it, I break out into the Christmas carol “Lo How a rose e’er blooming, from tender stem hath sprung. Of Jesse’s lineage coming as men of old have sung.” (You’ll notice since you’re going to hang out with me a lot that I break into song all the time because I believe my life to be a musical.)
Your name, Jesse, came to your mother in a dream. She thought it was strange to dream a name, but it makes sense to me since we all know that you were your mother’s best dream. We also know now that you were a part of God’s dream.
Did you know that Jesse was the father of a very famous King named David, who is important to both Jews and Christians? Of course you didn’t know, you’re a baby. Well, Jesus is said to be a part of Jesse’s family, too.
I love that your name is already God’s family name. I love that everyone you’ll ever meet is a part of that same family. A stranger is just a piece of us we do not yet know. The water we blessed you with is just an outward sign of that inward grace.
Jesse, your name and your baptism is simply our way of telling you who you are:
a precious, dreamt for, worthy and beloved part of God’s family you were welcome in all along.
Jesse, I want you to know that you were not born just to watch TV, eat, and consume products sold to you by people peddling fear.
The task of your living is growing wise.
The reading we heard this morning says two things that I want you to know about Wisdom:
we grow wise through joy, and
we don’t grow wise alone.
Our book says that God created wisdom before God created anything else.
Wisdom is like your Mama Megan. Wisdom is a Woman who plays with God.
Mama Wisdom has been there since the very beginning beside God, like a master worker. Mama Wisdom has been dancing in the ocean. Mama Wisdom has been lying in the grass staring up at the sky. Mama Wisdom has held a cedar waxwing in her hand. Mama Wisdom leads children in parachute games on the common. Mama Wisdom has been counting the stars before falling asleep at night, just like you will be on Star Island this summer as you are rocked to sleep on a rocking chair.
Mama wisdom delights in the beauty of creation, just as we are meant to. Louise Glick says, “we see the world once, in childhood.” She’s right. You get to see a world we don’t see, and so you are already wise.
The common English Bible translates verse 30 this way: “I was having fun, smiling before him all the time, frolicking with this inhabited earth and delighting in the human race.”
Jesse, as you grow please remember that having fun is an expression of wisdom. Smile before God.
Delighting in your play; learning to laugh at what’s sublime and ridiculous…this is all part of becoming wise.
This group of people that surround you now…they will go way out of their way to have fun and make you laugh.
Once they created a bobblehead doll of me, kept it a secret, and flew it all over the world to take pictures of bobble headed me in strange and wonderful places like a crocodile’s mouth and the Dominican Republic. I broke it and Jon drilled it back together. These folks fix what is broken with joy.
They have bouncy houses, face painters, and karaoke dj’s, throw galas and Caribbean dinners and friendship Sundays, and they just laugh a lot.
Please don’t ever think that fun and laughter is not spiritual or religious.
Life is not all joy, dear Jesse. Life has just as much sorrow. Human pain is sometimes physical, sometimes emotional, sometimes spiritual and sometimes existential.
Sometimes its all of those things at once. We get sick. People and institutions fail us. Things break. We struggle with meaninglessness. Someone we love dies.
Sometimes we get hard and mean because we are in pain.
The world can be as brutal as it is beautiful; as terrifying as it is exhilarating.
That’s why we go to places like this. We wouldn’t survive were it not for joy, beauty, each other, and creation itself.
And we come because we can’t get wise on our own.
The vision of Mama Wisdom in Proverbs suggests that God does not create alone. No one ever does. Your mama did not create you alone, and she will not raise you alone.
And so your baptism, Jesse, was not just a welcome into the whole world’s family, but into the family of this specific congregation, in this wonderful small town full of character and characters.
Today, on this most auspicious of all days, I want to tell you what all of us have helped God to create before you arrived; to prepare a place for you.
First, it’s important to know that this place and this collection of people didn’t start with the people in this room, and it won’t end with us either. That’s how life is…we are always the dream of the people who came before us.
This congregation has been becoming wise together in this spot since 1742. It recreated itself in 1949, when all three of the Protestant churches in Sterling decided they were better together than they were apart. They were becoming more wise: they knew they were children of the same God. They also knew that together they could do hard things: like disagree, and love one another all at the same time.
Just five years ago, I came here after the very very long and beautiful ministry of a man named Pastor Jonathan. I was really lucky to be in a place where it is OK to be exactly who you are, because these people accepted me and loved me right from the start even though I was a whackadoo liberal and some of the congregation really wasn’t.
This group of people is not always like-minded, but they are like-hearted.
And still, together, we expanded our welcome enough that your mama felt like she could have a place here, too.
One day in 2017 we said out loud together FINALLY and with one voice that “love is love is love is love.” Without that declaration and affirmation, we might not have gotten to know and love you. I shudder at the thought, dear Jesse. Co-creation with God creates expansive welcome. We are getting more wise.
Jesse, I know sometimes we can only learn by seeing, so I want to show you what co-creation with like-hearted people looks like. I’m going to ask the congregation to rise in body or in spirit when I ask them to.
Please rise if you are on the
Ministry Leadership Teams
Please rise if you are the
Please rise if you are on the staff, or are one of the pastors at this church
Please rise if you sing in the choir
Rise if you taught or assisted in Sunday School
Helped out, cared for kids in kinderwatch
Provided childcare for events
worked with our high school youth
Stand if you were a student in a Sunday School class
homework and hang out.
Please rise if you are on the Called to Care team
Eat, Pray, Learn team
Saturday meals team
La Romana Mission Team
Treasures of the Community auction team
Green transformation team
Stand if you
volunteered for IHN
for Habitat critical home repair
Walked in the Palm Sunday promenade
Served at a community lunch
Performed in a SCT performance
Serve on the Village Green Preschool board
Helped make pies for Thanksgiving
Volunteered at Worcester fellowship
Helped with the Holly Berry brunch
Caroled on the common
Helped out with Eat Pray Learn or presented there
Came to Eat Pray Learn
Led the book group, participated in book group
Planned the co-ed adult retreat or women’s retreat
Went on retreat
Did yoga with Lindsay
Participated in aging gracefully
went to pub theology
Rise if you hosted a coffee hour
If you prayed for people on the prayer list or on Facebook
Participated in meal givers
Helped bake for a collation
Brought flowers to shut ins
Made a prayer shawl
Stand if you are a head usher or if you ushered this year
Offered your musical gifts in worship
lay read in worship
assisted with communion
Delivered a testimonial
Had an animal or a backpack blessed
Served on the welcome team
Counted the offering
Provided flowers for the chancel table
Rise if you are here for the first time.
Now rise if you have been here your whole life.
Rise if you attended worship at least once this year. Now stay standing.
Look around this room, Jesse. That’s what I mean by co-creation with God.
There is a translation of a poem by Sufi mystic Rumi that says:
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don't open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
I pray you become wise. I pray you co-create something beautiful with other people and God.
I pray you learn to make good coffee, good friends, and a good and kind community.
I do not require you to pray in a certain way. There are so many ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
But I do pray that you find a collection of faith-filled, grace oriented people who will Love you; who will co-create with you in the spirit of Jesus, which simply means Love.
Let the beauty you love be what you do.
You are a part of the beauty God has dreamed for the world.
Delight in it, as we delight in you.
I love you, God loves you,
“Can these bones live?”
A sermon for Pentecost Sunday
by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached at First Church in Sterling
June 6, 2019
I parked outside this morning behind a car that had a Church of the Flying Spaghetti monster sticker on it, made to look like a Christian fish. That’s a tongue in cheek symbol for atheists to poke fun of believers who worship a supernatural God. And I thought, how awesome. A church of the flying spaghetti monster parked outside the Christian church. It’s gonna take all of us to make it. And so we better learn one another’s language. Church of the flying spaghetti monster adherents need to hang out in Christian churches so we can learn each other’s language. Believers need to learn the language of non-believers. Muslims need to learn the language of Jews. Jews need to learn the language of Buddhists. White people need to learn the language of black people. Elders need to learn to speak the language of teenagers. Americans need to learn languages other than English that are already spoken here. Powerful folks need to learn the language of marginalized folks.
Did you notice what happened when we read the scripture?
Last time I did that a few years ago on Pentecost, everyone got mad at Helen Hill, our office manager. They thought she messed up the bulletin. So I just wanted you to know that I did that on purpose, so leave Helen alone.
Last week was ascension, when we overheard Jesus praying that we all may be one. Then he left, officially, to sit at the right hand of the father, and left us down here to our own devices. He promised us that he would send us the Holy Spirit to help, but we didn’t know exactly what that would look like.
In our scripture from Acts, the day of Pentecost comes, and just like Jesus said it would, the Holy Spirit fills all the people. When the Holy Spirit enters, a transformation occurs. It’s scarier than the disciples imagined.
It involves a roaring windstorm, and a STRANGE FIRE.
And all of a sudden, all people of the world have the presence of God inside of them, and can actually SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER and understand one another, even though they are speaking different languages. They were speaking in tongues.
This looked and sounded just as crazy to them as it sounds to all of us.
The text says they are “perplexed.”
They look for an explanation: “maybe they are filled with new wines,” which is Bible speak for “maybe they are trashed or on something.”
And Peter says: “That’s not possible, it’s nine in the morning.”
Peter says “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”
It’s supposed to look like this: seeing visions. Speaking a new language so that this messed up world can become more like God’s dream for it.
It is notable that the people gathered around the disciples don’t learn to speak the disciples’ language. Instead, it’s the other way around. The Holy Spirit gives the disciples the ability to speak in the language of the international crowd who have gathered around them.
All of a sudden, differences are stripped away and the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, residents of Rutland, Holden, Sterling, West Boylston, Leominster, and Worcester, France, England, Syria, India, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Iraq, and the United States of America, are no longer strangers who speak strangely, they are all simply children of God.
All of a sudden black people and brown people, transgender and cisgender people, MAGA hat wearers, and co-exist bumper sticker owners, immigrants and natives, poor people and rich people, CEOs and farmers, young people and old people…They all share the same language:
God’s word of Love is all they know to say.
PENTECOST. The day we found our voices.
Pentecost. The birthday of the church.
God has placed us in the valley of the bones to show us why we need a re-birthday of the church TODAY.
God has placed us here
in the valley of rising health care costs and crushing student loan debt
the valley of irreversible climate change
the valley of white nationalism and ‘straight pride’ rallies
the valley of mass shootings
the valley of poverty
the valley of meaninglessness
the valley of despair
the valley of violence
the valley of over-consumption
the valley of addiction
the valley of racism and ethnocentrism
the valley of division
the valley of hatred
the valley of demonization and dehumanization
God asks, “mortal, can these bones live?”
We don’t know what to say to that because we think we are alone here in death valley.
We think we can pull ourselves up by our own boot straps.
We think we are meant to be self-made and self-taught and self-righteous.
We think we can find salvation by having a personal relationship with Jesus,
or a personal relationship with the beach,
No need to show up for one another.
We think that we should concentrate
We think we are meant to go it alone in the valley of the bones.
No wonder we are shouting:
“Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely!”
We are shouting into our echo chambers on a dying planet, the Good news of the Gospel choked out by the fake news on our news feeds; the language we use getting smaller and meaner.
“Mortal, can these bones live?” God is asking.
We reply, “we just don’t know.”
And so God says: “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord….”
Speak, CHURCH, God says.
Speak the word of Love and God’s breath will enter your lungs. And you shall live. COME UP out of your GRAVES.
CHURCH: “Can these bones live?”
YES YES YES.
But only if we speak. PROPHESY TO THE BONES.
I saw one of the greatest prophetic leaders of our time at the festival of homiletics in May, Rev. William Barber.
He says “we must not speak from the left or from the right but with the voice God calls us to speak from. Because it’s not about right and left, it’s about right and wrong. And some things are just WRONG.”
Speak, Church. God’s language has been placed in our mouths.
He says: “We can no longer use the language of Caesar. It’s too puny to challenge the extremism we are facing now, things that are wrong and just plain mean. We must claim the deep moral language of faith, and silence is not an option.”
Speak, Church. God’s language has been placed in our mouths.
Have you heard about 16 year old Greta Thunberg yet? She explained in a speech at the COP24 climate talks in 2018 that while the world consumes an estimated 100 million barrels of oil each day, "there are no politics to change that. There are no politics to keep that oil in the ground. So we can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.”
"So we have not come here to beg the world leaders to care for our future," she declared. "They have ignored us in the past and they will ignore us again. We have come here to let them know that change is coming whether they like it or not. The people will rise to the challenge.”
That is the message of Pentecost: the people will rise to the challenge. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.
Speak, church, God’s language has been placed in our mouths.
The Chinese character for crisis, we are told, is a combination of danger and opportunity. Right now, the world has reached a dangerous crisis point for humanity. And those of us who are called to be the Church have a unique opportunity to lead us through it by teaching a common moral language.
Leading climate change scientists reported to the UN this year that we have twelve years by conservative estimates to stop irreversible damage from climate change. Those of us who have been paying attention know that we can’t recycle our way out of this, buy the right electric car, or take the air conditioners out of our windows and solve the problem.
Our friend Katy was just telling me that she read a study that said that the more people believe they can effect climate change by doing individual things like recycling, the less likely they are to push for legislation that would stop climate change on a large scale.
In other words, the more that we are under the illusion we can do this on our own, the less likely we are to work together.
We are in the Valley of the bones together. Together, we must learn to prophesy.
On Monday night, 25 or so of us gathered at the Mill in West Boylston to talk about Green Transformation. Led by our fearless leader, Katy Fazio, we had a deep, at times hopeful, at times despairing conversation about the Christian Church’s role in the midst of the climate crisis.
Here’s what we determined:
The church is in the unique position.
We have the skills, and the depth of ritual to help one other grieve:
an uncertain future for our children,
the loss of ways of life we love,
the parts of the planet that may become inhabitable,
the species that have gone extinct.
But we need to turn our grief into action.
We need to start focusing less on self-care and more on community care.
We need to build up communities of resilience.
And we need to use our voices loudly and publicly, filled up with the breath of God.
We need to be voices of urgency, and voices of hope.
We need to teach a shared moral language, one that doesn’t come from the left or the right, but from our God who is Love.
Today, my friends, is the RE-birthday of the church. Some say that the church is dying, but we know a different story.
The Church was made for such a time as this:
Because we believe.
We believe these bones can live.
We believe our lungs are filled up with the breath of God.
We believe God’s spirit is poured out upon ALL flesh.
We believe that Love’s language has the power to reach all nations, all abilities, all genders, all sexualities, all races, all ages, all believers, questioning believers and non-believers, all of HUMANITY.
We believe in the power of Love to put us back together, bone to bone, sinews and flesh,
We believe in the power of God to breathe life back into us mortals so that we might live, stand on our feet, as a VAST MULTITUDE and PREACH THE GOOD NEWS.
And we will rise again up out of our graves:
to build bridges, not walls;
to give us a new heart for each other and the world;
to teach God’s language not of right and left, but right and wrong;
to LEAD a MOVEMENT of REVOLUTIONARY LOVE.
Speak, church. God’s breath is in your lungs.
A sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached at the First Church in Sterling, MA
June 2, 2019
Long before my conversion to Christianity, I was visiting prisoners. I wish I could tell you this was an act of pure piety. But it was really because I had a thing for “bad boys” as a teenager. I thought that I could save them. (I had a savior complex from a young age.) My mother banned me from hanging out with one young man in particular, which made him all the more appealing.
In 2014, when I was 38 years old and I had just moved the piano my mother had for my entire youth into the parsonage. My stepfather turned over the piano bench onto my dining room table to fix a ding in it.
Underneath the piano bench it said the name of that forbidden high school bad boy in pen, followed by the date, 1994. And then the inscription: “when Robin’s mom is away, we play.” My mom really shouldn’t have left me alone for the weekend so often.
I heard her screech from the dining room, “Robin Wilson Bartlett! You’re grounded!” She grounded me in front of my own children.
Eventually, during my senior year of high school, that same bad boy went to jail for petty larceny, and I wrote him letters and went to visit him every weekend. (Don’t tell my mom.)
Yes, much of my motivation for this was a gigantic crush and a penchant for drama. But in defense of my teenaged self, I did have the strong, deeply-held sense that there wasn’t anything that separated him from me except some really bad choices and two vastly different childhoods he and I had no choice at all about.
The psalmist speaks of a God who “looks down from his holy height, from heaven…to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die.”
I felt a call to visit the prison from childhood, because I could hear the groaning. Nothing human felt foreign to me. I had the sense that I was captive as long as my friend was.
You and I don’t have to reside in the state penitentiary to be held captive.
We are locked in chains:
the chains of our childhood experiences and trauma
the chains of poverty
The chains of unmet expectations
the chains of student loan and credit card debt
the chains of our own hoarded wealth
the chains of our addictions
We are chained
to endless consumption
to the rat race
to keeping up with the Jones’
to the beauty industry
to the diet industry
to the marketplace
to our fears, our insecurities, our shame…
YOU ARE NOT ALIVE TO PAY BILLS AND LOSE WEIGHT
We are imprisoned behind the barbed wired brick walls we put up to keep ourselves separate…
from our neighbors
from the stranger and the foreigner
from those who scare us
from those who don’t think like us
or vote like us
or watch the same news as us
from those who don’t look like us
or act like us
or speak like us
or pray like us…
We are imprisoned. And so we need to GET FREE.
Our collective liberation requires first that we acknowledge our connectedness.
And so it is fitting that our scriptures from the lectionary this week are about unity and a jail break.
In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus prays for his disciples at table before his arrest. He prays out loud so his friends can hear him.
“Father, I pray that they are one as we are one.”
He doesn’t pray this tender prayer for just the disciples, but for all those who will believe in him. Jesus prays that we do not see ourselves as separate from one another.
He prays we are both bound and free.
The Bible’s definition of freedom is the opposite of the American definition of freedom: fierce independence, an unfettered marketplace, a small government for the people by the people, or pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps.
Christian freedom means freedom from the chains that keep us bound to empire, to power over, to war.
God’s “freedom” means total independence from the stuff we’ve accumulated, the wealth we hoard, the status we’ve climbed the ladder for.
God’s freedom is from self-interest. God’s “freedom” paradoxically means dependence on God and one another as our only source of liberation.
What we also know from our Bibles is that God abhors a jail.
There are no “good” prisons in scripture. Prisons in the Bible are always part of a larger system of injustice, death and oppression. Our biblical heroes are often kept in jails—tortured in dark, dank dungeon cells.
Joseph is sent unjustly to prison. John the Baptist is thrown in jail and beheaded. Paul and the other apostles are jailed at one time or another for preaching the Gospel. And Jesus himself is arrested for trying to foment a love revolution. He is sentenced to death row, stays overnight in jail and is executed by the state the next day.
Christians worship a death row inmate.
Prisons in biblical times are used not to rehabilitate or even to punish…but to silence and oppress religious and political dissidents. Prisons in the Bible are the means by which the power of the state attempts to stifle, lock up, and kill God’s Word of Love and freedom.
Our scripture from the fifth book of the New Testament: the book of Acts this morning tells a rich and complex narrative about a jail break. The Acts of the Apostles is presumably written by Luke around 70-90 AD. It tells the story of how the apostles spread the Gospel and built the church in the time of the Roman Empire.
In the story, Paul and Silas are taking their act on the road. They heal an unnamed, demon-possessed slave girl who follows them around, essentially because because she annoys them with her persistence.
The girl was a fortune teller who made money on behalf of her masters. When Paul and Silas healed her and cast the demon out, she was no longer able to tell fortunes, and was therefore forever after worthless to her owners.
Paul and Silas were dragged before the authorities in the marketplace for the crime of healing her. The mob turned against them and they are stripped, beaten, and thrown in prison. They spent their time deep in the dungeon singing hymns and praise to God. The other prisoners, the scripture says, listened. “Ain’t a scared of your jail ‘cause I want my freedom….”
Suddenly, there’s an earthquake, and the prisoners’ shackles come off. The doors to the prison fling wide open. But the prisoners don’t leave. They stay put.
The jailer wakes up and assumes they have all escaped. He proceeds to attempt suicide, so fearful he is to be caught by the Romans having let the prisoners escape on his watch. The jailer, too, suffers under the oppression of empire. There are no bad guys and good guys in the story of God’s people, only humans.
Prisoners Paul and Silas do a peculiar thing: they stay there to save the jailer. "Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!” They say. And the jailer falls down before them in the dungeon. Paul and Silas tell him about the Love of God that unifies them.
They baptize him, and the jailer, too, is free in the knowledge that we belong to one another.
It is important to note that we never find out what happens to the slave girl. Paul and Silas, as far as we know, don’t go back to baptize her. She remains nameless and enslaved. Ultimately, our liberation is connected to HER freedom, too.
We won’t get free until all are free.
Jails in the United States are a little different than during biblical times. We have a better understanding of human rights, perhaps, and our justice system is certainly more advanced. But make no mistake about it, people are still imprisoned every day in the name of silencing political and religious dissidents.
On Wednesday, May 29, the trial of geologist Scott Daniel Warren began. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in a federal penitentiary. What heinous crime did Warren commit to warrant such severe punishment? He exercised his religious freedom to provide water, food, and clothing to those facing danger as they trekked across the desert. Warren took the words of Jesus literally, “For I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me to drink, an alien and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you ministered to me”
Warren encountered Kristen Perez-Villanueva and José Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday in the 860,000-acre Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, where the two had lost their backpacks containing food and water while being chased by border agents. Traversing the desert without food or water can be deadly. According to the Pima county medical examiner, 2,615 human remains were recovered between 2001 and 2016. Warren discovered 18 of those bodies. So Warren brought Kristen and Jose to a shed and gave them food and water.
What makes this land “sacred,” as Warren calls it, is the death of migrants upon it. According to Ryan Devereaux’s exhaustive account published by the Intercept earlier this month, Warren testified that “The entire desert is a sacred place. It’s a graveyard.” For Warren, leaving water becomes a religious act of remembrance and solidarity. He was arrested on April 17, 2018, and charged with two felony counts.
You and I are not free to practice our religion in this country, and it’s not because Walmart employees wish us a Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. Christians are all for a literal interpretation of the Bible when we want the “freedom” to not bake cakes for gay weddings based on a few questionable sentences uttered by Paul, but we jail people for following Jesus’ words literally.
Here’s the Truth as Jesus taught:
We are not free until people are free to marry who they love.
We are not free until Scott Daniel Warren is free.
We are not free until the migrants who die in the graveyard of the desert are free.
We are not free until children caged at the border are free.
We are not free until black lives matter as much as white lives.
We are not free until poverty is no longer considered a crime, and prison is no longer the first resort to social problems.
We are not free until combat veterans stop dying by suicide at alarming rates.
We are not free until our Jewish and Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters can worship in their mosques and synagogues and churches without fear of violence.
We are not free until our children can go to school without fear of a mass shooting.
We are not yet free until all of us are free.
So let’s get FREE.
There is freedom in recognizing that we are bound to one another.
There is freedom in following a man whose first sermon said to free captives and whose last act of ministry was telling the prisoner who died with him that he would be with him in paradise.
We don’t know if Joshua or Ezekiel or Nehemiah are in heaven. We don’t know if Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are in heaven. We don’t know if Paul is in heaven. But we DO know there’s a death row inmate with Jesus in heaven.
There is freedom in worshipping a God who was sentenced to the death row, was killed by the state, buried and who broke out of the tomb we tried to jail him in.
Jesus always breaks out, and so can we.
There is freedom in singing hymns to God despite our chains.
Maya Angelou writes:
The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.
Beloved, don’t ever lose the longing. Sing hymns and praise to a God who prays for our unity. Because the tune is heard by the One who looks down from his holy height, from heaven…to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die.
Let’s get free, so we might LIVE.
A sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached at First Church in Sterling
May 26, 2019
In the scriptures we read this morning, paradise is located in two places: the garden, and the city.
The verdant, fruitful garden and the bejeweled city with streets paved with gold seems like two pretty easy places to find paradise.
But you and I need to seek after the home of God where its hardest to find, so I wanted to look elsewhere.
Paradise, California, the northern California town nestled in a pine cloaked ridge in the Sierra Foothills, had a population of about 25,000 until it was almost entirely wiped out by the Camp Fire this winter. It was the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century. Now, despite a massive effort to clean up, restore power and make plans to rebuild, the town remains largely uninhabitable.
There are still burned out cars, pickups and school buses lining its roads. Neighborhoods remain unrecognizable to even longtime residents.
There's ash and toxic debris everywhere. The beautiful trees that made it so pleasant to the sight have burned to the ground, making the town unrecognizable to its residents. I bet the firefighters who are here today are glad they live in Sterling and not California. There is just so much to save for those who lay down their lives to save.
Yet, there are people who saved and are saving Paradise as we speak. The firefighters there heroically led hundreds of people to escape in water during the days of the fire, helping them swim to safety.
And the city is promising to rebuild. The monumental task of removing the debris is a job that could take well over a year. Disaster response officials say it's on a scale not seen in this country since the Sept. 11 attacks.
Even after that, rebuilding is no guarantee for a lot of people.
Perhaps it all sounds futile to you, this task of raising up Paradise again.
But the saving of Paradise is always an act of faith: the labor itself is worth it because of the love it represents.
Rebecca Baggett says that anyone who notices the world must want to save it. As the church, we must be trained noticers of, and witnesses to, the exquisite beauty of the intricate web of creation of which we are apart.
The salvation of paradise is in our hands. We must raise it up out of the ashes.
Some of us are looking for paradise far off, somewhere other than here. Maybe at the Cape this weekend. Maybe in Hawaii or Fiji, or in the next life.
What if I told you you are already here?
In Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima Brock’s book, Saving Paradise, they set off on a quest to learn about the early church through it’s art.
Through art, they discovered that “early Christian paradise was something other than “heaven” or the afterlife. Our modern views of heaven and paradise think of them as a world after death. However, in the early church, paradise—first and foremost—was this world, permeated and blessed by the Spirit of God. It was on the earth. Images of it in Rome and Ravenna captured the craggy, scruffy pastoral landscape, the orchards, the clear night skies, and teeming waters of the Mediterranean world, as if they were lit by a power from within. Sparkling mosaics in vivid colors captured the world’s luminosity. The images filled the walls of spaces in which liturgies fostered aesthetic, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual experiences of life in the present, in a world created as good and delightful.”
We desperately need eye-fulls of beauty, because we will not save what we do not love. Our work as the church is to cultivate lovers of this world and this beauty in the present. THIS world is made by God and called Good. We pray every week God’s kingdom come on EARTH as it is in heaven for a reason.
Our scriptures this morning come from the first book of the Hebrew Bible, and the last book of the Christian Bible. The Bible begins in a Garden and ends in the city.
In the beginning, God planted a Garden in Eden, in the east, and that is where God put the first humans. God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. God formed Adam and Eve, out of dust from the ground. The humans were eventually exiled from paradise for eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge.
After they were banished from God’s home, humans had to figure out a new way to take God with them. So they built a tabernacle. A tabernacle is a moveable habitation—a tented place for Israel’s divine king.
Various details of the tabernacle suggest it is built to be a mini, moveable Eden. The tabernacle, like the garden of Eden, is where God’s people believed God lived. They put God’s word: the ten commandments in the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle, in the holy of holies, and locked God’s presence away.
In those early years, the tabernacle moved, and then they built a building to put it in: a permanent residence. The first and then the second Temple.
But God’s people soon learned that buildings cannot contain God, no matter how ornate, no matter how old, no matter how much lightning protection is purchased for the steeple.
God broke out.
God sent Jesus as a human home for God’s word. A living, breathing, healing, tabernacle.
In the midst of Roman occupation, God makes God’s new home inside a brown-skinned, middle Eastern, Jewish refugee. Paradise is contained in a body on the move.
Paradise was now a movement for justice and peace and healing, and not a place at all.
If you read the scriptures, you’ll notice Jesus hardly preached in the Temple. He preached on the MOVE. He preached on mountains and on the countryside, and on the road….wherever he could find the people of God.
God moves out of the building to become a love revolution.
Jesus shows us how to practice the ethics of paradise:
He heals the sick, he walks beside the suffering, he feeds the hungry, he touches the untouchables, he forgives enemies, he blesses the meek and the humble, he cries for his friend, he stands up for the least, the last and the lost, he even dies to show us what God’s love is like.
And then he rises up out of the grave.
With his resurrection and ascension, he sends us the holy spirit to teach us that our bodies, too, contain the home for God.
We are not the temple, but the tabernacle. We are ON THE MOVE. The moving body of God.
Paradise is unleashed in US. It’s in our hands.
In our scripture from revelation, paradise is a city, coming down out of heaven from God. Ronald Allen says, John sees high walls with gates open on each side. Walls are traditional symbols of community and security. Real security comes from authentic community in which all people feel mutually supported. Gates typically control entrance and exit, but these gates -- four on a side -- are always open. Security is only possible when all are extravagantly welcome, when the doors are flung open.
The breath of paradise wafts its way into this broken and battered world of domination, separation, cruelty and division, reminding us that it is here where heaven makes it’s place. That we have the keys to the city already.
For some of us it is easier to find God in a garden, and maybe harder to find God in the city. There are too many people in the concrete jungle, too much ugly, and not enough quiet to listen to the still small voice of God.
I watched a video on the internet the other day that contained the life-breath of the garden wafting into the city; a saving remedy sent to heal. The filming took place on a New York subway train at rush hour, which is not always where one encounters beauty.
But one day, Greg Wong captured heaven on earth on video.
Wong and some 850 fellow commuters were caught in underground limbo for a full two hours as their train was stalled between stations in Manhattan due to a mechanical failure. It was a subway rider’s nightmare come to life. Eventually, they boarded a “rescue train” that took them, slowly, back to Queens, where they’d started.
But as Wong records in the video, the stranded passengers bonded during the ordeal. They are crowded in a small space. They are black and white, Asian and Latino. They are Christian and Muslim, businessmen and women, construction workers and restaurant dishwashers. They are young and old, male and female, gay and straight.
Together, they had abundance. At one point they share that most precious resource—backup battery charges for their phones.
“We were grumpy at first, but what can you do?” says one laughing young woman as people eagerly plug into the chargers being passed around.
It all culminates in an epic singalong that moves from the latest hits (“Hotline Bling”) to timeless classics (“One Love”).
By the end, after a round of “Watch me whip, watch me nae nae,” everyone is in high spirits. They have survived together, and they have done it with style and grace.
“Anyone who has lived in New York and ridden the trains will recognize the hard-won camaraderie they share. It’s a tough city, and sometimes things get crazy, but we’re all in this thing together, and we are going to make it no matter what,” Sarah Goodyear writes.
As one of the captive riders says at the video’s end, with a smile, “I’m glad I was stuck with all you guys.”
This is the leaves of the tree; the healing of the nations revelation prophesies. This is what it means to be residents of the city of God: glad to be stuck together in paradise. The captive riders embody the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. The glory of God is their light. They are going to make it together no matter what.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Magalia Pines Baptist Church in Paradise, California did not burn. After the fire, the pastor’s family transformed the facility into an aid station, a lifeline for up to 600 people per day. They come for free meals, to pick up donated clothes and shoes. They give out so much bottled water they have trouble keeping it in stock.
Paradise is raised up out of the ashes by the church being the church. Seven months later, the church is still serving two free hot meals a day including breakfast and lunch to survivors of the Camp Fire.
On their website, they thank generous donors to the church for
• Over 70,000 Meals Served to survivors
• Over $1 Million Bottles of Water Provided (donated by Sacramento area construction companies)
• Over 150 Kitchen Setups
• 20 Motor homes and RV’s
• 12 Vehicles
"Magalia is a hopeful place….Magalia is a place where people are looking to the future," said Doug Crowder, the Senior Pastor at Magalia Pines Baptist Church. "It's just people coming together and finding a way and a place to connect because that's really the important thing in all of this.”
Beloved, First Church in Sterling is a hopeful place where people are looking to the future. The saving of Paradise is always an act of faith: the labor itself is worth it because of the love it represents.
This church is a people gathered together to notice beauty wherever we can find it. This Church is an ethic, not a place. It is a movement to raise up paradise from the ashes.
We are the living, breathing, moving home of God. We can choose to live in paradise because paradise lives in us.
a sermon by Rev. Robin Bartlett
preached May 19, 2019 at First Church in Sterling, MA
This question was posed to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds: "What does love mean?”
Billy, age 4 said: "When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth."
Danny, age 7 said: ”Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK."
Emily, age 8 said: ”Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss."
Bobby, age 7 said: ”Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen."
Nikka, age 6 said: ”If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.”
Noelle, age 7 said: ”Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday."
Tommy age 6 said: ”Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well."
Cindy, age 8 said: ”During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling.
He was the only one doing that. I wasn't scared anymore."
Elaine, age 5 said: ”Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.”
Rebecca, age 8 said: ”When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love."
Jessica age 8 says: ”You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.”
Love one another. Mean it. ENACT it. Because people forget. That’s the message Jesus mandates the night before he dies. After tenderly washing his friends’ feet, over a meal, he says this:
“Whenever you do this, remember. You are loved. So LOVE.”
We are blessed this morning to have welcomed officially into membership 47 more opportunities to know God in the flesh! 47 more opportunities to LOVE!
Kara, Olivia, Dennis, Donna, Dick, Linda, Laurie, Barbara, Diane, Pam, Charlie, Janet, Ben, Cecilia, Liam, Michelle, Jackson, Sara, Christopher, Kimi, Jonnie, Jaydon, Chloe, Heather, Ken, Grace, Jack, Megan, Jesse, Jeff, Melissa, Garrett, Nolan, Erin, Rick, Ramona, Athena, Tiffany, Calista, Christopher, Allison, Maren, Rohan, Jean, Brian, Katelyn, Rori and Corben:
WE ARE SO HUMBLED YOU HAVE CHOSEN TO CALL US HOME. Getting to know you will be our most important spiritual practice as a congregation. You contain a piece of God we do not yet know, and so we want to know you. And we want to know you exactly as who you are.
Pádraig Ó Tuama says that “agreement has rarely been the mandate for people who love each other. Maybe on some things, but, actually, when you look at some people who are lovers and friends, you go, actually, they might disagree really deeply on things, but they’re somehow (participating in) “the argument of being alive.” Or in Irish, when you talk about trust, there’s a beautiful phrase from West Kerry where you say, “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.”….That is what we can have with each other.
I am blessed to have gotten to know each and every one of your stories in different ways. And I know this: you are all here for profound reasons that some of you have trouble even putting into words. The tears you so often shed tell more of the story than words ever could.
I want to challenge you to figure out a way in the next year to make sure you know the stories of seven people here, and that seven people know yours’. The church is not the building, and it is certainly not the ministers. The church is contained in the hearts of the people surrounding you right now.
I suspect you are all here for the same reason the rest of us are: because of our heart’s deepest longing to be known, and to be loved exactly as we are. A longing to belong. Thank you, new members, for trusting us with such a tender job.
Congregation, let’s do our best to not screw it up.
Luckily, Jesus gives us a road map today. A new commandment on the night before he dies. He says “Love one another as I have loved you.”
That’s easy when we’re talking about our friends and families or even our fellow church members…people we have determined are like-minded, or at least like-hearted….but what about the OTHERS?
We evolved to fear the other, not LOVE the other.
Last year when my son, Isaac was four, he came into my bedroom in downtown Sterling, wide eyed, and the excited kind-of scared, at 7:30 am.
“Mommy, he said. “Wake up. I need you to come see. There were very loud noises outside so I looked out the window. And you won’t believe what I saw. There are bad guys ruining the town right now. They are throwing all of the things on the ground. The bad guys are outside destroying the town. Look and see."
I walked with him to his bedroom window on the side of our house, and sure enough, there were 6 roofers about twenty feet away from his window. They were on the roof of the Municipal light company, scraping shingles off the roof and throwing them gleefully onto the ground below. They were whooping and hollering as they did it, and listening to loud music.
Destroying the roof looked like a party. “Look at what the bad guys are doing!” He said.
It must be so hard to be a four year old, head full of bad guys and good guys, trying to figure out why people do the strange things they do, and why it makes any sense.
In so many ways, you and I see the world through the eyes of a four year old, full of good guys and bad guys. Full of strangers who mean us harm. Like Isaac, we fear what we do not understand. We hate what we fear.
We cross the street when we see a group of young black teenagers wearing pants below their waistlines. We roll up the windows when we get to the intersection in Worcester where the homeless folks hold signs that say “Spare change.” We hide in our bedrooms, pretending to not be home rather than open the door for the Mormon missionaries who just wanted to tell us about their understanding of Jesus. We refuse to engage in discussion with political opponents, preferring to demonize them rather than understand their deepest held values.
And we worship a God who asks us to bow down before one another instead, vulnerable and disarmed. We worship a God who, over and over again, demands that we look down to see him, so we can see those he has bent down to love.
We worship a stooping God.
Jesus stoops to pick up children.
Jesus stoops down to write in the dust on behalf of a prostitute.
Jesus stoops, using his BODY to embrace the downtrodden people who we would rather not see—the outcast, the leper, the poor, the sick, the lost, the forgotten, the prisoner.
Jesus stoops down to pray in the garden. He stoops down to carry the cross. He stoops after he cries out “Father forgive them,” and dies on a lynching tree.
And on the night before he dies, with the people that he knows will deny and betray him, he shows us how to love by stooping down to do what would normally be a slave’s job:
He washes the filthy, worn out, sweaty, dust covered feet of his friends.
“You will never wash my feet!” Simon Peter declares, horrified at the idea of his Lord doing the work of a servant.
Simon Peter does not want a stooping Messiah. He doesn’t want a humble Lord. He is embarrassed to worship a humiliated God.
“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me. You’ll never get it,” Jesus tells him. If Peter isn’t willing to accept the humiliation of his crucified Lord, he won’t understand the depths of God’s love.
I think if we’re being honest, we are like Simon Peter. No one really wants a stooping God. We want a God who conquers. We want a God who promises us riches and stock options. We want a God who smites our enemies. We want a God who hates the same people we hate. We want a God who WINS.
We don’t want a loser God, a servant God, a God who you have to look down to see. We certainly don’t want to follow him to our knees or to the cross.
But his love looks like sacrifice, not kingship. His love looks like humility, not glory. His love bows down, it does not Lord over.
Jesus stoops, and we want to walk right by him and leave him in the dust with the others.
Because like the disciples, every time we turn around, we find Jesus is talking to a person who you and I would rather not befriend. We happen upon Jesus on our way home from work, and he’s hanging out with that smelly homeless person who kinda scares us, or a member of a gang, or a flamboyant drag queen, or a coal miner with a red #MAGA hat, or a scared pregnant teenager whose body has become a political war zone, or an immigrant child living in a cage at the border. Jesus always seems to see the people no one else notices. He hangs out with the people you and I have de-friended on Facebook. He offers them mercy, depth and belonging. He tenderly washes their feet.
“For more than two thousand years Christians have been identified as the people of the cross,” Osvaldo Vena said, “a symbol of self-sacrifice in John but of conquest and colonization in recent history. I wonder what would have happened if instead of the cross Christians would have been identified by the basin and the towel. Perhaps our world would be less divided, and everyone would love each other a little bit more.”
Beloved, if you want to see God, stop looking up to the sky, or the pulpit, or the white house, or the high throne, or the heavens, or the gilded empty cross on the wall. Stop looking to the winners. Look on the floor, to the basin and towel. You’ll find Jesus there. If we’re going to lead the love revolution in Massachusetts, we’re going to have to start on our knees.
“You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.”….That is what we can have with each other.
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:
Rev. Robin Bartlett is the Senior Pastor at the First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts. www.fcsterling.org