Sunday, June 17, 2018

June 17 Sermon

Lead me Lord,
In the paths of peace
In the roads of righteousness
in the ways of commitment.
Lead me Lord,
Down the tracks of thoughtfulness
In the streets of compassion
By the journey of joyfulness.
Lead me Lord, in love, today. Amen. (David Adam, adapted)

We begin our summer journey together through the parables of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.

Parables are rooted in the images of everyday life in the days of Jesus and yet a parable is “where the ordinary has gone askew and thereby shocks us into realizing that the parable leads us into another way of thinking about life.” (John R. Donahue)

For Jesus is trying to expand our mind, to get us to consider things more deeply - What is the Kingdom of God like?

A sower sewing seed - the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how; but then comes the harvest! A mustard seed – the smallest of seeds – after its sown, it grows & becomes the greatest of all shrubs!

What is the Kingdom of God like? It starts small and then it develops…

In the course of our lives we all have met individuals who radiate an inner light. They make you feel respected and valued, they listen with concern and compassion, they genuinely care for others and the good of all. Their laugh is musical and their manner infused with gratitude.

Even if they don’t know it, they are living into the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about.

New York Times' columnist David Brooks wrote a few years ago that he has been blessed to meet those who radiate such an inner light and “it brightens my whole day. But I confess I often have a sadder thought: It occurs to me that I’ve achieved a decent level of career success, but I have not achieved that. I have not achieved that generosity of spirit, or that depth of character.”

Brooks has found that there are "two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral - whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

"We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

"But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys…”

So Brooks “set out to discover how those deeply good people got that way… we could say these accomplishments amounted to a moral bucket list…” List includes things like humility, self-control, contentment, enthusiasm, benevolence. He explores this list by using the examples of President Dwight D Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, Frances Perkins (Episcopalian!), and author George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans). “Their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding.”

Good people, Brooks writes, "are made, not born - that the people I admired achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments." ["The Moral Bucket List" by David Brooks, The New York Times, April 11, 2015.]

Brooks words that “good people are made not born” remind me of Tertullian, a 2nd century Christian theologian who wrote that “Christians are made, not born.”

They are both right. It takes work to be that good person, that Christian, who Jesus calls us to be in this world today. People who grow capable of that deep love and are able to share it.

The Gospel images of the persevering farmer and the tiny mustard seed challenge us to move beyond our own shortcomings and doubts in order to live into the eulogy virtues of humility, selflessness, love and compassion; to radiate the inner light of God's grace to others in our mustard seed-size acts of generosity and understanding.

In our world so full of division and hate, we need to develop our moral bucket list, our faith & virtues, those mustard seeds, and rise up to bring love and help keep families together in our world today.

Christ calls us to embrace the faith of the Gospel farmer and the hope of the mustard seed: to be willing to plant whatever seeds of Gospel hope and compassion that we possess, wherever and whenever we can, in the certain knowledge that it will, in some way, result in a harvest of God's life and love, the Kingdom of God. By such faith, may we possess the grace and wisdom of those in our lives who are a blessing to us, those who have that inner virtue/light and so we in turn can become a blessing to others. Amen.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Moral Bucket List

The Moral Bucket List

Original Article by David Brooks

A Jewish Perspective

The Moral Bucket List (a response)

and similarly The Second Mountain: The Next Big Challenge in Your Life (Aspen Institute)

and a TED Talk too...

Thinking about Romans 13

In light of the the words from the Attorney General of the United States and the President' press secretary, who both referred to Romans 13 in support of immigration laws & policies that purportedly require the separation of immigrant children from their parents. I found these articles helpful in thinking about what Romans 13 says:

Romans 13: A History of Jeff Sessions's Favorite Verse

Romans 13 and Revelation 13 in a national crisis 

The William Stringfellow Project: Conscience and Obedience 

Sessions cites Bible passage used to defend slavery in defense of separating immigrant families

and also...

Romans 13, N.T. Wright, and a Christian Response to Paris

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Suicide Prevention Resources in Connecticut

From WTNH:

Suicide rates are on the rise across the United States according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Connecticut, rates of this cause of death have climbed between 19-30% from 1999 to 2016 and now labeled as a major public health issue...

News 8 spoke with Dr. Emily McCave MSW, LMSW, a certified mental health first aid trainer and Associate a Professor of Social Work at Quinnipiac University. She has recommended many different steps to take and how to identify warning signs of suicide and suicidal thoughts.

Warning Signs of Suicide:
  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.

Social media has allowed a different type of communication. These platforms allow for the publishing of the best experiences, positive aspects and photos. The perception that a person is happy based on scrolling through social media accounts is not an accurate portrayal of what the individual is really feeling. 
Platforms like Facebook have been working on Artificial Intelligence (AI) that elevates possible suicidal threats. A community operations team and the AI team system work 24/7 to flag and investigate concerning posts. Facebook has released suicide prevention guidelines for reporting this type of content here. Instagram also allows for the reporting of threats here. Twitter has informed users about how to report self-harm and suicide here.

What can you do to help?
Always call 9-1-1 first if you are a threat to yourself or others
Speak to your family, friends and loved ones. Have a conversation and really ask how they are feeling. Listen and offer assistance when needed
Seek help through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. This is a confidential phone call offering emotional support 24-hours a day, 7-days a week
Call 2-1-1 in Connecticut.
The United Way will connect residents to health and human services in the community at no cost. Connecticut 2-1-1 also offers a database of local services and help Lifeline web chat as a service of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Conversations online are free and confidential Text TALK to 741741. You are able to text with a crisis counselor about any painful issue which you need support for
Receive certification in Mental Health First Aid. The 8-hour long long teaches individuals how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. Find a course here

Watch our Facebook Live interview with Dr. Emily McCave.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Hymn on Refugees & Immigrants

When Jesus Went to Egypt
PASSION CHORALE D ("O Sacred Head, Now Wounded")

When Jesus went to Egypt,
Safe on his mother's arm,
His parents stayed beside him
To keep him safe from harm.
And when they crossed the border,
They were allowed to be
Together — seeking refuge —
A Holy Family.

O God, we pray for children
And families coming here
Now facing separation,
And filled with grief and fear.
For children, loved and treasured,
Are ripped from loving kin.
This deed, by any measure,
Is torture. It's a sin!

O God, you're like a mother
Who won't forsake her own.
You're like a loving father
Who welcomes his son home.
Now give us, by your Spirit,
The strength to challenge wrong,
To seek the best for children,
And keep all families strong.

Biblical References: Matthew 2:12-18; Isaiah 49:15,66:13; Luke 15:11-32; Matthew 25:31-46
Tune: Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach, 1729 ("O Sacred Head, Now Wounded") (MIDI)

Text: Copyright © 2018 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: New Hymns:

Permission is given for free use of this hymn to churches seeking to support immigrant families.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette is a mother, grandmother, former foster mother, pastor and hymn writer. She has seen children screaming as they have been taken from the arms of those they love. Carolyn also served as a hosting pastor for an immigrant group for five years in her church. Her 300+ hymns are all posted online at

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Sermon: June 10

Creator God, we are fashioned, male and female, in the likeness of your glory. Gather us around Christ, our teacher. Grant that by doing your will we may truly become disciples, brothers and sisters of the Son. We ask this through Christ, with whom you have raised us up in baptism, the Lord who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. (Peter J. Scagnelli, 1992)

The crowd came together again, so that Jesus and his disciples could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul…”

Jesus the Lunatic. Jesus the Leader of the Demonic. Jesus was living in a way that challenged much of the culture around him, even as he fulfilled the will of his Father.

Jesus was changing things, and that makes people upset. Faithfulness, Jesus said, is not tied to blood or ancestry, not tied to the patriarchal society at all. “Whoever does the will of God is part of the family.”

"Here is the Good News: Jesus is not out of his mind; Jesus is not filled with demonic spirits. Rather, Jesus has the mind of God; Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit - and invites all of us to be of the same mind and same Spirit in a new family as his sisters and brothers." (David Ewart, 2012)

But even as we live into that same spirit that Paul tells us in his 2nd letter to the Christians in Corinth, there are some of the baptized who embodied the holy spirit in a surprising ways as they followed him. Who like Jesus, were considered out of their minds.

They are Holy Fools (yurodivy) There have been Holy people whose stories, still revered in Orthodox Churches (especially Russian), which sound absurd to us and yet speak the Gospel truth.

Simeon the Holy Fool who lived in the 6th century, the patron saint of holy fools, was a monastic in the Syrian desert and devoted his life to prayer. Years later, Simeon returned to town, inspired by God to do good.

“Arriving at the city gate, he found a dead dog on a dungheap, tied its leg to the rope around his waist, and entered the city dragging the comatose canine behind him. This was only the beginning. For Simeon had decided to play the fool in order to mock the idiocy of the world and also to conceal his own identity…

During the church services, he threw nuts at the clergy and blew out the candles. In the circus, he wrapped his arms around the dancing-girls and went skipping and dancing across the arena. On solemn fasting days he feasted riotously, consuming vast amounts of meat & beans – with predictable results. In his lifetime, Simeon was regarded as a madman, as an unholy scandal.” (from Ship of Fools)

“That life made him subject to insults, abuse and beatings, which Simeon endured with patience. In spite of his seemingly strange behavior, Simeon the Holy Fool healed many people by his prayer, fed the hungry, preached the Gospel, and helped needy citizens of the town. Many of Simeon’s saintly & miraculous deeds and his acts of kindness were done secretly and only discovered after his death.

That crazy fool, St Simeon died about 570 AD and was buried by the city poor in a place where the homeless and strangers were buried. While the body of Saint Simeon was carried, several people heard a wondrous church choir, where none was seen.” (Wikipedia)

Simeon is not alone in Christian history for there were other Holy Fools. (St. Xenia of St. Petersburg)

“There was the great St. Basil the Holy Fool of Moscow, a man so revered by the people that the Cathedral in Moscow was named in his honor. Basil walked through Moscow wearing nothing more than his long beard. Basil threw rocks at wealthy people’s houses and stole from dishonest traders in Red Square.

Some of the wealthy saw him as a trouble maker but many in Moscow saw his holiness. Czar Ivan the Terrible feared no man but Basil dared to tell Ivan that his deeds would lead him to destruction. One story, in the midst of Lent, when Orthodox Russians keep a rigorous vegetarian fast, Basil presented the czar with a slab of raw beef, asking him “Why abstain from meat when you murder men?” Countless Russians died for much less, but Ivan was afraid to let any harm come to the saintly Basil.

Occasionally Ivan even sent gifts to the naked prophet of the streets, but Basil kept none of these for himself. Most that he received he gave to beggars, though in one surprising case a gift of gold from the czar was passed on to a merchant. Others imagined the man was well off, but Basil discerned the man had been ruined and was actually starving, but was too proud to beg.

George Fedotov, a scholar of Russian spirituality, explains that for persons who have achieved a high degree of holiness, they do not want people to praise them for their holiness, so they play the fool to remain humble.” (extracts from Frank Logue & Jim Forrest)

Simeon the Holy Fool was a secret saint, his story was a holy farce like that of Basil of Moscow, and their lives shows how God chooses "the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1:27). The Holy Fools don’t want us to focus on them but on what they have done. It was the poor and needy who knew of the saintly Simeon & Basil...

“Why does the Church occasionally recognize people whose lives are not only completely at odds with society but who often hardly fit church either? The answer must be that Holy Fools dramatize something about God that most Christians find embarrassing, but which we vaguely recognize is crucial information.

It is the special vocation of Holy Fools to live out in a rough, literal, breath-taking way the “hard sayings” of Jesus. While never harming anyone, Holy Fools raise their voices against those who lie and cheat and do violence to others, but at the same time they are always ready to embrace these same greedy and ruthless people. They take everyone seriously. No one, absolutely no one, is unimportant. In fact the only thing always important for them, apart from God and angels, are the people around them, whoever they are, no matter how limited they are. Their dramatic gestures, however shocking, always have to do with revealing the person of Christ and his mercy.” (Jim Forrest)

We follow in the footsteps of one who some considered out of his mind, and yet we know through Jesus, we have life and have it abundantly. May the Holy Fools teach us about Christ and his mercy and then may we go and do likewise in our world today. Amen.

Faith Leaders Statement on Family Separation at Our Borders #KeepFamiliesTogether

Recently, the Administration announced that it will begin separating families and criminally prosecuting all people who enter the U.S. without previous authorization. As religious leaders representing diverse faith perspectives, united in our concern for the well being of vulnerable migrants who cross our borders fleeing from danger and threats to their lives, we are deeply disappointed and pained to hear this news. 
We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support human community and understand the household as an estate blessed by God. The security of the family provides critical mental, physical and emotional support to the development and well being of children. Our congregations and agencies serve many migrant families that have recently arrived in the United States. Leaving their communities is often the only option they have to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm. Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children.  
As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families.  
His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian 
Diocesan Legate and Director of the Ecumenical Office 
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America
Mr. Azhar Azeez President
Islamic Society of North America
The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera
Bishop of Scranton, PA
Chair, Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs
Senior Bishop George E. Battle, Jr.
Presiding Prelate, Piedmont Episcopal District
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church
Bishop H. Kenneth Carter, Jr. 
President, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop Episcopal Church (United States)
The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister & President
United Church of Christ
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Rev. David Guthrie
President, Provincial Elders' Conference
Moravian Church Southern Province
Mr. Glen Guyton 
Executive Director 
Mennonite Church USA
The Rev. Teresa Hord Owens
General Minister and President 
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rabbi Rick Jacobs 
Union for Reform Judaism
Mr. Anwar Khan
Islamic Relief USA
The Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller 
President, Provincial Elders' Conference 
Moravian Church Northern Province
The Rev. Dr.  J. Herbert Nelson II 
Stated Clerk 
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Rabbi Jonah Pesner 
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
The Rev. Don Poest
Interim General Secretary 
The Rev. Eddy Alemán 
Candidate for General Secretary 
Reformed Church in America
Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick III 
Presiding Bishop, The Eighth Episcopal District 
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
The Rev. Phil Tom 
Executive Director 
International Council of Community Churches
Senior Bishop McKinley Young 
Presiding Prelate, Third Episcopal District 
African Methodist Episcopal Church