Sunday, June 25, 2017

Pride Sunday June 25 Matthew 10:24-39

Matthew 10:24-39The Message (MSG)

24-25 “A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?

26-27 “Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So, don’t hesitate to go public now.

28 “Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.

Forget About Yourself
29-31 “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So, don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.

32-33 “Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you?

34-37 “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me.

38-39 “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.

That was the message version of today’s reading

“One of the Major complaints of Jesus’ critics was that he ate with those he shouldn’t; his radical egalitarianism at table was threating to those elements of Judeo-Roman Society that fostered separation between people as a way of preserving the imperial status quo.”[1]

Imagine being a young follower of Christ while your parents are devout members of Jewish society.  You are in direct conflict with your parents, you are in direct conflict with your culture and you conflict with custom and law. Your acceptance of Jesus and his teachings have driven a sword between you and your family, you must choose what you know in your heart to be right, to be what you are called to be or to go home and live in suppression trying to give the illusion that all is the same though for you there has been a radical shift in your way of thinking and being.

I should stop here and warn you I am going to use a word that some may find offensive or may be concerned with my use of it that word is Queer.  Queer once a word that was used to demean gay people is now a widely accepted term used for many different reasons.

Charlie Glickman States it this way:
One of the things about the word queer that fascinates me is how many meanings it has. It can be used as an adjective, a pejorative, a noun, an identity, a sexual orientation, and as a gender identity (as in genderqueer). But there’s one use that we don’t hear as much anymore: queer is also a verb. What does it mean to queer something? There was a time when that phrase meant “to mess it up,” as in queering a business deal. While I’m glad that use has gone out of fashion, I like using queer as a verb.

To queer something, whether it’s a text, a story, or an identity, is to take a look at its foundations and question them. We can explore its limits, its biases, and its boundaries. We can look for places where there’s elasticity or discover ways we can transform it into something new. To queer is to examine our assumptions and decide which of them we want to keep, change, discard, or play with. This becomes a practice in transcending the habit of settling for pre-defined categories and creating new ones. And even when we leave something unchanged, we have changed our relationship to it.[2]

So why would I mention all this, well on this Gay pride Sunday I would venture to say that this Church has, to quote Rev. Tom Bohache, a queer sensibility. Now a “A queer sensibility that seeks to stir up and spoil the status quo of imperial heteronormativity will, like Jesus our Christ, be welcoming of everyone; we who have been kept from many tables, both literally and figuratively, dare not keep others from the table.”[3]  This is what my call is, therefore I speak of earth care, accessibility for all, I will address migrant welcoming communities and sanctuary. I will work toward a queer sensibility

Unfortunately, we know we are not there yet.  We must tell people that our church is welcoming and open to all.  Why? And Why fly the rainbow colors? Won’t that just draw attention to us?  Maybe even make us a target? We as united church of Christ and this church by covenant proclaim we are open and affirming.  This congregation voted to publicly proclaim our welcome. And we must proclaim that welcome because there are other places in the Christian landscape that don’t say anything but allow their pulpit to speak for them and often times those pulpits are not the friendliest.  We must proclaim we are an open affirming congregation because kids are still kicked out of their homes, Gay men are still attacked in the street and transgender people are murdered.  These events are not from faraway places but here in America.

My husband and I, by the way I legally could not call him my husband until just a few years ago. Each have our own personal stories and experiences.  Some painful, some joy full and all part of the struggle to reach the day when I do not have to say I am gay and it be a political statement.

I was born and raised in Detroit Mi.  I was adopted a year after my Birth by may parents who also fostered me for that first year. Two years later my brother was adopted and my sister was adopted. As a kid, I had a hard time adjusting.  I always had a social worker in school.  In grade school, I taught my counselor how to play chess, well tried too we usually ended up playing checkers.

I was bullied and picked on. Part of the issues was I had a muscle deformity and so I walked funny as a kid, my ears were too big, I couldn’t play baseball, I wasn’t very socially oriented to kids of my age…whatever, kids will find excuses to tease and or bully.  It probably didn’t help that the longest I was in one school was high school for 4 years.

When I went off to college is when my life changed.  I went into catholic seminary and there I discovered my sexuality. Not the best place to discover that or try to figure it out.  I left after the first year and transferred to school where I majored in sign language studies.  There I found other people like me. (my mother’s words not mine).  I started to get involved in the community and in 1986 I went to Detroit’s first pride rally.

It was Father’s Day, June 15th, I had been asked to interpreter for the speakers at the rally for the march.  By then I was well known in the community for working with the gay men’s chorus, which I joined in 1983 as their interpreter, as well as serving other events around the city.  Any way it was a big deal, there was a protest march, nothing like todays pride, there were political speeches at the rally stage.  Leaders from the Michigan organization for human rights and other big wigs were going to address the crowd.

So, I am on stage and suddenly I feel this nudge it’s a camera man who wants to film the audience for the evening news report.  I thought nothing of it.  It wasn’t until I got home that I was made aware that the camera focused on me for a bit.  When I arrived home my father’s face was red and my mother was crying.  My family does have a dramatic flair.  My father yelled, my mother cried even more.  They complained because I told them I was at a human rights rally.  I said I was and they asked who rights were I fighting for?  So, I asked the rhetorical question whose do you think.  I think then was when my father used the word faggot and shortly after I left the house. We did find reconciliation and peace eventually.

It is interesting to note that before I came out I was heading out for a date one night.  My grandmother was on the phone with my mother and she asked my mom who the lucky guy was.  Needless to say, I had to make a bee line to grandmothers and have a conversation. Another odd thing or maybe not but at one point I worked for the public schools with mandatory Ed programs for disabled kids up to the age of 26.  Our campus counselor was My counselor from grade school.  I was so surprised to see her and funny thing she tells me “I always knew you were gay but we were not paid to tell you that.”  It seemed like everone knew before I did.

My mother has a group of about 6 women that she went to high school with.  They have been friends all these years and they were always around for special events.  Two of them had openly gay sons.  I think this helped them all to grow as they were their own PFLAG Group.  PFLAF stands for parents and friends of Lesbian and Gays. PFLAG is working to make sure that all people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer are not only valued by society, but take pride in and value themselves. they do this through providing peer-to-peer support, educating people on the issues that are important to the community, and advocating for inclusive policies and laws.

My life since that day took me many places. I was a practicing catholic and went to dignity for services until the catholic church told dignity  They could not meet in a church of theirs any more.  At that point I had to leave, I could not call the catholic church home anymore because I was not welcome.

In 1982 I met Brian.  Brian was the first person to address publicly that he was living with AIDS in Detroit.  His story was heard and as he relayed his pain and anger I saw someone who needed a companion.  After his speech was over I sat down next to him introduced myself to him and we had a great conversation.  I became the person that he could talk to about anything with except AIDS.  His life was educating people about AIDS he talked and lived AIDS every day. So we agreed no AIDS conversation.

Through Brian I saw the everyday struggle and what was needed.  I and a few friends formed health education association Detroit.  We were the first organization to directly fund people living with aids in order to pay emergency bills like electricity, gas etc.  In those days I spent many hours driving around Detroit  ( remember it’s an hour across town) chasing down board members signatures so I could pay many a heating or electric bill or buy some groceries.

In 1984 I had to say farewell to Brian as he did succumb to AIDS.  I was one of the few people who refused to wear what we called full Martian garb to visit.  I wore a face mask just to avoid infecting him with any cold I might be carrying. I did get to visit before he passed but he was asleep and I did not want to disturb him.  If I knew then what I know now about death and dying I would have seen that it was his last night.

Since then I do not know how many I had to say good bye too.  Aids took hundreds of thousands lives in the 80’s and 90’s.  I saw intelligent brave men slip into dementia.  I witnessed strong hearty men become shells of who they were.  The struggle for meds and dignity seemed to take forever and still goes on in many places today.

I lived in Worcester and Boston and moved to San Francisco in 1991.  Ah what a great experience October 18, 1991 I arrived in san Francisco after a 3-month journey across the united states from Dorchester Mass.  Staying at a nice little boutique hotel, getting ready to find an apartment, the morning of the 19th the sky was funny.  It was getting dark instead of light.  Oakland firestorm had started.  When we did get an apartment and my mother asked where we were living I told her watch the 6 o’clock news they are interviewing a hooker on the street outside our building. We had a studio at Polk and Geary for 800 dollars a month.  The walk-in closet was so big we put our bed in it and used it as a tiny bedroom. I started working for the ARK san Francisco at their vocational training center for developmentally disabled adults. I had worked with his population close to 15 years.

Shortly after moving to SF I was introduced the imperial court system and all the glamour and fundraising that goes with it. For those of you who don’t know;

“In 1965, Jose Sarria proclaimed herself the Empress of San Francisco, and laid the foundation for the formation of the Imperial Court de San Francisco. Today, the International Court System (ICS) has over 65 chapters in the United States, Canada and Mexico, making us the second largest GLBT organization in the world. On October 23rd, 2015, The International Imperial Court System Celebrated its 50 Anniversary”[4]

Jose Sarria in 1961 was the first openly gay candidate for a public office in the united states and I am proud to say a friend. I love the imperial court system and all the nonprofit work they do. It was because of the Imperial court system that I met miss Ginny.

Ginny was a man who lived as woman without surgery.  She came to all the court fundraisers and events her wife would bring her in her wheelchair.  Though she was technically a straight man she found solace and acceptance in the gay community.  There was no place Safe for her in her community.  It wasn’t safe for transgender people in San Francisco yet and they had to be cautious about how they lived.

One of my friends from the transgender community was  candy sweet, she was a big ole lovable girl.  I mean big she needed two seats on the airplane.  she sewed all her own clothes and beaded all her own Gowns. She loved to perform and was well known, respected and loved around the city and yet.  On her way home one night she was attacked and killed we still do not know who did it or why.  But because nothing was stolen we can guess it was a hate crime.  But that was before there was such a legal disclaimer. I have actually lost three of my friends to Hate crimes it is impossible to comprehend or even process.

 So, a year after moving to San Francisco I declared my candidacy for grand duke. This is a public campaign and people vote, it was fun to run. Unfortunately, my boyfriend at the time was not as socially engaged as I and he said if I won I was out…well I won and I moved out the next day.

It is funny because that triggered a few things for me including burn out form caring for the extremely multiply impaired.  I went on a journey to find new job and new ways of surviving in SF. I found myself a little job working for a tour company that specialized in day trips and casino trips for the senior community.  I drove a 15 seater that had a tv and everything. I drove from sf to Jackson ranchera my stops were in alameda and up through the delta, with stops in Pittsburgh, antioch, rio vista and Isleton. I eventually worked my way up to VP in charge of PR.

I will never forget a super happy day in San Francisco it was august 1998 and we had a new headline on the cover of the Bay area reporter.
"No obituaries were filed with the paper for this issue, a first since the AIDS epidemic exploded in San Francisco's gay community," Timothy Rodrigues writes in the Aug. 13 issue of the Bay Area Reporter. Rodrigues laces this good news with a few words of caution. "That doesn't mean that there were no AIDS deaths in the past week; next week's issue may have more obits than usual," he says. However, "after more than 17 years of struggle and death, and some weeks with as many as 31 obituaries printed in the B.A.R., it seems a new reality may be taking hold, and the community may be on the verge of a new era of the epidemic," he says, adding tentatively, "Perhaps." (Rodrigues, B.A.R., 8/13 issue). An accompanying editorial, titled, "Death Takes A Holiday," states, "We tried not to get too excited about it too soon. ... So we waited patiently, quietly, to see how many this week's mail would bring. And then there were none. ... Although we fully expect to receive more obits than usual next week, for such is the nature of life and death, we also hope to see a time when issues of the B.A.R. without obituaries are commonplace" (Bay Area Reporter, 8/13).[5]

This is just some of my story.  I am just one story and this has actually been a few peoples story.  But this story, me I wish I had you when I first came out.  I wish I knew that there was a safe place where gay straight bi transgender questioning people can gather and worship safely without Judgement.  Maybe, just maybe my friends would have lived longer, maybe just maybe one young person would not have committed suicide.

Maybe just maybe someone, someone here today has experienced the acceptance they have always sought because we are an open and affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ and that is why we need a rainbow outside.  That is why we need to proclaim it loud.  We need to be the safe alternative for Christians so that they know there is a loving God that made them perfect just the way they are.  Please let you Queer Sensibility Continue to Shine.

On that note, I also want to say happy ordination anniversary to Bill Johnson for it was 45 years ago today that he was the first openly Gay man to be ordained to mainline ministry. It was 60 years ago today that the united Church of Christ as a denomination came into existence.  So happy anniversary to the denomination and we forgot to mention that technically two weeks ago was this Churches anniversary the first church to vote to become United Church of Christ. So Please let you Queer Sensibility Continue to Shine. Let us continue to be a place that honors and welcomes the marginalized.  Happy Pride Sunday.

[1] Deryn Guest et al., eds., The Queer Bible Commentary (London: SCM Press, 2006).
[2] Charlie Glickman, What does Queer Mean, April 6, 2012, accessed June 20, 2017,
[3] Guest et al., The Queer Bible Commentary, 514.
[4] Imperial Court System, 50 years of Noble deeds, 2015, accessed June 21, 2017,
[5] California Healthline, Aids Deaths: Bay Area Reporter Posts No Obits, August 17, 1998, accessed June 22, 2017,

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lets talk about some B.I.G.S. Mathew 9:35-10:8

A tourist collected a few of the signs in English that monolingual Americans traveling abroad must contend with:

In an airline ticket office in Copenhagen, there is this promise: “We take your bags and send them in all directions.”

A Swiss restaurant announces to its customers that “Our wines leave you with nothing to hope for.”

An Acapulco hotel posts a sign assuring its customers that “The manager has personally passed all the water served here.”

But my favorite is a sign spotted in Paris. One of the city’s finer hotels invites its visitors to “Please leave your values at the front desk” (1)

As a church I believe we have not lost our values but, sometimes , we tend to store them away and pull them out when they are convenient. Our values are meant to be the place from where we act and how we respond to this world in Christs love and yet often we hesitate to act as called for fear it will change the way the church acts, it will change the way the congregation looks or it will change the way the Church grows.

Dr. Mickey Anders shares this story:

“Many years ago Betty, a prominent citizen of our community and church, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She lived with the disease for eight years deteriorating a little more each year. About two years before she died our church hired a new minister, Mickey, and he began visiting with Betty. When she died and Mickey began to prepare his sermon he realized he never knew Betty as everyone else had known her. He had witnessed Betty striped of inhibitions and totally dependent on others to care for her. All he had ever heard her say was, “I love you.” All he had ever seen her do was smile.

At Betty’s funereal Mickey shared this observation with us and used an onion as an analogy to her life. An onion starts with a core and adds layers as it matures. As in life each experience and thought is layered to our core. Mickey pointed out that Betty’s core was love and he met her without any layers. “What is your core made of?” was his question to the congregation. I was not sure what my core was made of at that time, but I wanted my core to be love, too.”[1]

I would hope, actually I believe, the core of this church, of this community is love. I would suggest to you that our text for today contains the clues to our core values.

Matthew 9:35-38 says: “Jesus went about all the cities and the villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness among the people.  But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest indeed is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore that the Lord of the harvest will send out laborers into his harvest.'”

Here the text of Mathew is taking Jesus’ ministry and moving into a broader context.  The twelve are named and then sent out but not just sent out to do Jesus’ work, but to continue his ministry. Now Jesus, according to Mathew, focuses his ministry on the Jewish Community.  Which is fine for now but of course the ministry moves beyond that.

“Matthew’s text moves from one phase of Jesus’ ministry into the next. For the past two chapters, Matthew has been busy stockpiling healing and miracle stories one after another in order to build an indisputable case that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah”[2] This is Mathews intent that Jesus ministry was in the beginning for and about the Jewish people but later that ministry, well as we say in today’s context, evolves.

Yet we are just at the end of chapter nine and the beginning of ten Jesus is not challenged for his exclusionary vision until chapter 15 more than half way through Mathews story of Jesus and his ministry. You see in chapter 15 Jesus meets a Canaanite woman who challenges his belief that his ministry is only for the Jewish people.

Oh how often has the Christian faith been used to exlude?  How often has Justification for so much pain and suffering been through the misinterpretation of the sacred scriptures?  How often does it continue?

Listen to Leviticus “17 Speak to Aaron and say: No one of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the food of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, 20 or a hunchback, or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs…” (Leviticus 21:17-21)

Because our denomination can trace its history all the way back to the pilgrims and the puritans we can acknowledge the great pain we have caused by being exclusionary and yet, we can be very proud for many times we are the first to break down those barriers that call for the exclusion of others.

Rev. Sam Sewell wrote the first anti-slavery pamphlet in 1700.  The old south meeting house upset about an unfair tea tax inspired the first act of civil disobedience the Boston tea party in 1773 and quite frankly we as a church have maintained that tradition of civil disobedience for all these centuries.  The

1817 -“Rev. Thomas Gallaudet went to Europe to learn new forms of communicating with those without hearing. He opened the Connecticut Asylum for the Education of Deaf and Dumb Persons in 1817, supported by voluntary contributions and subsidized by the state.  In 1856, the school for the deaf later named Gallaudet University opened in Washington, D.C.”[3]

In 1853 the first woman pastor was ordained.

 In 1858 we became the first community to openly defy slavery laws “Members of First Congregational Church in Oberlin, Ohio join others from Oberlin College and the local community, both blacks and whites, in defying the Fugitive Slave Law. They rescue a captured runaway slave, John Price, from the hotel where he is being held in nearby Wellington, Ohio. Twenty are arrested and held in jail in Cleveland. Price is hidden and sent along on the underground railroad to Canada. The Oberlin Wellington Rescue Case helps raise opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law, one cause of the Civil War.”[4]

In 1972 the UCC ordained its first openly gay pastor being the first mainline protestant Church to ordain an openly gay person.

1976 the “General Synod elects the Rev. Joseph H. Evans president of the United Church of Christ. He becomes the first African American leader of a racially integrated mainline church in the United States.”[5]

In 1977 we had the first person to lead UCC disability ministries.

In 2005 we become the first mainline protestant denomination to affirm same gender marriage.

This curve of our own history actually shows we are kind of slow learners.  I mean for thousand s of years the church movement from before Christian history was exclusive.  We discriminated and hated in the name of God.

This denomination has a radical history in the united states and yet I would say we are still learning, still growing, still evolving. The first ordained African American pastor was in 1785 and yet we are still protesting and seeking equality for people of color.  We acknowledge we still have a long way to go.

The first school for the deaf was established in 1856 but not until 1970’s do we officially have a ministry that intentionally seeks out equality for those with disabilities and only 7 churches in the united church of Christ are recognized as accessible to all, and only two conferences one of which is northern California Nevada.

Considering the first church to serve the LGBTQ community was started in 1968 and stonewall riot was in 1969 to be the first mainline denomination to ordain an openly gay minister was a pretty sharp curve towards equality and yet... Yet there are 5032 churches in the UCC and only 1300 proclaim they are  ONA.

Of ordained Authorized ministers 3528 are women and 3672 are men and 10 identify as transgender.
What does all of this have to do with us?  Why am I spilling out this long history of how the churches ministry evolved and is evolving?  It is for the love of Christ we have got work to do.

 I praise you for this church is very accessible and should the board find it prudent I believe we can become one of those accessible to all churches in no time.  This church proclaims it is ONA and statistically we are very ONA and that is good.  But you cannot just be ONA you must proclaim it.  You cannot be just accessible to all you must tell people.  You cannot be a church that proclaims that no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey you are welcome here, inside the walls of the church, you have to tell someobody.

So how do we tell somebody?  How do we reach out to our neighbors and friends and let them know that we are alive and well and care about our Brothers and sisters in Petaluma.  How do we let people know we have a story to tell?  How do we let people know that we are a unique congregation who really want to do more than just sit on a hill on a quiet Sunday and enjoy the worship and then go home?

We need to seek out our neighbors, we need to reach out to those in need in our community.  We need to be the church that shines on the hill as an example of what the kindom of God can look like here and now. At annual gathering many spoke of how the UCC is the best kept secret in the Church.  It is time to start sharing that secret.

General Synod is Coming up this is the gathering of our Churches nationwide exciting new things and ideas always comes out of this conference.  I do not know what I will hear or learn at this conference but I can share with you what has come out of a conference in the past.

Core Purpose

Drawn together by the Holy Spirit, we are a distinct and diverse community of Christians that come together as one church, joining faith and action. In covenant with the church in all of its settings, we serve God in the co-creation of a just and sustainable world as made manifest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Core Values

Continuing Testament
Our faith is 2000 years old. Our thinking is not. God is still speaking,

Extravagant Welcome
No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here.

Changing Lives
Never place a period where God has placed a comma

Bold, Inspirational Goals (BIGS)

1. Bold, Public Voice
The UCC is a bold, widely-known and respected public voice of Christianity in service of God's ever-unfolding mission.

2. Welcoming, Reachable Congregations
There is a welcoming UCC community of faith that is accessible to all — no matter who they are or where they are on life's journey.

3. Engaged Discipleship
Every UCC person is well-equipped to be growing in faith, biblically-literate, theologically conversant, and active in the national and global mission of the church.

4. Excellent, Diverse Leaders
The UCC has a wealth of prepared, excellent leaders that reflect the diversity of God's beloved community.

Initiatives (as of May 1, 2014)

Reading Changes Lives
A sustained all-church literacy initiative that acknowledges that literacy is a social justice issue and seeks to educate the wider church about literacy's impact on a wide range of social justice issues. An inaugural "One Read" will be launched in September 2014, followed by "March Forth for Literacy" in March 2015 with measurable goals. Additional events and projects will continue throughout 2015.

Extravagance UCC
Launched in July 2013, Extravagance UCC is a new church start and online community that is accessible to all who want to experience and deepen their faith in relationship to the United Church of Christ, without regard to geographic location.

The Congo Initiative
The Congo Initiative is a programmatic emphasis of Global Ministries, the shared ministry of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Introduced in July 2013, this 18-month initiative addresses the Congo crisis by working with our churches and Congolese partners in the areas of advocacy, education, people-to-people exchanges and fundraising support.

Justice Leaders Engaging & Developing (LED)
Justice Leaders Engaging & Developing (LED) is a flexible, biblically-grounded, non-issue-based justice curriculum and training program designed to engage and develop justice leaders for the church and community.  The newly expanded program includes webinars focused on justice best practices and strategies to support individuals and congregations following their initial training. 

The Stillspeaking Leadership Institute
A unique leadership development network designed to equip, connect, and sustain lay and clergy leaders within the United Church of Christ of all ages and diversities with creative and cutting-edge leadership skills to further the mission and ministry of the church.

Intercultural Ministries Rising
An inspiring model of ministry approach toward Intercultural Multi-ethnic (I'M) Ministries that is led by prepared and committed clergy and laypersons.  Extravagant welcome is demonstrated through justice engagement, and diverse practices of hospitality and accessibility, vibrant worship, and faith formation. 

The Stillspeaking Worship Institute
An inspiring model of ministry approach toward worship, hosted by diverse local churches or other settings, with an emphasis on the experience of culturally diverse, accessible and replicable approaches to worship — with lived, shared experiences as the primary teaching tools.  The first Institute will be held in fall 2014.

Since 2006, more than 250 new UCC congregations have opened their doors, establishing progressive justice-minded faith communities across the United States. That equals more new congregations than at any other time since the 1960s. The Testimony! initiative is working to support even more new UCC congregations that are demonstrating great promise for growth and vitality. The initiative has already raised more than $325,000 toward its initial $1 million goal.

The "Faith, In" Project  
Introduced in July 2012 at National Youth Event, the "Faith, In" Project is a missional "God is still speaking," ministry and marketing initiative that further positions the United Church of Christ in its engagement with God's movement in the neighborhoods, towns and cities where God calls us to serve.  More than 150 congregations have already lifted up "faith, in" their local communities, and the project continues to bring focus to innovative and community-engaged ministries across the life of the UCC.

Mission 4/1 Earth 
Mission 4/1 Earth was introduced, with measurable environmental goals, as an all-church mission initiative during the 50-day Eastertide period in 2013.  During this short time period, congregations planted more than 140,000 trees, participated in more 600,000 hours of environmental care, and wrote more than 50,000 advocacy letters about environmental justice.  Mission 4/1 Earth's initial event raised significant awareness around the church about climate change and environmental ministries. Congregations continue to participate in designated Mission 4/1 Earth projects and program[6]

Now these were national initiatives some are ongoing some have changed their names or morphed into something new. But the idea is we are called to be more than just Sunday.. we are called to reach beyond these walls.  We need to let Petaluma know about our extravagant welcome.

So I want us as a congregation to pray, to imagine, to dream BIG and let’s get to work to reach out and be intentional in our commitment to welcome all.

[1] Dr. Mickey Andrews, Compassion Workers, 2005, accessed June 13, 2017,
[2] Ibid.
[3] UCC, UCC Firsts, 2014, accessed June 14, 2017,
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] UCC, UCC Vision Plan,

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity a community of Love! Matthew 28:16-20

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
8:1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?

8:2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;

8:3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:

8:4 "To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.

8:22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.

8:23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.

8:24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.

8:25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth--

8:26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil.

8:27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,

8:28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,

8:29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

8:30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,

8:31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Pastor Carol Cavin Dillion from Christ united Methodist church in Tennessee tells the story of when she was the asked if she could speak to the first-grade Sunday school class. The topic was worship, and she was to meet with the children in the sanctuary so that they could get a close look at the baptismal font, the altar, and the paraments.

So she met the youngsters at the front of the sanctuary. The children’s minister had asked her to wear her robes so that the children could see them and they could talk about it. After they toured the sanctuary and talked about colors and symbols, remember the Methodists have a high church style everything has a purpose and everything has a meaning. She sat down with them and asked if they had any questions. One little girl looked down, pointed at the white stole and said, “What’s that thing?”
She replied, referring to the intricate design upon the stole, “It’s a symbol of the Trinity.” “What’s the Trinity?” the little girl asked. “Uh. . . .” For the next five minutes (which seemed like an eternity) she found herself trying to explain the Trinity to a group of first graders.
 By the time she finished hemming and hawing, they looked so confused! How in the world do you teach a bunch of six-year olds about the most complicated theological concept in the book? The answer might be just to wait until they’re older. A six-year-old is too young for Narnia, much less the Trinity!
Perhaps we should wait till they’re teenagers. Or even adults.  Because we adults can handle such theological complexities, right? We’ve been to school. We’ve studied literature and algebra and biology and philosophy. Heck, some of us even have a Masters and PhD! surely it’s easy for us to understand and explain the Trinity Right?
Okay Go…
A professor in a seminary jokingly once tried to explain it like this: “It makes perfect sense. God is three . . . is one . . . is three. Get it?”


Okay this concept is hard to wrap our brains around.  And I admit it is not even part of everyone’s theology.   But I grew up with it and so I wanted to explore the concept. It has been explained like the Shamrock.  The Trinity just as the shamrock is one plant with three leaves; God is one God with three faces.  Then there is the water metaphor as H2O can take three forms in ice, liquid, and steam, so God has three forms. The Trinity!

To be honest the Trinity is one of those elements of faith that tends to be taken for granted.  It is a foundation of what many Christians believe about God, yet I would venture to say, that most don’t even try to wrap their minds around it. We believe in God the creator, Christ the redeemer and the Holy Spirit the sustainer and we speak of the three as one and just leave it at that.

Today, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is known as Trinity Sunday. But do we have any idea what we’re talking about? Is the Trinity just an obscure concept that we give lip service to because the church calendar tells us to or the traditions we came from declare it as absolute doctrine? Does it have anything to do with our daily living? Think about it—what does the Trinity mean to you?

In our readings this morning and throughout our worship this morning we have heard references to God and how God self is revealed to us.  In the opening of Proverb we hear speech of wisdom and it is spoken of in the feminine which is a common concept of the spirit.  Then later it proclaims how “I” was given birth before the first acts of creation this is often heard of and referred to as Jesus. Mathew calls us all to baptize in the name of the trinity. In John Jesus expresses unity with God and the Holy Spirit, and he speaks of three unique persons doing three different jobs: Abba God shares the Son; God the Son stands among the disciples, teaching of the spirit; God the spirit helps interpret and teach the truth that comes from Abba God and the Son.

We often speak of God as the creator and God loves creation and wants us to love creation as well. One way that God teaches us how to love creation and one another is in the person of Jesus Christ. As Matthew and the other gospel writers tell us, Jesus walked alongside us on this earth to show us the face of God. And in Jesus’ death and resurrection, God becomes our Redeemer. Now, we spend a lot of time in the church talking about Jesus. We learn about Jesus’ teaching, his example, his healing, and his love. The gospel stories give us something tangible to hold onto. Jesus gives us all sorts of guidance on how to live our lives. It’s not hard to find ways that Jesus is relevant to our lives.

The concept of A Trinitarian or triune god speaks of god in relationship. Abba, Son and Spirit have always existed in relationship, loving relationship, with each other.  Lady wisdom declares I was there in that moment of creation alongside the Son and Abba.  I was having fun, stirring the elements, sparking life and rejoicing in the dance that was creation.  In the opening verse of the song  The Lord of the Dance it states:
“I danced in the morning when the world was young
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth
At Bethlehem I had my birth
  That energy that drives the dance…that energy that makes us want to dance. That is spirit and the dancer is Jesus and God the music of the universe.

For many of us, that Spirit is very relevant to our daily living. We recognize the Spirit’s activity all around us: in those little nudges to call someone or pray for someone, in the peace that surrounds us before we undergo surgery, in the inspiration that comes when we’re teaching or praying, in the board meeting where truth is spoken and consensus is reached. Many of us know the Spirit as our sustainer, our inspiration, our daily guide and yes the mischief maker.

We see daily evidence of God our Creator. We strive to follow the concrete example of Jesus the Christ. We look for signs of the Holy Spirit around us. Individually, the three persons of the Trinity make sense to us. But what does it mean for the three to be one and the one to be three? Abba God, Son, and Holy Spirit. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. One in three in one. Ice and liquid and steam. Three leaves of a shamrock. What power can this mysterious concept have for us?

Whether you relate most to God the Creator, Jesus the Redeemer, or the Holy Spirit
 Sustainer, the mystery of the Trinity has something to teach us. There is something beautiful and powerful about a God in three persons. There is something God can reveal to us when we ponder the mystery of the Trinity.

The triune God of our faith is a mystery, revealed to us only partially and gradually.  God goes way beyond our human capability of comprehension and understanding and our language.  Yet we are offered an opportunity to reach out, touch, and try to understand how these three, these three in one touch and bless our lives.  Heck, it wasn’t until long after the stories of the creation of all, the passing on of the stories of God active in our world...Long after someone decided to write down the stories then collect them into a book, did we even conceive of this nature of God.

In the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, there is an icon of the Holy Trinity painted by Andrei Rublev sometime around 1400 C.E. For those of you who are unfamiliar with icons, they are pictures that are used in prayer. Believers are to gaze at them prayerfully until they become like a window into the heart of God. God can reveal Godself to us as we are praying through the image of an icon. This is the image on the bulletin cover.

This icon takes as its subject the mysterious story where Abraham receives three visitors as he camps by the oak of Mamre. He serves them a meal. As the conversation progresses he seems to be talking straight to God, as if these 'angels' were in some way a metaphor for the three persons of the Trinity. In Rublev's representation of the scene, the three gold-winged figures are seated around a white table on which a golden, chalice-like bowl contains a roasted lamb. In the background of the picture, a house can be seen at the top left and a tree in the center. Less distinctly, a rocky hill lies in the upper right corner. The composition is a great circle around the table, focusing the attention on the chalice-bowl at the center, which reminds the viewer inescapably of an altar at Communion.

On one level this picture shows three angels seated under Abraham's tree, but on another it is a visual expression of what the Trinity means, what is the nature of God, and how we approach God. Reading the picture from left to right, we see Abba creator, Son the redeemer, Holy Spirit the Sustainer.

Rublev gives each person of the Trinity different clothing. On the right, the Holy Spirit has a garment of the clear blue of the sky, wrapped over with a robe of a fragile green. So the Spirit of creation moves in sky and water, breathes in heaven and earth. All living things owe their freshness to her touch. The Son has the deepest colors; a thick heavy garment of the reddish-brown of earth and a cloak of the blue of heaven. In his person he unites heaven and earth, the two natures are present in him, and over his right shoulder (the Government shall be upon his shoulder) there is a band of gold shot through the earthly garment, as his divinity suffuses and transfigures his earthly being. The Creator seems to wear all the colors in a kind of fabric that changes with the light, that seems transparent, that cannot be described or confined in words. And this is how it should be. No one has seen Abba, but the vision of Abba fills the universe.
The Creator looks forward, raising a hand in blessing to the Son. this gesture expresses a movement towards the Son. The hand of the Son points on, around the circle, to the Spirit. In this simple array we see the movement of life towards us; we are the fourth being at this table, the life flows clockwise around the circle. And we complete the circle The Spirit touches us, even though we do not know who it is that is touching us. The spirit leads us and moves us in ways we are unaware until we look back.  In moments of stillness and clarity, then can we see where the spirit, the hand of God has touched and moved us.
It is interesting to note that each of these great winged creatures have staffs for a journey.  They each have a staff because we are on a journey and instead of flying on ahead, avoiding all trials and trouble they walk with us, beside us on our individual journeys in this life here and now. [1]

In many traditions, this concept of the trinity is a doctrine; a belief written in stone that must be believed, three separate beings and yet one God.  I perceive them more as aspects of God.  Different parts of one personality or being.  The three are in communion with each other as we are one community and yet each one of us is a unique expression of this community.  The Trinity is a community of Love.

As we think about the community of love that has been within God since the beginning of time, the trinity. Let us understand that there is an invitation for us to be part of that community. Just as Andrei’s icon shows us a place at the table so we can see it for real, as the invitation stands open to all at this table, God’s table.  As we see real, concrete examples of how God has created us, redeemed us, and sustained us, let us respond with love and gratitude. Let us add our love to the Trinity’s communion of love.
Let us allow God to be revealed in our community. The concept of the Trinity teaches us that no one ever stands alone. As soon as we accept God’s love and reflect that love back out to the world, we are members of a community. We cannot be a community without being connected to one another. If we are to embrace the triune aspects of God the creator, Christ the redeemer, and the Holy Spirit the sustainer then we are called to embrace each other as community and reach out beyond these walls to those who challenge us, need us, who are hungry for a message of love. The love we find in the Trinity, in the communion, we find with one another, is not just for our own sakes. It’s for the sake of the world. It’s meant to be shared. [2]
The world needs love. The world needs grace. The world needs community. May the Triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—help us to share the message of the Trinity with all creation. [3]

[1] sacred heart pullman, Explanation of Andrei Rublev's Icon of the trinity, (accessed May 14, 2013).
[2] The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2013 (Nashville: Abingdon press, 2012).

[3] David N. Mosser, Abingdon Preaching Annual 2008 (nashville: Abingdon Press, 2007).

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost event 2017 John 20:19-23

Gracious God - bless now the words of my lips and the
      meditations of our hearts.  Breath your Spirit into us and
      grant that we may hear and in hearing be led in the way you
      want us to go.  Amen.

Breathe your spirit into us. What does that even mean.??
today is a significant day -
   this is the day on which the first believers came alive in their faith,
       the day when the Rock upon which Christ planted his church began to
       support and uphold an incredible new life -
a life that has existed since the world began,
   but which was poured out in a special fashion
       and took on flesh in you and me
much as it took life in Jesus, the son of Mary, the son of God
so long ago.

Pentecost is an event that the world has long been promised and which the people of God have long awaited. With that let me say…

Dzien dobry (Polish), Buenos dias (Spanish), Nyado delek (Tibetan), Endermen aderkh (armarhic), Bari Luys (Armenian), Kali Mera (Greek), Shubh Prabhat (Hindi).  I have just announce good morning or good day in several languages those languages were ( as listed above)….  But what has that to with today?? Todays readings have several Miracles they speak about.  But before we can get into the Gospel I would like to set the scene.

We are in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ time it is 50 days after Good Friday.  Actually the name of the Holiday is a Jewish reference. Pentecost is actually a Jewish Holiday a festival of early harvest that occurred fifty days after Passover also known as the festival of Weeks, Shavuot, or the day to commemorate the giving of the Ten Commandments.

It is interesting to note that Christ said in Mathew “Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.”

Then Later in John Jesus foretells of the coming of the spirit…"When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Creator, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Creator, she will testify about me.”

Today is Pentecost and for us that's the birthday of the church,
when the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God came into the
church and gave the church life.

Peter has just addressed the believers about 120 in all and they elected Mathias to replace Judas. This day it is said they were all gathered in one place.  We must assume this means the 120 which acts does say includes certain women I would venture to say this means All men, women and children, slaves and free for the writer would only pay attention to and need to mention the men the fact that certain women were mentioned we can safely assume that those are the women we hear about through the story of Jesus ministry, who were influential not only Jesus’ life but the community as it grew.

It is reported that suddenly there was a roar as of a rushing wind.  It was so loud that the people who had gathered in Jerusalem heard the noise and gathered around the house.  Imagine, hearing the sound of a rushing wind and yet there is none…no wind…no movement, just the sound, wouldn’t you want to see what was happening.

So gathered outside are Jewish people from Jerusalem and those who traveled back for the holiday. There are Greeks and Romans, there were people from what we know as Libya and Egypt, there were probably traders from the Far East as well as Macedonia, People from the entire known world.  Some had come for Passover and just stayed till Pentecost others were there just for that festival, some were there just to make a living and a few soldiers were probably ordered to be there.  There were many people and many languages.

So as the crowd is gathering outside those in the house are hearing the same thing it sounds like a mighty wind is coming and it is all around them.  They are wondering if they are under attack of some kind or if the world as they know it is ending.  Suddenly what appears as fire in the room divides and alights on each one’s head.  They are filled with the spirit and they began to speak in other languages, and they go out to greet the crowd.

Pentecost is the reversal of what occurred at the Tower of Babel when, because of Human arrogance, because we chose to prove we were just as Good if not better than God we became unable to understand one another and then a mighty wind came up and blew us to the four corners of the world.

Do you hear the similar elements here, there was a sound of rushing wind but it did not disperse the people but caused them to be gathered? At Pentecost each heard the disciples proclaim the news in their own tongue.  I have always found this one of the most significant passages.  It is not just that the Holy Spirit allowed the disciples to speak languages of all the known nations at the time but that the spirit made it also possible for all to hear and understand the message of God in their own tongue.  The message that there is new life and a new way to be in the world. A way free from guilt and persecution for as it was proclaimed at the days of creation it is being proclaimed again; God saw all things under the heavens and proclaimed them all GOOD!

Those 120 disciples were just a handful of rather ordinary men and women, a few fishermen, a couple of housewives, a former tax collector, a few farmers, some children and some servant girls. Yet through these ordinary people God built a Church which has lasted now for over 2,0000 years. In less than 300 years, that small, insignificant Jewish sect became the official religion of the entire Roman Empire and today the Church of Jesus Christ circles the globe and numbers some one billion members.

How did they do it? What happened to those 120 followers in the year 30 A.D. on the day we call Pentecost? Those 120 followers that came in contact with the unknown God. Yes, that is right, those 120 followers experienced  the unknown God.  They experienced what was beyond words of human expression, what was beyond human experience. They were baptized by God’s Spirit, or the Holy Spirit.

For many Christians the events of Pentecost, the events of God’s spirit coming is one of the 4 major festivals of the church year. Today we celebrate the coming of God’s spirit, the Holy Spirit into the lives of men and woman, today we celebrate the birthday of the church. But, if you didn’t come to church today, if you maybe hadn’t read your daily devotional booklet, or perhaps if you hadn’t looked at the church calendar, you would have not known this was a major festival of the church year. Today is just as important as Christmas, just as important as Easter, just as important as the festival of the Ascension, but for some unknown reason, this festival, this holiday in the church year goes by, for many, almost unnoticed. Why is that?

Maybe because we have a difficult time getting a handle on the Spirit of God or maybe, we don’t understand what exactly happened on this day. And maybe, talk about the Spirit is not so sweet as talk about a baby born in a manager, angels singing in the heavens, gifts being passed about and shepherds tending their sheep on quiet hillsides. It is definetly not as cute as a bunny delivering candy, and not as pretty as colored eggs.

Maybe Pentecost doesn’t get so much attention because we have not found a way to commercialize it, we don’t turn Pentecost into a cultural extravaganza, or into a national holiday, so it goes by, in most places, unnoticed.

But, this festival, this holiday is very important for the life of the church, for your life and my life. The Spirit of God is not something we should fear, nor something we should ignore, but the Holy Spirit is God’s presence in this world. It is the same presence that was moving over the face of the earth when God created this world in which we live. It is that same presence that took the form of a baby born in a manager in Bethlehem, it is the same spirit of God that walked the earth for 33 years, teaching, healing, proclaiming the love of God for all people embodied in Jesus Christ. And now, today, it is that same spirit that is with us, it is God’s spirit alive and well on this earth, working through God’s people, the church, to bring love and forgiveness into the brokenness of this world.

Today we celebrate God’s Power in the form of spirit at work here in this church and our world. Now
Power can be used in at least two ways: it can be unleashed, or it can be harnessed. The energy in ten gallons of gasoline, for instance, can be released explosively by dropping a lighted match into the can. Or it can be channeled through the engine of a Datsun in a controlled burn and used to transport a person 350 miles. Explosions are spectacular, but controlled burns have a lasting effect, staying power.

The Holy Spirit works both ways. At Pentecost, she exploded on the scene; Her presence was like "tongues of fire" (Acts 2:3). Thousands were affected by one burst of God’s power. But She also works through the church--the institution, here the Holy Spirit’s power is working for the long haul. Through worship, fellowship, and service, Christians are provided with staying power.

God’s Holy Spirit comes quietly, it comes in slowly, but it comes to us with enough power so that we might do the work that God has called and leads each of us to do. There is a power, a force and for many an untapped force in each of our lives, that is the Holy Spirit. Many times it is not dramatic, it does not cause us to do dramatic things, but it is there to give us the power to live the kind of lives, to be the kind of people that God intended us to live and be.

The nature of this spirit empowers us to live first of all pointing to Christ. The kind of life God intends for us to live points not to us, not to our accomplishments, but to the Lord of Life, Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit works with our spirit so that we might experience the righteousness of Christ in our lives.

It is this Spirit that comes into our lives, into the church to allow us to spread God’s message of love to all people. It is this Spirit which points not to itself, but to Christ. It is this Spirit which allows us to point not to ourselves, but to Christ. It is this Spirit which makes the church, the Body of Christ, the most unique organization on the face of the earth.

The church is the most amazing organization in the world! And my friends you and I are part of it, not because we did anything, but because the Holy Spirit has lead us, because the Gospel and the Life of Jesus has taught us. The Holy Spirit gathers together, enlightens and makes holy all people on earth and keeps Holy the earth herself.
The power of the Holy Spirit was brought into the world this day over 2000 years ago, and that power is still present today through us and within the church.

Yes, we are welcomed again to the Pentecost event in the Year 2017!!

Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the church,
when the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God came into the
church and gave the church life.

God loves us so much that God gives us the Holy Spirit, God's
own presence to live inside us. We can't really see the Spirit anymore than we can see the air around us. But we can feel the air, the wind blowing, can't we?  We can see it when the tree
limbs are moving.  So, too, we can feel the Spirit in our lives when we are moved to love God and love others, to worship God and to serve God.

Yet to do nothing and wait and hope for a nudging from the spirit is not what we are called too.  The spirit calls us to engage actively in a spiritual life, to seek out times of quite with God , to seek out times of prayer, to seek out times of ministry where we engage God and the spirit in the world.  Just as a child learns the difference between stillness and a gentle breeze we must engage in practices so we can detect and learn to recognize the moving of God’s spirit in our lives.

God gives us so many wonderful gifts and the church is just one of them. Tell me, what do you like about the church, this church, On this the birthday of the church, what's special to you about it? Go ahead shout out an answer…

The church is first and above all - the people of God   united and empowered by God to show God's love to world.

On a birthday, you usually give a gift, don't you?  Well, on this birthday of the church we do not so much give gifts to the church as we offer back to God the fruit of the gift that was given the
Church when it was born.  We celebrate what God has given! Rick Kirchoff, Germantown United Methodist Church said this in 2001 at the Opening remarks to the Memphis Annual Conference of the Methodist churches.

When God sends forth the Spirit amazing things happen:

barriers are broken,
communities are formed,
opposites are reconciled,
unity is established,
disease is cured,
addiction is broken,
cities are renewed,
races are reconciled,
hope is established,
people are blessed,
and church happens.

Today the Spirit of God is present
and we’re gonna‚ have church.

So be ready, get ready...God is up to something... discouraged folks cheer up,
dishonest folks ’fess up,
sour folks sweeten up,
closed folk, open up,
gossipers shut up,
conflicted folks make up,
sleeping folks wake up,
lukewarm folk, fire up,
dry bones shake up,
and pew potatoes stand up!
But most of all, Christ the Savior of all the world is lifted Glory

Yes, welcome to the Pentecost event, 2017, and Happy Birthday to the church!