Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task of remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
– Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
Too often, we Americans treat Memorial Day as a holiday without meaning – an extra day at the beach, or on the hiking trails. Probably what I would have done if I had not found myself forced to think about its deeper meaning. Having heard the urgent question about the unfinished work of our war dead – and begun to think about a response – I can say that I am grateful. Today, I understand Memorial Day for what it was meant to be. A reminder, not just of those who have died, but also of the obligation that we, the living, all share. The great task remaining before us, Lincoln called it. The task of every citizen and every religious community. Our task, together.
~ Author unknown
(Rev. Sue Ann Yarbrough)
I think it was three months ago when I received an email from an activity director in a beautiful assisted living community. She advised me that our service was being moved to a smaller activity room. She apologized because the room has no piano. The results of this move have actually been positive. While I do still serve communion, I spend most of my time sitting with them in a circle. This change has ushered in some rich discussions and even some a cappella singing that has gone surprisingly well. We generally use the small spiral bound hymnals that I keep in my car, and the residents pick the hymns they would like to sing.
As we closed this month’s gathering, one of the residents asked if we could sing “Abide with Me.” I was surprised as this is a hymn we are singing this month in SpiritCare, but I had just picked up my materials, and I had not had a chance to sing it. I knew I could not lead it and I asked her if she thought she could.
“Oh, no,” she replied. I explained the situation, and added that we surely we could sing it next month.
Then quiet Mary, who always smiles, but seldom speaks, simply began singing the hymn. We all scrambled to join in (fortunately, the hymnal is alphabetical order).
I was stunned. “Mary, thank you! That was wonderful!” The group also expressed their gratitude.
She smiled her beautiful smile and said, “I used to be a music teacher and I sang in choirs. I can’t read very much any more, and my memory is not good, but this hymn I remember.”
We just celebrated Pentecost. Yesterday, as I moved through a busy skilled nursing community, I heard many languages and conversations. The nursing station was its usual busy hub. The front desk receptionist was valiantly trying to figure out what the caller was really trying to tell her. Some CNAs were being instructed on how to safely feed a patient. Several families were gathered with their loved ones and they were speaking in Tagalog and Cantonese. I had talked about Pentecost in the service, and as I was saying my good-byes, I was thinking about William. I had not seen him in the past few months, but he was in worship yesterday. I told him how glad I was to see him. He looked at me and I sensed recognition, but he did not smile and he said not a word. The activity assistant told me later that William had stopped talking and they did not know why. They cannot understand his silence. As I walked to the parking lot, I found myself feeling wistful about that day of Pentecost when everyone understood what the other was saying, and maybe even not saying. I yearn for that day to return.
Come, Holy Spirit. Abide with us. Help us understand.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless,
O abide with me.
~ Francis Lyte
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other
languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
On Pentecost Sunday, May 15, we celebrate the birth of the church. We know this story as recorded in the Book of Acts: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Peter quotes the prophet Joel to the startled crowd: “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.” Acts 2:17
Each day, visions and dreams are created in the hearts of many in the United Church of Christ. Through the Strengthen the Church offering, they can become a reality. As God calls our congregations to be “church” in new ways, your gift will plant new churches, awaken new ideas in existing churches, and develop spiritual life in our youth and young adults. Because of this offering, many more will hear the good news that “God is still speaking.”
What vision does God have for our church? What does God dream for the many people who are still seeking and yearning for a little love, a little hope, and a reassuring word; people who have not heard the Pentecost message of the unconditional love of our still speaking God?
Each year, we receive a special offering called Strengthen the Church, an offering that invests in the vision of the United Church of Christ. As God calls our congregations to be “church” in new ways, your gift will plant new churches, awaken new ideas in existing churches, and develop spiritual life in our youth and young adults. Because of this offering, many more will hear the good news that “God is still speaking,”
We will receive this offering during the month of May– in honor of the birthday of the church and Pentecost Sunday. We invite you to celebrate by giving to Strengthen the Church.
Your generous gift today ensures a vibrant church tomorrow.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.
This passage was part of the prophecy of Isaiah that was assigned for the second Sunday of Advent in 2011. This 11th verse is one of the many passages in the Bible in which the imagery is maternal but the gender of the One of whom the prophet speaks is clearly masculine.
Several years ago, Dr. Virginia Mollenkott preached for me. Her custom is always to refer to God as “She.” The point that Virginia is trying to make is that the noun God is masculine—as opposed to the feminine Goddess—so, in order to create the correct impression, our language has to include both genders as often as possible.
Despite being written almost entirely by men, and in a completely misogynistic era of history, the Bible contains a remarkable number of references to the feminine Divine. Many, like this one, seem to be almost unintentional or made without the author’s awareness. Perhaps that is a sign of true inspiration. The Spirit is able to speak a word to us despite our resistance to new and expanded understandings.
The limit of language causes anything we say about God to be inherently incomplete and even heretical. That is why strategies such as Virginia Mollenkott’s, and perhaps even the writer of this passage, seem wise. When we consider God, the only ways to gain understanding may be paradox, enigma, and mystery.
In part, that is why fundamentalism is so dangerous, and we all are a bit fundamentalist at times. To state anything absolutely or categorically about God is presumptuous and arrogant. That is why we are called to faith/trust. That seems to be the toughest attitude, which is why it is so important to really listen to the tenderness of images of the Divine like we find in this passage from Isaiah.
I am convinced that until we let our heavenly Mother hold us in her bosom we will never really be able to trust Her love and entrust our lives to that love. Entrusting Her Love may be the best definition of faith.
President, Hope for Peace & Justice
Written by Connie Larkman
United Church of Christ
April 26, 2016
The United Church of Christ has long advocated for sensible, responsible policies to end gun violence. More than 20 years ago, in July of 1995, the General Synod passed three resolutions dealing with guns and violence in our society. This May, the church is amplifying the call for change, encouraging advocacy around stricter gun laws with a sharable video message from one of our congregations forever changed by a shooter with a gun. A new 5-part Bible study will also be introduced.
The Rev. Matthew Crebbin, senior minister of Newtown (Conn.) Congregational UCC, and his community experienced heartbreak and grief after 20 children and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School were lost to “a horrific event of gun violence” in one of the worst mass shootings in our nation’s history.
“For people of faith, this is not a Second Amendment issue; it is a Second Commandment crisis,” said Crebbin. “The near infatuation with the gun is moving dangerously close to becoming a full-blown worship of a false idol. We live in a time when common sense gun safety legislation –– like the strengthening of our national background check system ––cannot pass Congress, even though nearly 90 percent of our citizens support such a law.
“We have allowed fear and apathy to rule when it comes to guns in America. We have allowed the status quo to become perfectly acceptable. As a result, every year 30,000 precious lives –– each one created in God’s image –– are added to a tally that is already far too high.”
“Gun violence is a plague on our society and a modern form of idolatry,” said the Rev. James Moos, UCC national officer and executive minister of Wider Church Ministries. “In this initiative, we will show the human cost of the violence, and provide resources for understanding and action based upon God’s desire that all experience fullness of life.”
“We simply cannot accept the toll of gun violence as the norm in our nation. This is a moral imperative,” said Sandy Sorensen, director of Justice and Witness’ Washington, D.C., office. “How can we, as people of faith, be silent as gun violence takes the lives of children, women and men, at a rate exceeding the death toll of all wars ever fought by the United States? When children must be equipped with bulletproof backpacks to go to school, what do we have to say to this? We cannot find comfort in saying ‘peace, peace’ without committing to the hard work that makes for peace. Engaging in the sometimes difficult dialogue around gun violence is one important step in the process.”
The initiative also looks ahead, urging churches across the UCC to participate in the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath sponsored by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, scheduled for the weekend of Dec. 14-18.
“The context of gun violence is complex –– no one piece of legislation can address it. But we know that gun violence is preventable,” said Sorensen. “We have the means to reduce gun violence. What we seem not to have is the political will to take action, on measures such as strengthening background checks on gun purchases, requiring child safety locks and implementing technology that can prevent guns from being used in violent acts.
“Our culture has a heavy investment in death;
isn’t it time we invested in life and hope?
This is our faith call.”
Redwood City, CA
(Shared driveway with Smart & Final ~
We are at the end of the second parking lot)
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