July 9 Devotional

This devotional was originally written for First Congregational Church of Wareham, MA.

“You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it.” Psalm 65, verse 9

I love reading the psalms because no matter how you are feeling there is something for you in the psalms. If you are feeling angry, there are great psalms to help you express that anger. If you are feeling sad or alone, there are psalms crying out for God to make God’s presence known. And when you are feeling happy, there are many psalms of praise. 

The variety of emotions expressed in the psalms can also help us to feel whatever our feelings are and not wish them away. God’s people have been there before and we will get through it. I once heard a church member say that they appreciated the psalms because when they felt so lost, the psalms provided the words to find their way back to faith.

Psalm 65 is a psalm of praise and lifts up praise for God’s sustaining involvement. God is involved with us as a people, both individually and communally. Sometimes as humans we may have a difficult time remembering that we are not doing this all on our own. Our own egos can, on occasion, get in our own way. God is never absent, even if it may appear that way or feel that way.

God is present and involved in the environment. Psalm 65 has beautiful imagery, like in verse 9 “You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water.” This past week I was reminded of the power of God through a summer rainstorm. When was the last time you were caught in the rain? I don’t mean just a little sprinkle. I mean the type of rain where your clothes are soaked, shoes full of water, caught in the rain. We might not always feel like laughing at the time, but I think there is nothing like a powerful rainstorm to remind us that God’s power is much greater than our own. 

Psalm 65 reminds us that God cares about our simple needs, like sending rain to nourish the earth. There is no prayer too big or too small for God. As we also saw in the Parable of the Sower, God provides and provides abundantly. 

The words of Psalm 65 I believe are echoed in the lyrics of a contemporary Christian worship song, “So Will I (100 Billion X)” by Hillsong United.

“If the stars were made to worship so will I

If the mountains bow in reverence so will I

If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I”

We can look to creation and nature when we are unsure how to praise God. If you are going through a difficult time and maybe don’t feel like praising God, that’s okay too. Just like nature praises God without seemingly doing anything, our presence is enough. God loves us just as we are. Amen.

Grace and peace to you in the week ahead,
Pastor Laura

July 7 Devotional

This devotional was originally written for First Congregational Church of Wareham, MA.

“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” Matthew 13:8

This week I have been reading and reflecting on the Parable of the Sower (view the full parable online here). This is a familiar parable found in the three synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. A sower scatters seed across the road, in the rocks, in thorns, and, finally, in good soil. Predictably, the seeds that are not planted in good soil shrivel and do not reap a good harvest. 

The parables that Jesus tells always have hidden meaning behind the initial story. In this parable, we might wonder why the sower so liberally spreads the seeds all over the place. It seems like there is no thought or intention behind where the seeds are being sown and, as a result, most of the seeds are lost. 

I wonder if instead of scattering the seed everywhere, we might work together as a Christian community to prepare the soil. I am not a farmer, but I have helped out on occasion at a community garden. In order to reap a bountiful harvest, we should know the soil where we are planting. What are possible predators in the area? Should we guard our harvest against rabbits or deer with fencing and netting? We might even want to know more intricate details like, what is the pH balance? We can plow the soil, prepare it with compost, and sketch out a plan for our garden. 

I believe that all of these preparations help to identify two paths in the parable. There is the path of practicality and the path of miracles.

The seeds that were planted into good soil reap a hundredfold harvest. This detail is easy to skip over when reading or listening to the text. But it is an important detail. I confess that I didn’t really understand the significance of a “hundredfold harvest” in my initial reading of this passage. When I was studying this passage, I read an explanation from another pastor, Talitha Arnold, who conveyed the significance of the hundredfold harvest. 

Arnold explained that a sevenfold harvest would be a good year for a farmer. A tenfold harvest would be true abundance and a thirtyfold harvest would feed an entire village for a year. But a hundredfold harvest would be a miracle and the farmer could retire to a villa on the sea of Galilee.

This familiar Parable of the Sower is actually a miracle story!

God already knows the soil we are planted on and scatters the seeds in our midst. While human hands might sow the seeds and they will shrivel, God brings forth abundance. We are called as Christians to believe in God’s abundant harvest and celebrate the seeds that have been planted. I encourage you in the day ahead to reflect on where you see God’s abundance in your daily life? What miraculous harvest awaits you?

Grace and peace to you in the week ahead,
Pastor Laura

Reading Life Update

We are about halfway through the year and I thought I would write a little reading life update. I am on track to read 60 books this year. Here is a recap of some of my favorites.

My favorite book of January was The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. I listened to it on audio and it is read by Tom Hanks. The Dutch House is a lovely novel telling the story of a brother and sister over the course of nearly fifty years. If you are looking for a good fiction book to get lost in, I highly recommend this book.

Most of my reading in February was focused on academic books, but my favorite book that month was another audiobook. I listened to Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements by Charlene Carruthers (read by the author). This book had been on my radar since Carruthers visited Yale Divinity School in 2018. Here is a good explanation of why you should read this book:

“Charlene Carruthers is a powerful organizer, radical thinker, paradigm-shifter, and one of the most influential political voices of her generation. Anyone seriously interested in the struggle for Black liberation in this country needs to listen carefully to what she has to say.”

—Barbara Ransby, author of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement and Making All Black Lives Matter

Considering the major ways the world changed in March, I still managed to read some good books that month. My favorite was The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage by Joan Chittister. It is a slim book, but it packs a punch. Sister Joan writes about prophetic spirituality to resist oppression and injustice. Very timely and the short chapters are easy to read whenever you have a few minutes.

During the stay-at-home time of the pandemic, I read a few pages each day from The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery by Henri Nouwen. It was a wonderful book to savor. It really is a diary of Nouwen’s seven-month sabbatical at Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York. Nouwen is self-reflective, without being too self-conscious, and examines the busyness of his normal daily life as an academic. I shared the quote below on my Facebook page in April.

“I wonder if I really have listened carefully enough to the God of history, the God of my history, and have recognized the Divine when God called me by my name, broke the bread, or asked me to cast out my nets after a fruitless day? Maybe I have been living much too fast, too restlessly, too feverishly, forgetting to pay attention to what is happening here and now, right under my nose. Just as a whole world of beauty can be discovered and one flower, so the great grace of God can be tasted in one small moment. Just as no great travels are necessary to see the beauty of creation, so no great ecstasies are needed to discover the love of God. But you have to be still and wait so that you can realize that God is not in the earthquake, the storm, or the lightning, but in the gentle breeze with which God touches your back.”

From Henri Nouwen’s The Genesee Diary, pages 94-95.

Once I turned in final papers, I enjoyed devouring seven books in May! A highlight of my May reading list was Grace Is a Pre-Existing Condition: Faith, Systems, and Mental Healthcare by David Finnegan-Hosey. This book was just published in February 2020. I had pre-ordered my copy because I really enjoyed David’s first book, Christ on the Psych Ward. Again I shared a favorite quote from this book on Facebook.

“In our current social and political crisis, it’s important to keep in mind that whole systems need to change. No single thing is going to be the one thing that does it. We need to acknowledge that and try not to get defensive about it. The one or three things that I can focus on today – the protest I can attend, the representative I can call – isn’t going to fix everything. We can’t all move everything at once. Care for yourself and for others, knowing that the struggle is both urgent and long-term. Pick a place you think you can intervene. Do it knowing that your actions are part of a larger system.”

Grace is a Pre-existing Condition by David Finnegan-Hosey, page 92.
When I was in high school, I had this white cover paperback edition of the book. We decorated the covers, similar to this one I found online.

We are almost at the end of June and I have finished eight books this month. Interestingly enough, this month I read three books on Kindle, listened to three on audio, and only two were physical paperbacks. I might have re-read a book for the first time ever. Since the beginning of the year, I could not stop thinking about The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Over a few days this month, I re-read this classic. It was interesting to read this book again about fifteen years after my first reading. The first time I read the book I was about the same age as Holden. I don’t think I realized how much trauma Holden had suffered with the death of his younger brother and the death by suicide of a classmate. I am very glad I re-read it and it gave me a lot to think about.

Another book I finished reading in June was Part-Time is Plenty: Thriving Without Full-Time Clergy by G. Jeffrey MacDonald. Newly published in April 2020, I participated in a four-week book group organized by The BTS Center. From late May to mid-June, we met for one hour a week to discuss sections of the book. The book group greatly enriched my reading experience. I recommend Part-Time is Plenty to my clergy colleague friends. The book is full of ideas for your full or part-time ministry.

What have you been reading or listening to? If you want to know all of the books that I have read so far in 2020, check out my Goodreads account. I regularly update my reading list there. Happy reading!

UCC MID Virtual Gathering

On Thursday, June 18 nearly 100 UCC Members in Discernment gathered on Zoom to connect and hear from the various staff at the National Office. I’m providing a brief recap for friends and colleagues who were unable to attend the live events.

First, I want to express my gratitude to the National Staff for their hard work to provide this opportunity to MIDs. COVID-19 disrupted life and work rhythms for many people. Traditionally, there is an in-person gathering for MIDs at the UCC National Office in Cleveland, Ohio. The National Staff didn’t want MIDs to miss out on the opportunity to connect and therefore worked to replicate as much of the traditional event as possible.

Our day began at 9AM with introductions of the full MESA staff. A listing of the MESA team and the responsibilities of each person are available here. MESA stands for Ministerial Excellence, Support, and Authorization. I felt like I was swimming in acronyms by midday! MESA, COM, MOM, MID, CARDD, etc. It helps to remember to ask if something is unclear. We need to advocate for ourselves as MIDs.

From 10AM to 10:30AM we were greeted by Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, Rev. Traci Blackmon, and Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson. It was great to hear from each of them and know that they care about MIDs.

Rev. Traci Blackmon addressing UCC Members in Discernment via Zoom on June 18, 2020.

The remainder of the morning was spent in small group time. When we registered we were instructed to share where we were in the MID process: discovery, progressing, transforming. It was a little confusing since I had never heard those words before. But Discovery is early in the MID process, under one year as a MID. Progressing is the middle phase. Transforming is coming to the end of the MID process, looking towards search and call.

The small group time was helpful to connect with other MIDs in a similar phase. Each group was given some discussion questions. My group discussed what was causing anxiety for us in our current phase and what were we doing to reduce or calm the anxiety. Many in the group mentioned how it is a challenging time to be in search and call. Some were working on ordination papers and having trouble focusing due to the stress of the pandemic and life circumstances (loss of employment, caring for children, health concerns, etc).

Later in the day we had another opportunity to be in small group time and my group spent most of the time getting to know each other more. We shared where we were in the MID process, where we were located, and what kind of ministry we felt called to. Truthfully, this was one of the few opportunities I have had to connect with UCC MIDs outside of Divinity School. I would say the personal connections were one of the major benefits to this National MID Virtual Gathering. There are two ways for MIDs to connect moving forward. A Slack chat was spontaneously set up during the gathering as a way to share information outside of the Zoom chat box. And there is a pre-existing UCC MID Facebook group. If you need assistance connecting to either of those resources, please let me know.

The afternoon sessions were the content heavy time. Attendees received presentations on the Manual on Ministry and the Marks for Ministry. You can view the Manual on Ministry (MOM) online. There are various documents available online for Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers. I’m including a link here to what I think is the MOST helpful version of the document. Personally, I like the longer document I’ve linked to because it helps give examples and context for the Marks. Some COMs (Committees on Ministry) use the Marks along your journey as a MID, but others do not. However, whether you are super familiar with the Marks or not, you need to write and reflect on them when you are crafting a profile to find a UCC ministry job in the search and call process. The longer Marks document is helping me to prepare my profile.

We also received presentations on the search and call process, setting up a profile, different types of covenant agreements, and basic guidance on call agreement. Most search and call information is available online here. One helpful document that was brought to my attention, which you can find via the previous link, is a sample call agreement. Another new resource I learned about at this gathering is a shared Google Document, “Conducting a Pastoral Search During a Pandemic.” This document is helpful for churches and for MIDs and pastors who are currently searching and unable to gather in person due to COVID-19.

There were afternoon breakout sessions with various presentations. Obviously I could only attend one, but I heard great things about the various groups and the information that was shared. A good way to stay connected to the UCC and all of the various work they are doing is via email. I believe that the primary UCC email newsletter is KYP: Keeping You Posted. Be sure as an MID that you are also getting emails from your conference and association, as applicable. Personally, I get regular email newsletters from the Potomac Association (where I am a MID), the Central Atlantic Conference, the Southern New England Conference, and, most recently, the Vermont Conference, because I am working with some UCC churches in Northeast Vermont this summer. These various email newsletters are a great way to learn what the UCC is doing at various local/regional levels and discover different types of ministries in the area.

Our final afternoon session was with the Pension Boards. They put together this great little YouTube video to walk us through the variety of programs and departments at the Pension Boards. I definitely recommend watching the video. This link goes directly to the Pension Boards website.

The long day on Zoom concluded with final reflections and a closing worship, but I was unable to attend past 5:30PM.

Overall, as I said at the beginning, I am very grateful to the National Office for coordinating a virtual MID gathering on a time crunch. The ability to connect is a blessing. However, technology was not always our friend throughout the day. And I think that the schedule was overly ambitious. A more comfortable schedule might have been two half days, or even one night a week for a month. I hope that the MESA team continues to provide these virtual gatherings because for many people physically traveling to Cleveland for an in-person gathering is a challenge, due to other employment, child care, health, etc.

I think it is so important for UCC MIDs to support each other and connect as best we can. If you have questions about something I shared, please let me know. If you don’t have my email, the best way to contact me is on Facebook Messenger, my Facebook profile is public. And I look forward to virtually connecting at General Synod 2021.

Sermon at First Congregational Church of Hudson, February 2020

Note: I preached at all three services at First Congregational Church of Hudson in Hudson, Ohio on February 16, 2020. Recordings of the 10:30 AM and 11:59 AM service can be found on the church website by scrolling to the services recorded on that day. Below is the manuscript I used for the 10:30 AM service.

It is a pleasure to be here this morning and worship together. Thank you very much to Rev. Wiley for the invitation to preach here this morning. As he mentioned, I grew up in this congregation. My family moved to Hudson when I was in the 4th grade. We began attending church here about twenty years ago. First Congregational Church of Hudson has had a lasting impact on my faith journey.

When I read this Psalm, I think back to the ways that I learned about God’s commandments here in this church, through Sunday school lessons in the classrooms downstairs. This community is where I learned what it means to walk in the way of the Lord.

Our Psalm this morning, while we only heard 8 verses in our reading, is actually the longest Psalm in the book, it has 176 total verses. It is written in an acrostic style where each section begins with the same letter. Our 8 verses this morning all begin with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, alef.

As we read the Psalm, we hear a theme of following the commandments or laws of God. In the eight verses we heard, there are several different words mentioned for this same theme, in addition to laws and commandments, we also read of statutes, ordinances, and precepts. Another interesting thing about this Psalm though is that even if we read all 176 verses, the Psalm never specifically mentions what those laws of God are. One reason scholars speculate why no laws are specifically mentioned is because this is meant to be a teaching Psalm. In ancient times, like now, students learn best through example, rather than being told exactly what to do. This is another reason why this Psalm resonates with my faith development which took place here at First Congregational Church of Hudson. 

In Sunday School, we were not drilled on Bible verses, but instead were shown by example how to follow God. One particular way I believe I was formed as a Christian in this community was the peer mentorship that informally took place, in particular through the high school youth group. I learned what it means to walk in the way of the Lord by participating in the life of the church. 

When the Psalmist says, “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD,” they are not writing in judgment. The Psalmist is writing of the joy that has come into their life while they have been following God’s path. I stand before you this morning to share a similar message of the joy I have found through walking in the way of the Lord. 

How does one figure out how to follow the laws of the Lord? Where do we learn about God’s decrees or commandments? We learn by example and through community. My childhood memories of Sunday School here were being loved and valued. While I might not be able to recall a specific lesson on the ten commandments or divine law, I know deep in my heart that the roots of God’s loving message were planted here.

I learned what it means to be a faithful Christian through the examples of those adults who spent time with the children and youth of the church. Through the generous support of this church, I spent two summers in high school working as a Summer Missionary. We worked at different sites around downtown Akron each week, including OPEN M, Community AIDS Network, and Miller Avenue UCC. Working and learning about these organizations instilled in me the idea of a faith that does justice.

One of my favorite games to play as a member of the youth group here at the church was Sardines. Sardines is like hide and go seek, but in reverse. One person goes to hide and after a few minutes, the others go and try to find them and then hide with them. Learning the rules is an important part of having fun playing a game. Recently, I gathered with a few other seminary students to play a new board game. The game we were playing was called Commissioned. It was a very nerdy game well suited for a group of students preparing to become future ministers. The board game Commissioned is about the apostles and early church leaders who were “commissioned” to go out and spread the Gospel. Now this was a new game and none of us had ever played it before. It took us about thirty minutes into playing the game before we had an understanding of the rules and how we were supposed to play. We started to have fun with the various steps and actions involved in game play. But then after almost two hours of playing Commissioned, one of my friends realized that we had actually been playing the wrong way and we wouldn’t be able to finish the game.

Imagine our frustration! We had been playing a board game for two hours with the wrong rules. Now by sharing this story, I don’t mean to suggest that life is a game that you can win at. But instead to reflect that we try our best to follow the commandments God has set out for us. God created us and wants us to enjoy the game of life! I think that one other lesson that can come from the failed attempt at playing the Commissioned game is the importance of mentors and a supportive community. We were trying our best with only a rule book to guide us. But if we had someone with experience guiding us, we would have been more successful. Part of enjoying the game is the importance of the people on the journey with you.

Rules, laws and commandments: these are commonly understood words. But one word I’ve mentioned a few times is not as familiar as the others, precepts. I learned about precepts through a book club I was in a few years ago. This particular book group was determined to choose a different genre of book each month. One of the members of our book club was a fourth grade teacher and suggested that we try a children’s literature book called Wonder. Wonder by RJ Palacio is the story of August, aka Auggie, a fifth grade boy with a medical condition which left him with facial differences. It is an incredible book that I highly recommend reading. Also I recommend reading the book because the book is always better than the movie – even if the movie does star Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay.

In Wonder, Auggie’s fifth grade teacher is Mr. Browne. Mr. Browne teaches his class about precepts. He says that a precept is: “Like a motto! Like a famous quote. Like a line from a fortune cookie. Any saying or ground rule that can motivate you. Basically, a precept is anything that helps guide us when making decisions about really important things.”

Mr. Browne gives his class a new precept each month. For example, his precept for February is: “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” That quote comes from James Thurber, an American cartoonist.  When my book club gathered to discuss Wonder, we each created our own precepts. I spent a lot of time thinking about the one quote that I would share with my book club friends. In the end, my precept came from Winne the Pooh’s Grand Adventure, “Promise me you’ll always remember: you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

I wonder if you have a precept that you live by? Is there one quote or phrase that helps you to make important decisions? Whether it is scripture found in the Bible, or a quote from your favorite comedian, author, or person, I invite you to take a moment in the week ahead to think what your precept might be. And if you are willing, to share your precept with someone in the future. Like the Psalmist writing about their joy found in God’s commandments and precepts, part of each of our lifelong faith journey is learning from one another and sharing what helps us along the way.

If you leave here this morning with only one thing, let it be this: know that you are loved by God. Whether you are faithfully in the pews each Sunday, or this is your first time back at church in years, we are all trying our best each day to walk in the way of the Lord. No matter how far you stray, we remember our Savior Jesus Christ tells us that he will leave the 99 in order to ensure that the lost one is safe and found. When you walk through the doors on a Sunday morning, you are welcomed into a Christian community that is all striving to follow the path of Jesus and walk humbly with our God. This path is not only for those who are “blameless.” Walking in the way of the Lord is for those who have followed all of the commandments AND for those who have broken all of the commandments and precepts. Because God’s grace is overflowing. When you gather together each Sunday for worship, there is an opportunity to confess your sins and receive forgiveness. The ministers here say those words, you are forgiven.

As a child of God, who was raised in the faith in this congregation, it brings me joy to remind you that you, yes each of you, is a beloved child of God. Would you pray with me?

Dear God, I ask your blessing over First Congregational Church of Hudson. I ask you to be with each person here as they continue to walk in the way of the Lord. Help us to follow the path of those who guide us in the faith. Give us strength for the journey and help us to spread your love. Amen.

“What is grace?” Sermon

This sermon was preached on October 27, 2019 at Bolton Congregational UCC in Bolton, CT. I am grateful to the loving and welcoming congregation in Bolton for opening their pulpit to me! Special thanks to First Congregational Church of Griswold, CT where I first considered this topic, “what is grace?” and to my Preaching section, led by Ned Parker, where I workshopped this sermon.

What is grace?

This question was brought to me at the church I was pastoring this summer. One week I invited the congregation to share questions with me for use in a future worship service. Now I certainly don’t presume to have all of the answers, but I believe that in asking questions together we can each grow in our faith. And I share this question with you this morning because I think the question, “What is grace?” is more common than the one individual who submitted it, or the one congregation that thought about it over the summer. When I read the news headlines or talk with friends in many different communities, I see a world that needs a reminder about God’s grace.

When we think about grace, maybe the first thing that comes to mind is a blessing before a meal. Like I shared with the children, when I was younger that was my understanding of grace – saying the words before dinner, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord, Amen.” This type of grace is a way of saying or offering thanks to God before a meal.

Grace before a meal doesn’t have to be the formal version of a prayer, maybe you will try out one of those fun camp prayers that I shared with kids, “Rub a dub dub/ Thanks for the grub/ Yay God! Amen.” Saying a prayer before sharing a meal together is one simple way to pause and remind ourselves of God’s grace.

But what IS grace?

Grace can seem like a murky concept or a fluffy word. I think the core of grace is relationships: our relationship with God, our relationship with ourselves, and our relationship with others.

Grace is often hard to grasp because we can’t see it. And while we can’t see grace, I believe that we can sometimes feel it. For example, to be “held in God’s grace” might remind us of a time when we felt alone, but felt God’s comforting presence with us. Or to be “held in God’s grace” could mean a physical embrace of a friend supporting us in a time of mourning a loved one.

Grace is about relationships because grace is how God is in relationship with us. We have flaws, we make mistakes, we fail, and God still loves us and stays in relationship with us. God’s grace is unearned, undeserved, and even unexpected.

As Christians, we are called to be in community with one another. As humans, we struggle to have grace for ourselves and for each other. Maybe you even have an easier time showing grace for another person than you do for yourself?

My own lesson in understanding grace came while living in Christian community in Washington DC. I lived in a house with four other adults. Five adults in one house requires a bit of negotiation and, as I learned, having grace for one another. Five adults sharing one kitchen and two bathrooms requires coordination and grace. But let me tell you, GRACE doesn’t clean the kitchen!

We were five adults who had our own chore chart. Just like you might see on Pinterest. A laminated piece of paper that lived on our fridge and instructed who was responsible for which chore for the month. One person was in charge of garbage, making sure the bins were taken out of the backyard and into the alley on the correct day. One person was in charge of outside, sweeping the front porch, weeding as needed, or snow shoveling in the winter. Another person was in charge of floors, sweeping and dusting. And one person was responsible for the kitchen.

Granted each person was supposed to clean up after themselves when they cooked. But usually the kitchen was the center of all disasters. Five adults sharing one fridge – things had a habit of getting buried in the fridge and turning into what could have been science experiments. I often found myself growing frustrated by the sense of disorder and chaos that was lurking in the kitchen. I would become irritated when the roommate responsible for the kitchen did not perform what I deemed an adequate job keeping it clean. I expressed my frustration to another roommate. This roommate gently nudged me by asking me if I could consider extending grace to the roommate who had not been cleaning up the kitchen. Grace? Honestly this was a little bit of a foreign concept for me. In my family, I am the oldest child. I have a younger brother and younger sister. And growing up, my siblings jokingly would call me the “Fairness Police” because of the frequency that I claimed “That’s not fair!” to our parents.

So what would it mean for me to try out grace as a response to my roommate who was frustrating me? I remember sitting down and praying to God. At first I felt a little unsure. But I sat in my room listening for God’s still speaking voice. I asked God to help me find grace for my roommate.

Through my time of prayer, I was able to see my roommate in a new light. Rather than first growing frustrated over the mess in the kitchen, I instead remembered how stressed they had been lately at work. They were unhappy in their job and searching for a new one. They spent more time in their own room than in our common spaces because of their stress and job search. Through prayer and reflection, I was able to consider grace as a response.

Why do we struggle to understand grace? I believe that we often find grace challenging because our faith is counter-cultural. The grace that we experience through God is not supported by our surrounding culture. A counter-cultural faith is what the letter to the Ephesians is addressing as well. Our reading from Ephesians reminds us as Christians that we are called to new life through Christ. God’s grace offers us blessings, even when we feel unworthy, even when we make mistakes. God is faithful and God’s grace is freely given. We do not need to work for God’s grace.

How do we grapple with our own counter-cultural faith? Society tells us that there is no such thing as a free lunch, we have to work hard to get rewarded. American culture emphasizes bettering yourself and often idolizes independence, a can-do or do-it-yourself attitude.

Keep working at your job, keep working to make yourself more physically fit, keep working at your relationship with your spouse to make it better. Keep working, keep working, keep working.

BUT God tells us to rest. God tells us, You are enough.

God made you and you are loved. We do not need to earn God’s grace the same way you might earn money or negotiate a raise. This requires trust.

Extending grace in our relationships with others can be complicated. Grace is not an excuse for domestic violence or abuse. Divine grace does not allow for one person to hold power over another.

What is grace? Each of you gathered here today have your own story and experience of grace. After the service this morning, I encourage you to consider sharing a story about a time that you experience God’s grace or you were able to extend grace to yourself. During our musical meditation following the sermon, maybe think back to a time when you experienced God’s grace. Consider sharing this story with another person today or sometime in the week ahead. What is grace to you?

I’d like to close with a blessing of grace from Rev. Ellen Jennings, the pastor of my home church, Cleveland Park Congregational UCC in Washington DC. Hear now these words of blessing:

Grace. Is about second chances. And third and fourth and fifth… Grace comes when you don’t deserve it. Or maybe you do. But it’s not dependent on you. And you can mess up [again and again] and grace is still possible. […] Grace is possibility. Grace is redemption. Grace is what you get when you thought it couldn’t happen. […] Grace knows transformation is always happening. Grace tries to tell us we’re capable of being different even while being loved just as we are. […] Grace precedes us. Grace accompanies us. Grace surpasses us. Grace surprises us. Graces comes after us—both pursuing and completing us. […] Grace is what “it” is all about. Growth. Change. Transformation. Reconciliation. Love—of neighbor and of self. […][1]

To all of God’s beloved community gathered here this morning:

Grace to you and peace from God who is both Father and Mother and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


[1] Link to church website where Rev. Ellen Jennings words on grace can be found: https://cpcchurch.org/

Send me Jesus – Prayers of the People

I wrote these Prayers of the People for worship in Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School on September 23, 2019. There was a sung response after each paragraph. This YouTube video (video is not from Marquand) includes the corresponding song.

Send me Jesus. God we ask you to send us out into this world, beyond the YDS community. Be with us in our daily interactions around New Haven and all of those we come into contact with. Through our supervised ministries, through our doctor’s visits and car appointments and send us Jesus, into the grocery store and coffee shops. Be with us in those mundane spaces we might not think of as holy and sacred. God send us your Spirit to accompany us and guide us. Send us Jesus. Send me Jesus.

Lead me Jesus. This gathered community are leaders. Some of us are in training to go out and lead others to find you Jesus. Some in this community are teachers leading students to find you. And some are just following on the journey not sure where it is leading. Help us God to continue to follow the lead of our brother Jesus. Help us to remember to follow in the footsteps of all of those wise leaders who have come before us. Lead us Jesus. Lead me Jesus.

Fill me Jesus. God it is Monday morning and we need to be filled! We come before you at the start of this new week. We ask you to fill us with lessons in the classroom. Fill us with wisdom from our readings. Fill us with your Divine grace and love. God we know that you will fill us until our cup overflows. Fill us Jesus. Fill me Jesus.

Send me, lead me, fill me. God we come before you with so many demands. We are bold enough to ask one more. When we feel like the world rests on our shoulders, that we are the only one who can fix the situation, help us to rest. God remind us that we do not have to do it alone. Taking rest is sacred and necessary. Help us to find our rest in you. We lift up all of these prayers in your name, Amen.

Connecticut Bucket List

I have always enjoyed being a tourist in my own backyard and New Haven has served as a wonderful home base for many adventures throughout New England. As I look ahead towards completing my MDiv and anticipating graduation from Yale in May 2020, I have made a Connecticut Bucket List to keep track of the activities I’d like to do around the Nutmeg State. See something that you are interested in doing too? Please let me know!

Photo I took of the exterior of the Wadsworth Atheneum, September 15, 2019.

The list above is what remains on my bucket list. I’ve already crossed off over 20 items in the past two years.