Transfiguration Sunday

The following sermon was preached at First Congregational Church of Southington on February 14, 2021. At the time our worship service was pre-recorded and streamed on Sunday morning.

A Princess, A Makeover, and the Transfiguration


Mark 9:2-9

9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.


Transfiguration. Maybe that word makes you think of Harry Potter and something magical taking place? In the Harry Potter books and movies, Professor McGonagall taught a class on Transfiguration at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The account from the Gospel of Mark does seem kind of magical. But the kind of Transfiguration we are celebrating today is not the magical Harry Potter kind. 

I know you don’t come to church each Sunday to learn a new vocabulary word, but I think it is important to ground ourselves in what it really means to be transfigured. Merriam-Webster defines transfigure as, “to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance to; transform outwardly and usually for the better.” I think this definition might help us to understand what is taking place during the Transfiguration of Jesus. In the story of the Transfiguration in the Gospels, we read of Jesus who appears in a new way.

Jesus goes up on a mountaintop with three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. Jesus was transfigured before them. This transfiguration can be seen as a miracle. It is a little different from the healing miracles or the feeding miracles Jesus performs. Instead, in the transfiguration, it almost seems like God performs the miracle for Jesus.

During the miraculous time when Jesus is brilliantly shining with a great light, he is visited by Moses and Elijah. Jesus’ disciples can also see Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Peter, recognizing the significance of what is taking place, tells Jesus that they should make three dwelling places on this mountaintop. Possibly to honor Moses and Elijah or maybe to try to preserve the amazing thing they are witnessing. It is likely that Moses and Elijah appear at Jesus’ transfiguration because they were the voices regularly calling Israel back to who they were meant to be as people of God. Moses and Elijah challenged authorities that were leading astray and meeting directly with God. Jesus also will continue to challenge the authorities and it will ultimately lead to his death on a cross. 

The Gospel of Mark tells us that Peter didn’t know what to say and that they were all terrified. The disciples were terrified even BEFORE a cloud overshadowed them and the voice of God calls out, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

The voice of God seems to mark the end the physical act of Transfiguration. The disciples are left standing with Jesus. As they make their way down the mountain, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone about what happened until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Our lectionary assigned reading ends there, but I think it is valuable to look at the next verse. Verse 10 reads, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.” 

I like how human the disciples are in this story. They are terrified, they say and do the wrong things, they have questions, but Jesus doesn’t get frustrated with them. Peter refers to Jesus as Rabbi, Teacher. A few weeks ago, Karlene asked the congregation in a Holy Surprise to think about the best teacher they ever had. Our Gospel reading today gives another example of Jesus as Great Teacher. Jesus doesn’t lecture the disciples about what is taking place. He recognizes that sometimes we learn best by sight and he gives the disciples time to process all they had seen.

Let’s go back to that definition I shared earlier for transfiguration. As I said before, according to Merriam Webster transfigure is “to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance to; transform outwardly and usually for the better.” Some synonyms for transfigure are transform, metamorphose, or make over. There are many different movies and tv shows with makeover scenes.  I want to briefly reflect on one particular movie with a famous makeover scene that I think is worth examining because of some of the similar lessons we might draw from the Gospel story.

The 2001 movie, The Princess Diaries stars Anne Hathaway as high schooler Mia Thermopolis and Julie Andrews as Queen Clarisse Renaldi. Mia Thermopolis at the beginning of the movie is an awkward high school girl with glasses and wild curly hair. Although she has a good heart, she is severely lacking in refinement. Queen Clarisse Renaldi is Mia’s grandmother who informs Mia she is actually a princess and heir to a throne in Genovia. Julie Andrews is the perfect actress for this role with her posh British voice and seemingly natural poise and elegance. After the revelation that Mia is a princess, Queen Clarisse Renaldi instructs her granddaughter on etiquette with various lessons and also helps her get a makeover. Mia Thermopolis post-makeover is nearly unrecognizable. Her wild curls are tamed, contacts replace glasses, and other style enhancements transform the awkward teenage girl into someone who really LOOKS like a princess.

Similar to the disciples who are confused and terrified at Jesus’ transfiguration, Mia’s friends are very confused and maybe even a little frightened. What happened to their best friend? When her outside was changed, did her inner character remain the same?

As we see in most movies with a major makeover or transformation story, outside appearances only tell part of the story. What makes Mia a good princess at the end of the movie is not the fact that she looks the part, but her inner goodness, her sense of humor, and her character, which was always there. For the disciples, the transfiguration is a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus. The voice of God reminds them that Jesus is the Beloved Son of God and instructs them to listen to Jesus. The disciples saw the physical transfiguration of Jesus, but they also knew that there was more than meets the eye with Jesus. Jesus was their Teacher, Leader and Friend. And Jesus knows that when the disciples no longer have him physically present with them, they will need to rely on what lies within, their experiences and memories which are stronger than just physical representation.

Transfiguration Sunday is a transition point in our church year. This Wednesday we will begin the season of Lent. Ash Wednesday is when we remember our mortality. The idea of remembering our mortality might not sit very well this year. We have all been constantly reminded of our mortality during this pandemic. 

During the Transfiguration, the voice from the cloud, the voice of God says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” This instruction from God is very fitting for our Lenten series called “Listen” which will begin on Wednesday.  Each week during Lent Pastor Ron and I will invite you to Listen for God’s still small voice and listen to your own True Self. Listening through prayer as well as meditation on holy texts is an ancient Lenten practice. We will listen to the Scriptures as they lead us on the journey to the cross.

So before we get into the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” we have the opportunity today to celebrate the transfiguration. To remember the glory and majesty of Jesus. Hopefully this mountaintop story can carry us through the valleys of the Lenten season ahead. 

When the disciples walked down from the mountaintop after the transfiguration, they were changed. Maybe not physically any different. But they had been changed by what they saw. May the glory of Jesus also be revealed to us and may we be open to the ways God will be at work among us. Amen.

2020 – Year in Review

As I sit in my apartment on the last day of 2020, reflecting on the many changes of the past 12 months, I feel overwhelming gratitude for all of the unexpected blessings this year held. I realize many faced incredible challenges and hardships due to COVID-19. I personally confronted loss, loneliness, and difficult changes. But when I think about the year as a whole, I am filled with love for the many new people in my life, as well as time spent with good friends and family. I am excited for the year ahead. I anticipate continuing to settle into my apartment in Middletown and the church community in Southington in 2021. For my own enjoyment and to celebrate the joy of those with whom I spent the year, I’ve compiled a brief recap of 2020.

January 2020
A highlight of January was leading my third Andover Newton Retreat. These retreats were highlights of my experience at Yale Divinity School. Time on retreat always nourishes my relationships with friends and with God.

February 2020
I had two opportunities to guest preach in February. I traveled home to Ohio and preached at First Congregational Church of Hudson on February 16, 2020. (Little did I know I would be returning to Ohio again only one month later and end up spending almost five months of the year in Ohio?)
I also provided pulpit supply for my friend Rev. Katrina Manzi at the church where she serves, Middlebury Congregational Church.

March 2020
Before lockdown, I traveled with a group of Andover Newton and Yale Divinity School classmates to Arizona and Mexico. I was inspired to organize this trip after Rev. Dr. Randy Mayer spoke at Andover Newton’s Convocation in October 2019. I wrote a brief reflection based on our trip here. There is so much I could say about this trip, but the thing I carried with me for most of the year was how special it was to spend those few extra days with some of my closest friends from Divinity School before we all went our separate ways due to the pandemic.

In the midst of the uncertainty of the early pandemic, I returned home to Ohio to visit with my parents indefinitely. With the anxiety producing news each night, I was grateful to spend the time with my parents. While still finishing graduate school, there was plenty of time for exploring local parks, puzzles, and cooking good food.

April 2020
I finished CPE! I began Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Griffin Hospital in October 2019. The first five months of my internship were filled with many hours visiting patients in the hospital. But when COVID-19 arrived, I shifted to telephone calls and other ways of visiting and caring for people during the pandemic.

I continued to spend a lot of time outside, cooking and doing puzzles!

May 2020
I graduated from Yale Divinity School! After three years of full time study, it felt so good to turn in my final papers.
Another highlight, on the last day of May, I became an Aunt! My brother and his wife had a beautiful baby boy, Cole. I didn’t get to meet him in person until July.

June 2020
After 10+ weeks “visiting” my parents in Ohio, I drove back to Connecticut to move out of my New Haven apartment. This was a bittersweet move. I loved my cozy little apartment, Fisher Hall #504, especially the bookshelves! Leaving a place you love is especially hard when you don’t quite know where you are going next… however, by the end of the month I did!

Amidst the packing, I enjoyed getting to socially distanced visit with friends who I hadn’t seen in-person for a few months. One of my favorite things of the year was a walking tour I led! A few friends and I each read The Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. The book is set in New Haven and draws on the Yale Secret Societies for inspiration and magical storytelling. I led a walking tour around New Haven visiting the spots mentioned in the book.

July 2020
My original summer plan had been working with several UCC congregations in Northeast Vermont. I wasn’t able to physically work in Vermont due to the pandemic, but I was able to craft a very meaningful project to work on remotely from Ohio. I interviewed 23 individuals representing congregations across the state of Vermont, primarily focusing on the Northeast Kingdom. I worked very closely with three clergy in particular (Ed, Elisa, and Alyssa) and it is hard to believe I haven’t met them in person yet!

The report that I prepared was downloaded over 100 times! And it was even featured in a news article from the National Office of the United Church of Christ.

August 2020
August was a time for new beginnings! I moved into a new apartment in Middletown, CT. With help from my parents, it felt like home very quickly.

After a brief search and call process earlier in the summer, I had accepted my first call, Associate Pastor at First Congregational Church of Southington. My first day was August 17, 2020. Getting to know the congregation has been a highlight of the year!

Heaven gained a special angel in August. Helen Holmes was my Grandpa’s partner for the past few years. She enlivened our family gatherings and is greatly missed by all who knew her. One of the last times I saw Helen we were enjoying Handel’s ice cream together. Helen loved gift giving and God. I am grateful for the many scripture inspired gifts I received from her and I will always think of her when I see them in my apartment or in my office at church.

September 2020
I enjoyed exploring my new home base. A dear friend from Yale Divinity School, Rev. Helena Martin, is serving the Episcopal church in Southington. Having someone to walk and grab coffee with in my new town is great!
Elizabeth Park Rose Garden had been on my Connecticut Bucket List since 2019. I finally had a chance to go in September. I look forward to visiting again in the spring!
I also had the pleasure of speaking at a John Carroll University alumni event, “God in All Things: A Reflection and Connection Program.”

October 2020
This was a big month for me professionally – I was ordained! And installed! These two big events happened one week apart, thanks to the grace of God and the support of many clergy, friends, and family.

Another highlight of October (and probably the year) was visiting the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, MA, and Mass MOCA, in North Adams, MA. After not visiting any museums for seven months, the day I spent viewing art at the Clark and Mass MOCA were incredible. Plus the fall foliage was stunning!

November 2020
At the end of November, we said goodbye to our family dog, Marley, who brought us joy every day of his nearly 13 years. I feel like I have seen more friends lose a pet this year than any year before. I am grateful I got to be with my family and Marley for his last days on Earth. He was the best dog!

I enjoyed another art excursion visiting Storm King Art Center in New Windsor, NY. The day I visited was a little gray and rainy, but I didn’t let that dampen my spirits. I wandered around the large art installations and the grounds for nearly three hours and then stopped for lunch in Newburgh, NY. I hope to return to Storm King again next spring or summer.

December 2020
A pandemic birthday was celebrated with lunch outside and a walk with a friend!

Advent is my favorite season in church life and this Advent was filled with many blessings at First Congregational Church of Southington. One highlight was organizing my first Christmas pageant, “Mary, You’re On Mute,” which took place via Zoom.

This was my first year co-leading worship on Christmas Eve and it was certainly a year to remember. We had a lovely outdoor service at 2 PM. The 5 PM service might have been rainy, but the Holy Spirit came through as we cracked our glowsticks for “Silent Night.”

Even though I was technically on my own on Christmas Day, I didn’t feel lonely with multiple Zoom calls and Facetime sessions with family in Ohio. In the morning, we all made a cocktail/mocktail mimosas together!

Looking ahead to 2021
As I said at the beginning, I am so grateful for those who I shared this year with (whether we connected in person or online). I dream of safely visiting those near and dear to me and I hope that will be possible in 2021. Whatever the New Year has in store, I’ll be ready with a book and a puzzle!

Favorite Reads of 2020

It doesn’t really need to be said again… but wowza! 2020 was a YEAR. Even with all of the emotional ups and downs of the pandemic year (plus finishing graduate school remotely, virtual graduation, moving to a new town, and starting a new job), I still managed to read some great books.

In fact, I read more books this year than ever before! According to my Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge, I have finished 81 books. 

This was the year of audiobooks for me – I read/listened to about 35 audiobooks. Thanks to the Libby app and library cards, I borrowed many audiobooks each month. I tend to listen to audiobooks when I am driving (anything more than 10 minutes), cleaning, cooking, or doing dishes. In the fall, I listened to many while walking around my new neighborhood. 

About half of the books I read this year were physical copy and, unlike other years,  I read fewer than 10 books on my Kindle. I didn’t actually finish many Kindle books, as I tended to use my Kindle for a lot of reading for school. I like the highlighting and note taking feature on Kindle books and it helped when writing papers for graduate school. Most of my school reading isn’t counted in my books read tally because I didn’t usually read a book cover to cover (no cheating for me!).

Here are my favorite books I read in 2020, organized by date read.

The first four books were all included as favorites on my mid-year reading update. Here is a link to that blog post.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Dates read: January 22-29, 2020
Originally published September 2019, The Dutch House was all over Bookstagram (Instagram accounts dedicated to reading) at the close of 2019. Prior to The Dutch House, I had only read one other book by Ann Patchett, Commonwealth. Patchett is a wonderful storyteller. The Dutch House became one of my most recommended books of the year, anytime someone wanted to read or listen to a fiction book. The audiobook is read by Tom Hanks, and it is lovely.

The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage by Joan Chittister
Dates read: March 17-19, 2020
I wanted to read this book after it was mentioned on my syllabus for the introductory preaching course I took in the fall of 2019 at Yale Divinity School with Prof. Carolyn Sharp. I read The Time is Now in the early days of the pandemic. The chapters are very short and easy to read, almost like blog posts. It was my first introduction to Sister Joan Chittister’s writing, and I have since added several of her books to my to-read list. Sr. Joan writes in an easy to read style; this book would be great for a small group book study and discussion.

The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen
Dates read: March 20 – May 23, 2020
Another early pandemic read, I savored The Genesee Diary, reading a few pages each day. From my mid-year write up: “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 do recommend this book, but not for those who haven’t read anything else by Henri Nouwen. I think this book would be best appreciated after some familiarity of his other writings. Life of the Beloved or The Wounded Healer are two of his more popular books.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
First read in 2006
Dates re-read: June 9-12, 2020

I don’t know what it was… early in 2020 I started thinking about The Catcher in the Rye, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Holden Caulfield. I don’t think I had ever re-read a book before and now I am curious what else I should re-read. I hardly remembered any of the book from my initial reading while in high school. In re-reading, I was surprised at the prevalence of mental health issues apparent in Holden’s behavior and those he interacts with. I think when I first read The Catcher in the Rye as a young teenager I probably skimmed over the death of Holden’s brother and the suicide of his classmate. Re-reading The Catcher in the Rye gave me a lot to think about.

Franny & Zooey by J. D. Salinger
Dates read: October 9-10, 2020
As soon I read The Catcher in the Rye, I knew I would soon follow it with Franny & Zooey. I received a lovely used copy of this book a few years ago. I felt like it was just waiting on my shelf for this year. Franny & Zooey was a wonderful follow-up to re-reading The Catcher in the Rye over the summer. Franny is a short story and Zooey is a novella. I think that both were originally published in The New Yorker, in 1955 and 1957, respectively.

From my Goodreads review: “I love the way Salinger writes dialogue. As a reader you are drawn into monologues and quips and so many other verbal spars. The Glass family is easy to imagine. If you liked Catcher in the Rye, I think you will like this. Religion plays an interesting role in the essays. Poor Franny. All the men in her life are constantly mansplaining her. Just let the poor girl have a quarter life crisis. And don’t even get me started on the relationship between Bessie and her children. So strange.”

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris
Dates read: July 18-25, 2020
I saw a friend post about this book in 2019, and it had been on my radar ever since. Kathleen Norris has written a beautiful ode to the prairie lands of America. Her words paint brushstrokes of the natural environment and human isolation. I felt like the week I spent reading this book was actually a full year soaking in the seasons of the Plains. She does an incredible job detailing the weather and landscapes. This was my first time reading a book by Kathleen Norris, but I’ve already added another book of hers to my to-read list. In a year of limited travel due to the pandemic, I felt like I was transported to the Dakotas thanks to Kathleen Norris’ writing.

“Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love anyway, to love what is dying, in the face of death, and not pretend that things are other than they are.”

Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris, page 121

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett
Dates read: October 27-30, 2020
I am not a regular podcast listener, but I do enjoy occasionally listening to episodes of On Being, a public radio conversation and podcast, hosted by Krista Tippett. Many of the people she interviews on the podcast and the topics she discusses are both of personal and professional interest. I was very glad to be able to borrow this audiobook through Libby. I enjoyed the audiobook because it was read by the author and included snippets from the podcast. However, one bookish friend of mine commented that it was too much to take in and hard to listen to. Whichever way you read this book, I do recommend Becoming Wise. There is so much wisdom and life experience shared by those she interviews. Those who are already fans of Krista Tippett may also appreciate the personal life stories she shares scattered throughout.

Barack Obama Book Club
In November, I did a deep dive into the world of Barack Obama. I knew that his newest memoir was being released in November, 2020. I decided spur of the moment to read/listen to his two previous memoirs before reading A Promised Land. All three books were favorites for the year.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance
Dates read: November 11-13, 2020
Originally published in 1995 and re-released in 2004, this book had been on my radar for a while. Barack Obama is a great storyteller, and he doesn’t linger in one place too long when describing things for the reader. I thought Dreams from My Father had a great flow and enjoyed listening to it. Obviously, listening in 2020 was interesting because Obama’s commentary on race is actually very mild. Don’t expect to hear the phrase Black Lives Matter. Context is also important. This book was written “pre-politics” and he doesn’t write about his graduate studies at Harvard or anything beyond that time.

The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Date read: November 17, 2020
Again publication date is important when reading Barack Obama’s work. The Audacity of Hope was first published in fall 2006. I continued to be impressed by Obama’s concise storytelling. He doesn’t repeat much between any three of these books.

From my review on Goodreads: “This is not Barack Obama running for President, or at least that’s not exactly what he thinks. At the time he wrote this book as a way to “finance” his campaign for US Senate. I put finance in quotes because he already won the campaign. He says that it was just part of his pitch to Michelle for how he could help their family financially after running a big campaign. Before he realized that the BIGGEST campaign lay ahead.
The Audacity of Hope is idealistic first term Senator Obama. He writes about his respect for President George W. Bush. Obama the optimist writes a lot about values. The values of the Founding Fathers, shared values, values that were instilled in him by his mother, etc. All sorts of values.
The optimistic Obama sees the government as the place where people can work together for good. He also talks about how President Bush and the people around him were just everyday people trying to make the best decisions they knew how.”

A Promised Land
Dates read: November 17-27, 2020
After so many hours of listening to Barack Obama read his work, I never grew tired of his voice and his storytelling. My own political coming of age coincided with Barack Obama’s presidency. I was aware of many of the events that he talked about, but obviously learned a lot from the level of detail he provided with his reflections.  I especially enjoyed the beginning of the book where Obama explains just how improbable his quick ascension to running for the highest office in our country was.
I was captivated and very interested through the election and his first days in office. I’m not a policy wonk though so the intricate details on Affordable Healthcare and some of the energy policy were not as interesting. His choice to split this memoir into two parts was smart. He keeps a good balance of storytelling, nothing too long and doesn’t try to cover too much ground.

I hope that my reading recap inspires you and your reading life in the year ahead!
Do we share any favorites? Please let me know.

An invitation to breathe

“God when you created the world, you breathed new life into creation. As students return to school this week, be with them through their breath. If the school day feels overwhelming or confusing, remind each of us that we can focus on our breath.”

I shared those words of prayer on Sunday at Camp Sloper during the Blessing of the Backpack tags and stickers. Focusing on our breathing is an ancient practice to connect with God.

Recently, I switched over to an Apple watch after using a more traditional Fitbit fitness tracker for many years. One of the new (to me) features I appreciate on the Apple watch are the Breath/Mindfulness reminders.

Throughout the day, I easily become lost in a flurry of emails. Hours can quickly pass staring at a computer screen and, suddenly, my watch will buzz with a reminder to breathe. There is a small notification asking me if I want to focus on my breath for one minute. Even if I am completely interrupted from my work, more often than not, I will click begin and focus on my breath for one minute. I reason to myself that most things can wait one more minute. And I almost always feel better after that one quick break to clear my mind.

Do you have a reminder for yourself to breathe? Maybe every time you walk by the front door, or each time you take the dog out for a walk? Or maybe you don’t even stop whatever you are doing, just focus on your breathing while making breakfast or doing dishes?

God is always with us! If we feel overwhelmed, we can turn inward and call forth God’s presence.

If you are interested in more breath prayers, there is a creative account on Instagram called Liturgies for Parents which regularly posts breath prayers. Usually they share different mantras which you can mentally repeat as you inhale and exhale.

I invite you today to:
Inhale – God’s Peace
Exhale – God’s Love

This devotion was first shared via email to members of First Congregational Church of Southington on September 10, 2020.

Recorded Lectio Divina

On Sunday, August 30, I preached my first sermon at First Congregational Church of Southington. A video recording of the service is available on Facebook and the full text of the sermon is available on the church website.

During the sermon, I shared a poem by Wendell Berry. I have used “The Peace of Wild Things” several times for contemplative prayer groups. Just this week, I recorded a guided lectio divina practice for those who are interested.

I instruct the listener in the audio recording, but here is a brief explanation of lectio divina for those who prefer text guidance. Lectio divina, or divine reading, is an ancient monastic practice. In a full lectio divina prayer, there are four steps: lectio (reading), meditatio (meditation on a key word or phrase), oratio (listen and respond to God), and contemplatio (resting in God’s presence).

The recording guides the listener through a simplified lectio divina practice. During the first reading of the poem, allow the words to wash over you. In the second reading, identify which words or phrases stand out to you. After the final reading, meditate on one word or phrase to hear how God is speaking to you.

To view the full text of the poem, click here.

Holy Surprise: Postcards

Note: August 23rd was my first Sunday co-leading worship in my new role as Associate Pastor at First Congregational Church of Southington. The church has been doing a Holy Surprise each week, similar to a Children’s Moment or Moment for All Ages. My devotional today is the Holy Surprise I shared with the congregation during worship.

Just a few of the nearly 250 postcards I have received through Postcrossing in 3 years.

In the Bible, the Apostle Paul is a prolific letter writer. Paul writes letters to early church communities to encourage them, share wisdom and advice, and stay connected when they cannot physically be together. I like to imagine that for those early churches receiving a letter from Paul may have been like a Holy Surprise. 
Fast forward to present day and we have so many ways to stay in communication with one another. Texting, social media and email allow us to regularly connect. But there is still something Holy and Surprising about receiving a letter or postcard in the mail. The Holy Surprise I’d like to share with you today is a postcard. 
A few years ago I was visiting a friend’s house and I admired how she had postcards from all around the world decorating the wall. This friend told me about a website called Postcrossing and I quickly signed up. 
Through Postcrossing you can send postcards to members of the site all around the world and you receive postcards in return. 
These postcards are like Holy Surprises because I never know when one is going to show up in my mailbox. And each postcard is an opportunity to connect with someone new. 
Over the past three years, I have sent and received nearly 500 postcards through Postcrossing!
I’d like to share the joy of this Holy Surprise with you, First Congregational Church of Southington. Over the next two weeks, I will be sending a postcard to each of the children in our congregation. I hope this is just one way we can connect during a time of social distancing. Be on the lookout for a Holy Surprise coming to your mailbox soon.

Nothing Can Separate Us

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

It is an occupational hazard… when I visit a new town or city across the United States I often look to see if there is a UCC congregation nearby, even if I’m not going to be in town to attend Sunday worship. Last summer, I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to celebrate a family member’s birthday and I knew that there was a historic UCC congregation in downtown Charleston. Circular Church is one of the oldest continuously worshipping congregations in the South. They also have a historic burying ground surrounding their church building with gravestones dating back to 1729.

While New England is filled with Protestant and UCC history, it was interesting to see our shared church history in a different light in Charleston. There was a familiar “God is Still Speaking” banner hanging on a fence outside of the church. But there were also palm trees lining the church yard which made it clear that I was no longer in New England!

I was reminded of my visit to Circular Church and their historic burying ground when reading this Scripture passage from Romans. The Apostle Paul writes how death does not separate us from the love of God. As Christians we believe that death does not have the final word. We are invited to remember life after death through the words carved onto a headstone from 1741, “departed this life…” Christianity is about believing that death does not have the final word. We are Resurrection people!

While we cannot safely gather in church buildings, like the one pictured here in Charleston, or your own beloved sanctuary, we must remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

My question for you is: what separates you from feeling God’s love? I encourage you to reflect on your previous week or even just the past 24 hours. Is there a friendship or relationship nagging at you and causing you to feel separated from God’s love? Do you have a burden you are carrying which might be in the way of allowing you to feel God’s love? Or maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. When we feel separate from God’s love, how can we unburden and reconnect with God who is already there waiting for us, ready to love us?

God’s love abounds throughout time and place. From Circular Church and the historic burying ground in Charleston, South Carolina, to First Congregational Church of Wareham, Massachusetts, and everywhere in between, we cannot be separated from God’s loving presence. Let us rejoice in the good news! Amen.

This devotional was originally published via email on July 21, 2020 and written for First Congregational Church of Wareham, MA.

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