“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
A guy walks into a restaurant and the day's special is beef tongue. He says to the waitress, "I don't want anything that came out of an animal's mouth. That’s gross. I'll have two eggs instead."
I love steamers in the summer, but who was ever the first person to eat one of them. They look ugly. Or what about raw oysters? Whoever slid one of them down the throat for the very first time?
But somebody had to be first.
Two wrongs, it’s said, don’t make a right, but two Wrights make an airplane.
Somebody had to come up with the preposterous idea of human beings flying through the air, and Orville and Wilbur Wright were brave and smart enough to be the first.
I know a Minister who loves to travel to exotic locations that she’s never been to before. She’ll go through the flight schedules for Logan Airport, find a non-stop to a place she’s never been, and off she goes.
In a couple of weeks, she’s flying to Cape Verde off the Atlantic coast of Africa for the first time because of that very reason – it will be her first time there. She loves the thrill of first time experiences.
And today we hear about some really important firsts. The church was born in Jerusalem on Pentecost, and from there it began to spread. People moved on and as they did they told others about Jesus. The most successful of them all was a man by the name of Paul.
He was like my minister friend who’s going to Cape Verde. Paul would go anywhere new. He planned his trips by making sure that no one had gone there to talk about Jesus before him.
One night Paul had a dream. He felt called to cross over to a new continent. He decided it was time to start talking about Jesus in Europe for the very first time.
He immediately heads off for Philippi. This is all brand spanking new to Paul.
He takes a chance and on the Sabbath goes down to the river suspecting that this may be a place where Jews would gather for prayer since they needed the water for ritual cleanings. He was planning according to the expected.
There is a gathering, but it’s of women. Where are the men? This isn’t a worship gathering after all. Maybe this is a group of women washing clothes and enjoying the chance to talk with each other because they’re seldom allowed out of their homes unaccompanied.
But the unexpected does not scare off Paul. He doesn’t go looking for the men. He joins the women. He sits down with them. This is simply not done.
On top of that, Paul doesn’t patronize them. Paul preaches to them about Jesus. Paul preaches to these women like they matter. This is something radically new. Religion was men’s business. But Paul really believed Jesus when He said, “See I am making all things new,” like we talked about last Sunday.
Paul’s Christianity was a radical and disruptive equality and he had no problem breaking through the old rules and talking about Jesus to a group of women, and the church grew.
And then we are told that Lydia believed, and for the first time Europe has a Christian. Lydia was a strong woman. Independent. Not afraid to be a first. In a day when men ruled their women, Lydia owned her own business. And Lydia listened to Paul.
She heard this message of a strange kind of God who loved His people so much that He died for them. She saw how this man Paul treated her like she mattered in a world where this would not have been common. And the newness of this message so impressed Lydia that she chose to become a part of it. Faith was liberating and empowering.
Think about this for an extra moment. Think about what the biblical author is telling us. Last Sunday I mentioned that no one who had read only the Old Testament could ever have expected Jesus.
Now we hear that the first Christian in Europe was not a man as would be expected. The first Christian in Europe was converted by an apostle who dared to talk to women like they mattered, and that first convert was a free-thinking business-woman.
Paul shouldn’t have done what he did. Lydia shouldn’t have done what she did. And Christianity shouldn’t have barged into Europe among a group of women washing clothes. But this story is told because Christianity’s message is anything but ordinary or expected. It is filled with the courage and conviction of firsts and first-timers.
It offers us God’s new and different, and what a shame it is when the faith settles for anything less, when it loses its thrill of exploration.
Jesus needs us to take those first time opportunities to be like Paul did when he spoke to those women about his faith.
That respect for each other no matter who the other is central to our faith. It should be obvious in the way we live. And what a pleasant change that would be in our world today. Respect. The meanness has become tiring.
I was so impressed by the pictures I saw of Danielle and Brian and their supporters outside of Town Hall on election day. Two candidates competing against each other for a spot on the School Committee, but with respect for each other. Maybe politicians higher up the ladder could learn from this, and what a wonderful first that would be.
And Jesus needs us to be also a first like Lydia. Don’t let others define who we are and what we’re supposed to do or be. That limits God and it limits us, and that doesn’t work for Jesus.
Jesus gives us the courage to be ourselves and it simply does not matter what anyone else says or thinks. Jesus made us who we are, and He loves us like this. There’s only one of each of us so whoever we are becoming is a first. That’s why we need to be like Lydia. Jesus lets us be happy being our own first.
Paul went into Europe when no one knew who Jesus was or what a Christian was supposed to be, and I think a lot of people today don’t know what our faith is all about. I think even some Christians have defined Christianity in strange ways, filled with judgment, anger and violence.
Maybe people are just tired enough of the usual ways of the world and of that kind of religious message to be ready to listen again for the first time to the startling new and liberating message of Christ and church.
May this be our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This is Memorial Day Weekend. I saw on the morning news that the beautiful weather has filled the highways and the beaches, but let's remember that this is not only a three-day weekend. This is the solemn time of remembrance.
Tomorrow at our 10AM Service we will share in the singing of some patriotic hymns and we will offer Memorial Day prayers. Then we will have the opportunity to participate in the town's Memorial Day observance at the parade and the gathering at Smith Academy Park.
Enjoy the long weekend, but we also need to honour those who fought and died in the Armed Services of our country. They deserve no less.
The story of a past church member
-The Hatfield Historical Society's new exhibit is called, Through Marian's Eyes: A Red Cross Canteen Worker Recounts World War I" (see attached poster). It will be open from 11 to 12:30 (before the parade) and from 1:30 to 3:30 (after the Town Hall ceremony).
The exhibit is based on Marian Billings, a 37-year-old Hatfield woman who left her job as business manager of the family farm and sailed to France in August 2018 to do her part during World War I. Her journals not only tell us what life was like for a Red Cross canteen worker, but give us touching and sometimes gruesome stories about the soldiers she cares for. The exhibit also features mini profiles of a number of Hatfield WWI soldiers.
The exhibit OPENING will include a Red Cross canteen tent -- starting at 1:30 pm -- staffed by costumed Red Cross canteen workers (some Smith Academy juniors), with a few WWI soldier reenactors (more Smith Academy juniors), and the girls will be serving the soldiers and visitors canteen fare - including coffee, lemonade, chocolate drops donated by Richardson's Candy Kitchen and cider donuts donated by Atkins Farms.
The Historical Society invites you to come visit the exhibit and participate in the canteen. They also ask you to pin up a card and a remembrance poppy with your WWI family member's name in front of the library.
Curator, Hatfield Historical Museum hatfieldhistory.weebly.com
Oral History Producer wordspicturesstories.com
Birthday Gift to the Church
The Christian Church was born on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was shared with Jesus' first followers. The once confused and timid, now inspired by the Spirit, began to share courageously the gospel and person of Jesus Christ - and the church was born.
Help us to celebrate the church's birthday by donating to the Strengthen the Church Special Offering, which helps our church to continue the sacred work started so many Pentecosts ago, but still alive and vibrant.
Copy and paste this link into your browser to learn more: https://youtu.be/gsM8uIuNJI4
Thank you for your generosity.
High Tea Celebration
Real Folks has been the women's group at the church for 150 years. As part of their anniversary celebration, the group enjoyed each other's company at a High Tea in the church dining room and parlor. Kathy Gow from the Hatfield Historical Society presented a talk and displayed some of the items she curates at the Museum, including the Billings family Bible. A lot of the members came together to make this happen and we thank them because it looked like a perfectly enjoyable afternoon.
The pictures show the place settings and High Tea offerings, and of course our Real Folks ladies dressed appropriately in their Sunday-best hats. Even Arnold got into the spirit as he helped out in the kitchen. The ladies had a blast. All set to do it again for the 200th anniversary.
More Bible study - A book club gathering - Something else?
On May 20th, we will hold our last Bible study class as we have reached the conclusion of Mark's Gospel. We will take some time off, but then as part of our continuing adult Christian education, we will start sharing ideas about our next venture.
Maybe there is a book that you think would be beneficial for us to read and discuss, and which will hopefully make us more aware Christians and church. If so, please share that idea. If you'd like, send your suggestion along by adding it to the comment section to this post.
I would like to offer the possible read of the book being shared at General Synod 32, June 21st - 25th, Milwaukee, WI. Here's a link to it that can be copy and pasted in your browser: https://live.eventtia.com/en/uccsynod2019/Synod-Keynote-Speaker
Maybe we could choose our topic soon, read it over the summer, and come together in the Fall. If you're interested, let me know.
This should be a lot of fun. Let's go out and have a good time together and meet others from our local congregations.
Town Hall -- Tuesday, May 21st
Hatfield's election day is Tuesday, May 21st. Our church is fortunate enough to be able to set up a table in Town Hall where people pass to come and go as they vote. So we're getting ready for another Election Day Bake Sale. Please bring your donations to the front of Town Hall by 8:30am. Please wrap, label and price your donations for sale. And thank you for helping with this church fundraiser.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
I’ve always enjoyed the biblical story of Tabitha. I think one of the reasons I’m drawn to it is that Tabitha’s Greek name is Dorcas. She lived in Joppa, which is a coastal city of ancient Israel.
Any of these port-cities would have had a large number of foreigners, and Greek was the shared language among all of them. It’s like today you can go almost anywhere in the world and find someone who speaks English.
So Tabitha was also known by her Greek name of Dorcas. Her story is beautiful, but I don’t know of anyone today who is so impressed by it that they would dare name their daughter Dorcas. It would be brutal in elementary school with that name.
Tabitha was a saintly woman. It is said of her in the Bible that she “was devoted to good works and acts of charity,” and that she was a disciple, which means she was one of those first-generation followers of Jesus.
When she passed away, the community gathered around her and mourned her death wailing in sorrow. They send for Peter who is in a neighbouring town. They show him all of the clothes that Tabitha had made for them over the years. Peter is so moved by Tabitha’s Christian charity that he ushers everyone out of the room. Now it’s just Peter and the deceased Tabitha. And Peter prays to Jesus for a miracle. Peter prays that Tabitha may come back to life. The Bible then only tells us that this is exactly what happens, and Peter presents the re-animated Tabitha to all the mourners who rejoice. But the Bible leaves out the reaction of Tabitha when she was alone in that room with Peter, and this leaves an opening for our own imaginations.
Tabitha had been a tireless saint, constantly doing for others. She would be hot and sweaty, dirty and tired, but she found a way to help everyone around her. When she died, those who loved her washed her body clean and laid her comfortably to rest on a bed. On the other side, she met Jesus. She witnessed the wonders of heaven and felt the reward of rest and peace that comes after a life well led. She was so happy.
Then there’s an intrusion into all of this heavenly paradise. Peter’s voice can be heard booming through the tranquility of heaven’s streets. It’s a passionate prayer that Tabitha be returned to earth. Jesus looks at the startled woman with tenderness and a little regret, and the next thing she knows she opens her eyes and she’s back in Joppa.
There’s Peter smiling, but it’s not hard to imagine her closing her eyes tightly again and trying to fool Peter and maybe sneak back to heaven, but Peter knows. He waits, and eventually she peeks at him and then says something like, “Just let me lie here for a while, I’m exhausted. It’s so nice to be clean and the bed is so comfortable.”
But Peter takes the bewildered woman by the hand and leads her out to all of those she had served so tirelessly. It reminds me of when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. It’s one of Jesus’ first miracles.
He heals the woman and then the Bible says she got up and served all of them. Peter’s mother-in-law was made well enough to cook and serve 13 guys dinner. I wonder if she was really happy about that.
I wonder if the same kind of thing is going on with Tabitha. She was in Paradise, rested, clean, time to herself. Now Peter brings her out to the people who always needed something. I wonder if Tabitha was grateful to Peter or maybe a little upset.
And with the Tabitha-story now firmly in our thoughts, let me transition to Mother’s Day. I saw a cartoon recently. Mom gets up to feed the baby at 9:30, 12:30 and 2AM. Dad gets up at 3AM. Mom gets up again at 4 and 6AM. The alarm goes off at 7AM and dad says to her, “I’m so tired.” Mothers are the Tabitha’s of the world. Mothers are asked to give of themselves for the ones they love. Today we hopefully give them at least one day of rest. But then mothers are back to being mothers again, which means doing for others.
This is why when some of the biblical writers tell us of God’s compassion, they choose to speak of God in terms of motherhood. Isaiah does so frequently, like when God says, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” But the imagery of motherhood can also be forcefully protective as when God says to Hosea the prophet: “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder.” (13:8)
Jesus speaks at the end of His life of wanting to comfort and protect Jerusalem as a mother would (Lk 13:34). The oldest piece of Christian literature is the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and there Paul explains that the apostles are sent to care tenderly for the people like a nurse cares for her own children.
Christian mystics through the centuries trying to convey the feeling of deep love they experience in God speak of God as Mother, and many feminist theologians today do the same. They do so because the idea of the Holy Spirit reaches back to the vital breath of God that gave life to Adam, that gave birth to Adam. Ever since, the Holy Spirit has been associated with the mothering aspect of God. The Spirit creates, brings us together and holds us together.
Back to Tabitha. There are two ways of looking at religion and they are becoming quite distinct nowadays. There is the religion of law and there is the religion of love. Law emphasizes judgment. There are those who follow the laws and get into heaven and there are so many, many others who don’t and they face eternal torment.
Then there is the religion of love. This is the faith of Tabitha. She was a disciple of Christ, a follower. What defined her as a disciple? All we’re told is that she lived like Christ. She cared for others. She tried to provide for others.
And since her name is familiar in both languages, Tabitha and Dorcas, this means that she didn’t only care and provide for one group as opposed to another. She was known by the Jews and the Greeks. She didn’t care about such distinctions. She tried to help whoever was in need no matter who they were.
The story of Tabitha made it into the Bible so that every generation of Christians would know what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Christ. Every Christian won’t be a perfect Tabitha. Every mother won’t be a perfect mother. But our job is to try.
So for all the mothers of our church, of our families and our community, a blessed Mother’s Day. And for all of us trying to be better Christians, to be more like Tabitha, let us gather around the Communion Table so that we may be fed and nourished by a mothering Christ.
For all these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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