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August 27, 2017

Colossians 3:12-17

John 17:20-23

Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman

 

This past June, the Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut Conferences of the United Church of Christ gathered for a shared annual meeting. The Rev. John Dorhauer, our President and General Minister, when asked at a keynote speech, what he wanted to accomplish while in office, responded with these three things: He spoke of the white privilege curriculum he has had a hand in creating for the church; He introduced the “Three Great Loves” campaign, a mission focus for the next two years; And he said, “If the United Church of Christ continues to be a well kept secret, I will not have succeeded in my mission.”

 

In 2006, the United Church of Christ launched an advertising campaign called the God is Still Speaking initiative because through market research, we discovered that too many people did not know anything about the United Church of Christ – did not know that there was a church that welcomed all people, regardless of physical ability, marital status, or sexual orientation; did not know there was a church where you were free to believe in Jesus and walk your own Christian faith journey; did not even know our church even existed, so God is still speaking was launched with television commercials and print ads and posters.

 

Unfortunately, more than 11 years later, the United Church of Christ continues to be a well kept secret, which is the absolute opposite of Jesus’ commissioning to go out and share the good news with all.

Our wonderful, progressive, welcoming, serving church is little unknown to the world, and sometimes, it is even little known to those of us who are United Church of Christ members. We find a wonderful, welcoming church that says “First Congregational Church” on the sign, and we join, looking no farther than our own local church.

 

But we belong to a much larger body than this one. We belong to the United Church/ of Christ. 5,100 congregations strong. All across the United States.

I am really proud to be a member of the United Church of Christ. I am really proud that for sixty years, we have made a bold and prophetic witness to the extravagant love and inclusive welcome of God; that for sixty years, we have shared the good news of Jesus Christ with all; That for sixty years, we have transformed the world with Christ’s love.

I am really proud to be a member of the United Church of Christ, and today, I’d like to share with you the top ten reasons why I love and am proud to be a part of the United Church of Christ.

 

Number one, we are the Pilgrims! How cool is that?! The United Church of Christ is sixty years old, but our religious roots go back father than that. They go back to Plymouth Plantation, back to the Mayflower, back to the Netherlands, back to England. We have a rich religious heritage of faithfully listening to and boldly following God.

But we did not remain independent, separatist Pilgrims and Congregationalists, we have always been united and uniting, my second reason for loving our church. Initially, the Congregationalist churches united with a tradition simply called the Christian church, and the German Evangelical church joined with the German Reformed church. Then over 70 years ago, a conversation began between clergy of those two denominations – could Jesus be calling them to be one? The conversation continued over a decade until June 25, 1957, when they all said, “Yes! Jesus is calling us to be the United Church of Christ.” And we continue to be this way, creating partnerships with the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Canada amongst others.

United and uniting because Jesus calls us to be – which leads to my third reason why I love the UCC: Committed to Jesus. In our United Church of Christ constitution, it says, “Jesus is the sole head of the church.” No any pastor, no lay person, not even the General Minister and President – Jesus is the leader, the head of the church, and it is his way that we faithfully follow.

Which leads to my fourth, fifth, and sixth reasons for loving the United Church of Christ – our commitment to justice, our commitment to radical inclusiveness, our commitment to mission and service. These commitments are not based on progressive or liberal leanings; they are based on the word of God and the way of Jesus Christ. Our commitment to mission, at home and all over the world, is based on Jesus’ teaching that the most important commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor. It’s why we grow vegetables, supply school backpacks, and participate in Family Promise. It’s why we support Disaster Relief ministries and missionaries like Michael Joseph, who works tirelessly and faithfully beside Colombian pastors to bring peace to a country that has been at war for 60 years.

Jesus calls us to serve our neighbor, to love them as ourselves, and Jesus embodied God’s extravagant welcome – welcoming children, welcoming the sick, welcoming the tax collector, welcoming the outcast. Our radical welcome and hospitality, living out the open and affirming statement on the back of the bulletin, are how we seek to be Christ’s hands and feet and heart on earth.

As is our commitment to justice. If mission and service are serving needs, then justice is asking the question – why do these needs exist? Why is there homelessness? Why is there hunger? Why is there gender and racial inequality? Like Jesus did, we ask the hard questions and then we work together on the solutions, building God’s kingdom of peace, justice, and love here on earth.

 

The United Church of Christ has always been committed to justice, inclusiveness, mission, and service, which is why my seventh reason is “We’re #1!”

That’s not really a boast as much as it is to say that we are a church of firsts. We were the first church to ordain a woman, the first Protestant church to ordain an African-American man, the first church to ordain an openly homosexual man, and the first church to ordain a transgender person. Our ancestors in the faith were the first to open a school for the deaf, the American School for the Deaf in Hartford; the first foreign mission society; and the first anti-slavery society with multiracial leadership.

Before the Pilgrims left the Netherlands, their pastor John Robinson said, “the Lord has more truth and light yet to break forth out of his Holy Word.” Throughout these four hundred years and sixty years, we have listened to God’s still speaking voice – always leading us forward, always calling us to make this Christian faith our own.

And that is my eighth reason –that we are called to make this faith our own. It says so in our constitution. Each generation is called to make this faith our own. We are called to read God’s holy word, struggle with it, and discern God’s calling. We are called to listen to God’s still speaking voice and let it inform our actions, let it guide our behavior – not just do what someone else told us, not just rely on tradition, but every day discern God’s will for our lives and our church. Make this faith our own.

Which is why our church is also committed to the inclusion and nurture of children and youth. They are not the future of the church. They are the present of the church. They are part of the body of Christ, right now, helping us make the Christian faith our own. Which is why we invest in our Children’s Ministry and in Silver Lake Conference Center – because we know how important it is to include all the members of the body of Christ in the church. And that is also why focusing on ministry with children is one part of the 3 Great Loves campaign.

 

The 3 Great Loves mission campaign is our opportunity to join together as the United Church of Christ to focus on transforming the world through Love of Neighbor, Love of Children, and Love of Creation.

Rev. John Dorhauer writes this about the campaign: “What would it look like for an entire denomination to commit to a shared mission? How much impact could an entire denomination have if it worked as one on a mission that mattered?….United in God’s spirit and inspired by God’s grace, we can love all, welcome all, and seek justice for all: for the children, for our neighbors, and for creation. Together, we can change the world.”

 

Together, we can change the world, which leads to the tenth reason why I love the UCC, which is really the first reason – the people. It is the people of the United Church of Christ that make this denomination what it is and what it can be. As Oliver Powell says, we are a “heady, exasperating mix”. Life might seem easier if we all looked the same, were the same age, thought and believed the same, but would it be better? No, because it is our differences, our differences united in Christ’s love, that make us wiser, make us stronger, make us more faithful, make us better able to transform this world with Christ’s love.

 

Why do I love the United Church of Christ? This is the church of my childhood and the church I chose as an adult and as an ordained minister. I’m proud of the love we have shared and the bold witness we have made for the last sixty years, and I look forward to the amazing ways we will continue to transform the world, through the 3 Great Loves mission campaign, through Family Promise, through whatever calling God has put in the hearts of Christ’s people.

United and uniting, committed to justice, service, and extravagant welcome, making this faith our own so that we can love God’s creation, love children and youth, and love our neighbor. That is why I love this heady exasperating mix called the United Church of Christ.