31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
November 17, 2019
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
For over three years, our community has been a part of Family Promise, a ministry that hosts families in housing transition.
For almost eleven years, I have been honored to lead you all in ministry.
Fifteen years ago, the members of the First Congregational Church voted to become Open and Affirming, welcoming all of God’s beloved children to be a part of this Christian community.
For 50 plus years, we have been a part of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ.
And 272 years ago, the Ecclesiastical Society of New Cambridge, the original name of the First Congregational Church, worshipped for the very first time in this area we now call Bristol.
Once upon a time, all of these things we take for granted, all of these things that make the church church for us were new – as novel as that new fangled singing FCC introduced around 1799, that was protested so vigorously by some that they stomped up and down the aisles to drown it out. Now we couldn’t imagine our worship without this ‘controversial change’.
Once upon a time, all of the programs, ministries, staff, and traditions that make the First Congregational Church a place that nurtures our faith and our gifts, all of these things that make church church for us were once new. How quickly “yesterday’s innovation becomes today’s tradition”. (The Revd Dr Hugh Rayment-Pickard https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2013/28-march/comment/opinion/have-the-nerve-to-follow-the-early-christians)
And tradition can be a wonderful, faith nurturing thing. Last week, I was at an ordination, and as is our “tradition”, we laid hands on the ordinand, in the same way each ordained minister was laid hands on at their ordination, going back two thousand years to the Apostles. The tradition of the laying on of hands connects us to the first disciples and reminds us to stay true to the way of Jesus Christ.
The only problem with tradition is when we prize it above all else, falling into the trap of traditionalism. Problems come in the church when we make a tradition, a ministry, a minister, even a church organizational structure the center of our lives and worship instead of God. We then make that thing or person into an idol.
Which is exactly what the Christians in Corinth were doing. They were picking sides and dividing into camps, saying “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” when what they really should have been saying was we belong to God. We belong to God.
I hope you have made a generous financial commitment to our shared ministry of welcome, nurture, and service to the world. I hope you read the narrative budget and were reminded and inspired by all the good ministry we do together that nurtures your Christian faith journey and the journeys of others. And I hope you remember that all of these ministries, all of these outreach programs, all of the wonderful staff with which I am blessed to serve, even this beautiful historic facility, are only servants, instruments, through which God invites us into a life-giving relationship.
Sermons, Bible study, Project First Love faith discussions, Meals for our Neighbors, they plant seeds of faith and love. God gives the growth. The choirs, fellowship, Women’s Guild, and Confirmation water souls; however God gives the growth.
This ministry, Christ’s ministry, is about no one person, no one ministry, and at the same time, it about every single person and every single ministry because together we plant and water with a common purpose. We work together, together, as God’s servants to bring glory and honor to God (forever and ever) and to transform our world with love into God’s kindom here on earth.
As Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth to commit to God, Paul reminds us too. While we might love the old hymns, while we might be comfortable with an organizational structure that includes 10 committees and over 90 leadership positions, while Family Promise and Meals for our Neighbors and Silver Lake and the Family Resource Center might tug at our heart strings, we need to remember that all of these ministries, all of these outreach programs, even our church’s organizational structure are only servants, instruments through which we are called to love and serve God.
And there might come a time when any one of these things no longer serves God, when the way we have always done things might not help others – or us – connect to the God of love we know through Jesus Christ.
And we might be called to change. We might be called to do things in a new way, to innovate, that we might stay true to the only thing that matters – living as God’s servants, working together to serve God and God’s kindom in the world.
Church people are often teased for not doing well with change, that the words “we’ve never done it that way” come too quickly to our lips. We are human beings so yes, we, in the church, struggle with change – some of us more, some of us less, and yet, look at all of the change we have embraced. Open and Affirming, a thirty-something single woman as your first ever lead minister, our historic building completely renovated that all may truly be a part of this community, in the last ten years new ministry partnerships with Prudence Crandall, Debtor’s Anonymous, Zion Lutheran, St. Andrew’s Lutheran and Family Promise to name a few. And on January 1st, we will become a part of the new Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ.
While change might take some time and adjustment, we are not afraid of change. As a church that has had at least five different names and 21 different lead ministers, we are open to change – if, and that is the essential word, – if it brings glory to God.
On this commitment Sunday, when we offer our financial pledges as well as our gifts of time and ability, we offer them, not in commitment to any one ministry, not in commitment to any one staff member, not in commitment to any, albeit wonderful outreach program.
On this commitment Sunday, we offer our gifts to God. We remember that all of these beloved ministries, even the structure and institution of this Christian community were once innovations, created by God, to give glory to God.
And we remember that we are not servants of these ministries nor of this particular organizational structure. We have not been called to preserve these things at all cost.
We have been called to be God’s kindom; called together by Jesus to be priests, “God’s servants, working together” to bring glory and honor to God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)
So we commit this day to God, to serving in the ways that God will call us, through familiar ministries, through new ministries – all so we and others might come to believe and bring glory of God.