31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 23, 2015
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Journey of Faith
Night and Day
Your Special Concern
People to Love
So far our beads in our Summer of Prayer have been pretty personal. They have been about us, our relationship with God, those close to us, whether loved ones or those we struggle to love. Our prayer beads so far have pertained to our little worlds, but today, our prayer bead stands for the whole wide world.
To quote Marcia McFee, who created our Summer of Prayer sermon series, this bead reminds us that we “are a part of a global community on this earth, Prayers on behalf of the world (and the planet itself) keep us from a navel-gazing take-care-of-our-own mentality.”
“Navel gazing take care of our own mentality” No one would ever choose to have that said about themselves or their church community.
And yet, it is an all too common problem for Christians and churches. Some say it is the reason why mainline Protestant churches are on the decline – we are a little too focused on ourselves and not focused enough on the world, on serving the people in our communities, on reaching out to transform the world with Christ’s love.
For all that we do, at the First Congregational Church, to serve our community of Bristol and the world, we could always do more. I’m excited that we have decided to become a host congregation for Family Promise, a non-profit dedicated to ending homelessness for families. As soon as next spring, we will be hosting 14 adults and children for a week, providing meals and evening shelter. Family Promise will tie in well with Kathy, our Associate Pastor’s work with the Mayor’s Cares Task Force and the Bristol Homelessness Task Force.
Two weeks ago, our Christian community also provided backpacks stuffed to overflowing with school supplies for 25 Bristol children, and when the school year begins, we will continue our work with the Family Resource Center, providing fresh fruits and vegetables for Bristol children in need.
I’m also very excited about an idea we have begun to talk about at Church Council, partnering with other Bristol organizations to improve children’s literacy. Wouldn’t it be amazing if despite spending less money per student than our surrounding towns, our test scores were higher – all because of our ministry at the First Congregational Church?! That’s one of my dreams.
Our ministry at the First Congregational Church goes beyond the borders of Bristol. We support college students in the Philippines. We respond to natural disasters around the globe through the United Church of Christ’s Disaster Relief ministries, and as the United Church of Christ, we have partnerships with missionaries and churches around the world, transforming the world with Christ’s love.
But we could always do more. Because there always lurks inside each of us and inside our church community, the temptation to navel gaze, the temptation to take care of our own, the temptation to worry overmuch about taking care of ourselves. It’s become so prevalent in mainline Protestant churches that the name “congregational consumer” has been coined. We come to worship, we come to church, to be served instead of being the servants Jesus calls us to be.
The way of Jesus Christ is not about us and how we will be served. Jesus tells us that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus calls us to go out into all the world and minister to the poor and share the good news. Jesus teaches us to be merciful to our neighbors when we don’t want to acknowledge their existence.
Our prayer bead this week is essential to our lives, our journeys as Christians. It calls us, when we pray, to raise our faces up and to look out, to open our arms and embrace the world.
The Rev. Karl Barth, a famous and accomplished theologian, often reminded Christians to live their lives with a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, a reminder that as Christians we live in this world, as Christians we are called to minister to this world.
When we read the Bible, we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, and we are reminded that Jews and Samaritans were enemies. Samaritans were considered less than, unclean, unworthy. Samaritan lives did not matter.
When we read the newspaper, we read that African American and Hispanic youth are twice as likely to be incarcerated as their white peers. We read about racial minorities being shot at routine traffic stops. We hear political candidates calling all Mexican Americans criminals, drug dealers and worse. When we read the newspaper or Twitter or Facebook for that matter, we read that some lives do not matter.
But when we read the Bible and the newspaper together, we are reminded that all of God’s people are our neighbors. All of God’s children are our sisters and brothers. “The whole universe is in [God’s] hands: there is no part of this earth that does not belong to [God].” (Unison prayer, Chalice Book of Worship) And we are called, as Christians, to love it all. We are called, as Christians, to love all of God’s creation.
The Rev. Karl Barth encouraged Christians to read the Bible and the newspaper together. I encourage you, when you pray, to hold the Bible and the newspaper or your smart phone, in your hands. That when you read “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide nations upon earth” that you might also pray for those nations that are not gladly singing this day, that you might pray for the people of Tianjin, China as they grieve the hundreds who died in the explosion last Monday and worry for their own future health; that we might pray for the 54 people who died on the Indonesian airline last Tuesday; that we might pray for Rachel, a Zambian woman, who received a goat through Heifer’s Passing on the Gift program and in time was able to buy land and build a two bedroom thatched house with her husband for their six sons.
Prayer is powerful. Prayer is powerful because it blesses us and others. Prayer is powerful because it blesses people even when they don’t know they are being prayed for; prayer is powerful because it transforms us into people who don’t have time for navel gazing because we are too busy transforming the world!