31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
January 31, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
“Truthfully, I was ready to give up on the idea by August, but they were not.”
Many churches are pursuing ministry in new and creative ways due to the pandemic. The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts is one of those churches. Like our church community and others, last March, the Sterling church pivoted to online worship and reached out in new ways to care for vulnerable neighbors.
And then last summer, when the church suspected that their local schools would not be re-opening in the fall, even for hybrid learning, the church dreamed a new dream – to open a remote school in their Sanctuary.
The idea came about through a Facebook messenger conversation between Sterling’s pastor Rev. Robin Bartlett and one their lay leaders, who is also a high school teacher. They were struggling with how to support parents and teachers, children who would fall through the cracks without in-person instruction and those whose medical histories make in-person instruction too dangerous at this time. Rev. Bartlett shared this in a Southern New England conference spotlight article:
[We] started a conversation in which we began planning. We threw out ideas: “We could have a coop with parents.” “We could hire some college students.” “We could teach from the pulpit.” [The lay leader] sketched out what it could look like to attach pull down desks in the pews in the sanctuary and wrote a manual. And the “sanctuary school” idea was born….Pretty soon after that, we started getting more people involved to carry the idea over the finish line.
A team of about 12 lay leaders overcame all odds to make this happen. They passed it through leadership teams and the board of health and the state of Massachusetts. They went through multiple inspections….[One member], a grandpa and a business owner and a diligent, thorough, kindly genius of a man, just kept going and going. He took this on like it was his baby. And [another member], a homeschooler himself with no “skin in the game,” gently led us with good humor keeping us grounded in Christian principles the whole time. And the rest of the team fundraised and made craft kits, and improved the internet and transformed the space, and bought a state of the art air filtration system, and volunteered to staff it and so much more….And they PULLED IT OFF LIKE FREAKIN’ ROCK STARS. (https://www.sneucc.org/newsdetail/14960485)
The First Church in Sterling, Massachusetts is a persistent community, as was the group we heard about in this morning’s passage from Luke. Jesus is sitting in the middle of someone’s home surrounded by learned Pharisees and religious teachers. Surrounded by so many people that the house was packed, spilling out the door.
And to this crowded, overflowing home, some men carry a paralyzed man on a stretcher, but they can’t get in. Not an inch of room. And I wonder if the paralyzed man, if any of the men carrying him, thought, “Oh well, that’s that. Wasn’t meant to be. Let’s give up on this idea and go home.”
I think all humans have those thoughts when a project gets tough, when it seems like it just can’t gain traction. Perhaps this isn’t God’s will. Perhaps this isn’t what I am supposed to be doing. Fail fast and move on.
Sometimes yes and sometimes no. At those moments when we are ready to give up, when the way seems too hard, not meant to be, it is good to have a community to discern with us. Good to have a community to help us know the difference between our fatigue and God’s will. And when we discover God is calling us forward, it is good to be surrounded by others who are filled with faith and determination, ready to persevere, and overcome any obstacles – including tunneling through roofs.
When Jesus saw their faith, when Jesus saw the faith of this community surrounding the paralyzed man, he was impressed by their bold belief, and Jesus said to the man “Your sins are forgiven”. Would Jesus have healed the man regardless of his friends’ bold belief? Absolutely! However, Jesus would never have known the man needed to be healed if not for the persistent, determined faith of those who brought the man to Jesus.
And this is the lesson from Jesus’ life to ours. There is great power in community. Together, we can accomplish big dreams. Together, we can pick one another up and inspire each other to keep going when the road gets tough, when the obstacles look too great.
The group carrying the paralyzed man to Jesus for healing, the First Church in Sterling, Mass, these aren’t the only communities that have faith and bold belief. These aren’t the only communities that are determined and persevering.
We, the community of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Bristol, CT, we, this community gathered near and far, are also faithful, bold, determined and persevering. We, in the last year, and in the 274 years of our existence have encountered obstacles as we seek to follow God’s call to openly welcome all in Christ’s love, to nurture Christian faith journeys, and to serve God and serve our neighbor.
As individuals, we have had our moments when we have doubted, when we have faltered, when we have wondered if we should just give up and go back home, and it is in those moments that our community, this Christian community, has encouraged us to keep going, to try something new, to get up on the roof and take it apart if that is what it takes to get us to Jesus, to follow Jesus.
We can’t do it on our own. We don’t have to do it on our own. God has created us for community. Jesus calls us to live in community, to dream in community, to persevere in community, to do big things in community.
So on this, Annual Meeting Sunday, when we give thanks for the ministry of this church, when we honor and celebrate the members of this Christian community, when we elect those who will lead us, when we gather to approve and bless our budget for the coming year, the way we have chosen to spend our community’s money, on this Annual Meeting Sunday, I invite this community to dream, to dream of what we can persistently and faithfully accomplish together, to the glory and honor of God.