Where Is Your Heart? Rev. Jeffrey Rider March 10 2019
“If I close my eyes, I can still hear my grandfather say: ‘Crisis doesn’t build character, it reveals character.”’ In other words, don’t wait for some big moment to become the person you want to be. Pretty good advice: Be a person of integrity and it will out.” Rev. Jeffrey Rider takes Jesus’ words as captured by Matthew: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” and talks about how hard it can be to line up our hearts with our behavior. The solution God gives us lies in the power of community and relationships.
Transfigured Rev. Jeffrey Rider March 3 2019
Luke 9: 28-36
Transfiguration Sunday brings us to Luke’s description of Peter, James and John up on the mountain with Jesus, where they saw him transformed and talking with Moses and Elijah, then hearing directly from God. Plainly, something major happened on that mountaintop - but what exactly does is mean for us today? Rev. Jeffrey Rider connected it to transformation through suffering. Jesus already knew what was going to happen to him and he counseled the disciples to embrace what was to come: “Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” The key to transformation - God working in us - lies in recognizing and accepting suffering, not running from it. Finding the courage and encouragement to do just that, together, is what church is about.
Like A Child Peter Kralovec-Kirchherr February 17 2019
Mark 10: 13-16
Peter takes his experience as the Youth Group Intern at Green’s Farms Church, especially his time with the middle schoolers, and focuses on what he learned about God and God’s vision for the world. It’s a vision that we can only know through the eyes of a child. Jesus says we must enter into the Kingdom of Heaven as a child, so maybe we should look to them for what that might be like.
Enough Rev. Jeffrey Rider February 10 2019
Luke 4: 14-21
Luke tells us that Jesus’ first sermon proclaimed that he was anointed to bring good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. It’s tempting for us to listen and think “how could I ever be good enough for a job like that?” In what writer and researcher Brene Brown calls our ‘scarcity culture’ we can fall into the trap of feeling ‘never enough,’ in our spiritual as well as our daily lives. Scarcity culture sits amid plenty, as Jeff explains: “If the only thing that matters is being a winner, the best there is, and chasing after ‘more than enough’ then at some point, no matter how good you are, every one of our kids and every one of us is going to find themselves losing out on an awful lot of chances in life. And, in the process, we’re guaranteed to get the real message: we’re simply not good enough.
“But the opposite of scarcity isn’t the abundance we’ve been taught to chase after. It’s simply enough - not more than enough. Just plain old enough.”
Groundhog Day and Wedding Crashers Rev. Dave Stambaugh February 3 2019
1 Corinthians 13: 1-8, 11, 13
The Man Child is a familiar character in movies these days - Rev. Dave Stambaugh conjured up two familiar versions for his sermon on Sunday: Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, and Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan in Wedding Crashers. In both movies, the ‘heroes’ get schooled in putting their childish, selfish, ways behind them and learn what it is to truly love. “We all do things that are childish,” said Dave. “The goal is to be moving towards perfection, completeness, maturity. The goal is to move towards LOVE, because love never fails. And between wisdom, generosity, faith, hope and love - the greatest of these is love.”
Everything Has A Season Rev. Jeffrey Rider January 27 2019
Rev. Jeffrey Rider reminded us with familiar words from Ecclesiastes that God promises us a time for everything under heaven, and that life and growth are part of the cycle along with mourning and death.
A family funeral prompted Jeff's reflections on the way many of us struggle to makes sense of death and what that has to do with a life of faith.
"God's promises put the deaths we suffer in the context of a larger story of death and life and love without end. That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. That doesn't mean we aren't going to grieve. But it does mean a life of following Jesus...of accepting death and sorrow but choosing life and hope gives us a shared life, a life that's so much fuller. But only if we choose to live that kind of life."
Dying Daily LaQruishia Gill January 13 2019
Luke 3:15-17, 21, 22
The story of the baptism of Jesus prompted LaQruishia to reflect on her own baptism. She says: “With Jesus we see that baptism actually marks a transition - it’s the moment when he begins a journey towards loss of safety, but a gain of the power of the Holy Spirit. A loss of family and a gain of new family among the lowest in society. A loss of comfort but an impending victory over death. More than this moment mirrors Jesus final victory over death, it seems like baptism is actually practice for a simpler sort of dying, and it’s practice for dying because we’re going to need to do it a lot. It seems life without this sort of practice of dying daily will always be an unremarkable one. You can be the holiest and most righteous of persons, and still a life without the dying will be left wanting.”
Arise! Shine! Rev. Jeffrey Rider January 6 2019
Isaiah 60: 1-6
The prophet says: “Arise! Shine!; for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you.” Another translation of the text says: “Then you will see and be radiant, your heart will throb and be enlarged and abundance will come to you.” Rev. Jeff Rider explains: “Rise is what we do. We have to get up - we have to show up. But showing up is all we do. Shine - that’s what God does. God’s the light. We’re just here reflecting so he can be seen. Church is a chance to be part of something bigger than just ourselves…an entire group of people who shine, who get together and reflect God’s light, so the whole world can know what it’s like to be loved.”
Resolutions Rev. Dave Stambaugh December 30 2018
Colossians 3: 12-17 Luke 2: 41-52
This Sunday in the Meetinghouse was all about spiritual preparation for the year ahead - or as Rev. Dave Stambaugh put it, carefully reading Colossians 3: 12-17: for "a crash course in how to be a better person."
As Dave said, about half of us generally make New Year's Resolutions, with losing weight, getting more exercise, or getting a better job high on the list. The story from Luke 2 of the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple ends with a description that could inspire a few resolutions - when Jesus and his family returned home "Jesus grew strong in mind and body and in divine and human favor."
"New Year's Resolutions are designed to help us do the same thing: grow, mature, develop, become better people. They can be applied to our spiritual life, too - demonstrate compassion, kindness, patience, gratitude, peace, forgiveness and love."
A Different Lens Rev. Jeffrey Rider December 2 2018
On Sunday in the Meetinghouse this week, Tom Lowrie began the season by lighting the Advent candle for hope. As Rev. Jeffrey Rider said, Advent is a great time for applying a different lens to the old and the familiar. It's a time of longing together for the one who is coming - a chance to yearn together for fulfillment of God's ancient promises.
"This Advent, what are you longing for?" Jeff asked. "Who are you longing for? Are you longing on your own, all alone? Try a different lens. We are God's children, healers every one of us. Find the hidden light. Lift it up. Make it visible once more."
Church Building is a Verb Rev. Dave Stambaugh November 25 2018
1 Chronicles 29; 2 Corinthians 9
Sunday in the Meetinghouse was all about thanks and generosity. The idea that everything we have comes from God and belongs to God helps us to understand our role as stewards, taking care of what we have inherited so it is ready for those who come after us.
As Dave said: "You can have a church (adjective) building (noun) or you can have church (noun) building (verb). The scriptures are full of stories of church building, and of thanks giving and stewardship.
"We hear David celebrating God's abundance and acknowledging that in building a temple (church) people are simply giving back to God what already belongs to God. And we hear Paul encouraging the people of Corinth to give cheerfully because their gifts also cause other people to thank God.
"So let's keep 'church building,' with thanks, by giving wholeheartedly, so our contagious generosity meets the needs of God's people, creating fully-formed lives robust in God!"
Give Thanks Rev. Jeffrey Rider November 18 2018
Psalm 118: 1
Rev. Jeff Rider preached on one verse of Psalm 118: O Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endured forever.
"You and I are part of a long-standing tradition that's grounded in the power of gratitude to change lives. For generations Christians have been giving thanks. Contrary to popular opinion, we give thanks not to be good or so we can think of ourselves as nice people. We give thanks because it's part of how we follow Jesus, the ultimate change agent. Giving thanks changes us, and giving thanks changes the culture, the world around us, too."
Hold Tight Rev. Jeff Rider November 4 2018
Ruth 1: 14-18
How do you comfort a crying baby? Or someone who is grieving? You hold tight and don’t let go. For the baby, your presence helps them learn to sooth themself. Like Ruth, we comfort someone who’s grieving by holding on to them and not letting go. We help them get back into rhythm. Surviving loss, living with grief, requires the presence of someone else. We can’t do it on our own; we’re not wired that way. We need someone to bring God’s peace to our deepest hurts. Sometimes we need that presence more than words can say. And sometimes we need to be that presence for someone else. The need for comfort, and the need to give comfort, that’s what pulls us together in tough times…
Is it Good with You and Me? Rev. Jeff Rider October 28 2018
Mark 10: 46-52
Lotto millions featured in Rev. Jeff Rider's message about Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. "We think we know what we want. If we're lucky we might even get it. But what is it that Bartimaeus sees that no-one else can?
"Lost in the crowd, knowing Jesus is near, he cries out Mercy! Have mercy on me! Jesus spends his entire ministry trying to help people see just how close God's love and forgiveness is - but his disciples still aren't getting it. What a moment it must have been when, this time, Jesus hears not another request for prestige and power, but one lone voice in a crowd, crying out for mercy. "
Is Your God Too Big or Too Small? Rev. Dr. Allen Hilton October 21 2018
Job 38:1-7, 40: 1-5
Is your God an issuer of paychecks and demerits? Or the author of transformation? Allen Hilton unpacks the next chapter in the trials of Job, the righteous man who rails at God after losing riches, family and, finally, his health. His friends show up to comfort them, then encourage him in his complaints. But God is bigger than the one version we pray to when we’re looking for a parking space. And Job comes to realize than, and ends in sackcloth and ashes, to apologize for misunderstanding God.
What is a Friend? Rev. Jeff Rider October 14 2018
Job 2 11-13
Faith isn’t an idea, something we agree or disagree with. Faith is something we do. Together. We’ve been saying it all Fall: the single most important word in the Christian faith is…with. At its core, faith is about sharing lives, the good, the bad, even the ugly moments with friends. Keep that in mind as we listen to this story of three men and what happened when they visited their friend, Job, who had fallen on hard times.
That They All May Be One Rev. Dave Stambaugh October 7 2018
John tells how Jesus prayed for unity, that we may all be as close as he was with God. That unity is expressed in the motto of our denomination, the United Church of Christ (That They All May be One) and in the GFC covenant. And it is the hope behind World Communion Sunday, celebrated by churches around the world for the last 85 years.
Seeing and Being the Face of God Rev. Dr. Allen Hilton September 23 2018
Luke 6: 12-16 Genesis 33: 1-11
The lead passage from Genesis tells the very unlikely reconciliation of Jacob and Esau. Jacob has screwed his brother Esau at every turn since they were kids. Then, when Esau got mad enough to kill him, he fled north and stayed away for 14 years. Coming back south with his now-large family, he fears death at Esau’s hands, sends gifts out in front of his entourage to appease his brother’s anger, has bad dreams the night before because he’s so anxious, and finally arrives at the moment of truth.
Shockingly, Instead of throwing weapons AT Jacob, Esau throws his arms AROUND him instead. An overwhelmed Jacob says, “Truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God — since you have received me with such favor.”
The second passage is boring on the surface. It’s a list of the men Jesus chose to be his 12 disciples. But within that list stand Simon, the Zealot (a Jewish revolutionary trying to overthrow the Roman Empire's rule of Palestine) and Matthew, the tax collector (a revenue agent for the Roman Empire). Imagine a member of Antifa and a KKK guy. Jesus intentionally recruited Jacob and Esau before the reconciliation.
All of this points to a part of God’s character that we’ve been ignoring lately in the American church and culture. Today we celebrate that urge to reconcile people as a part of God’s character and look for how it could manifest itself in our lives — personal, professional, political.
Ops! I Did It Again Dave Stambaugh August 5 2018
2 Samuel 11-12, Psalm 51, John 6:32-35
If God can forgive David for coveting, adultery and murder, what can he do for you? When we take part in the first sacrament of the church, baptism, we ask for the power to resist evil in all its forms. In the second sacrament, communion, we start with the Prayer of Confession and ask for forgiveness. The two parts of us do battle with each other and, like David, we (to quote Britney Spears) often find ourselves saying over and over: "Oops I did it again." But Jesus feeds our hunger for forgiveness: "“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
Family Matters Dave Stambaugh July 29 2018
'Family matters' can be two things: a noun, describing all the things all of us go through, or a declarative statement that family is important. Families come in all shapes and sizes, united by love. Paul's letter explores how, when we are rooted and grounded in God's love, we experience all the fullness of God - as a faith family, and in our own family.
Slaying Giants Dave Stambaugh June 24 2018
1 Samuel 17
How do you find the courage to do battle with the difficult things in life - to go out and slay giants, every now and then, or day after day? Dave Stambaugh took us to the Valley of Elah, where David withstood the trash-talking of the giant Philistine, Goliath, was undaunted by his size and weaponry, and went to the river to find five smooth stones to put in his shepherd's pouch with his slingshot. David then ran to the battle line - and slew the giant. Dave talks about finding your own five smooth stones to slay your giants, and those of other people and our wider community.
Doorknob Moments Rev. Megan Cullip June 17 2018
Romans 12:9-15; Philippians 4:4-9
How often do we wait until the moment of leaving to share our true feelings? Rev. Megan Cullip's final sermon reminded us of those 'doorknob moments' and focused on the hope of Paul's letter to the church at Philippi, written in chains during a dark time but mentioning joy more than an other letter.
"Finally, my brothers, whatever is...That's why I have dubbed Philippians 4: The Whatevers," said Megan. "Notice Paul is not saying the entirety of anything or any situation will be good or noble or praiseworthy or virtuous or praiseworthy. We won't get to that this side of heaven. This is why he implores the Philippians "whatever is," whatever you can pull out of any circumstance that is Good and True and Beautiful then by all means do it...for that is where you will find peace and you will find joy."
An Unfunded Mandate? Rev. Dr. Allen Hilton April 29, 2018
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Rev. Dr. Allen Hilton asked if God has given us a "unfunded mandate" when he commanded us to love one another.
"Is church division a bad habit we can't change? The good news is that we have done this before," said Allen. "When Jesus chose his disciples, he included Matthew, a tax collector for the Romans, and Simon, the Zealot dedicated to overthrowing the Roman empire - complete political opposites. Yet they became part of the unified body that changed the world."
Learning to see our differences as God-given and valuable is vital work for Christians in this time of polarization and division in our country. Read the scripture.
Old Story or New? Rev. Jeffrey Rider, Senior Minister March 25 2018
1 Corinthians 1:20-25
Rev. Jeff Rider invited us into Holy Week by entering deeply into the full, unsettling story of Christ's betrayal and resurrection.
"God switches it up - he wants us to take a leap of faith," Jeff said. "We can share not just the parade of Palm Sunday or the party of Easter but also the story of goodbye and betrayal at the Last Supper. He wants us to look at our world, looks at others, through the eyes of Jesus. Every Lent we gear up to face this big loss during Holy Week. We can glance at it the same way each year. Or maybe this year we can give ourselves permission to take a leap of faith and discover the new story, the new life waiting for us on the other side.”
God’s Top Ten List Dave Stambaugh, Minister for Faith Formation March 18 2018
“Technically the United Church of Christ doesn’t have a creed. Our denomination is known for its commitment to private judgement and liberty of conscience when it comes to doctrine and theology; one of the things I love most about the UCC," said Dave Stambaugh. “But we as a church have a vision statement and a covenant – things that describe the kind of church we want to be, the people we want to be. Our vision statement and covenant are our road signs and traffic lights.
“Warm welcome, respectful acceptance, shared joy, tender compassion, through service, inspiration, instruction, comfort, hope and love. The GFC 10 commandments if you will. Summed up with the 2 guardrails of the great commandment: love of God and love of neighbor - reverence and respect. Or in the words of our covenant a common loyalty to Jesus, and a common passion to serve the world."
Choose Love Rev. Jeffrey Rider, Senior Minister March 4 2018
"So how does love cast out fear? And what do we tell our kids and each other to help us live in a world that can be so frightening?" Rev. Jeff Rider asked. If was a good question after a week when the evacuation of Staples High School brought the threat of gun violence home, and news from Syria and elsewhere brought the suffering of children right into our in-boxes. It was time to make choices, Jeff said.
"As people wrapped their arms around each other, a few things became clear," he said, describing the response to the Staples crisis. "We saw there's a difference between fear and anxiety. Fear is a natural response to threat that has the power to protect us. Anxiety is the fear of fear itself that isolates us, keeps us alone with our thoughts, reviewing them over and over.
"When we challenge anxiety, we choose love. When we accept fear as important information, we choose love. When we find the courage to act on more important things, we choose love. Choosing love is more than a slogan. It's the work of the church.”
You are Never Too Far Gone Rev. Megan Cullip, Associate Minister for Youth February 18 2018
Genesis 9:8-17 Peter 3:18-22
This week's scriptures brought us the familiar story of the flood (Genesis 9:8-17) and the less familiar words of Peter (1 Peter 3:18-22) about Christ preaching to the spirits of those who were disobedient in the days of Noah. Rev. Megan Cullip went through the dark days of the flood, and Noah's own despair and loneliness, to the hope in God's Covenant, both after the flood, and in the resurrection of Jesus.
"Jesus descends into dark places to redeem and bring hope, even to spirits long lost in days long gone. For God may have seemed silent in the midst of crashing waves and hopeless faces. But God did speak, not with an answer but with a promise - a costly covenant that would require divine suffering because humans are still capable of such grievous sin. And Christ suffered. And Christ rose. And Christ preached to those who seemed so far gone. The gloriously hopeful point? You are never too far gone.”
When Words Fail Rev. Jeffrey Rider, Senior Minister February 11 2018
The story of the Transfiguration in Mark 9:2-9 prompted Rev. Jeff Rider to talk about prayer when words fail us, and about seeing through the everyday to hear and experience God.
"God places each of us in moments of wonder, moments of awe, moments of wider possibility. Do we really want to miss it?" asked Jeff. "Sometimes we need a mountaintop moment, something beyond words or understanding, to get our attention. Today’s action takes place high atop a mountain. But Jesus and his disciples don’t stay there very long. Soon enough, they come back down."
Does God Answer Prayer? Really? Rev. Jeffrey Rider, Senior Minister February 4, 2018
Prayers - answered and unanswered - are at the heart of Jeff Rider's sermon. Beginning with the story of Jesus healing Simon's mother-in-law in Mark 1:29-39, Jeff puts prayer in a bigger context than our sudden cries for a miracle.
"Prayer is how we go through life together with God. When we reach out as we long for healing and safety, what are we saying? That we don't want to go through this alone? Which is precisely why God wants us to pray. God wants us to share our lives with him. And he wants the kind of relationship where we share it.”