Living Water

Facebook livestream 15 March 2020 of adapted/abbreviated worship with congregation joining in from their homes due to coronavirus precautions. Audio starts at about the 10 minute mark!
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman at First Congregational Church of Granby 15 March 2020

How to Handle Anger

 A still from Amore e rabbia (Love and Anger), a 1969 Italian-French anthology film
Sermon by Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman at First Congregational Church of Granby 16 February 2020

Worship Resources for 2-2-20

*Opening Prayer

God of unconditional love, you tell us that heaven is a banquet where everyone has a place at the table. We look forward to that banquet in the world to come. But what if we could taste it right here, right now? What if we lived that reality today? What if we experienced that unbounded joy? It seems impossible, but you tell us that with you, all things are possible. We confess we live too much in our worries and fears. We worry that if more people join us at the table, there may not be room for us. We’re afraid that someone might take our place. Teach us a deeper truth. Teach us the reality that your love is limitless and that as we share it we will see that there is room at the table for everyone. Give us the tools to love people in the ways they need not the ways we would prefer because we know that love is the highest worship. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication                                                          

We dedicate our offerings to the work of making room at the table so that more and more our earthly reality might reflect the heavenly one. Amen.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-29-20

Y’all Come Lunch, Beneficent Congregational Church, Providence, RI

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-29-20

This Sunday is Communion Sunday. The Scripture is the opening statement of the most famous sermon of all time: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We’ve come to know this opening statement or “introitus”–as scholar Hans Dieter Betz calls it–as “The Beatitudes.” The name comes from the Latin word beatitudo or “blessed,” which is repeated nine times in this opening statement: “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn . . . Blessed are the meek . . . Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness . . .” and so on. The heart of Jesus’ message is blessedness. What does this have to do with Holy Communion?

The connection between Communion, where we are invited to participate in the body of Christ broken and the cup of the new covenant poured out, and the Beatitudes is in the categories of people Jesus singles out to bless: the poor in possessions and poor in spirit, the grief-stricken, the meek, the hungry and thirsty–whether physical or spiritual sustenance, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. These are the blessed ones. Conventional wisdom tells us that the rich, the happy, the strong, the satisfied, the well-connected, the well-thought-of, the folks with perfect bodies and amazing Instagram feeds–these are the blessed ones. Jesus teaches otherwise. The path of blessing is not the path of perfection. It’s the path of connection.

And Jesus practiced what he preached. Scripture shows us that Jesus loved to hang out with the left out and left behind. The Gospel of Mark tells us that one day as Jesus “sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him.  16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (2:15-17). The scribes of the Pharisees were what we would call “well-connected” in that ancient culture. They benefitted from privilege, “social capital,” we sometimes call it. Perhaps some of it earned, but like much of what determines our station in life to this day, my guess is their self-perceived superiority was mostly an accident of birth. The well-connected scribes were upset that Jesus wasn’t playing by the rules that dictated that Jesus’ primary attention should be going to them. Instead, Jesus went out of his way to connect with the otherwise disconnected. As far as Jesus is concerned, there is room at the table for everyone, and he made it his business to make sure everyone was there, even tax collectors and sinners.

Years ago when I was conducting interviews for my book Reconstructing Church: Tools for Turning Your Church Around, I asked a church member what she thought was key to our success in growing the church. She said, “Before you came, it was like, ‘You’re welcome if you come.’ Now it’s like, ‘We want you here.’” One of our marketing slogans in the UCC is “Whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.” It’s a nice sentiment. But there’s a huge difference between a welcome that says, “If you show up on Sunday morning we won’t treat you like dirt even if you look, talk, or love in ways that make some of us uncomfortable” (which, it’s important to note, is an improvement over being explicitly racist, bigoted, or homophobic) and “We want you here, and we’ll prove it by getting up out of our pews, going out into the community, eating with you, drinking with you, listening to your hopes and dreams, and then creating a church that reflects your experience.” 

That’s the connection between Communion and the Beatitudes: it’s a welcome that says, “We want you here.” Communion is the ritual that reminds us of Jesus’ central teaching. The broken bread and poured out cup teach us that the path of blessing is not about conforming to some arbitrary, often unspoken ideal of what is proper, normal, or respectable; it’s not about adopting conventional ideas of who is worthy of love and who is unworthy, whose voices should be listened to and who should keep quiet; the path of blessing is not about being well-connected or having it all together; the path of blessing is not about perfection; it’s about connection.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-7-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-7-20

My family and I had a wonderful holiday together in Windsor. We took some time off to focus on reconnecting. Fiona and her boyfriend (who is from Tokyo and stayed with us this winter break) cooked for us. My sister and her family of 6 (!) stayed with us for a week. They filled our sleeper sofas and bunk beds. Olivia directed the Christmas pageant here at FCC Granby and worked lifeguarding shifts at the Jewish Community Center. Even in this age of virtual reality and social media, there is no substitute for simply sharing space. While physical proximity does not guarantee intimacy, it is a key factor for cultivating closeness. (Which, just to drive the point home, is why there is no substitute for dragging your _____ to worship on Sunday morning.)

This week I’ve been settling back into a work rhythm. The answer to “What’s Up with Pastor Todd?” is “a lot.” I’m sitting in my office with the “to do” list Office Manager Sue prepares for me every week, to which I typically add a dozen or so more items. My view is that if my “to do” list doesn’t exceed my ability to complete it, I’m not living big enough. How do I avoid a constant state of overwhelm? Prioritizing and letting go. Even so, sometimes it’s difficult to prioritize. So many things demand attention. In these moments I use a tool I’ve learned in many years of meditation practice: focus on what’s in front of you. Sounds simple enough. But then the question becomes How do I get the things in front of me that are most consistent with my goals and values? This brings me back to the practices of inviting Sue to partner with me in creating a “to do” list and literally putting it on my desk where I will see it. This brings me back to the “big rocks” of Scripture study, sermon preparation, writing liturgy, namely, the spiritual practices that ground me in what is of ultimate importance.

One of my favorite Buddhist Scriptures is called “The Five Remembrances.” It’s part of an ancient text attributed to the Buddha entitled “Subjects for Contemplation.” The fifth remembrance is this: “My deeds are my closest companions. I am the beneficiary of all my deeds. My deeds are the ground on which I stand.” The only place to act is here. The only time to act is now. What are you doing right here, right now? What practices help you align your deeds with your values? Who are your “closest companions?” Are they hindering you on your spiritual journey or propelling you forward? What is your “ground?” Is it a solid place on which to stand?

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-18-19

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife . . . .” (Matthew 1:20)

When Joseph found out his fiance Mary was pregnant and he wasn’t the father, an angel says to him, “Do not be afraid.” It’s interesting that the emotion attributed to Joseph at this point is fear. I might have thought anger because from a human standpoint, the assumption would be that Mary had cheated on him. But anger isn’t named. The emotion that needs to be released in order for the holy wedding to take place is fear.

The thought of marriage scared the pants off me when Nicole and I were dated. My parents were in the process of an ugly divorce. Her parents had also had an acrimonious divorce. Our families’ recent track records were not good. Who could say we would do any better? In the end, with fear and trembling, I asked, and she said, “Yes.” Twenty-three years later we’re still together! For me, it has less to do with anything special about us. It has more to do with God’s grace and an amazing support system. And even after all these years, I am deeply aware of how fragile it all is.

The Apostle John writes that “perfect love casts out fear.” This suggests that love and fear go together. True love demands vulnerability, vulnerability brings risk, risk often gives rise to fear. “Will I be rejected?” “Will I be taken advantage of?” “Will my loved one leave or die?” Human love is imperfect, so fear goes with the territory. That’s why for me a key to making human love work is grounding myself everyday in God’s perfect love. If you’re not at least a little afraid, you may not be risking true love. If you find yourself afraid to, for example, share your feelings, be honest, meet a neighbor, share a gift, make a friend, commit to a relationship, instead of ignoring the fear, you might sit with it for a bit, invite divine love to shed some light on the situation, and then step forward with courage.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-9-19

Neighborhood Christmas Caroling in Granby!

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 12-9-19

Yesterday eight folks from First Congregational Church of Granby grabbed some sandwiches after worship, put on our winter boots, and stepped out into a cold, bright, sunshiny afternoon to sing Christmas carols in our neighborhood. It was fun!

Neighborhood caroling is a new activity we developed out of our Vitality Team. Team members are Ann Wilhelm, Heather Dobbert, Beth Lindsay, and Anne delCampo. Other supporters are Chris and Vicki Saunders, Aurelle Locke, and Kerri Crough. Our singers yesterday were Ann Wilhelm, Bob and Peg Giles, Chris and Vicki Saunders, Catherine Kibby, and Duncan Rowles. 

Just to review: the Vitality Team is a part of the Reaching New People plan that a group of us from FCC developed at the Reaching New People workshop with Rev. Paul Nickerson last September. Since that time, the folks who participated in that workshop have been meeting via conference call every other month to implement the plan we developed. The role of the Vitality Team is to continue implementing the plan and to create a culture of invitation in the congregation. Neighborhood caroling was a joyful event that got us out of our building and got us inviting our neighbors to church for holiday worship and activities.

We visited 20 houses because that’s how many goody bags we had. Aurelle and Vicki very lovingly prepared them. I was the doorbell ringer. Then we gathered together, sang a few carols, and handed whoever answered the door a goody bag filled with cookies and our advent brochure. Some people did not answer the door, so we sang carols and simply left the goody bag inside the storm door or hanging on the doorknob. Those of us who took this adventure have lots of stories to tell. I hope you will ask the singers how it went. 

At one house we went to, the homeowner stood in his doorway. He had tears in his eyes. We sang, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” I handed him a goody bag. As we were leaving, the homeowner said, “I’ve never experienced anything like this. Thank you so much.” I felt the joy in those tears. Many years ago, Christian author C. S. Lewis, wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. Joy is the surprise of connection. Joy is the theme of the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Joy may be closer than you think. It might be waiting for you next door in a compassionate connection with a neighbor.