What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-6-19

Mourners gather for a vigil at the scene of a mass shooting, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. Multiple people in Ohio were killed in the second mass shooting in the U.S. in less than 24 hours. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 8-6-19

Three days ago, Saturday morning, August 3, a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing at least 20 and injuring many more. A manifesto thought to be written by the killer declared his intention to kill as many Latinos as possible. The Cielo Vista Mall Walmart is one of the busiest in the country. It is near the border with Mexico. It welcomes customers from both El Paso and Cuidad Juarez, which lies just across the border in Mexico. El Paso is a majority Latino city and one of the safest cities in the U.S. The gunman drove 9 hours from his residence in the Dallas suburbs to commit this heinous act of violence. Echoing hateful language that is poisoning our political discourse, the gunman wrote that he was responding to “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

13 hours later a gunman in body armor opened fire at a bar in the Oregon District of Dayton, OH, killing 9 including his sister–this carnage despite the fact that police were able to respond and kill the shooter in 30 seconds. The amount of death he was able to inflict was likely due in part to the fact that he was armed with an automatic rifle and a 100 round barrel magazine. 

An El Paso leader summed up the situation well: “We have a gun problem, and we have a hate problem.”

I know that at FCC Granby we have a diversity of opinion on these issues. This much was evident in the conversation at the “Thank Goodness it’s Friday” social supper just hours before the first shooting. It so happened that the topics of both race and guns came up, and there was disagreement on both issues. This was also evident Sunday morning during the sharing of joys and concerns. Some prayed for a change in gun laws. Some prayed for access to mental health services and social “connection.” I suppose in this way we are simply a microcosm of the country as a whole.

While any and all of these may or may not be helpful responses, it seems to me that as followers of Jesus we are called to respond to acts of violence and the trauma they cause. As James Baldwin wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.” As a follower of Jesus, it seems to me the height of immorality to turn away from the suffering we are inflicting upon each other with these repeated mass shootings. We must face who we are and what we are doing because what we are doing has to change. I can’t believe that this is the world God would want us to create.

We have a gun problem. So fix it. Stop blaming others. Start taking action. I’m not a legislator. I’m not a policy expert. I’m not interested in excuses. I’m interested in results. Don’t tell me what won’t work. Show me something that will. I stand with the people of Dayton who are calling on their governor to “do something.”

We have a hate problem. This goes much deeper. It goes to the heart of our history as a nation that has committed genocide against Native Americans and enslaved Africans. Our ancestors laid the groundwork for hate based on the Doctrine of Discovery and the false ideology of white supremacy. It is what theologian Jim Wallis calls America’s “original sin.” 

Both of these shooters were not only white but also men. Why are the perpetrators of mass shootings predominantly men? I wonder whether patriarchy–the idea that men are entitled to priviledged status–could also be a factor. I do not believe that men are inherently more violent than women. I believe that men in our country are socialized in such a way that for too many, violence is seen as a legitimate form of resolving differences and expressing feelings.

  Pinning all of this on “mental health” is not helpful. Yes, by all means provide better access to mental health care. By all means enact red flag laws. But many factors make treating mental illness difficult. A big challenge is stigmatization. And putting the blame for mass shootings on mental illness, only further stigmatizes those who already feel the stigma of their mental health status. It also allows us to dismiss those who commit violence as somehow fundamentally unlike us “sane” people. In this way we are conviently let off the hook from examining the roots of hatred and violence in our own hearts. 

While I am not a legislator or a policy expert, I am a Christian who has, despite spectacular and ongoing failures, committed himself to the way of love. And I believe you, my fellow members of FCC Granby, despite our differences of life experience, political opinion, social location, economic class, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression, country of origin, race, ethinicity, etc., are also committed to the way of love. We can do something about this hate problem right here and right now. We can extend love. We can have honest conversations about difficult things. We can repent. We can mourn. We can be instruments of peace. Remember what Dr. King said, “Darkness cannot overcome darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot overcome hate. Only love can do that.” 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-30-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-30-19

I had a nice meeting with the youth group Sunday evening. Rebecca, our Associate Pastor for Children and Youth Ministry, was away, so my daughter, Olivia, and I led the meeting. We met in Cook Hall instead of the normal basement meeting space. This was so we could set out cushions for meditation.

The focus of the FCC Youth Group–and one of the reasons for its success–is practical tools for everyday young adult living.  Teenagers face pressures that the adults in their lives sometimes seem to have a difficult time understanding. So the FCC Youth Group is a safe space for listening, learning together, and offering support as a navigate the choices and challenges of growing up. 

I began my meditation practice over twenty years ago. At that time I was newly married, newly a father, and starting my first “real” pastor job at a small, dying church in a rapidly changing town. The pressure was enormous. My old ways of solving problems was not working. Up until that point in my life, I had succeeded by memorizing the correct answers and spitting them back out on a test. But in my new situation being the smartest kid in class just wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to learn to see clearly, respond calmly, and connect emotionally with people. I didn’t start meditating thinking that it would help me do these things. I just knew I needed to change my approach and some intuition told me that meditation might help.

These days I engage regularly in formal meditation training with an authorized teacher and I teach others the simple practice of sitting still and minding the breath. FCC Youth and I spent an hour-and-a-half sitting in silence, sharing our experiences, and planning for the future. It feels great to know that we can turn to our breath and turn to each other when anxiety runs high.

The favorite Scripture for this week comes to us from Peg Giles. John 3:8 reads, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Greek word for “wind” also means “breath” and “spirit.” The text could also read, “The breath respires where it will . . . So it is with everyone who is born of the breath.” Could minding the breath and being “born of the spirit” or “born again” be connected? We imagine that “spiritual experience” is rare and dramatic–a blinding light or a voice from heaven–but what if it’s as close and common as this very breath.

Worship Resources–John 3:1-10

“Unless you are born from above . . .”

Call to Worship                     (from Psalm 29)                                                     

Leader: Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

People: Ascribe to the LORD the glory of God’s name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.

Leader: The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forests bare; and in God’s temple, all say, “Glory!”

People: May the LORD give us strength. May the LORD bless us with peace.

*Opening Prayer

Holy, there is so much we don’t know. We see with the eyes in our heads, but the eyes of our hearts are too often blind to the beauty before us. Clear our vision. Heal our souls. Settle our spirits on the gentle movement of the breath. Our bodies sustain themselves so beautifully and without a thought. May we open our hearts to the movement of your ongoing creation. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication                                                          

Holy God, you give us hands to serve and hearts to bless. We offer our money. We offer our service. We offer our lives. Receive and multiply them one hundred-fold. Amen.

Spiritual Goal–Sermon for 7/28/19

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Granby

Sermon Series: Favorite Scripture

28 July 2019

Text: Rev. 22:16-20 

Spiritual Goal

        What’s our purpose as Christians? As a church? That’s the question behind today’s favorite Scripture. It comes to us from Nancy Dow. When Nancy told me that her favorite Scripture is Revelation 22:16-20, she said, “I think it’s important that we focus on the end.” What I understood her to be saying is that we as Christians should not lose focus our purpose. What is our goal? What are we working toward? It reminds me of the sacred conversation Ann and I had last week in which she explained that when you’re plowing a field, you can’t look back. You need to keep your eyes on the horizon. Revelation 22:16-20 is very much focused on the horizon. This text contains the last words of the last chapter of the last book of the Bible. Last words carry special power. When someone dies, we often give their last words special significance. When I write a sermon I put a lot of focus on the end, the last paragraph, the last sentence, the last word, because that’s what people are most likely to remember. 

In today’s Scripture the most repeated word is “come.”

         The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

         And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

         And let everyone who is thirsty come.

         Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming

     soon.”

          Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! 

The word that rings through this passage is “come.” It’s not a “come if you’d like to” invitation. It’s a “get over here. We want you. We need you” invitation. At the center is the water of life. The image I see is a gathering at a well or maybe at the beach. There’s an old folk song that goes, “I went down in the river to pray, studying about that good old day and who shall wear the robe and crown, dear Lord, show me the way. O brothers let’s go down. Let’s go down. Come on down. O brothers let’s go down, down in the river to pray.” When we look to the horizon, what do we see? An invitation. “Come.”

The whole of our purpose is invitation. It’s helping people, help each other connect to God. Martin Luther famously said that Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. And there are a lot of hungry people out there. Our own Rebecca Brown has proven that. She came here four years ago as a lay minister for children and youth. When she arrived there were eight people in the youth group. Now there are over forty. How did she do that? Invitation.

Some of you may think that means Rebecca did all the inviting. That’s not the case at all. She engaged step by step in a very methodical process. The first thing she did was tell the group that their job was to grow. This message was met with resistance. There were some in the group who did not want to grow. They didn’t want “outsiders” messing things up. This was their group made up of people they were comfortable with. What if they didn’t like the new people? Rebecca held her ground, and the people who didn’t want to grow left the group. Now she was down to four kids.

Rebecca took those four kids and poured everything she had into them. She went to every event, every game, every concert, every party. Every opportunity she had to embed herself in the lives of the youth of this town, she took. She didn’t sit in the church and wait for youth to come to her, she went to them. She met youth on their terms, in their space. She made herself the guest. Instead of setting herself up as someone with the answers, she made herself a student of youth culture. She invited them to teach her. She showed up for them. Then they started showing up for her.

According to Rebecca, it only took about a year of networking and showing up before word about the youth group at FCC Granby started to spread. In other words, the youth themselves became the inviters. There wasn’t any fancy advertising. There weren’t any splashy events. It was all word of mouth. The reason I mention this is that this is consistent with other stories I’ve heard about church growth. My office manager in Stamford was a member of Grace Church in New Canaan for many years. Today Grace Church has thousands of members in a multi-million dollar campus that was featured in the New York Times because of its award-winning architecture. She told me she remembered the church went it was a group of people meeting in the pastor’s back yard. I asked her what was the secret to their growth. She said, “It was all word of mouth.” In terms of our FCC youth group, the eight that then became four has increased 10-fold to a group of over 40 kids. What if our church membership increased 10-fold? We would have a whole new set of problems. Good problems. Let everyone who hears, say, “Come.” Let everyone who is thirsty come.

The other thing that’s significant about our youth group is that it focuses on the spiritual needs of youth. The numbers only tell part of the story. Rebecca calls it “breaking into the hearts of our kids.” She describes her program as “No fun. No games. No food.” It’s the real stuff: honest, spiritual conversations about things that have direct relevance to their lives as teenagers, conversations, friendships, experiences that they can get nowhere else. If they could have these conversations elsewhere, they probably would. Rebecca sees her task as creating a safe container where young people can let down their pretenses, open their hearts, and be vulnerable. In other words, youth group is about getting real. It’s about authenticity. And, yes, sometimes they have food, fun, and games. Granby youth have spiritual lives and spiritual needs that aren’t being met anywhere else. I wonder if this is also the case for Granby adults?

Every one of us is here because someone else brought us whether it was a parent, grandparent, neighbor, or friend. Maybe it wasn’t to this particular church. Maybe you were one of the increasingly rare types who will just show up at church because it’s something you already value. But how did you come to value it? Because at some point somehow somewhere down the line someone said, “Come.” 

Jesus didn’t wait for us to come to him. Scripture says, “5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 

6 who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God

as something to be exploited, 

7 but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

being born in human likeness.

The world is hurting. How can we be satisfied huddling together inside these enjoying each other’s company when there are so many longing for a heart connection? The goal of the spiritual life is the joy of extending oneself to welcome the other. How do you expect to grow if you won’t stretch? And stepping out beyond our familiar and comfortable walls into the world to engage people where they are is an endless opportunity to stretch. The Spirit says, “Come.” And if we indeed are the spiritual people we imagine ourselves to be, we say with every fiber of our being, “Come. We want you here. Let’s learn together how to heal this world.” 

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-23-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-22-19

This week’s favorite Scripture comes to us from Nancy Dow. Revelation 22 is the last chapter of the Bible, and the last chapter concludes with the refrain “Come”:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.”

And let everyone who hears say, “Come.”

And let everyone who is thirsty come.

Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. 

The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:17, 20).

Nancy chose this Scripture because, she says, “It’s important for us to focus on the goal,” which I take to mean the goal of the spiritual life. 

When I hear the word “come” in this context I imagine a posture of welcome, accepting everything, facing everything, rejecting nothing. “Come” speaks to me of God’s posture toward the universe and our faithful response. The goal of the spiritual life is an ever deepening posture of welcome toward all that is.

There’s a receptive aspect to this divine welcome. I experience the receptive aspect in meditation. I sit in resolute silent stillness and receive whatever arises. The deep listening I try to practice in conversation with others is also an expression of this welcome. And there are other ways this welcome manifests. It’s the welcome articulated by the prophet Isaiah: “Those who wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength.” Or by Jesus: “I am the vine. You are the branches. Abide in me and you will bear much fruit.”

I began meditation practice over 20 years ago not only for myself but also for the congregations I serve. I noticed that churches in transition tend not to be particularly receptive.  Passive, yes. Receptive, no. One can be passive while turning away from difficult truths, like, for example, “our church is dying.” The receptive welcome that is the goal of the spiritual life faces reality as it is without judgment so that we can engage reality as it is in effective and helpful ways. 

We welcome reality as it is in order to meet reality as it is. Engagement is the second aspect of divine welcome–an aspect that declining churches tend to struggle with. We can feel the urgent joy of this welcome in the repeated call to “come.” The Revelation image is of the universe calling to itself. I imagine a parent bending down to embrace a child and lifting her up in his arms. “Come to me. I want you here!” It’s active, urgent, compelling.

Every church I’ve ever served has told me that it is “friendly.” And for the most part it’s true, but what they mean is, “We are friendly to each other.” How many times have I noticed worship guests sitting alone in a pew or keeping their own company at coffee hour? Too many. But even if we’re conscientious about guests, the welcome tends not to extend beyond our walls. 

A parishioner has said this to me on more than one occasion in more than one church: “Here ‘friendly’ means, ‘You’re welcome if you come.” This is a far cry from Jesus’ parable of heaven in which the host for the wedding feast sends out his servants into the highways and byways. The host instructs his servants to approach everyone they meet and “compel them to come in.” In other words, the attitude of divine welcome is not “you’re welcome if you come,” but “we want you here! How can we change so this will be a safe and relevant space for you?” 

Or better yet, flip roles. Instead of taking the role of host, be a guest. Learn the culture. Show up for others without any expectation. Just make yourself and instrument of divine love. God will do the rest.

I realize this is a scary challenge especially with all the obnoxious evangelists out there, but in my experience, while you may get some “no thank yous,” most people are just waiting to be invited. And–good news!–we will have an opportunity to be trained by an expert in reaching new people, Rev. Paul Nickerson, September 13-14 at First Church in Windsor.

The goal of the spiritual life is the joy of extending oneself to welcome the other. How do you expect to grow if you won’t stretch? And stepping out beyond our familiar and comfortable walls into the world to engage people where they are is an endless opportunity to stretch. This simple but profound spiritual practice unites spiritual growth, social justice, and church vitality. It’s what Jesus made us for. It’s what we’ve been waiting for. It’s past time we do it.

Worship Resources for Revelation 22:16-21

*Call to Worship  (from Psalm 46)

Leader: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

People: Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.

Leader: God says, “Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth.”

People: The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Opening Prayer

Draw near, Lord Jesus. We welcome you among us. Touch our hearts. Heal our souls. Move us to offer you our praise. We confess we are broken and suffering. We confess we remain caught in the bonds of our own unhelpful behavior. Release us and we will praise you. Amen.

*Prayer of Dedication

Holy God, we have received the water of life as a gift. That fountain of abundance never stops flowing. What else can we do but give in return? Bless our offerings. Amen.

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-15-19

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 7-15-19

Sunday we continue our “My Favorite Scripture” sermon series. This week we’ll be looking at Luke 9:57-62, focusing particularly on verse 62: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” This Scripture is a favorite of Ann Wilhelm.

Ann found this Scripture inscribed in the cover of her father’s childhood Bible. Ann’s father, Fred, and his wife, Edith, who was a refugee from Nazi Germany, bought a farm in Granby on which they raised Ann and her siblings. Today Ann and her husband Bill Bentley own and manage the family farm. This Scripture came to mind as Ann was thinking about FCC Granby and her role in the church’s transition to a new way of being.

For me, this Scripture points to the tendency of people and congregations in transition to hedge our bets. As the familiar hymn says, “Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.” But we don’t want to let go of it all. We don’t want to turn our church over to Jesus and let him have his way with us. What if something happens I don’t like? What if I’m asked to give up something important to me personally? So there’s a lot of bargaining that goes on in church transition. Not surprising, since bargaining is one of the stages of grief. And transition always involves loss and grief.

But I want to hear Ann’s thoughts. And I want you to hear them, too. So this Sunday we will be doing something a little different with the sermon. Ann and I will be sharing the sermon as a “sacred conversation.” It’s a kind of semi-scripted dialogue in which together Ann and I will be reflecting on the Scripture and its connection to our life as a congregation. I look forward to a great conversation!

By the time you receive this I will have taken a couple days of meditation retreat. I’m grateful for the opportunity to go deeper spiritually so that I can lead the congregation in deepening our connection with God. Successful congregational transition requires that we go in two directions at once. We need to go deeper spiritually because transition is incredibly difficult and demanding. We need to get spiritually “fit” for the kingdom of God so that we can meet the demands of the work ahead of us. We also need to go outward relationally to connect with our neighbors. As I said this past Sunday: the future of FCC Granby lies with the people who are not yet members of our congregation.

Total Praise–Sermon 7-14-19

“You are the source of my strength. You are the strength of my life. I lift my hands in total praise to you.”

Note: As always, this is a working text, not a transcription of the sermon as preached in the context of a worship service.

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Granby

Sermon Series: My Favorite Scripture

14 July 2019

Text: Psalm 121

Total Praise

This summer we’re doing a sermon series called “My Favorite Scripture.” Today’s favorite Scripture comes from Nancy Rodney. She chose Psalm 121. Nancy first learned Psalm 121 as a student at Northfield-Mount Hermon School, where she met Rob, the man who would later become her husband. She learned to read the Psalm as I did when I was a child.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills—

from where will my help come? 

2 My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth.”

The Psalmist is in a valley. Maybe it’s literal. Maybe it’s emotional or financial or political. Certainly it’s spiritual. She is surrounded on all sides, boxed in. Can’t move forward. Can’t move back. How many of you have been in this place? What does it feel like? How did you respond? 

The Psalmist responds by asking a powerful question: “From where will my help come?” This is a deeply spiritual question. It’s a soul searching question. It’s a question that arises from the gut when life lays you flat. It’s a humbling, maybe even humiliating question. I can’t get myself out of this mess. I don’t know about you, but I was taught from a young age that grown up solves his own problems. He doesn’t ask for help. It’s embarrassing. It shows you’re not self-sufficient. It shows you’re human. 

So I tried to fix myself. And you know what? It didn’t work. The more I struggled, the deeper into the valley I sunk. If you’re like me, you may have had a number of peaks and valleys in your life. I won’t tell you about all of mine. We don’t have the time. But I do remember the time my dad came out to the family. I was 21-years-old at the time and home from college for the summer. We were sitting at the table having Sunday afternoon dinner following church, which was our custom. Dad was drunk. He told my brother and me to stop horsing around. He had something to say. Then he said it. “I have AIDS. I’m bisexual. I have been all my life.” It felt like a meteor dropped from the sky and crushed me. My vision went blurry. My had ringing in my ears. I remember us kids getting up from our chairs to hug dad. The rest of the story I’ve had to piece together over many years. But that moment sent me into a valley that I would never have found my way out of without friends, family, mentors, and a lot of therapy. That’s the thing about the valley: you can’t pull yourself out. Someone has to reach down and rescue you.

But the world tells us to be self-sufficient, to put on a brave face, to pull it together, and when the pain and lonliness get too much, the world is more than happy to sell us a limitless variety of ways to numb out. Nancy tells me that when she was older, she gained a new, perhaps deeper, understanding of this text. This deeper understanding came when she made a group pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. During Nancy’s tour one of the pastor-guides explained that in ancient times locals would set up shrines to their gods on the tops of the hills. So that when the Psalmist says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills,” what she is seeing is all of these little shrines to the little gods with their little spheres of influence and their little areas of concern: the fertility god and the rain god and the river god and the sun god and the moon god and the star god and the god of this tribe and the god of that clan and the god of this king and the god of that city, each one shouting: “I will save you. I will make you feel good. I will satisfy you.” Or maybe they’re mocking you: “You’ll never make it. You’re stuck forever. You’re my prisoner now. Try harder! Run faster. Work longer.” When you imagine this text, what idols do you see dancing on the hills?

But then another voice breaks through the cacaphony: “My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth.” The valley didn’t break the Psalmist. It broke her open. Have you known someone broken by suffering? They become bitter and small and angry. They lash out at people or become depressed. It’s an incredibly sad thing to witness. On the other hand, perhaps you’ve known someone who’s gone through suffering, who’s walked through the valley, and come out on the other side kinder, gentler, whose spirit has been expanded. They use that suffering to connect with other people, to build up community, to heal others and bless many.

I think for example of Edith Wilhelm, whose ashes we will inter in the Memorial Garden following worship today. Edith and her family were refugees of Nazi Germany. They were immigrants seeking asylum. Edith was just a child. Yet this country welcomed her and her family and aren’t we at First Church of Granby grateful that our forebears welcomed immigrants and refugees because what a blessing Edith and the Wilhelm family was as is to this church. Edith took her childhood experience as a refugee and used it to welcome others. She was one of the founders of the refugee ministry here at this church, which welcomed other families to the U.S. and expressed Jesus’ ministry of compassion in profound, life-changing ways. This country pulled Edith and her family out of a valley. She turned that experience around and made her life about lifting others up.

What is we made that our mission focus at FCC Granby. What if we become the community that extended a hand. Not simply with charity. When my dad came out, I didn’t need charity. I didn’t want charity. I needed support. I needed encouragement. I needed people who would talk less and listen more. Don’t you think there are people in this community going through valley times? What if instead of spending so much time focusing on ourselves and the people in this room, we turned our focus outward, to our neighbors? What if we spend our time getting to know them. What if, instead of expecting them to come to us, we went out to them?

I think this church is going through a valley time. One person who came to worship last week after having been away for a while said to me, “It seems like things at the church are falling apart.” My answer, “Yes, we are!” How we respond will determine whether this time breaks us and turns us into a small, depressed, and resentful social club or whether this time breaks us open. We can use this opportunity to go to our neighbors and say, “We’ve screwed up. We havent’ been there for you. Teach us how to be the church you need.” And see what happens. Like all declining churches, we can’t climb out of this valley ourselves. We need someone to reach in and lift us out. And those someones are the people who are not yet members of this church. From where will our help come? The LORD. Where will we meet our God? In our neighbor.

Worship Resources–Luke 9:57-62 “No Looking Back, Part 2

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God”

*Call to Worship  (from Psalm 77)

Leader: I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.

People: I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.

Leader: Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?

People: With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.

Opening Prayer

Holy God, abiding faith is so difficult. We continually hedge our bets. With our mouths we say we trust in you, but in reality we continue to cling to tattered shreds of the familiar and comfortable. Teach us to let go. Teach us to seek first your Kingdom and its righteousnes. Teach us to exchange the tattered shreds of what once was for the unimaginable gift of what might be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Funeral Sermon Lt. Cl. Gerald Dickerson 12/3/1932 –6/30/2019

Lt. Cl. Gerald Dickerson 12/3/1932 — 6/30/2019

Rev. Dr. Todd Grant Yonkman, Transitional Senior Minister

First Congregational Church of Granby

Funeral for Gerald Dickerson

13 July 2019

Gerald A. Dickerson was born in Dickinson, ND December 3, 1932. He on June 30–just over a week ago–after an 8 year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Jerry grew up poor in rural Montana. He and his brother were raised by a single mom who worked tirelessly to provide for her boys. Life was hard. Opportunities were few. Corrine commented that it was a miracle Jerry and his brother Dale didn’t end up in jail. Work provided the structure Jerry needed to move forward in his life. He was hardworking, high energy, and had a love baseball. In fact, he was a top pitching prospect until pleurisy, which he developed while working at a dry cleaner, ended his baseball career. 

Jerry graduated Brooklyn High School, Brooklyn, OH, Class of 1940. After that he went to Baldwin Wallace College where he joined the Reserve Officers Training Corps. After graduation from college, Jerry was commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. He served in the USMC for over 20 years until his retirement in 1992. After his retirement, he worked with The Hartford Insurance Company and then Farmers and Trader’s Insurance Company in insurance sales and as a general manager. 

Jerry is remembered as a fun and intelligent man, if not always super handy around the house. For example, one time he purchased a new lawn mower. He brought it home, got it out of the car, set it up in the lawn, and yanked on the pull cord ‘til his arm was sore. Frustrated, he called the place where he purchased it. They sent a service guy out to see what was wrong with the brand new mower. The service guy looked it over. Nothing wrong. Then he turned to Jerry, “Did you put gas in it?” You know what happens next.

Jerry had a large, loving family. His wife, Corrine. Five children, 11 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, who will miss him very much.

Earlier in the service Brenna read to us from Ecclesiastes. It’s a relatively well known piece of Scripture as far as Scripture goes. My guess this is due primarily to Pete Seeger, who wrote the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” based on this text back in the 1950s, which the Byrds then covered and made it into a hit. 

What is it about this text that we love so much? It seems so matter of fact. No earth shattering truths here. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 

2 a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance . . .” and so on.

For me, what this text does is invite us to be present every moment to this very moment, to face whatever it is we’re facing, to feel whatever it is we’re feeling, to accept whatever gift the universe is offering us and embrace it as our life, our one precious life, to drink deeply, to live fully, to love completely, and then let go trusting that whatever season we find ourselves in–whether its a season of joy or grief of building up or breaking down, or planting or plucking up, of living or of dying, it is in this very season that we will find God.