God of life, defeater of death, we worship you because you alone are worthy. Thank you for Jesus, firstborn of the dead, who has shown us the pathway to life everlasting. In these stay at home days, be our shelter. In this time when news of illness and death is all around, restore us to life. In this time of economic anxiety and financial peril, establish our faith in your generous provision. Amen.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 4-3-20
It’s week two of the stay at home order for the State of Connecticut. I’m sitting on the three season porch where I’ve spent the day in Zoom meetings. Late this afternoon I spent an hour on what has been a four year project of cleaning up our overgrown backyard. Otherwise these four walls have defined the limits of my physical movements. Spiritually, I’ve been preparing for Palm Sunday.
When I was a kid, Palm Sunday was the warm up for Easter. I remember lining up before worship in the Narthex with dozens of other kids waiting to receive my palm branch. When the congregation stood and the organ played the introduction to “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” our Sunday school teachers led us in a palm parade down the center aisle. The celebration was loud, grand, and performed with a packed house. It felt like the time my daughter’s fifth grade team won the Downeast Maine girls basketball tournament. Following the championship game the town firetruck led a parade down Main Street. Folks lined frigid streets, dark already at 4pm, to cheer the victors. There’s nothing so grand as supporting the winning team. And there’s nothing so innocent and blissful as children leading the parade.
I love the blissful innocence of the children’s Palm parade. But I can’t shake the heartbreaking irony of the Palm Sunday story. The same cheering crowds would be calling for Jesus’ crucifixion just days later. So if the Palm Sunday story is the story of Jesus’ “Truimphal Entry” into Jerusalem, the lesson seems to be that, at least in human terms, utter defeat can follow closely on triumph’s heels. But if we sit with the story for a while–for me that “while” is closing in on 50 years–we might widen our view and consider the possibility that God’s activity to redeem humanity extends beyond our conventional, self-centered definitions of triumph and defeat.
In this time of global pandemic the range of human potential is being put on display much the way it was that holy week when Jesus made his final journey to Jerusalem. We bear witness to heroic doctors, nurses, caregivers, healthworkers, and first responders putting their lives on the line for the sake of others. We notice common kindnesses among neighbors. Many of us are making an extra effort to connect, to help, and to encourage. Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, we also witness humanity’s less attractive tendencies: the tendencies of politicans to posture, the tendencies of rich people to use their privilege to serve themselves, and the tendencies of rest of us common folks to hoard toilet paper and Lysol wipes.
Our job as Christians approaching Palm Sunday is to widen our view and to deepen our understanding: to cheer with the children, to let our hearts break as we recognize ourselves in the crowds that so quickly turned on Jesus once they figured out he wasn’t bringing the conventional, human triumph they expected, and to step beyond our limited ideas about triumph and defeat into the boundless, redeeming love of God.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 2-23-20
I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back I can see that my childhood was filled with stories of what I would now call “mystical experiences,” that is, encounters with God. I sat on mom’s lap as she read from my Children’s Story Bible about God’s search for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. I remember illustrations of Abraham’s meeting with the three strangers under the Oaks of Mamre. I was fascinated and frightened by the mysterious angel who wrestled through the night with Jacob on the banks of the River Jabbok. Equally scary but in a different way was Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai. I remember the visions of the prophets: Isaiah’s throne; Ezekiel’s vision of wheels within wheels was something out of a Marvel comic book, and his vision of the valley of dry bones was spooky. Then there was Jesus’ vision of the Holy Spirit at his baptism. Peter, James, and John climb with Jesus to a mountaintop where Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. Paul encounters the risen Christ on the Road to Damascus. “Mystical” in the religious context has come to mean a direct experience of ultimate reality.
I don’t explicitly talk about mysticism very often because it’s famously difficult to do. God is, as the hymn says, “beyond all knowledge and all thought.” From a mystical standpoint, God is “unspeakable.” Simply saying the word “God” is already missing God. “God” is a placeholder for that which is by definition incomprehensible. Nevertheless, inadequate though it is, language is a tool we use to point toward a direct experience of–you pick your expression–God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Higher Power, the Divine, Ultimate Reality, Awakening, Buddha Nature, Allah, HaShem. The names are many.
Another reason I don’t explicitly talk about mysticism is the term carries with it all kinds of unhelpful baggage. People expect bright lights and heavenly voices and strange sensations. When these don’t manifest, they imagine either that it’s all just a bunch of hooey or that they are lacking the special whatever-it-is that one needs to have a mystical experience. Neither of these conclusions is true. It’s not a bunch of hooey. Have you ever had an “Aha” moment? Have you ever been moved to tears? These and other everyday experiences of “breakthrough” are what mystics consider “divine encounters.” And everyone has them or has the capacity to recognize them. So you are a mystic! Some breakthroughs are big and life-altering. More often they’re small and go unrecognized.
Church is a community gathered around the intention to recognize, name, and ever more deeply live out of these unspeakable mystical encounters.
What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-16-20
I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday morning this week on meditation retreat. I came home and took a nap. Why? Because sitting on the floor in silence while maintaining as still a posture as possible for 10 hours a day is, in fact, exhausting. Why do I do it? Scripture says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Humans like to move. We rush around doing this and that. But even if we’re “vegging out,” our minds jump from this thought to that thought. The practice of meditation is stilling the body and mind together to become completely still like water on a pond. It turns out that the Bible is true! I can attest that cultivating stillness does, in fact, create circumstances in which God can be encountered in a profoundly life-changing way.
When asked my purpose, I tend to say “Helping people connect to God.” How can I help people connect to God if I am not myself living out of that connection? As a personal purpose statement, “helping people connect to God” seems to work for me. Working with our transition coach, Rev. Dr. Claire Bamberg, has taught me to ask a different question, namely, what is your “Why?” I realized this week that “helping people connect to God” doesn’t answer the “why” question. Why help people connect to God? Great question!
I don’t know the answer, yet, exactly. Maybe something like this: I know the pain of being separated from one’s deepest longing. I also know the joy of connection. A world of joyful, connected people is a world I want to live in.
As a congregation articulating a “why” is vital to our future. More important than what we do is being clear why we do it. Claire will be leading us in a congregational conversation about our why. In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to watch these short videos and think about what is your “why” and what is FCC Granby’s “why.” The videos show why the question of “why” is so important.
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.