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Based on the Scripture readings:
Isaiah 43:16-21
2 Corinthians 1: 18-22

2004 June 20
Gretchen L. Elmendorf, Associate Pastor

A New Thing

"Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters…I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" God is doing a new thing today. We are blessed to have youth visit our church for the first time, all the way from Kentucky, youth who will fill our sanctuary with song and bless us with worship that is intergenerational at its best. Allelujia! Also, we have witnessed from our moment of commissioning that God is doing a new thing with our youth, sending them to Missouri, to be in community with people they have likely not spent a whole lot of time with yet, children of God, people with developmental disabilities, people from whom they will learn and grow. So I say, Amen to new things. [For a report on the trip to Missouri, click here.]

Last weekend, Ken and I attended the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Church. We were both charged up, I think it's fair to say, by much that transpired.

As I sat in the balcony of this big auditorium of people, there were moments I'd get so excited, that beyond sharing my enthusiasm with colleagues I sat with, I was thinking of our church. I wanted to share the good news. God is clearly doing new things in our denomination, in our churches. Many resolutions passed at the annual meeting, one of which we are well acquainted with as we voted in support of this resolution at our annual meeting. The resolution to support the State Supreme Judicial Court's decision to affirm the right of same gender couples to marry. Other resolutions passed too - a resolution supporting seafarer's rights, a resolution encouraging respect for all marriages, a resolution on Massachusetts Prison Control Units, and a resolution calling for us to be a Fair Trade Conference.

What was exciting to see was the very democratic process that took place as 100s of people all prayerfully and passionately considered these resolutions. On Friday, we had an afternoon of hearings to go to, at which point, people were invited to come to the microphone in front of large assemblies and speak pro and con on the issues. Amendments were made overnight in response to people's concerns. On Saturday, before we voted as a conference, once more, people were invited to speak about their convictions regarding the resolutions. There were long lines of passionate, articulate people queued up at the microphones. Their voices were heard. I was struck by the strength and integrity of our process of discernment. Nancy Taylor, the conference president, articulated beautifully how important our ability to hear one another is. Let me share with you her words and images: She said: "I believe that the United Church of Christ is a precious, unique and distinct expression of the church.

I believe we are light hid under a bushel - not enough people out there know about the unique characteristics and qualities of our denomination. NOW is time to let our light shine.

The United Church of Christ was born out of a passion to heal the divisions in the Christian Church …we were born with a particular purpose: to be a living response and a living answer to the prayer of Jesus: that they may all be one. Today and in the days to come, we have a unique opportunity and challenge to cherish and claim the calling of this united and uniting church."

Nancy then goes on to say that many mainline Protestant traditions "are stretched to the breaking point over controversial matters. At a local ecumenical meeting a few weeks ago, one local Episcopal Bishop said in anguish: 'These issues are ruining the Episcopal Church.'

Nancy emphasizes: "The United Church of Christ will not split over these matters. We will not split because, while we are not of the same mind, the polity of the United Church of Christ is uniquely elastic and supple.

Back to topOur polity allows for striking, even passionate, differences of belief and practice to co-exist, side-by-side in this one family of Christians.

…The stuff from which the UCC is woven is flexible and does not split easily like trousers when the wearer suddenly bends over. The stuff from which the UCC is woven is strong and expansive, … it is the unique genius of the polity of the United Church of Christ that is…allowing us to tug at each other and pull in different directions without splitting…Nancy goes on to say that we are called to stretch our spiritual muscles, that we called to be a laboratory, an adventurous experiment in unity." …

This message of inclusivity was then reinforced by a brilliant speaker, maybe some of you know him, Ron Buford, who is the interim director of the "God is Still Speaking Initiative" that stems from the national offices of the United Church of Christ. Ron is striving to let our lights shine and welcome people into our churches.

He and others have developed publicity and Marge Brown, if you are here, our faithful P.R. person, you would love this…T.V. commercials will be aired this coming Advent about the UCC. One commercial starts with a little girl, which I found particularly appealing. I believe our most powerful messages come so often from our children. This little girl remembers what she had been taught in Church School. "Here is the church," she says, "and here is the steeple, open it up, and here are the people." Then the next image you see is of a girl of Asian descent…"All the people," she says. You then see images of people in wheelchairs, people gathered on church steps who are gay and straight, white people and people of color, Americans and people from other countries. Each one has their hands in the same configuration the little girl showed us. Each person says, "all the people."

Ron Buford closes with a story that he heard from an Episcopal priest (the Reverend George Riegas):

"The story is about a young man on a train, who gets on the train and the only open seat is beside a clergyperson. He sits down. He's not very well dressed, his bag is a little tattered, and he's a little shaky. And the preacher looks over and he says, 'Son, are you okay?' The young man says, 'Yeah, I'm okay,' he said, 'it's just that I'm headed for home and I haven't been home for more than three years.

And the preacher says, 'Well, I'm sure it'll be okay.' He says, 'No, you don't understand. He said, 'We left things a real mess at home. And in fact,' he says, 'I wrote home and asked them, if it is okay for me to stop, since our property comes down by the track, if they would tie a white rag by a tree that comes down by that track.' And he said, 'And to tell you the truth, I'm afraid to look.' He said, 'Our property is just around the next bend.' He said, 'Would you look out the window for me?'

The train rounds the bend. The young man looks away. The old preacher looks out the window. He says, 'Son, look!' And they both look. Every tree, every window, had a white rag blowing in the breeze.

The young man gets off the train at the next stop and that old preacher says, 'As long as I live I will never forget Back to topthe sight of that young man running up the hill toward the house with the white rags blowing in the breeze.'"

God is doing new things in our tradition. Buford points out that we have been that house on the hill for nearly 400 years, waving white flags. "In 1700, we were one of the first voices against slavery on this continent, and there were slaves who got off that train…In 1785, we were the first to ordain an African American person to ministry, there were other people of African descent who got off that train. In 1853, we were the first to ordain a woman, Antoinette Brown, to ministry, there were women seeking a call who got off that train.

In 1972, when we ordained an openly gay person to ministry, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered people got off that train. In 1973, when the General Synod became so impassioned about the plight of farm workers that it chartered a plane and flew to Coachella Valley, farm workers got off that train. And the train is still coming, and people are still getting off. People living with HIV-AIDS, the poor, people with disabilities."

Will we wave those white flags high at our own homes and at our church for people getting off the train? Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians that Jesus is the one who always says yes to people knocking at his door in need. Will we say yes to people who come to our doors at work, in our neighborhoods, in our church?

We, at Newton Highlands, have been meeting over the last few months to discuss our vision for ministry. In a year, we will have new space opened up for us to work with. It's a good time to deepen our receptivity for change. Let us be elastic enough, let's gently tug at each other, let's stretch our spiritual muscles so we can grow. And through it all, let's keep this question ever before us. How can we make room for our God who is ever ready to do a new thing? Amen.

Notes:

Nancy Taylor's address to the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, June 12, 2004, can (as of this writing) be found in its entirety on the MACUCC website: http://www.macucc.org/taylor/205thaddress.htm

Ron Buford's keynote address at the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, June 12, 2004, can (as of this writing) be read in its entirety at the MACUCC website: http://www.macucc.org/news/keynote04.htm. Further information about the God is Still Speaking Initiative can be accessed at the national United Church of Christ website: www.stillspeaking.org

Copyright © 2004 Gretchen L. Elmendorf.  Used by permission.

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