Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A New Day Dawns

Sunday was a great day.  I had the privilege of attending events with the Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer, the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ.  It was good to be John's chauffeur and colleague as we went to worship with the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College, United Church of Christ and to a special program on race at Smith Memorial Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Hillsborough.  John connected deeply in both contexts.  There was enthusiasm and energy in each gathering.  This is a new day in the United Church of Christ. 

It is amazing to behold how the Holy Spirit summons ordinary persons to extraordinary leadership in our denomination.  The Spirit's gifts produce visionary leaders.  The United Church of Christ has been blessed with articulate, compassionate, and courageous leaders throughout its history.  I look forward to the future that God has in store for us and the mission to which we are being called in God's world. 

The Rev. Dr. Avery D. Post and the Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
meet in Hanover, New Hampshire
Holy One, thank you for raising up prophetic leaders among us.  Grant them the wisdom and courage to lead, so that we may be the church that shows no partiality--where all are loved and received and nourished by your grace.   Amen.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Take Courage: You Can Do This

In 2006, during General Synod 25, my first as a conference minister in the United Church of Christ, there was a moment when I was paralyzed by fear.  The gala worship celebration on Sunday afternoon included the serving of Communion by conference ministers who were paired with a youth from their conference.  We rehearsed on Sunday morning.  It was a long morning.

When I learned that the New Hampshire Conference team had been assigned to serve in the upper sections of the Hartford Civic Center, I lost my nerve.  The fear of heights has always produced great anxiety in my soul.  Climbing up and down those steep steps while carrying the paten and chalice was a terrifying thought.  I found myself wishing that I had some physical limitation that would have kept me comfortably serving the sections down on the floor.

When the practice ended, Kate Rogers, the youth selected to serve with me, suggested that we go up to our section and practice in preparation for the afternoon service.  I remember feeling shaky.  My palms were sweating.  My heart was beating fast.  I stood at the top of our section, looking down--way down at what seemed like thousands of steps.  And then, a break-through moment came in a simple, yet profound declaration.  Kate spoke:  "You can do this!"  In the human voice, I found divine reassurance.  Serving Communion to the people in our section on that Sunday afternoon was a highlight of the worship experience.

"You can do this!" was the word that inspired courage in a cowering conference minister.  It is the word that we are called to speak to one another as we face the challenge of being the church in these days.  To churches that are afraid, paralyzed by their fear of the future, the word comes:  "You can do this!"  To pastors who are weary and weak, the word comes:  "You can do this!"  To leaders who feel the weight of the tradition and the responsibility for moving the church forward in a time of great change, the word comes: "You can do this!"

So, in the midst of every paralyzing fear and doubt, listen for the voice that provides hope and courage.  Today, I am grateful for Kate's voice that helped me serve when I felt scared to death.  Take courage, dear friends, "You can do this!"

Living God, in the face of my fears, open me to hear your voice, calming and calling me to be courageous.  May my voice be a source of courage for others today.  Thank you for the gift of empowering courage.  Amen.

Monday, August 10, 2015

"Get Up and Eat" - Sunday's Sermon

It's been a great summer.  I recently returned from our summer road trip to the Ozark hills of Missouri.  It was a very long trip--over 1400 miles one way.  At points along the way, I found myself wondering whether I could make it back home.  It seemed like such a long journey.

Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ is called to a much longer journey, a road trip for justice and peace.  Sometimes discouragement settles in on our soul.  Sometimes we no longer hear Christ bidding us to follow him.  Sometimes we tired or distracted or afraid.

My sermon from yesterday sought to reassure and empower the Church for its service in God's world.  I share it with you now in a spirit of humility and hope.

 I Kings 19:4-8
19:04 But he [Elijah] himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.

19:05 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat."

19:06 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.

19:07 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."

19:08 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
New Revised Standard Version
 John 6:35, 41-51
06:35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

06:41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven."

06:42 They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?"

06:43 Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves.

06:44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.

06:45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.

06:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.

06:47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.

06:48 I am the bread of life.

06:49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.

06:50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

06:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
New Revised Standard Version

"Get Up and Eat"

When Elijah the Tishbite from Tishbe in Gilead lost his nerve, he went alone into the desert and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He had just taken on the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel and triumphed over them. But now, he is depleted and defeated beneath the broom tree. There he prays to die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." I picture him curling up in a fetal position and falling asleep—waiting for God to take him home.

But instead the angel comes to pester and save him, saying, "Get up and eat." And lo, and behold, a cake is there at his head along with a jar of water—both essentials in the desert. Elijah eats and drinks as he had been commanded. Then he returns to his sleep.

A second time the angel comes, poking and prodding the slumbering prophet. A similar command is spoken, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." Without a word, Elijah rises to eat and drink; and we are told that he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mountain of God.

And at Horeb—just beyond todays reading—Elijah is reassured that there are other faithful ones who are still keeping covenant with God. Though he feels all alone, Elijah is not. And God appeared to the prophet at Horeb, but not in the wind or the fire, but in "the sound of sheer silence."  In the quite, God came to re-commission and fortify the prophet, who had lost his never and his heart in the desert forty days before.

I see the church today in a similar way: grieving and despairing in a fetal position in the wilderness. The church, like the great prophet, has had powerful successes in its ministry. It has been steadfast and faithful to its call for many, many decades—but now it is weary, curled up in the wilderness in the shade of a desert bush. It has chosen to go to this desert place all alone although there are others who might have accompanied it there.

I see the church in confusion and despairing of its life. What shall we make of all the great indifference to religion in our culture? Why aren’t we important anymore? And, what shall we make of the conflicts and the lack of civility in our society? From the loud afternoon talk shows to the political forums—everywhere we look and listen—people are treating others as less than human. There is so much—so very much—yet to be done.


A year ago today, I was visiting my brother in Kansas City while on vacation. Suddenly a news bulletin flashed across the television screen. An unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown had been fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri—just across the state.  We knew this would spell trouble, but we did not realize at the time how widespread this trouble would be.

Old, old evils have emerged again during the past year.  The church is called to follow Jesus into this trouble and to work for life in the midst of so much death.  Yet, it is easier to run away into the wilderness--afraid, depleted and defeated.  Our prayers to God are not about engaging the trouble and righting the wrongs--but are filled with surrender and despair.  Perhaps we, like Elijah, might pray, "It is enough, O LORD, take away our life, for we are no better than our ancestors."

We have not been stirred to take a stand to make this world a better place. Rather we are content to sit, to slumber, and to starve away under our solidary broom tree. Jesus calls us to bridge the racial divides, to welcome the strangers, and to befriend the friendless. Jesus calls us to overcome our fears with faith, to leave this world better than we found it, to heal the ancient wounds and to raise one another up with the love of Christ.

We cannot do this on our own strength. But, an angel still appears in the wilderness, saying, "Get up and eat, or otherwise the journey will be too much for you." The food is provided from beyond our resources. God’s providential and generous care enlivens us and moves us to ministry in broken, conflicted places of the world.

Or amid the terrible drug epidemic in our own state, what have we done to make a difference? When spent syringes are found in
playgrounds and ball fields, how can we close our eyes and slumber away? In our state, the number of drug-related deaths in 2014 was well over 300, a third more than the previous year. It has been reported that drug fatalities are higher than highway deaths in New Hampshire this year. This is not so much about crime rates as it is a measure of the soul of our society. People are wasted. People feel useless. People—including our teens and young adults—are giving up on life and giving in to death. And the church wonders whether its ministries with children, youth, and families can make some difference. The angel still comes, commanding us, "Get up and eat, or otherwise the journey will be too much for you." You cannot do this on your own, but with God’s help, you will make a difference.  It is time for the angel to poke us and prod us and save us, that we might be God's prophet Church in the world.  "Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you."

God still has a plan and purpose for the church. We see that as we follow Jesus into the world. Jesus is our food and our drink. Jesus is the Bread of Life. He promises us, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." He leads us to eternal life. Whenever we commune with Christ—whether at the Communion table or in our daily prayers and study—we take him to heart and he strengthens our hearts. He is with us, giving us the courage to face the challenges in our home and the troubles in our streets.  As our Statement of Faith proclaims, "He calls us into his church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be his servants in the service of others."  He raises us now and in the hour of our death. He feeds us, so that we may make this journey and be his faithful church

So, dear friends in Christ, today we are invited to get up and to taste and see God’s goodness. Happy are those who take refuge in Christ. They will find life, and they will change the world. Do not despair. You are not alone. You are never alone. Keep faithfully serving and loving, assured that your service is not in vain.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Called to be Courageous

There are stories that shape our identities.  Some attitudes we carry are instilled in us from birth as we listen to the counsel of our elders.  One of those stories in my family of origin came from grandparents who had lived through the Great Depression.  They were not interested in investing in the stock market because they had seen how the Market Crash of 1929 had personally affected their lives.  A dusty box of worthless stock certificates stored in the attic remained as a symbol of that painful time.

Another story that was told around the kitchen table had to do with serving on the church board, the store board, or the bank board.  We were taught to shy away from such responsibilities.  When the local bank was sold, board members were scrutinized and criticized.  When the time came for the sale of the local mercantile, the board members were subject to many questions.  Those board members were our long-time neighbors and friends.  We did not seek such responsibility.  Members of my family would never respond to an invitation to serve in such a public way.  We were cautious followers, who refused to assume the risk of leadership.

So, what happened with me?  What story has shaped my identity more than those formative family stories?  Sometimes I think, "It certainly might have been a different, easier life had I never left the place where I was born."  If only I could have avoided the responsibilities that are required with leadership, being in close contact and conversation and--in those pivotal, defining moments--being out front.  What story has given me such courage?

The preacher when I was ordained chose the call of Jeremiah as model for my own calling to ministry and leadership in the United Church of Christ.  I've never forgotten the text:

Now the word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Then I said, "Ah, LORD GOD! 
Truly I do not know how to speak,
for I am only a boy."

But the LORD said to me,
"Do not say, 'I am only a boy';
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD."

Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth,
and the LORD said to me,
"Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant."

So, see where God has taken me.  God's hand touched my mouth.  God's Spirit descended into the depths of my heart.  Jesus called me to the tumult, and my life has never been the same.  It has been a series of amazing adventures. 

I write today from General Synod 30, as the Conference Minister of the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ.  I can only imagine what my grandparents might say.  I am called to lead and to love: to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.  I am called to be courageous.

O LORD GOD, I cherish your call.  You have brought me to and through "unexpected places."  You have surrounded me with other faithful and courageous disciples.  You have touched my mouth and my heart.  You have strengthened my hands.  I trust you to see me through and, at the last, to lead me home.  Amen.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Breaking Down Walls, Bulding Peace

You may recognize the title of this post.  It is the theme of the New Hampshire Conference's upcoming Annual Meeting.  Based on Paul's words in Ephesians 2:14, this theme speaks to the power of the gospel in making peace in places of hatred and hostility.  When we selected the theme, we were thinking of the trouble in our cities after police shootings.  Things we had imagined were in the past became present in our own time.  I wondered, naively, whether the theme would still be timely in October--whether the racial divide in this country would still be evident this fall.

The murders of nine African-American Christians in Charleston, South Carolina last Wednesday are a source of deep sadness in my spirit.  How can this be?  I recall the stories of four little girls at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham on September 15, 1963:   Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair.  Now, in our own time, there are nine more to add to the long list of those who were murdered within the sanctuary walls, as well as those killed in the streets of our cities, towns, and villages.  I grieve the loss of life at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston last Wednesday.   May we pray for the families of Cynthia Hurd, The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, The Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., and The Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor.  May we pray that the evil of racism is purged from our hearts and our society.  May we teach our children and youth to walk a path of peace and to join our Christ in breaking down the old, deadly walls of hate and hostility.

Many words and commentaries have been offered in recent days.  I know how important it is to talk things out.  I believe, however, that this is the time for reverence, self-examination, and silence as we face the reality of racism that divides our nation yet again.  This is also the time for witness--as we saw yesterday as people came together to worship and hope at Emanuel AME Church just days after shootings in their sanctuary.  Yes, this is the time to act in ways that reflect the reality that Christ is our peace.  Christ is our hope.   God's justice will prevail to transform hearts and lives, to heal a broken nation.  We shall overcome . . . today.

"For Christ is our peace, in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us."

May it be so . . . today!



Monday, June 8, 2015

Holy Water

Holy Water

Every day finds her kneeling with the dawn,
Bending low on soft garden soil,
The aged face shrouded in fading sunbonnet,
Tending plants that will soon be finished.

When August comes with scorching sun,
She still bends low as if to pray,
The soft soil now dry, dry, bone dry—
Water, the only hope for her and for them.
So every day she kneels with the dawn,
Grateful for the green,
Sprinkling can in hand.
Holy water!

Water is our only hope!
We are plants, in parched earth,
Thirsting for life-sustaining drink,
We are the ones who will soon be finished
Yet every morning finds her kneeling,
Sprinkling can in hand.
Holy water!

Remembering Esther Frieda Ricka Krueger Schulte
August 28, 1896 - October 10, 1975
My Grandma

Monday, June 1, 2015

I See Hope

Sometimes it is easy to become discouraged about the Church.  The most recent Pew Research Center study finds that there has been significant decline among those who identify as Christians in the United States, a nearly 8% decline in just seven years.  The number of those who identify as "Mainline Protestant" dropped from 18.1% (2007) to 14.7% (2014).  New Hampshire is listed as the second least religious state in the nation, with Vermont being the least religious, according to this study.

In some ways, our situation may be compared to an old family business that has been passed along from generation to generation.  When the market shifts, whether gradually or suddenly, the owner is faced with a major decision:  adapt, continue steadfast with the business model of my great-grandfather, or simply close.  This is a moment of decision for those who hold the heritage and the traditions of our forebears.  Yet we are clear, in the United Church of Christ, that it is the responsibility of each generation to make the ancient faith its own and to communicate the Good News in ways that change lives and transform the world around us.

Well, I want to share that yesterday I was delighted to be in worship with our church, The United Church of Christ in North Hampton, on its Music Sunday.  It was a service where the Word was sung in many languages and styles.  It was a powerful service that included the farewell of a beloved, accomplished "Director of Melodies," who had served in that role for twenty-four years.  There is life and great joy in North Hampton!

What gave me great hope happened during the offering of gifts.  Two young children where lifted by their parents and encouraged to place the family's offering in the plates.  This is a regular ritual for those families.  It reminded me of the widow who modeled generosity in Jesus' day (see Mark 12:41ff.)  It was a privilege to observe these little ones in their parents' arms, learning lessons about generosity and sharing--making their offering to the glory of God and to the good of their neighbors.  I wonder how, in the years yet to come, these children will grow and model their own expressions of faith and love for God.  In my mind's eye, I already see them as leaders of the Church.  I saw hope in North Hampton yesterday--hope for the Church when the news about our decline and diminishment seems especially discouraging.

I wonder:  Where do you see hope budding, blooming, and bearing fruit in your church in these days?  We have much to celebrate.  We have so much for which to be grateful as we offer our prayers to God from whom all  blessings flow.