Sermon for July 23, 2017

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine on Sunday, July 23, 2017. Principal reading Ruth 4 and Matthew 1

For the people of Israel, called to be God’s people, one’s lineage was of utmost importance. It identified who you are and where you came from. To carry on the family line was considered paramount in your existence. To help a deceased kinsmen carry on the family line by marrying their widow and producing heirs was considered honorable and redemptive. What was lost because of death is then redeemed – it is brought back.

The story of Ruth is one of tragedy and loss – an account of how one person, Elimilech, struggles to care for his family in a time of famine in the land and moves them to what he hopes is a more promising future in a foreign land. Alas, he and both his sons die leaving his wife Naomi and 2 daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, all childless, to fend for themselves. Orpah returns to her family and Ruth chooses to go with Naomi back to her homeland – back to Bethlehem – hoping and praying that Naomi’s’ people, God’s people, will care for them. We learn how these 2 destitute women make the best of a bad situation with Ruth gleaning the fields in order for both of them to eat. And then Naomi plans how to secure a future for her daughter-in-law by planning that a kinsmen Boaz who has let her glean in his field under his protection, might marry her.

In the last chapter of the book of Ruth, we learn how Boaz, a kinsmen of Elimilech, Naomi’s deceased husband, marries Ruth, her daughter-in-law, thereby redeeming the family name by restoring land ownership to her and by producing a male heir. And as we read the first verses of the gospel of Matthew, we learn that not only did this marriage redeem and protect both Ruth and Naomi, it also brought Jesus into the world.

God is not a major character in the book of Ruth. Rather it is a story of how thru all of life’s struggles, through tragedy and misfortune, through the choices we has humans make in our lives – those with good outcomes and those with bad outcomes. Through all of this God remains steadfast. Even when Naomi is left alone in a world hostile to women with no male family members, and she is bitter, God is with her. In this case, God was with her in the person of Ruth – a foreign woman, a childless woman, a poor woman, another woman with no future.

In these past weeks, I mentioned how the Hebrew word for turn is used 15 times in the Book of Ruth –it is a story of life’s twists and turns, a story about reversals. The other word used in Ruth is Hesed – the Hebrew word for loving kindness. Not just any loving kindness but the steadfast abiding love and kindness that comes from God. God loves all people, no matter where we are in life, regardless of the choices, good or bad, we make in life, God loves us. And in that love, God uses us – those of us who have been faithful children of God our whole lives, those of us who are indifferent to God, those of us who don’t know God like Ruth, those of us who actively resist God and God’s love – God loves us all no matter what. The people of God written about in the book of Ruth believed that God was theirs alone and they believed that Moab was an evil foreign place where they worshipped idols – a place to avoid at all costs. And yet God used a woman from Moab, a foreigner, Ruth, one who grew up worshipping other gods, and placed her prominently in the ancestry of Jesus, the one who came as a human being to live among people so that we might know God and God’s love. It is notable that Ruth was one of only 5 women included in the listing of the genealogy of Jesus.

The Book of Ruth is a story which illustrates the loving kindness of God – that it is always with us. And I would add that it comes when you least expect it, from the most unlikely of people and sources. Some 20 years ago, Sandra’s sister, Mary, died in Scotland. She was devastated as she made the long journey home for the funeral. She purchased a special ‘funeral’ airfare ticket and went through the steps to board the plane as if on automatic pilot. It wasn’t until she was half way across the Atlantic that she realized the check-in agent, had put her in business class instead of coach. She was grieving and because of the loving kindness of this complete stranger, she didn’t have to deal with a crowded seat and all that comes with that. She admits that it wasn’t till months later that she realized that God had been close beside her that day through this act of kindness. God’s loving kindness comes when you most need it and you may not even recognize it.

This week I received a letter from someone I’ve known for a long time but see only rarely and who is actually a distant kinsperson through a common ancestor many generations back. This person wrote words of condolence and comfort, remembering my parents and grandparents and offered words of encouragement that I didn’t know I needed. The letter was unfamiliar handwriting on a lined piece of school notebook paper with ink fading in and out as it might of a pen little used and the love of God was clearly there and unmistakable. God’s hesed, God’s steadfast abiding, loving kindness through a most unlikely and unexpected source.

I encourage all of you to look back on events in your life and look at things that you considered coincidence or luck and view them as God’s love in your life.

God is always with us. God’s love will never leave us. No matter what!


Sermon for May 7, 2017

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the
First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine
on the 4th Sunday of Easter Worship, May 7, 2017.

Principal reading John 10:1-10

As I was studying this passage, I was all over the place. The image of God as our shepherd and the 23rd Psalm has sooooo many messages in it. There is the thought of resting in God, of God providing what we need, of the shepherd leading us and caring for us. The idea that God is with us always even in our darkest moments. And then there is the whole notion of ‘is Jesus the only shepherd, the only way to God’? And what about the idea that we are a flock and what does that mean for us as a faith community? And what about the sheepfold? Is that a structure or a metaphor for something else? I could go on and on and I must tell you that my first draft did just that and I know none of us want to be here for more than hour today. And so I thought, what is the message that God wants me to bring to you this day? And what does this passage from John say to us?
We opened our worship today by reading the 23rd Psalm. And in John’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus has come to fulfill the scriptures, and in this passage we learn that Jesus is indeed the Good Shepherd. Most of us don’t know all that it implies when we are told Jesus is the Good Shepherd because we no longer live in an agrarian society where flocks of sheep were so common that shepherds combined flocks at night in a sheepfold and took turns guarding the flock against predators and thieves in the night.
Sheep did know their shepherd’s voice and come morning they had no problem dividing themselves up and following their own shepherd to pasture where they would spend the day grazing. Shepherds did have names for their sheep. They knew all their little quirks, all the ways they would try to push each other aside to get to the best grass. The shepherd watches out for those who are weaker and makes sure that they get the nourishment they need.
The image of God as shepherd and us as sheep is not a new one. Some take offense at this comparison as they think of sheep as dumb animals who just follow without any independent thought. I disagree. Sheep are not stupid, in fact they are very smart. They recognize their own flock. A study was done putting sheep in a room with three doors. On each door was a picture of other sheep – one of the pictures was of their own flock. Without fail, each time, the sheep recognized their own flock and went through that door.
We had two sheep for a time. They were named Dougal and McDuff. McDuff and Dougal were always trying to edge each other out of the hay or feed. They had their share of scuffles. Dougal was a very clever boy and knew how to open the gate of the sheep pen. And he did it on a regular basis because there was yummy looking green bushes in the yard. He was not stupid, he figured out how to open the gate – he was willful. Even though he was well fed, until we put a lock on it, he repeatedly opened the gate putting himself and all the other animals who also got out in danger. The dogs and the cat had quite a time chasing chickens and ducks and nipping at sheep’s feet. They ultimately didn’t like the adventure of being outside their pen but sometimes they ignored us when we tried to get them back to safety. They knew our voices, they knew their names but sometimes they chose to not to listen for the pursuit of one more juicy leaf on the forsythia bush. But always when the day light faded, they came back into the pen because that was where they were safe. They even knew that we had lost track of time if it was past bedtime and baahhhed their heads off till we came out to close them in for the night. We loved our sheep. We cared for them, provided them with food and water and shelter. We knew each of them and their unique personalities. They were each lovable in different ways.
It is like that with Jesus our Good Shepherd. Jesus knows each of us by name. When I was little I learned a song that I still know by heart to this day, ‘Jesus loves me’. Most of you know it too. When I became a minister and started giving pastoral care, one thing that surprised me was the look of astonishment on someone’s face when I said to them, ‘God loves you.’ Utter amazement was often accompanied by tear-filled eyes. This is something we learned as little children and yet do we believe it? Truly believe it? Or do we just think it applies to others? God loves everyone but not me. I am not worthy. I know what I have done. I know how I have fallen short. I know how I have not fully loved others as I have been taught. So God couldn’t possibly love me. So many times, people just burst into tears when I assure them that indeed God does love even them.
God knows each of us by name. Do we follow the voice of the one who loves us so much that he is willing to give his life for each and every one of us? Or are we willful, ignoring the voice of love because we perceive something better somewhere else? Even if we have followed the wrong shepherd God will rescue us and welcome us home in love. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God ever.
Sometimes we don’t feel like God is with us or that God loves us. If we listen closely for God’s voice, we will hear God calling out our name. Even in danger, doubt or confusion, God’s voice will bring comfort to us. Jesus came to Thomas in his doubt. Jesus comes to us wherever we are. Whether we are willfully disobeying the call of God’s voice or just missing it because we are focused on the sparkle of worldly desires, God will keep calling us – calling each of us by name to come home. Because God loves us and wants us to be safe and nurtured and find rest for our souls. Listen. You will hear God calling you and even if you have never heard God’s voice before this day, you will hear God calling you by name because God loves you. Amen.

Weekly News for April 12, 2017

Office Hours for Thursday

The office will close at 10:15 am so Lyn can attend a funeral. The office will reopen at approx. 1:00 pm.

Easter Morning Breakfast

We will be holding our annual Easter Breakfast at the church after the Sunrise Service at Skyline Farm. About 30 folks have signed up for breakfast. We’ll plan for a few more, but it would be helpful if we knew you were coming…and we hope you do! You can call the office and reserve a place at the table through Lyn. Donations will be taken during the breakfast with all proceeds going to Pilgrim Lodge Scholarships.

Holy Week Services

Thursday, April 13 at 6:00 pm

Supper and Service

Friday, April 14 Good Friday Vigil

Noon-6:00 pm

Sanctuary open for contemplation

and prayer

Sunday, April 16

5:45 am Sunrise Easter Service at Skyline Farm

Breakfast at the church after Sunrise


9:30 am Easter Service at the church

One Great Hour of Sharing

This Missions Moment is brought to you by the letter “M”. We hope Millions of people will join in the One Great Hour of Sharing this Month to Make health, emergency relief, refugee and education Ministries possible, both here and in Many other countries. Our Maine UCC and Multiple other churches support this Marvelous Mandate, which Manages as if by Magic to Multiply the Magnanimous Money donated for these Magnificent causes. Your gift could Mean so Much to a Mama in Malaysia or a Man in Machias. Mind you, this collection could not happen without Me and you, so be Mindful that April 23rd, the Sunday after Easter, is the Moment to Most generously Make your gift. Many, Many thanks! Now back to our Marvelous Minister!

Council Meeting Reminder

REMINDER: Church Council meeting Thursday, April 27 at 4:30 pm.

Rummage Sale
Women’s Fellowship/Tuesday Gals are holding a Rummage Sale on Saturday, April 22 from 9:00-1:00 pm. We would like to collect items as soon as possible, so please drop them off at the church or call Kathy Whittier at 254-7509 or Terri Bickford at 712-4272. Thank you.

Tuesday Gals Christmas Raffle Baskets
This month’s basket is FAMILY FUN NIGHT. This would include games, dvd’s, movie snacks or anything to do with having fun with your family. We thank you for your support!

Coffee Hour
Women’s Fellowship is responsible for coffee hour for the month of April.

Pet Place Pantry Needs
Dry Dog Food, Dry Cat Food and Kitty Litter

Food Pantry Needs

The April collection item for the food pantry is dish soap.
Thank you for any and all of the goods that you bring to help those who can use a little boost.

Donations may be dropped off in the grocery cart and will be taken to the pantry. Thank you.

Our church bank ( TD ) would really appreciate it if folks would write their church checks with blue or black ball point pens. The check processing machine doesn’t do well with pretty purples and reds.

Informal Evaluation
Please talk with Butch, Kristi, or Jeanne if you have anything to offer to the informal evaluation of our minister. You are welcome to write it out or speak to one of the above. Contract talks will follow at some point. We are looking to a late April meeting with Rev. Nancy White to start the process. But your input matters.

Upcoming Events

Wednesday, April 12– Choir Rehearsal – 7:00 pm

Thursday, April 13 – Maundy Thursday Soup Supper – 6:00 pm

Friday, April 14 – Good Friday Vigil – 12:00-3:00 pm

Friday, April 14 – Good Friday Worship – 7:00 pm

Saturday, April 15 – Men’s Club Breakfast – 7:00 am

Sunday, April 16 – Sunrise Service at Skyline – 5:45 am

Sunday April 16 – Easter Service – 9:30 am

Monday, April 17 – Patriot’s Day – Office Closed

Tuesday, April 18 – Tuesday Gals – 7:00 am

Sermon for March 12, 2017

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, North Yarmouth, Maine on March 12, 2017.

Today we are going to reflect on prayer and how through prayer we can come closer to God. In Wednesday evening’s Lenten service, it was mentioned that Jesus lived to be our example. Yes, Jesus did live to be our example in all parts of our lives from how we should live in this world to how we treat others to how we treat ourselves. Prayer is part of all of it.
In our scriptures, Jesus prayed a lot but often the fact that he prayed is sort of an ‘add-on’ to the story rather than the main focus.
From Matthew chapter 14 “After He had sent them away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone,” – this is part of the larger more well known scripture of Jesus walking on water as he came to his disciples who had gone on ahead of him in a boat and find themselves on stormy seas.

From Mark chapter 1 “Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place to pray.” This is part of the larger story that Jesus had just healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and then the whole town came to him and all evening long he healed many.

From Luke chapter 6 “In those days, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and He spent the night in prayer to God.” Jesus went to pray after he had helped his disciples catch fish and then ’Large crowds came to listen to him teach and to be healed of their diseases. ‘

From John chapter 11, Jesus prayed in thanksgiving as he brought Lazarus out of the tomb and back to life.

In all four gospels, Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane the night of his betrayal. You might recall that Peter, James and John had a hard time staying awake for even an hour while he prayed as Jesus asked them.

Why did Jesus pray? After all if he was God then why pray?
As I mentioned before, Jesus prayed as an example for his followers then and now.
We believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine – it was totally natural for Jesus, a devout Jewish person to pray to God. And we believe that in the mystery of the trinity, the one God in three persons, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit, that there is communication among the 3 persons of the Divine.

It was extremely important to Jesus the person to keep a constant connection with God the Creator and the Holy Spirit – it was vital for his well being as a human and for his ministry here on earth.

Jesus prayed for others. In Matthew chapter 19 in the story of people bringing children to Jesus to be blessed, he prayed for them.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago on Transfiguration Sunday, from Luke chapter 9, “[Jesus] took Peter, John and James with Him and went up onto a mountain to pray.”
And you may recall that in addition to praying in homes, on the street, in the synagogue, Jesus often went off alone and prayed in nature. The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 19 that “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” So it is understandable that immersing himself in God’s created nature, was a good way to commune with God.

So many examples of when, how and where to pray – pretty much sounds like, when – all the time, how – with people and alone, for people and for oneself, where – everywhere, for how long – on the spur of the moment and for hours at a time. So if all these ways that Jesus prayed are to be our example, how do we do that?

I took an entire course on prayer in seminary exploring many and varied ways of praying, of connecting with God. We prayed by ourselves and shared our prayers with each other. We prayed for each other , for our circumstances then. We prayed to be drawn closer to God.
What does it mean to pray? Sometimes it means just being in God’s presence – either in nature or in a quiet space at home. Sometimes it means to talk to God as you would your best friend over coffee or a beer; sometimes it means to reflect in God’s presence – reflect on your life, your work, your family, events of the day, issues in our society. Sometimes it is lifting a list of people and concerns to God and other times it means being quiet and listening for God; sometimes it means letting yourself bask in God’s unconditional love. You can do that in many different ways – some ways will work well for one person and not another. Some people enjoy sitting quietly in a room by themselves, others might find a walk outside a better way to commune with God. Some may be fine with praying in a traditional way; others might relate to something more tangible like going through a family photo album and just reminiscing – telling God about the people, places, and different times in your life. This one is good for a family – you’ll be surprised what comes out of this God remembering and reflecting. Maybe , this is a picture of my grandma and I miss her, or oh how much fun we all had that summer at the lake, or wasn’t it great to work together on church cleanup day.

Prayer has many forms. It can be intercessory or thankful. It can be just being awestruck by and appreciative of the beauty of God’s creation. It can be expressing grief, sadness or anger to God. God will take it all and love us still.

You can pray the scriptures – read a Psalm and be in reflection on it. And reflection can take many forms as well. Sit quietly. Express your feelings in art or music. Express your emotions in dance or movement.

In the course I took, we tried contemplative prayer which was sitting quietly in God’s presence for at least 20 uninterrupted minutes. This was a new practice and was challenging for me but as I committed to trying it, I gained much peace and comfort from it. Setting aside 20 minutes especially in the busyness of life brought with it an understanding that the ‘to do list’ could wait for 20 minutes.

We tried writing our own prayers or doing artwork as a way to connect with God – there may be something on your heart – a joy, a hurt, a problem, a situation – what would that ‘thing’ look like expressed in artwork? At one point on my journey, I was contemplating the concept of God as a Trinity, God in 3 persons and I sat down and expressed it in pictures. I am not a trained artist but this expression of my thoughts (it hangs in my office), my questions, my pondering about God as 3 in 1 helped me. Try dancing as an expression of what’s on your heart or sing a hymn or other song.
In this course, as we reflected together what it means to connect to God, we tried being aware of God’s presence throughout our day, everywhere we went and then we shared our experiences with one another. One experience that I found fascinating was journaling which is merely taking a piece of paper and actually writing down just what was popping into my head. Prayer is just a conversation with God so this was just that only in written form. I remember writing for 15-20 minutes and it felt good to get what was going on in my mind down on paper. The really remarkable thing was that when I went back and reread it later, I realized that the answer I had been seeking was on the page as well and I don’t even remember writing those words.

We pray every Sunday in church and today we light prayer candles to recognize our prayer and ask for others in this church family to be praying with us. For those who may not be comfortable with standing up and asking for prayer, we also have lavender sheets of paper in the pews where you may write a prayer and then I will pray them aloud for you.

Today we have blessed Prayer Shawls made with love and prayer in every stitch – yet another way to be in prayer. And this has the added joy of knowing that someone needing healing, love, or caring will feel those prayers, that love as the pull the shawl around their shoulders.

It was necessary for Jesus the human being to be close to God the Creator. We too want and need to be closer to the Divine. This Lent try a new way of connecting with God and give yourself the gift of time in God’s presence. God loves you. God wants a close relationship with you. In closing I share a poem by Edwina Gateley.
Let Your God Love You

Be silent.
Be still.
Before your God.
Say nothing.
Ask nothing.
Be silent.
Be still.
Let your God look upon you.
That is all.
God knows.
God understands.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.

Let your God—
Love you.

~ written by Edwina Gateley.

Sermon for March 5, 2017

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, North Yarmouth, Maine on March 5, 2017. The primary text was Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30.

In chapter ten of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus has given his 12 disciples authority and power to cast out unclean spirits and to cure diseases and sickness. Having given them this authority, he sends them out to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God has come near and as they go they should cure the sick and address the ailments of the day. His teachings continue throughout the tenth chapter and he tells them that whoever welcomes them, welcomes him and the one who sent him.
Matthew tells us that while Jesus was teaching, John the Baptist was in prison and from prison, he heard about what was happening and sent his own disciples to confirm that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the one “who is to come”. AS they left to report back to John, Jesus speaks to the crowds about John and tells them that John is more than a prophet, he is the one who was sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus.
And here we are at today’s reading. Jesus now tells those listening, that they haven’t fully grasped the message – either the one John proclaimed or the one Jesus proclaims. Jesus rebukes them in what I imagine was exasperation saying nothing will make them happy – that they weren’t happy with John who was as straight-laced as they come nor have they listened to the Son of Man who they perceive was a glutton and a drunkard and a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus then issues a call to discipleship –
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

This is a radical call to discipleship – they don’t dance, they don’t mourn – so, if they are weary of the religion of the day – then come do it his way.
This call is not to a life of ease but to a life of meaningful work for which you will find rest for your souls, it doesn’t say rest for your bodies.
Handel painted this passage as an idyllic pastoral scene of being carried like a lamb in Jesus’ arms.
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; and He shall gather the lambs
with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are
with young. (Isaiah 40:11)
Come unto Him, all ye that labour, come unto Him that are heavy laden, and
He will give you rest. Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him, for He
is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
What is not included in this well loved music is that, yes, we will find rest for our souls but it does not mean necessarily rest for our bodies. Jesus has asked us yes to share his yoke, to share his work, the work of love and compassion and in doing that we will find rest ourselves. Jesus does not ask us to judge, just the opposite in fact – ‘let you who are without sin cast the first stone’ – no, Jesus calls us to walk with him in love to meet others where they are in life and share their burden and in so doing share God’s love.
Anyone who has been in love, knows that the relationship is not all candlelight and roses – sometimes it is just pure hard work, but work that is well worth it. We work for what is important to us. The life Jesus offers us is not one that will be easy. It will take sacrifices. It may mean financial sacrifices – how can I give more to help the hungry on my budget? Or it may mean doing volunteer work on your day off. It has been my experience that after a full days’ work of doing something like a mission project or working in the soup kitchen or doing any number of other volunteer tasks, we often say ‘I’m exhausted, but it is a good kind of tired.’
When Jesus says, ‘take my yoke upon you’, what does he mean? According to the dictionary, “A yoke is a wooden beam normally used between a pair of oxen or other animals to enable them to pull together on a load when working in pairs”. So if we take Jesus’ yoke upon ourselves what is meant is that we share in Jesus’ work and ministry – it enables us to work together with him. And then in the next breath, Jesus’ says ‘and learn from me’. Share my yoke and learn to help in my work – the work of love set before us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The work of healing the sick, feeding the hungry, visiting the lonely, befriending the friendless, eating with the outcasts, clothing the naked, taking care of the poor – the widows and the orphans, those who are unable to care for themselves.
Jesus is telling us that if we do these things in the name of Jesus, then we share his yoke and our burden will be light. Jesus the human being is no longer alive on this earth. As Christians, we are called to be Christ’s presence in our world. As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to invite others to be yoked with us so that their burden might be lightened.
I know each of you can think of someone who has a burden that needs to be shared. There may be many in our own community who hide the burden they are under.
• The woman who has endured an abusive relationship for too many years
• The adult still traumatized by childhood sexual abuse
• The veteran suffering from PTSD
• The couple with serious financial issues
• The teen trying to understand their sexual identity
• The elderly person suffering abuse
• The mother or father unable to feed their children
• The person afraid to leave their house
• The person with mental illness that goes undiagnosed
• The one who puts forth a brave face and yet cries themselves to sleep each night
• Those suffering from addiction
Living among us are people carrying these burdens and we may be unaware of their suffering. In our mobile, transient society today, we do not always have the opportunity to forge deep relationships with even our next door neighbors. For some of you who have lived here your whole lives, this may not be true but how well do you know the new people among us? And for you new folks, how well do you know the people who have lived here their whole lives? It takes time and effort to really get to know people and their life’s journeys. Are there people in your neighborhood, at work or even here at church who you have been acquainted with for some time and yet you do not really know them well? Consider deepening that relationship. Invite someone over for supper, or a cup of coffee, meet them somewhere for lunch.
The yoke is something that allows sharing of a burden. What one might find too onerous, two can bear more easily. And if we follow Jesus’ mandate, the burden becomes even lighter for Christ shares it with us. Share God’s love, Christ’s yoke, with each other and with those in our community and our world and we will find rest for our souls. Amen.

Sermon for February 26, 2017

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC
                                         A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White                                                      in the public worship of the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, North Yarmouth, Maine on February 26, 2017.

The primary text was Matthew 17:1-9.
Matthew 17
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Transfiguration
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I[a] will make three dwellings[b] here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Today’s gospel story is called ‘the transfiguration’ meaning the metamorphosis and is found in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke with only slight variations in the telling. You may recall that the written versions of the gospels were totally by word of mouth for at least 30 years after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. For all three gospel writers, this moment in recollection was a moment of epiphany for the three disciples who accompanied Jesus . As with all epiphany moments in our lives, it takes some reflection and it may be a while before the full significance of said moment is understood.

Some scholars debate whether or not this story is actually factual but whether or not it is factual is not really the point here. It was a moment when something profoundly important was revealed to Peter, James and John and in the telling to all those who heard it retold again and again. This moment in the days, weeks and years after Jesus was no longer a human being walking and talking with them, helped them to realize that they had put their complete faith and trust not just in an ordinary human being but in the Divine. It affirmed for them what they had confessed earlier in Matthew 16 when Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter replied, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” The disciples took a ‘leap of faith’ confessing Jesus as the Christ and now they see it for themselves.

Epiphany moments don’t happen too often in our gospels and are hard to retell. Note that Jesus told Peter, James and John not to tell others until after he was raised from the dead. Perhaps he knew that it would be an amazing experience that would be difficult to describe to others – sometimes the telling does not really do justice to the actual experience.

Epiphany moments or what I like to call ‘God moments’ don’t happen too often in my experience. AND they are hard to describe because what you are describing is an indescribable experience of the divine, of God. Because it is hard to live through another’s experience of the divine, people sometimes hesitate to share them. Today I am going to attempt to describe the God moments in my life – the ones that are so amazing to me that I will never forget them.

In 1986, I moved to MA and took on familiar roles in music ministry, Christian education and church leadership in the local church. I enjoyed sharing my gift of singing by active participation in the church choir, as a soloist for worship, weddings and funerals and by leading the children’s choir. It was not until my grandmother died that first December in New England that I consciously experienced God in my singing. I was scheduled to sing Christmas Eve at my brother’s church – losing my Nana was a shock and I didn’t think I could sing because what usually happens when I cry is that my throat closes up and I can barely squeak out any sounds at all. But that night, God sang a duet with me. It was effortless and I can only recount it as pure Joy – my first conscious experience of God’s indwelling presence.
I have now been to Haiti twice and both times I experienced God moments. The first was at a medical clinic that can best be described as a mob scene as people with such a need that I had not seen before pressed in on the mission team to be seen and offered what little we had. It bordered on claustrophobic. As I stood under the heat of the midday equator sun, stuffing fish oil pills into baggies for distribution, I prayed aloud in desperation, ‘Jesus, help us’. Suddenly my eyes were awash with tears, the tension drained out of my body and I immediately felt an amazing sense of peace. When I reflected on this later, I realized I was in the very real presence of the Divine, of the Christ and I came to a new understanding of the living water Jesus offered freely to those who would accept it for that day my tears were living water which quenched my very soul.

In preparation for my second trip in February 2014, our leader, Hein, had told me that they might ask me to preach as that was their custom with visiting pastors. I was surprised because being very conservative theologically and culturally, they tend to not acknowledge a woman pastor and had not done so on my first trip. Pleasantly surprised I prepared a brief message in anticipation. Sunday morning we went to church and Hein introduced the mission team giving each of our names. He introduced Bob as ‘pastor’ Bob and then me as Nancy. I have to tell you I was extremely hurt by the omission and fought to maintain my composure. They did not ask either of us to speak and after worship, Hein offered me his sincere apology for not introducing me as a pastor. The next day I was again at a clinic and as a pastor my role was to pray with people as they arrived. This clinic was the exact opposite of the one on my first trip in that it was a much slower pace rather than the mob scene at the first, for this one people came just a few at a time. In my limited kreyol, I asked each person if I might pray for them and tried to understand what was ailing them. And then I placed my hands on their shoulder and head and prayed like I don’t think I have ever prayed before. I prayed in the power of Jesus’ name for healing for each person, for clean water and nourishment for their bodies and for them to know the love of God. As I prayed I recalled how Jesus gave the power to heal and cast out demons when he sent the twelve out and indeed in those moments I knew that Jesus has also given that power to me to pray in his name. It was at once exhilarating and humbling and again my eyes were awash with tears as I felt Jesus’ hand touch me. I claimed my authority as pastor and God affirmed my calling.

I strongly feel that these moments happened because I was aware of and open to God’s presence – Emmanuel – God with us and I will remember them always. Not everyone has these moments or at least not very often and I don’t believe it has anything to do with one’s faith or lack thereof but rather being receptive and open to God’s presence in your life.

Be open to God’s presence in your life. That was the experience of some of those who went on the Communion Ministry. For those of you helping with our Wednesday evening Lenten services – be open and aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your participation. Sunday worship leaders during Lent – prepare for being with God’s presence. Pray about it. Be ready. Be aware of that inner feeling that brings you closer to the Divine. As you participate in our Palm Sunday dramatic presentation of the events of Holy Week, imagine yourself as being there during that time with Jesus and his followers – be in awe of what it must have been like for them. I know many of you are participating in that. During Holy Week, take time for daily prayer and come to worship with your church family on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – immerse yourself in God’s love as much as possible. As you participate in our lay-led worship after Easter, remember that God is always present with you both during your preparation and your participation. God is with us always. If we do not perceive it then we may not be open to and aware of it. God is always with us.

Just as God’s voice from the cloud directed Peter, James and John to Jesus and said ‘Listen! to him’, I believe God calls each of us to listen to Jesus through studying his life and ways and praying for enlightenment and understanding. I pray that indeed Jesus will light our journey and guide us through the joys of these days. May each of us open our hearts and minds and allow Jesus to touch us with his presence and his love. Amen.

Sermon for November 27, 2016

A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016.

Principal Readings: Isaiah 9:6-7 and Luke 1:46-47, 52-55

This Christmas season, we are doing something a little different. We are using as a foundation for our times of worship, the classic story by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. I have always enjoyed this story written in December, 1843 as a thoughtful look at the life of one whose name has come to embody stinginess, greed, looking out for number one, bitterness, and pure mean-spiritedness. In his masterful way, Dickens in the opening pages of this ghostly tale describe him as ‘a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner’ and further that he was ‘secret and self-contained’ and my favorite, ‘He carried his own low temperature always about with him’ (Stave One) If you look up’ scrooge’ in the dictionary, it says, ‘a miserly person’ and acknowledges that the word originates with this character in Dickens classic novella. There are more than 2 dozen versions of this film available for viewing. The watching of this movie in its many versions and forms is a favorite Christmas pastime in my home – I encourage you to watch a version or two suitable for your family to help you prepare for and to enhance your Christmas experience. The gist of the story is that this old miser Scrooge is able to change his ways, sees the value of love and charity and finds much joy in doing so.

We start our advent this year with readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel of Luke. Scholars tell us that this reading from Isaiah was most probably the birth announcement of a new king born into David’s lineage. There was much joy at this announcement as it signaled an end to a brutal time of warfare with all its killing and destruction. With the benefit of hindsight we also attribute the reading to a foretelling of the coming of baby Jesus destined to be Emmanuel, God with us – to show us what God our savior is all about. First century Jews under Roman occupation desperately wanted and needed a savior – a savior who would change their circumstances and free them from the chains holding them in misery and unhappiness.

Over the years, we’ve made our savior into one who guarantees us life in heaven after we die. But Jesus said he came to save us and bring us life abundantly. This life can be ours now if we choose it. We are still promised life in heaven and the really good news is that we don’t need to wait until then to have the life Jesus is promising now – we get to have both!

Do we have chains that weigh us down? Chains that have become so much a part of our lives that we don’t even realize how heavy they are? What do we need to change or break away from them so that we may be free to experience God’s love and peace now? Some of this is about letting go of attitudes and things from the past that no longer serve us well. Are there people in your life who pull you down, who insist on dwelling on the bad and evil in our world rather than focusing on the positive and good? Do you need to let go of an old feeling or grudge that continues to fester inside you? If you look at your life, what is your main focus? Is it God and doing God’s work or are you consumed with life, money and earthly things? Do you need to give up the world’s notion of success and value and realize that is not what brings happiness and fulfillment? Do you need to give up a physical addiction to free yourself for life in God’s kingdom? Do you need to turn away from gossip and focus on speaking your truth in love, compassion and understanding?

In the scene where Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge, Marley is weighed down by chains that, as he explains it, were forged through many years of greed and single-minded pursuit of money while ignoring the plight of others. Since his death, he realizes that caring for the poor and needy should have been his life’s focus but now, unfortunately, he is in a perpetual state of understanding that, but unable to help even though he wants to. He is warning Scrooge that this future will also be his if he does not change his ways and his life. The good news is that there is a glimmer of hope for Scrooge as he responds when Marley tells him of the upcoming visits from Three Spirits, “is that the chance and hope you mentioned, Jacob?” We are witnessing a softening in Scrooge, in his use of Marley’s first name and in his ‘faltering voice’ as described by Dickens. There is a piece of Ebenezer Scrooge who wants to change – there is a glimmer within him that wants to be different.
While our lives may not be quite as starkly self-centered and indifferent to the welfare of others, we certainly have room for change. Change of little things, change of big things, change that will bring us closer to God and God’s love for all people.

Change is not easy, in fact, it can be downright difficult. Even the smallest of changes – perhaps because they seem so insignificant can be hard. Giving up sweets because it’s not healthy for you for example. I remember telling people it was easier to give up smoking as that was an all or nothing sort of thing but to change eating habits is more challenging for indeed we do have to eat something. What is it in your life that needs to change? Big things or little things or both – not easy but here is where our relationship with God comes in – Emmanuel, God-with-us. We are not alone in this – we have God and we have each other.

Friday I had the confirmation class play a little ‘mad-libs’ as we started to learn about our church covenant and one phrase sticks out for me – that we are ‘plodding along with God’. The journey may not be fast or straight forward, we may need to make continual adjustments or changes along the way but the bottom line is that either running or plodding we are doing it with God right beside us guiding us, counseling us, supporting us, encouraging our every effort and loving us every step of the way.

I pray that change will be so much a part of our lives, that God’s love will fill us to over flowing so that we can share that love with our world.

This is the good news of the gospel – the miracle has just begun in YOU for the sake of the world… God bless us Every One!