Category

Pastor’s Message

Pastor’s Christmas Message

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1Corinthians 15:52)

In his poem, “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman wrote,

…the little child that peeped in at the door and then drew back and was never seen again…

How quickly, in the scheme of time, did Jesus come into the world and then leave?  I realize Whitman was not talking about Jesus when he wrote this, but it got me thinking about the astoundingly short period of time that God was living with us, among us, human like us, a gift to us and with us; observing and participating, watching and wondering, experiencing and feeling life.

And then he was gone.  They say he lived 32 years but I’m only going to count the 2 or so that he was actively ministering, healing, preaching, and learning about what it is to love, hope, suffer and die.

… and yet, in that “blink of an eye” everything changed.

It’s like when a baby is born in the night.  We are one person just as the sun retreats below the horizon.  As that same sun finds its way around the earth and back up the other side, giving light to our world and our experience, once more we see that everything has changed, like a new lens has slid before our eyes (or maybe a skin has fallen off?)  Even that slightly burnt toast and too dark mug of coffee now look different in the presence of this new life just born.

… a babe who will be called the prophet of the Most High; for [he] will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. (Luke 1:76-77)

I wonder if the people of Bethlehem – of Jerusalem and of all the world! – woke that morning feeling as if something had changed over night.  I wonder if something felt different.  The status quo they had settled so comfortably into, the injustices they had justified, the suffering they had accepted as “life,” was suddenly highlighted, visible, and maybe even unacceptable.

I wonder if, as that same sun that had been setting and rising since the beginning of time suddenly, on that new morning, brought with it a new hope for “peace on earth and good will for all.”

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  The dead will all be raised and we will all be changed.

This Advent, as we await that once and forever day into night into day, when everything has changed and nothing will ever be the same again;  as we prepare for our hope restored and for new life to emerge from death; as we live into God’s love through which even the most impossible is possible…

Let us believe.  Let us prepare for a New World that is ours by the grace of God, given in the instant of new life.

Peace, Cheryl

September message from our Pastor

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ (Matt 12:28-31)

Again and again we ask this question:  what does it mean to “love God?” How do we love something so completely when we cannot see it, cannot interact with it, and often do not get feedback or appreciation from it for our efforts?  And, per Jewish law, it is not enough to just love God. We are called to love God with ALL of our heart, ALL of our soul, ALL of our mind, and with ALL of our strength. In short, to love God is to give ourselves completely to God by our faith and actions.

But what does THAT look like?  Certainly we are not all called to be monks or clergy.  Jesus gives us a hint to what this means in his second command: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Loving God doesn’t mean loving something that is up in the sky- a human construct – an old Gandolf with a white beard.

Loving God means stepping back from our own experience and ourselves, and loving creation.  It means seeing all of creation as God sees it and applying our love into it.  Loving God is an action.  It’s not an adjective. Not a noun. Loving God is a verb. When we are loving God we are actively stepping back from our own truncated world, that tiny world where, often, more important than anything else is that which causes us personal offense, and seeing that every member of creation has its own story, its own needs, its own suffering, and its own reasons for its choices and behavior.

Loving God is stepping back and realizing that this life is not about you.  It’s not about me and it’s not about you. It is about how we see and then love the divine in each other and in all of God’s creation.

Loving God and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves means stepping out of ourselves, stepping back from the situation or the world and seeing things as a whole.  Just before this scripture Jesus is asked “by a lawyer” a very tricky question about resurrection involving a woman who marries brother after brother until all have died.  The lawyer wants to know which of these brothers will be her husband in the resurrection.

Jesus’ response invites the lawyer and others listening to open their perspective to something much greater than human perspective.  He invites them to see life and death and resurrection from the perspective of God: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.’”

Similarly, as faithful people of God we are called to love God by opening our perspective beyond ourselves.  We are called to imagine something greater for community; for the nation; for the world. We are called to love God by seeing the beauty, the possibility, and creation in all people.  We are called to step back from ourselves and see ourselves as just one player on a much larger team.

This is what we will be doing as a church this program year:  stepping back from our own individual needs and imagining something much greater – within which each of us is a vital player.  This year, the Allin Church will be entering a “Visioning Process.” What this means is that, working with a coach, we will come together and imagine how we can serve this community as a church – as a people of Christ – as people of love.  We will take a good look at all that we love about this church and then look forward a few years and wonder where we can take this love further. We are going to ask the questions: Who are we as a church and what is the purpose of these gifts – for Dedham and for the world – but mostly for God.

Because that’s how we love God.  It’s how we love our neighbor. It’s how we love the Allin Church.

Peace, Cheryl

A June message from our Pastor

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)

I did NOT watch the Royal Wedding played live early Saturday morning, May 19th.  There were other things going on: kids, breakfast, and a school fair. But later that morning I heard about it. As you would expect, I heard about the Duchess’ beautifully simple dress. I heard about the informality of some of the service as it contrasted with the very formal nature of our English neighbors. I heard about the extraordinary cellist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

But more than any of this I heard about the sermon, preached by The extraordinary Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Maybe friends and acquaintances were just bringing up the sermon with me because, as a minister, they figured that’s what I would have appreciated, but in every instance it felt like more. Folks were inspired by what Rev. Curry had to say about the Power of love as redemptive (that means it can save us from ourselves and evil things like hate and judgment!) They felt hope, something many haven’t felt in some time, by his words to “make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.” connected with his and the Song of Solomon’s use of unquenchable fire as a metaphor for the power of love.

In short, all of those who commented on The Rev. Curry’s sermon felt that feeling of transformation and were ultimately inspired.

The interesting piece of this is that nearly all of those who commented did not attend a church.

Interesting because, is this not what we do every single Sunday? Especially since Easter, we at Allin Church have focused on the importance of Jesus the Christ’s message of love present in our scriptures: as it is offered by his birth, through the stories and miracles of his ministry, by his death, and then the promise of both his resurrection and ascension.

We have considered some of the hard truths of this world, its tragic events and priorities that show a lack of appreciation for Divine creation, and searched scripture for meaning. Again and again we have held ourselves and our communities up against the standard of God’s love working together with our faith and God’s faith in us to believe that it is exactly the gift – the tool – needed to bring differing minds together and to build a peaceful world. Sunday mornings we gather to practice this peace, this love, and to celebrate the gift of Jesus Christ as human manifestation of this love. We sing out our hope and we find renewed inspiration for being in this world that often does not value this gift as we profess to do.

The scripture printed above, quoted in The Rev. Curry’s sermon, speaks of a love that is as strong as death; a raging flame which cannot be quenched by any amount of water. This is no sentimental love, he claims. THIS is divine love. This is the only thing powerful enough to change the hardened heart of this world. This is Jesus.

And THIS is what we celebrate, praise, study, and grow into as people of the resurrection. this is what we do at church.

I wonder who wouldn’t want to get behind such a message with so much hope, lifted up with so much joy? this is what we do in church, why aren’t all those people who found inspiration in The Rev. Curry’s sermon for the royal couple flooding our pews on Sundays and committing themselves in faith for love?

I can tell you: they don’t realize that this is church. So let’s tell them! Don’t tell them about nice people (though we have so many!) Don’t tell them about good community (though ours is the best!) Don’t tell your friends and neighbors about our great music and even better fellowship (though both of these are top notch!) Tell them and all of Dedham about love. Tell them it’s what this world needs and it’s what we’re cultivating every Sunday. Tell them that hope is on the way because we at Allin Church and so many others are busy building our arsenals with faith in the power of love through justice and mercy. Tell them about love.

Tell them to go to church.

Peace,

Pastor Cheryl

A May Message from Cheryl….

Revolutionary Love 2018

This is the name of the conference I went to the week after Easter. Revolutionary Love.

If your reaction is that it sounds a bit hyperbolic, something not unique in the world of clergy conferences, then we are on the same page – Or, at least I was.

You all know that I have always been a preacher of love as a force that can and will change the world. It is large piece of the foundation of my personal faith that love, offered in divine ways, can turn the heart of the most hateful man, system, or institution. I believe that this particular love is at the very core of what Jesus taught and is his purpose throughout our scriptures.

However, it‘s idealist to imagine that the world – or, even a country in flux as our country is – could sign onto such an ideal so as to reach revolutionary heights, altering the character and trajectory of our American culture, permanently changing social norms, priorities, and systemic structures that have been in place since this country‘s origins (so much so that some are written into our constitution.)

And then I attended Revolutionary Love 2018. And then my hope for eternal life – for the Beloved Community – is restored.

While you will inevitably hear tidbits of the brilliance that came out of the speakers/ preachers of the Revolutionary Love movement in my forthcoming sermons and written pieces, I want to take this piece to introduce you to some of the inspiration that has me singing songs of Hallelujah for a creation that can and will manage peace as God intended from the beginning of time.

First, what is the premise of this movement – or, what was the theme of this conference? Actually, this is the 12th RevLove conference offered by Middle Collegiate Church, one of 5 Collegiate Churches in and around New York City. Organized and hosted by the Rev. Dr. Jackie Lewis and her team of faithful, this year‘s conference was subtitled, Completing the Dream with the intent of marking the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.‟s original dream for an end to racism and racist practice in the United States and a call for civil and economic equality – all of this through the practice of love and non-violent action.

 

This weekend we considered what such non-violent action, or Revolutionary Love, would and could look like today, 50 years after King‘s death. We wondered if this ―darkness‖ in which our culture currently resides might not be “of the tomb” (death or an end) but actual-ly “of the womb” (new life or a new beginning). We named some of the ills or “broken sys-tems” of this culture that keep us separated from one another and therefore separated from God (continued racism, sexism, and generally a fear of seeing and loving the human in all of humanity including, pointedly, our neighbor, our opponent, and ourselves.) We recog-nized this country‟s history of valuing the “white, land owning, Christian (man) in good standing” as favored through much of what has become cultural norms and we imagined how our culture might look different if such normatives were shifted. There were many mo-ments (entire sermons/speeches) that challenged my “truth” expanding my cultural under-standing far beyond what I thought I experienced as normative. There were moments when the “truths” that I hold as structural to my very being were shown to be at best dismissive and at worst harmful to my sister‟s effort to fully live her life as God created her to be.

Basically, we remembered the work to which Jesus calls us from his very first sermon, “‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favour.‘”

In the weeks to come I am looking forward to introducing some of these ideas – ideas that empower us with the joy of life that comes from through the fire of death, joy that, when expressed and valued in the midst of cultural darkness, becomes moral resistance.

Together, let us rediscover the Good News and how God is calling us to share this gospel to all the world, for THIS is the year of the Lord‘s favour!

Peace,

Pastor Cheryl

March 2018

We’ve talked about the wilderness that Jesus was ―driven into after being baptized, blessed by the Holy Spirit, and called beloved by the Great Divine. We’ve learned about the 40 days he spent in that wilderness alongside the “wild beasts” while be “waited on by the angels.”

 

 

We’ve wondered about the “wildernesses” in our own lives, in the culture, and in the world. On the last Sunday of February we considered these wilderness – as our nation and its leaders sometimes violently go up against one another as we try to understand our history of racism and our love affair with guns of all kinds. We talked about how easy it is to devalue these wildernesses, clearcutting the forests that they are, paving roads and building industry around them so they are less scary and definable as wilderness. And yes, the wild beasts still roam – more often now in our backyards.

 

Which brings us to March and our last 4 weeks of Lent. As much as we might hope to view the wildernesses of life as something we can choose to go in and out of when we make time for self reflection or introspection, these next 4 weeks show us that indeed the wilderness is around us at all times in varying capacities and identities. And that we are called to be the people of Christ, living his ministry of love and hope while literally right in the middle of the wilderness.

 

I don’t know about you, but when I hit a tough spot in my life, a time of high stress or change or loss or fear – a wilderness time – I prefer to find the strength through retreat. I dream of a lovely get-away from the stress where I can recollect my head and heart, reminding myself of who I am and to whom I belong. Then, at the end of the 3 days, few hours, or hour and a quarter yoga class, I feel more sound, more hopeful, courageous and ready to enter back into that wilderness that is life.

 

The stories that Mark tells from Jesus’ ministry, however, show a man who lives out his ministry from within the wilderness of suffering, abandonment, fear, and hopelessness. Yes, occasionally, Jesus attempts to take some time to himself, however, even then he is inevitably interrupted by the cries from within the wilderness – cries of suffering and need. Jesus realizes, as we will come to see, that, even in the midst of his most challenging days, he was called to see the other, empower them through love, and build the beloved community – not from without, but from within. We, too, are called to the same.

 

The following are the gospel readings for Lent 3-6. Mark your calendars as, together, we brave the wildernesses of our culture in an effort to bring the Word of God as Jesus Christ into its very core.

 

Sunday, March 4th Mark 1:16-20, Jesus gathers the disciples and promises to make them “fishers of men.”

 

Sunday, March 11th Mark 7:1-15, Jesus asks the question, how do we apply the law of our tradition to what is happening in the world today?

 

Sunday, March 18th Mark 11:15-19, when Jesus and his disciples went into the temple and turned over the tables of the money changes and sellers indigting them, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations? But you have made it a den of robbers.”

 

Sunday March 25th Mark 11:1-14, Mark’s telling of the Palms to passion story, from when Jesus entered into Jerusalem in glory and favor to when he was convicted, beaten, humiliated and finally crucified by the people of Jerusalem.

 

Peace,

Pastor Cheryl

 

PS… And while we’re marking our calendars, Holy Week will look a little different this year. Your worship team is excited to offer a Good Friday service including the reading of the passion, music offered by the Allin Church Choir and our Interim Minister of Music, Johnson Ramsaur. This service will begin at 2pm ending at 3pm with the tolling of our bell, marking the time of Jesus’ death.

 

This Good Friday service will replace the Maundy Thursday service we have offered in the past.

Message from our Pastor Feb 2018

This month the Christian Church enters into our season of Lent with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. Both Lent and Ash Wednesday, as the opening day of Lent, are important times during our Christian annual cycle AND they are the season and date about which I get the most questions. Your questions include: Why do we use ashes and why on our heads? What is the history of Ash Wednesday? Where do the ashes come from? And, of course, the question I get more than any other… Isn’t this whole process Catholic?

So! For my February newsletter article, I offer you a bit of history, some explanation, and hopefully a little information to help answer some of those questions while, hopefully, encouraging all of us to enter into Lent just a little deeper with maybe just a little more meaning to anchor us in.

So then, let’s begin with some history. The application of Ashes as a ritual of the 40 days before Easter, or Lent, is first recorded as a custom of Western Europe (though not yet in Rome) in the early 10th century. In 1091, by order of Pope Urban II at the council of Benevento, Rome adopted the ritual in the church, not long after which, including it in the liturgical books as ―Feria Quarta Cinerum‖ (i.e., Ash Wednesday)

Thanks to the metaphorical pendulum swing set off by the Protestant Reformation, beginning with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 95 theses on the church door, the (Anglican) Church of England rewrote their Lenten liturgies removing the imposition of ashes with the explanation that it was a vain and idolic ritual at a time that ought to be focused on repentance and the judgment of God. The Anglican Church would not see ashes again in their First Day of Lent worship service until the 20th century.

So, yes, historically, the imposition of Ashes are indeed ―Catholic‖ however, if we consider the origins of our church, so are we! And at Allin, as we mark each worshipper with the sign of the cross in ash we are recognizing the value of confession and repentance, forgiveness and grace. It is our moment to grieve over our own mortality and recognize that while death is imminent it does not own us.

This is the history, but is it biblical? It is true that the Christian church has often and historically written rituals and spiritual practices into our liturgy that have no biblical base. Ashes as a symbol of repentance, however, is indeed biblical! Biblically, ashes have been used as a symbol of grief as well as a means toward working through that grief. For example, when Tamar was raped by her half-brother, “she sprinkled ashes on her head, tore her robe, and with her face buried in her hands went away crying” (2 Samuel 13:19). Also, in Job 42:3–6, Job says to God: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance by saying: “O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes” (Jer 6:26). And there are several more including a moment in Jesus’ ministry as recorded in the gospels of Matthew and Luke where he says, “If the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago (sitting) in sackcloth and ashes.” (these examples copied directly from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ash_Wednesday)

And so we apply ashes to the forehead (historically they were sprinkled over the head… of men while women received them on their forehead assumedly because they had their heads covered) saying the words, ―Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.‖ These words originate from Genesis 3:19, a nod to Adam and Eve and their creation by the dust of the earth.

So then the ashes are a significant symbol but where do they come from (hint: NOT your pastor’s fireplace!)? You will remember that, not quite a full year prior, the church celebrated Jesus’ entering into Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed donkey while the people cheered him as the new King of the Jews – a peaceful king, a humble king, a king who would willingly walk to his death knowing that death was not the end of this love movement. AND you will remember that during our worship we waved palms in memory of and as a reconstruction of that powerful moment in biblical history.

Those palms, dried, burned, and applied with oil to our foreheads are now a symbol of our own mortality; a memory of what once was, what is, and what will be by the truth that is Jesus Christ.

I hope you will join Lindsay, Douglas, and myself on February 14th, Ash Wednesday (services include communion by intinction) at either 8:30 am or 7 pm. Together we will sing and pray, confess and eat, and be marked in the faith of repentance and forgiveness.

Peace,

Pastor Cheryl

Happy New Year

We have a tradition here at Allin for the New Year. It began several years ago after one of our Eagle Scout candidates (now an Eagle Scout) chose for his Eagle project to create a Labyrinth in the “backyard” of the church. That New Year’s Day one of our members, Judy, saw an opportunity and invited church members and friends to join her around our new labyrinth to walk and pray and wonder and hope for the year just ahead of us. We were to ask ourselves, what would we like to let go of from the past? What new thing do we hope to see God doing in our lives moving forward into this new year? And this year we brought the tradition into Sunday morning worship by centering the service around the contemplative and prayerful practice of walking the labyrinth. But where did this spiritual practice come from? And why is it such a perfect metaphor for our annual practice of prayerfully entering into a new year including all of its promise for peace and justice by our faith?

The history of the Labyrinth is long and varied in its purpose and religious connections. The first evidence of the labyrinth image dates back to the neolithic era where paintings of labyrinth patterns have been found on dwelling walls. In Greek mythology the labyrinth was an elaborate, unicursal structure designed and built by Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. The point of it was to hold the minotaur, a threatening bull-like monster, who would eventually be killed by the Hero, Theseus. It is said that Daedalus did such a good job of making the Labyrinth, and encasing the monster, that he barely escaped it himself after making it!

More recent (Medieval) depictions of the Labyrinth can be found on the floor of several historic cathedrals including Reims, Amiens, and, of course, Chartres, all in Northern France. These Labyrinths were installed to offer a physical form of meditation and prayer; one that would envelope the body AND spirit in divine presence and meaning.

When one takes the journey along the Labyrinth she will discover short paths and much longer paths, quick turns, and occasionally the face to face meeting of another walker where decisions will have to be made regarding sharing the path. There is a single point at the center of the labyrinth which could be understood as a goal… until one realizes that before her still is the journey back out of the labyrinth, a journey that is just as unpredictable and ripe for enlightenment as the way in.

During our worship here at Allin on New Year’s Eve, at the point of reflection, I chose to walk the labyrinth. Before even stepping onto the canvas and into the path I found myself humbled as I removed my shoes. On my way into the labyrinth I noticed the short paths – ones that turned sometimes too quickly causing me to feel a sense of whiplash from the change of scenery. I was reminded of the times in this past year when my schedule was tight and I could barely keep my all of my ducks in a row. Weeks when I would have the entire week planned out on Monday only to have everything change by 9am Tuesday morning. Single days that included both tragedy and profound joy.

However, slowly those short paths open to longer ones and, before long, I made a turn and found myself facing the longest path of the labyrinth, one of the outermost trails. This one would be a long haul, I thought. And thank goodness for the time to rest into my faith and see God working around and through me. The downside to these long roads is that I find myself becoming impatient. I miss how I thrive in moments of crisis and business. For this reason, though, it is good for me to appreciate the sections of my total journey that are longer roads requiring endurance and patience.

Walk, turn, walk, turn. Look up at what is around me and look down at the path at my feet. By the time I reach the blessed center of the Labyrinth I realize that this “goal” was not the point of my journey at all but simply a place to stop for a moment and appreciate the distance I’ve already come. And so I pause briefly to offer a prayer of gratitude and head back along the same path I came. And this time I meet others along my way – each on his own journey. We greet one another and offer each other a blessing. And sometimes we simply step aside and let the other pass. This time it’s me who steps aside of my journey to make space for another. The next time it will be another who does the same to me. Will I notice how they have sacrificed their own experience for mine? Or will I continue on, unknowingly blessed?

Finally, I am out: back in the fireside room, in my role as pastor, in the familiar space of worship. But before I head back to my seat I take one finally look at the labyrinth as a whole. From here, this distant perspective, it doesn’t look so meaningful. It’s simple and even fun. I wonder, was my journey a symbol of my day? My week? My service to this dear Church? My entire life? I try to remember the ups and downs, ins and outs of my journey through the Labyrinth. I attempt to hold onto the meaning, the turns that were painful, the paths that carried fear or wonder. God, however, has me pointed in a new direction – towards the next year and so I will go, into yet another labyrinth of time and events, joys and tragedies, new hopes and God’s presence and compassion.

Even as we walked the faithful journey that was 2017 together I look forward to taking this walk together. I look forward to the weeks that are chock full of turns and twists, high fives across path borders and stepping aside to allow another space to pass. And I look forward to the longer paths that call us to pace ourselves with prayer and scripture, music and community. I look forward to the rewards of enlightenment along the way and to the moments when we will hold each other in compassion and grace.

I look forward to walking this journey with you, dear ones! May we be blessed together by God’s love and faith along the way!

Peace, Pastor Cheryl

P.S. Did you know that that beautiful labyrinth that we walked on Dec. 31st  was handmade by Lindsay and her partner, Ashley? So many thanks to the both of them for their generous creativity. They’ve offered it for the church’s use whenever needed so if you’d like to walk it again just let us know!