Where Are You From? (Sermon for November 25, 2018)

(I apologize for mispronouncing Wampanoag right off the bat. I think that I do know how to pronounce the word, but in the moment I got a little tongue-tied)

Where are you from?

It’s one of those questions that seems important… and it’s a question that’s worth pondering on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Just a few days ago, you might have thought about the old story. A group of people from across the sea, our Congregationalist ancestors, arrived on this continent. They met the Wampanoag who already lived here, and those Wampanoag taught them how to survive in this land.

And, as winter and harvest festivals approached, the settlers and the Wampanoag celebrated together.

There’s more to the story, of course. And our ancestors are not the heroes of that story.

Where are you from? Part of our history is bound up with a band of pilgrims who went from England to Holland to here. We aren’t from here.

Where are you from?

Last Christmas, I got an AncestryDNA kit as a gift. You might have used one, or another kit that’s like it. If you haven’t, you probably know someone who has, or you’ve seen the commercials. Either way, you know the idea: you send a vial of spit to a large corporation and they tell you… where you’re from.

And I don’t mean “where you’re from” like “you grew up in Wisconsin” or “you moved here from Ohio”. I mean “where you’re from” like “your ancestors lived here”.

It turns out that my ancestors lived more-or-less where I thought they did. A lot of me is from England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and ‘Northwestern Europe’ (also known as France). The rest of me is from ‘Germanic Europe’ (also known as Germany).

So I’m very British and a little German.

But it’s not like I’m from those places. I’m not from England or Wales or wherever. And I’m not from Germany or Prussia or wherever.

I don’t know enough of my mom’s family history to tell you their story; I think my mom’s dad’s dad’s dad—or something like that—came here from Prussia.

But I know more of my dad’s family’s story. And if you trace back through my dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad’s dad—and so on—I am part of something like the 13th generation of Warfields to live in what is now the United States.

And you would think that would make me pretty American. But there’s this weird thing about America. There are people who are from here, and they are called the Wampanoag, and the Apache, and the Chickasaw, and the Seneca, and the Potawatomi.

They are many nations called by many names. And there are millions of them.

And the rest of us are from somewhere else. Whether we know where that is or not. We are Irish and German and Swedish and African and a thousand other things. America is a place that you’re probably not from… even if you’re not really from anywhere else.

In today’s readings, we hear from two kings. And there’s nothing that tells you where you’re from like a king.

On the one hand, we hear the last words of David, the king of Israel. And not just the king of Israel, but the king of Israel. He is George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and King Arthur.

And it’s important to remember that, even though he is the king of Israel (the people) and king of Israel (the land), he isn’t from there. David’s ancestor Abraham came from Ur and lived in the land that would become Israel. And his descendants moved to Egypt and were enslaved. And their descendants were led out of Egypt and conquered the land that would be Israel. And the people who already lived there were killed or enslaved or pushed aside.

But David’s last words establish him and his house as kings of Israel forever. This is what he says: God says that a king who rules over his people justly, ruling in fear of the LORD, is like the light of the morning. And my house has been like that. God has made an everlasting covenant with me and my house. My help and my desire will prosper.

David is setting up an expectation: no matter what trials and tribulations come, someone from the house of David will sit on the throne. If everything falls apart—if there is exile or occupation—eventually, someone from the house of David will rise up and take that throne back. As long as there is a king of Israel (the people) and a king of Israel (the land), that king will be from the house of David.

On the other hand, we hear a conversation between Jesus and a man named Pontius Pilate. Jesus has been arrested and summoned before Pilate. And Pilate is the ruler of Israel and a representative of the ruler of Israel. He is the prefect of Judea, representing the Emperor of the Roman Empire, in charge of a little backwater province of the most powerful Empire in the world.

And he asks Jesus, this preacher and teacher and healer from this little backwater province, “People have told me things about you… are you the king of the Jews?”

And I’ve told you this before: if you were alive at that time, and you were Jewish, and you thought that Jesus was the Messiah, then you would expect an answer. You would expect Jesus to say, “Yes. I am from David’s house, and this is Israel, and these are my people. And I am the rightful king here… and we are taking back this land.”

But that’s not what he says.

Instead, he says this: “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”

Instead, he says this: “I’m not from here. My kingdom is not of this world.”

On the one hand, there is David, establishing his kingdom in one land… forever.

On the other hand, there is Christ, who isn’t from here and whose kingdom is not of this world.

I don’t like to set up choices between the stories in the Old Testament and the stories in the New Testament… but these two readings set up a choice.

Where are you from?

As Iowans, we are from Iowa. And as Americans, we are from the United States. But most of us aren’t really from here. We are immigrants, and children of immigrants, and grandchildren of immigrants, and—and let’s see if I get this right—great great great great great great great great great great grandchildren of immigrants.

And we mark that by saying we’re English or German or African or Japanese or whatever. We have a list of identities—a list of places we’re from and places we’ve been and what it means to be from somewhere else and living here—and… it’s complicated.

But as Christians…

As Christians, we are not from here. We are not from Iowa or America or Britain or Germany or wherever.

We have given up our from-here-ness to be from a kingdom we have never visited and of which we have seen only glimpses.

We have given up our from-here-ness to be pilgrims and sojourners in this world.

We have given up our from-here-ness to be residents of this little consulate of the Kingdom of God.

We are immigrants to the church. And that means that we are now from another place. We are from truth. We are from mercy. We are from love.

And there is something powerful there. Because once we know that we are sojourners and pilgrims, we can welcome those other sojourners and pilgrims. We can welcome people who are coming to this land—this Iowa, this America—looking for a better life. And we can welcome people who are coming to this church, looking for hospitality and hope.

We can be representatives of truth because we are from truth. We can be ambassadors of mercy because we are from mercy. We can be a people of love because we are from love. And we can tell everyone that no matter where you are from, you can be from here—from the Kingdom of God, from the church of Jesus Christ—too.

Where are you from?

It’s one of those questions that seems important. And it’s a question that is important, but not in the way that the fine folks at AncestryDNA try to tell us it is.

It really doesn’t matter if I’m Iowan or Wisconsinite. It really doesn’t matter if I’m American or English or Welsh or Irish or German or whatever.

It matters that I give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty and welcome to the stranger. It matters that I give clothing to the naked and care to the sick and company to the prisoner. It matters… it matters that I love.

That is where I want to be from.

Advent 2018

The season of Advent begins on December 2, 2018! During this winter season, we look towards the past and the future as we anticipate the arrival of Christ. First, we look to the past: to the birth of God incarnate in a manger in Bethlehem. Second, we look to the future: to the return of the risen Christ in glory. And, always, we look to the hope that Christ embodies for ourselves and our world.

At First Congregational United Church of Christ, we’ll recognize the season of Advent in two ways.

During worship, we will light the traditional Advent wreath. The four candles in the wreath represent different things in different Christian traditions. We will use them to represent, on each Sunday, hope (December 2), peace (December 9), love (December 16), and joy (December 24). Of course, our preaching, hymns, and prayers will also reflect the traditional Advent themes.

On Wednesday nights, we’ll have a short combination Bible study and worship service. We’ll use this time to talk about what a messiah is through Jesus’s genealogies (Luke 3:23-38 and Matthew 1:1-17), Songs of Hope (Luke 1:46-55 and 67-80), Empire and Shepherds (Luke 2:1-20). You can read more here.

Most importantly, we will prepare to celebrate Christ’s entrance into the world on Christmas and into our hearts every day. I hope that you’ll join us as we celebrate this wonderful Advent season!

Nothing Standing Between You (Sermon for November 18, 2018)

I’ve told you this before: before I was your pastor, I worked for Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, Mississippi. In fact, I worked for the Mission when I was ordained. And not long after I was ordained, something amazing happened.

I was visiting the Mission—I spent most of my time working from my home here in Iowa and from the road—when the woman who directed our food pantry and emergency assistance program came to my office. She had a client in her office who was distraught. And she wanted to know if I would come to her office and pray with that client.

And that struck me as strange. It struck me as strange for a couple of reasons.

First, no one at the Mission had ever asked me to come and pray with a client before. I know that they had clients who wanted to pray. They had simply never asked me to pray with them.

Second, and I said this to my colleague, there was nothing that was keeping her from praying with her client. God doesn’t see a difference between her prayers and my prayers.

But I also knew why she had asked me. And I knew why she had asked me then, but never before. I was now ordained. And despite the fact that she knew that God could hear her prayer just as clearly as he could hear mine, there was a part of her that saw me as someone with more authority. There was a part of her that saw me as someone who God would listen to.

There was a part of her that saw me as a kind of mediator between her and God. There was a part of her that saw me as a priest.

And that’s weird. Because we’re protestants and congregationalists and we don’t have priests. We left them behind with the Protestant Reformation. We said that we were democratic and that everyone had equal access to God.

But it turns out that it is hard to let priests go.

In today’s reading from First Samuel, we are in the days before there was a king in Israel. We are in the days before there was a great temple in Jerusalem. We are in the days when the people did what was right in their own eyes, families made their own sacrifices to the LORD, and there were different temples in different cities. And one of those temples was in Shiloh.

And in today’s reading from First Samuel, we hear two stories… intertwined.

On the one hand, we have Eli, the high priest of the temple in Shiloh. Now, the high priest has many responsibilities. But this is a time when all proper worship included sacrifices. And if Eli had a nice, printed-out, bullet-pointed list of his responsibilities, ‘oversee sacrifices at the temple’ would be right there… at the top… in bold letters.

On the other hand, we have Hannah… who is nobody. You see, there’s this man named Elkanah, who has two wives. Hannah is one of them, and Elkanah loves her, but she hasn’t had any children. And Peninnah is the other wife, and she has had children. And Peninnah mocks Hannah relentlessly. And Hannah is distraught.

Watch how the stories loop around each other.

Eli is sitting on his seat near the temple door when Hannah, fresh from Peninnah making fun of her, comes storming in. And she kneels and breaks down and rocks and sobs and prays to the LORD.

“O LORD of hosts,” she says, “if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazarite until the day of his death.”

And a nazarite is a person who has made a vow to God and set themselves apart. They do not drink alcohol, or eat anything with grapes, or cut their hair, or go near corpses or graves. And while this is usually for a set length of time—like a month or a year—Hannah is promising to set her son aside as a nazarite until his death.

She is saying, “If you give me a son, O LORD, I will make him a living sacrifice to you.”

But Eli doesn’t hear this. He’s just sitting on his seat near the temple door when this woman comes storming in. He sees her fall to the floor, kneeling and rocking and sobbing. And he sees her lips move, but he doesn’t hear what she is saying.

And at the top of his list of job responsibilities—in bold letters—is ‘oversee sacrifices at the temple’. And nowhere on that list does it say, ‘console clearly distressed woman who stormed into the temple and fell to the floor and started kneeling and rocking and sobbing.’ And I’m pretty sure that he doesn’t even think it fits under ‘other duties as assigned’.

So he assumes she’s drunk. And he interrupts her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”

And she replies, “I am not drunk. I am troubled. I am pouring my soul out before the LORD.”

And Eli answers her, “Then go in peace; and the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And he doesn’t know it, because he didn’t hear her, but what he is saying is, “May God accept the sacrifice you have promised.”

And what is happening here is so important. Hannah is not a priest. She is not the head of her household. She has no right to offer this sacrifice. But she does offer her sacrifice, and the high priest of Shiloh blesses her sacrifice, and God accepts her sacrifice, and she bears a son to her husband, and she names him Samuel.

And I won’t tell you Samuel’s story here. But it’s a good story and he becomes an important man. And he only shows up in the story because Hannah stormed into that temple in Shiloh… and prayed… and made her living sacrifice.

And that matters. It matters because it shows us that even in those days when there was no king in Israel, even in those days when there was no great temple in Jerusalem, there was no barrier between God and God’s people. A woman in distress could walk into a temple and pray… and God would hear her and answer her.

Our reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews takes it even further. In this reading, we are in the days when there was a ruler in Israel, and it was an occupying empire. And we are in the days when there was a great temple in Jerusalem, and priests made sacrifices to God there. We are in the days when there were priests to serve as mediators between God and God’s people.

And earlier in the epistle, the author of Hebrews gives us that priestly job description, with the words right at the top, in bold letters: “Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”

But in today’s reading, writing to the early Christian community, the author of Hebrews wants us to know that there is only one mediator between God and humanity: Jesus Christ. And he wants us to know that Christ has made the sacrifice that ends sacrifices.

And that can be hard for us to understand. It can be hard for us to get, because we do not live in a world of temples and sacrifices. We aren’t used to taking a portion of our livestock or our crop to a great temple in a big city and watching a priest burn it on an altar.

But today is Stewardship Sunday, so maybe we can get it a little bit.

There are people who talk about giving to the church like those gifts are sacrifices. There are people who will tell us to take a tenth of what we make—gross, off the top, before taxes and debt—and hand it to the church as a way of returning the first fruits of our labor to God. And there are people who will tell us that, somehow, that transaction, that payment, makes up for our sins.

And what the author of Hebrews wants us to know is that Christ has made the sacrifice that ends sacrifices. The good news of Jesus Christ is that any payment for our sins has already been made; that we are free from the burden of sin.

And the author of Hebrews wants us to have all of the confidence of Hannah… and more. He wants us to know that we can walk right into the temple, through the way that Christ has opened, and stand before God in faith and hope. And that God will hear us and answer us.

And that the gifts we give are gifts of joy and gratitude and thanksgiving.

Now, I need to be clear about something. I am not saying this to demean my friends and neighbors who are Catholic or Orthodox or Anglican. We have priests in this world and in our religion, and they are doing amazing things.

And I am not saying this to put my own job at risk. I am not the mediator between you and God, but I do useful things. And one of those things is this:

I stand here at this pulpit and tell you that you can have all of the confidence of Hannah and more. No matter where you are, you can walk into the temple of God. You can stand before God in faith and hope. You can kneel before God in desperation. You can weep before God in distress. And God will hear you and answer you.

If you want me to pray with you, I will pray with you. But my prayers are no weightier than yours. Yours carry the weight of the world.

If you want me to serve you a meal at this table, I will serve you that meal. But the words I say are no different than yours. You can eat every meal in remembrance of the one mediator between God and humanity.

This is, perhaps, the best news of all: that there is nothing standing between you and God. Hallelujah. Amen.

November 18 is Stewardship Sunday!

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about stewardship. You’ve received letters that talked about imagining what this church could do if we stemmed the tide of a decreasing budget and grew it, instead. You’ve heard stewardship moments from people who believe in, and give to, this congregation. You even heard a sermon that spoke to nurturing the seeds that were planted by people who came before us, and to planting new seeds for those who will come after us. Now, it’s time to start turning all of this talk about stewardship into action.

During the offering in worship on Sunday, November 18th, we’ll collect pledge sheets. If you’ve already turned one in, we’ll do our best to make sure it’s already in the offering plate. Mine will be there, too, with a pledge of $300 a month. I hope that you will have a pledge sheet to turn in, too. And while I don’t want you to pledge any more than God is calling you to give, I hope that you have imagined the amazing things that this congregation could do in 2019, and prayed about how you are called to support that work financially. And I hope that your pledge reflects your call and your commitment to this congregation and its future.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking about stewardship. Stewardship isn’t just the work of paying bills, as important as that work is. It’s about asking how God wants us to use the gifts that we have been given. I firmly believe that God calls me and my family to use some of those gifts to support First Congregational United Church of Christ. And I hope that God is calling you to do the same. 

Together, we can do amazing things for this church and this community. See you on November 18th!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Chris

A Stewardship Moment: Family

 

On October 28, our own Chris Maricle gave a stewardship moment and talked about First Congregational United Church of Christ as his family’s DeWitt family. Please take a moment to listen to his story!

Here’s a transcript:

Good morning. I hope you will bear with me for a short story.

In 2002, Holle and I were living in Davenport and she was starting a job at Finley hospital in Dubuque. We knew that making that jaunt every day wasn’t going to be ideal so we thought it would be good to look for a home somewhere in between. And we ended up buying a house here in DeWitt. We did have friends around the Quad Cities but we did not know a single person who lived here and our families were over 100 miles away. 

It wasn’t too long after we moved here that we were expecting our first child. And what do you do when you have a child… you get them baptized. We had looked around at churches in the Quad Cities and none of them really called to us. But now we had to get serious. So since we still didn’t know too many people or too much about Dewitt yet, we asked our neighbors Kevin and Jane Jansen. They seemed to know DeWitt well and had been very good to us. Their recommendation was First Congregational United Church of Christ. So we thought we’d give it a shot. Didn’t know anything about the UCC.  Holle and I grew up Methodist and Lutheran. And to be quite honest we didn’t even know the parsonage was on the same cul-de-sac as us. 

So one Sunday morning 16 years ago, we stepped through the doors to this church and all that changed. I can’t recall who all we met that day but I do know we were met with many smiling faces and handshakes. Many “welcomes” and “good mornings”. And we knew almost immediately we didn’t need to look anywhere else.

Over the last 16 years, you and this church have seen us through a lot. You have helped raise my children. Three baptisms.  Giving them their first bibles. Supporting Rory through confirmation and Soren now. And Beck in a few years. Countless hours of Sunday School, Christmas programs, and now Faith In Motion. And what an amazing thing that has been. Around 35 kids on Wednesdays learning how to put their faith in motion on the court and in the community and at home. And reaching out beyond these walls to our community’s youth. This church hasn’t been afraid to try new things to meet everyone’s spiritual needs.

You have supported Holle and I and many others through mission trips with your prayers and support. This church stands strong when God calls us to his children far away, or to a place hit hard by natural disaster, or right here in DeWitt. First Congregational has gained a reputation as a church of action.

But maybe even more important than those things, of which I could go on and on, is that we feel as welcome now as we did when we walked through those doors for the first time. We’ve met amazing people in this place. We’ve made many friends. You are our DeWitt family. And I’ve never felt more proud to be part of this family, when in 2016 we declared to the world that everyone is welcome here. The welcome is why Holle and I give. And I hope that when you consider your pledge this year, you think of that couple that walked through those doors 16 years ago as strangers and gained a family. And you think of your own story.  And of all of those who we will welcome next. Thank you.

The Seeds They Planted (Sermon for November 11, 2018)

Today is All Souls’ Sunday. It’s a day when we remember those who have gone before us. We’ll take some time to read their names and ring a chime and light a candle for them. And, if we have a photo of them, we’ll show that, too.

And, as part of that, you’ll see a photo of my dad. You’ll see the official photo. The photo we used for his obituary. And, while that’s a good photo, I wanted you to see this one, too. Because, while the official photo is definitely a picture of my dad, this one is—somehow—more a picture of my dad.

He’s got a hat. He’s wearing shorts and a tucked in button down shirt. He’s carrying a camera and a zoom lens and a camera bag. Thatis my dad.

And some of that rubbed off on me. Not the shorts with a tucked in button down shirt. But the camera.

I own that camera now. It’s broken. I need to take it in and have it fixed, but I keep not doing that. And I keep not doing that because I always have a camera in my pocket. And if you follow my Instagram you know that I don’t post very often. But, when I do, it’s usually a mouse or a bunny or a spider or a bird or some other piece of nature that I thought was cool.

Doing that sort of thing is… a piece of my dad that I carry with me. Not because I remember my dad with a camera and try to honor him, but because part my dad is part of me. That part of who he was is just as much a part of who I am. It is a tether that ties us together.

And it probably ties a line of Warfields together. There was probably a prehistoric Warfield somewhere on a paleolithic plain who said, “Hey, look at that neat mammoth,” before drawing it on a cave wall.

There are people who have gone before us. I am a Christian and I believe that there is something beyond the veil of death, and that those who have gone before us have gone to glory. But I also know that we we carry pieces of them with us. Some of those pieces are memories. And some of those pieces are who we are.

And, I think, that might be what it means to love them… carrying pieces of them as part of ourselves.

In today’s reading, an expert in the law overhears Jesus arguing with a group from a Jewish sect called the Sadducees. Hearing Jesus answer the Sadducees well, he asks his own question: “Which commandment is the first of all?”

And Jesus responds, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you 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.’

And then Jesus keeps going, “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

And the expert in the law says, basically, “Yes. That’s right.” And Jesus tells him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And Mark moves along with his story.

And those of us who hear the story are left to ask… what does that mean? How are we supposed to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds and strength? How do we love our neighbors as ourselves? How do we get closer to that Kingdom of God?

And, let me tell you, I wish there was an easy answer to those questions. I know that there are people who will tell you that there is an easy answer to those questions. I know that there are people who will present you with a list of rules and who will say, “Do these things, and don’t dothese things, and that’s what loving God and your neighbor is. And then you’ll be in the Kingdom of God.”

But I can tell you that I’ve tried that. I’ve tried doing these things and not doingthese things. I didn’t feel any closer to God or to God’s kingdom. I felt guilty and I felt shameful because I could not satisfy the rules. I could not find room for grace in the rules.

Rules are the wrong way to think about love. Love isn’t about rules. Love is about carrying a piece of someone else as part of ourselves.

Loving God is, at least a little bit, knowing that God made us and planted a seed in us. Loving God is, at least a little bit, about nurturing what God put within us.

Loving our neighbor is, at least a little bit, knowing that God made them and that we are bound together by the seeds that God planted. Loving our neighbor is, at least a little bit, about nurturing the seeds that God planted in our neighbors and letting them help nurture ours.

And believe me, I know that doesn’t give us clear instructions on what to do and what not to do. But it might just be that faith is, at least a little bit, about trusting that God will show us what to do; that, in Christ, God has shown us how to care for the great forest that God has planted all around us.

Today is All Souls’ Sunday, when we remember those who went to glory before us. Many of the people we are remembering today were a part of this congregation when they were alive. And all of them area part of this congregation today because we carry pieces of them with us: in stories… and mannerisms… and turns of phrase… and memories.

And while today is All Souls’ Sunday, it is also stewardship season. So there’s a question in front of us: as we remember those who came before us, how do we take the seeds that they planted and grow them?

You see, we don’t remember those who went before us just by saying their name and ringing a chime and lighting a candle. We remember those who went before us by continuing their work in this world.

And part of that work is this congregation. We don’t just give to the church because we need to pay utility bills and buy printer paper and pay our, let’s face it, really pretty incredible pastor. We give because we see the amazing ministries that others planted here, and we want to nurture them and care for them and grow them.

We want to revitalize and transform old ministries. We want to discover new ministries within us.

And part of how we do that is through our giving. So I want you to do three things with me.

First, I want you to look around and see all of the amazing things that have grown in this community. This building and all of the things that are in it, the tress and gardens outside, the ministries and traditions among us, the stories of our faith that each of us carry. Those things exist because of the people who came before us and the people who are here with us.

Second, I want you to imagine all of the ways that we can nurture and grow those things, whether that means pruning away an old ministry, revitalizing or growing an existing ministry, or planting a new ministry. And I want you to ask yourself what it would take to do those things. And I will tell you that it is almost certain that it will take more money.

Third, I want you to think, carefully, about your place in making those things happen. I want you to think about how you will give your time, your talent, and, yes, your money, to care for what has been planted here, to nurture what is growing here, and to create new things in this community.

And I want you to know that you aren’t doing this alone. We are in this together. Our friends and neighbors in this church are with us. Those people who we are remembering today are with us. And I pray that God is with us as we use the gifts that he has entrusted to our care to love him with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength; and our neighbors as ourselves.

This is a picture of my dad. He’s got a hat. He’s wearing shorts and a tucked in button down shirt. And he’s carrying a camera. And I can imagine him taking pictures of birds and flowers and everything else he can see through the viewfinder.

Somewhere along the way, he planted that seed in me. And now, part of who I am is a guy who takes pictures of the neat caterpillar that was on my back door, or the spider who built a web between my neighbor’s house and mine, or the killdeer who nested in the church parking lot.

And part of how I love him is by being that person.

There are people who came before us. And somewhere along the way, they planted their seeds in this church. And now we are people who host mental health first aid trainings, and have beef dinners, and show up for a church member who needs help staining their deck, and make shorts for kids in Jamaica.

And part of how we love them is by being that church, that community, that little consulate of the Kingdom of God.

Let us be everything that they dreamed we would be… and even more, let us be everything that God wants us to be. Amen.

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