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SER-MONS

Recent Sermons

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Shepherds, Sacrifice, and Mutuality

Bekah Maren Anderson

Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18

We were blessed to have Bekah Maren Anderson as our guest preacher today. Bekah Maren Anderson (she/her) is a queer and disabled writer, activist, and theologian. She earned her Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary in 2021, and now serves as the Director of Pastoral Care and Community Connections for the Julian Way, a ministry offering spiritual care to people with disabilities. She is the co-convener of the Disability Theology Discussion Group, board member of the United Church of Christ Disabilities Ministries Board, and a Member in Discernment with the Farmington Valley Association of the UCC. She lives in Northampton, where she enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons, sampling many kinds of loose-leaf tea, and entertaining her tiny gray cat Jasmine. Her sermon on the Good Shepherd is a must listen for anyone struggling with burn out.

April 21, 2024

Don't Go It Alone: A Sermon for the 215th Anniversary of the Dorcas Society

Rev. Sarah Buteux

Acts 9:36-43

Have you ever been so tired you felt like you were going to die?

Have you ever been so overwhelmed that you wanted to?

Years ago, I was flying home from a pastor’s retreat and I realized that I wasn’t afraid of the plane crashing. This was a little unusual. I’m not a particularly nervous flyer but, like anyone, I worry. And yet on that particular flight, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was a part of me that would have been relieved if that plane had gone down.

You see, I was a year and a half into my first call and I was doing everything in my power to save the little church I was pastoring in the face of impossible odds. Everyone in the congregation knew I was doing my best and God bless them, they were content to let me.

They’d put all of their faith in me as their best hope and, if I had died on the way home, that’s how they would have remembered me. Not as someone who had tried and failed. Not as someone who had let them down or disappointed them. But as someone who had done her best and unfortunately, for reasons beyond her control, died tragically before I could fulfill my promise.

It is embarrassingly grandiose thinking. It was clearly a sign that I was burned out of my little gourd. And it was a sign of just how unhealthy and dysfunctional my relationship to my first congregation and my understanding of leadership was at the time.

I honestly thought it all depended on me. I took on the responsibility of saving that little church, my people let me, and truthfully, if I had died on that trip home, there’s a pretty good chance that the congregation would have too. It wasn’t a healthy, sustainable, or life-giving arrangement for any of us.

I bring this up not just to embarrass myself, but because I’m pretty sure this isn’t a particularly unique situation or dynamic in most of our churches.

We expect a lot of our leaders within the church - and by leaders, I do not just mean...

April 14, 2024

Seeing and Believing

Rev. Sarah Buteux

John 20:19-31

Two neighbors, we’ll call them Bill and Ben, lived side by side. Bill had a dog. Ben owned a white rabbit. Ben’s little white rabbit wasn’t a problem. But Bill’s dog kept getting loose and when he did, he would head straight for Ben’s backyard. He’d bark at the rabbit in her hutch, dig holes in the garden, and generally make a nuisance of himself. This caused some strain, to say the least, between the two neighbors.

But then, one day, the dog came home with Ben’s rabbit, and not in a good way. The poor bunny hung limp from the jaws of Bill’s dog, her fur all covered in dirt. “Bad dog,” he said, even as he looked both ways to see if there were any witnesses to the crime.

He gently removed the rabbit from the dog and then sat down on the steps with the body in his lap. He felt terrible, truly, but the last thing he wanted to do was go next door and tell Ben what the dog had done. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it. So instead, he came up with a plan. He went out and got a new white rabbit, snuck over that night under cover of darkness, and put the bunny in the hutch.

“Good as new,” he thought.

Until the next day when Ben came by looking all confused.

“What’s wrong,” asked Bill?

“Well,” Ben said, “It’s the strangest thing. When I walked out this morning, the first thing I saw was my rabbit in her hutch, alive as can be.”

“What’s so strange about that?” asked Bill.

“Well, it’s strange because my rabbit died yesterday. I should know. I buried her myself, right in my own back yard.”
***

People say that “seeing is believing,” but I don’t know that it’s always that simple.

Some things defy explanation. Somethings defy belief. And let’s be honest, resurrection is one of those things. So when it comes to the story of Easter...

April 7, 2024

He is Not Here!

The Rev. Sarah Buteux

Mark 16:1-8

Well, this is a bit awkward. Here we are, all dressed up in our Easter finery. I’ve got on my super-suit. We’ve decked out the sanctuary with tulips and lilies. We’ve proclaimed that “He is risen! (…He is risen indeed.” Thank you.)

We’ve filled the cross with flowers. The bells have rung. The choir has sung. We even hired a trumpet player, so you know we are not messing around.

But now that you’ve heard this morning’s scripture, I’m afraid you also know that the guest of honor… is nowhere to be found.

If you’ve come here today to see Jesus in all his resurrected glory, well, I regret to inform you that “he is not here.” Not this year. Because this year we are reading from the gospel of Mark, and Jesus is conspicuously absent from his telling of the Easter story.

(Bit of a let down, if you ask me.)

In Matthew, Jesus appears to the women as they flee the tomb and then...

March 31, 2024

"Deepening Freedom: the Paradox of Letting Go"

The Rev. Julia Khan

Mark 11:1-11

We were blessed to hear the Rev. Julia Khan preach this morning for Palm Sunday.

March 24, 2024

We Want to See Jesus

Rev. Sarah Buteux

Jeremiah 31:31-34 & John 12:20-33

I’m going to sing this prayer. If you know it, feel free to join in…

Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus,
to reach out and touch him, 
and say that we love him.
Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen.
Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus. 

Amen

I can’t read this passage without hearing that song in my head. It is one of the praise choruses I grew up singing in church and it still moves me deeply because, at the end of the day, Jesus is the reason I am here.

Jesus is the reason I haven’t given up on Christianity. Jesus is the one I am still trying to understand and know and follow because I believe that Jesus shows us how to save the world.

When we read about these two Greeks who say to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus,” there is something in their request that echoes deep within my soul. And I wonder if there isn’t a similar longing within each of you?

You might think you’re here for the community or out of curiosity or because of some inexplicable longing you can’t quite put into words. If we were to go around and ask why you are here, (which we won’t, so don’t worry) Jesus might be the last thing some of you would say.

After all, his name and image have been co-opted throughout the ages by so many people who do not seem to understand him at all; people who have done so much damage in the name of Jesus that frankly it’s a miracle some of you are even here at all.

And yet, beneath that desire for community, that desire for connection, that desire for something you maybe can’t quite put your finger on, I think there might still be a “wish to see Jesus,” a desire to understand Jesus, a longing to connect to Jesus.

Am I right? Good, because Jesus is here, here in this scripture, here among us, working even now within us. And I believe that Jesus still wants to be seen; seen for who he really is, seen for what he is really about. The question before us today, the question this scripture has the power to answer, is what does Jesus want us to see? But to understand what is here in these verses, first we have to set the scene....

March 17, 2024

Handle With Care

Rev. Sarah Buteux

Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21

Today we are going to talk about one of the most familiar verses in Christian scripture, the verse Martin Luther claimed was the gospel in miniature, the one verse -if you’re the sort of person who memorizes verses - you probably memorized first: John 3:16. Anyone want to say it with me? I will be reciting it in the King’s James version, but you do you…

For God so loved the world

that he gave his only begotten son

that whosoever believeth in him

should not perish but have eternal life.

Friends, John 3:16 is so central to our understanding and experience of Christianity that I think it only right to begin our exploration of this verse with a few wise words from… the Buddha. I was hoping that would get a laugh but you’ll soon see that I’m not just being cheeky.

In one of his most famous sutras, the Buddha offers a word of caution when it comes to handling the central truths of faith. “There are always some people,” he says,

“who do not understand the letter or the spirit of a teaching and, in fact, take it the opposite way of what was intended …people who study only to satisfy their curiosity or win arguments, and not for the sake of liberation. (Such people) can be compared to a man trying to catch a poisonous snake in the wild. If he reaches out his hand, the snake may bite (and he will) only create suffering. …an intelligent student (on the other hand) is like a man who uses a forked stick to catch a snake. When he sees a …snake in the wild, he places the stick right below the head …and grabs the snake’s neck with his hand. Even if the snake winds itself around the man’s hand, leg, or another part of his body, it will not bite him. This is the better way to catch a snake, and it will not lead to pain or exhaustion.

Friends, thanks in part to the verse before us today, I believe that God wants to save us from our sin not condemn us for it. And yet John 3:16, for all its talk of love and the explicit promise of the verse that immediately follows it - “for God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved” -  this verse, more often than not, gets wielded as a threat. Believe or else! Believe or you will perish.

Given the amount of argumentation, pain, and exhaustion this verse has caused, not to mention all the literal snakes that appear in both of these passages, I think it best that we heed the Buddha’s advice, walk softly into today’s readings, and carry a big stick.

You all with me? Good, because...

March 10, 2024

No More Facades

Rev. Sarah Buteux

John 2: 13-22

Note: We had some technical difficulties right at the outset of the lives stream, but here's most of the service. And here is the sermon:

All right, I need someone to call me on my phone. I’m serious and I’ve got a little prize for whoever reaches me first. I know some of you have my number, so go ahead. I’ve left my ringer on even though we are in church, which is something you should never do…if you’re a pastor.

All things considered, it’s probably not great to leave your ringer on if you’re a congregant either…but who am I to judge? You know, you do you.

Oh, ok, here we go… “Hi, this is Sarah. Hi_____, thanks for calling. You just earned yourself a chocolate. Ok, I’m going to hang up now. Thanks. Bye.”

Okay, what happened to my voice when I answered the phone? It changed. I have a phone voice. Genevieve points this out to me all the time. My voice automatically changes when I answer the phone into something - I don’t know - higher? perkier? Sweeter? Maybe….faker? Whatever it is, it’s not my regular speaking voice any more than my preaching voice is my normal speaking voice.

My normal voice, the voice I use in conversation with people I know well, has a different cadence. It is a little quieter…more halting. There’s less affect and I’m not as concise or clear because I’m thinking as I go.

Who else has a phone voice? Or a teaching voice? Or an “I’m the boss, so listen” voice, or a special voice you use when you talk to strangers that is different from your “real” voice?

I think we all have different voices, which is a little weird when you think about it. But no where is this more noticeable then when one is....

March 3, 2024

Get Behind Me, or Get Behind Me!

Rev. Chris Mereschuk

Mark 8:27-38

We welcomed the Rev. Chris Mereschuk as our preacher and worship leader this morning. Below is his sermon. Click the upper right hand to view the whole service.

I often wonder what the Disciples thought they were signing up for when they left their jobs, their homes, and their families to follow Jesus.

Time after time, scripture shows us that the Disciples really had very little idea about the weight of the promises they were making and the intentions they were declaring when they put their faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
Throughout the Gospels, it seems clear that the Disciples were pretty certain that they would be achieving some sort of greatness — greatness by human standards. They believed that their faith in and proximity to the Messiah meant that they would receive glory, rather than give honor; that they would be royally served rather than humbly serve. They expected reward without putting in work, salvation without suffering, eternal life without risk to their earthly life. They did not recognize or realize that there was a cost to discipleship.

But I don’t really fault the Disciples too much. There wasn’t exactly ....

February 25, 2024

What to Make of the Wilderness

Rev. Sarah Buteux

Mark 1: 9-15

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan;
and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Mark’s writing is so spare that it often leaves us with more questions than answers.

When he tells us that the Spirit “drove Jesus out into the wilderness,” does that imply that Jesus didn’t want to go? Does it mean that Jesus would have gladly avoided the wilderness if he could have?

Mark tells us that Jesus was out there for 40 days tempted by Satan, but says nothing about what those temptations might have been. Matthew and Luke fill in the blanks here, but if we only had the gospel of Mark, we wouldn’t have the faintest idea what went on between those two.

And when we read that Jesus “was with the wild beasts and that the angels waited on him,” are we meant to assume that Jesus was endangered by these creatures or is it possible that he kept company with them? Did jackals threaten the Lion of Judah out there in the cold or did wolves lie down with the Lamb of God to keep him warm?

Did the angels who waited upon Jesus bring him little cakes and water like they had for Elijah, or did they sit by him as he fasted and prayed? Did they watch over Jesus as he slept or wrestle with him in the night?

Was the wilderness a safe space for Jesus or was he scared? Was he depleted by the end of those 40 days or strengthened for the work ahead? Was he grounded out there or set adrift?

We… don’t… know.

February 18, 2024

Beloved

Rev. Sarah Buteux

Mark 9:2-9

Does everyone here know who Elizabeth Gilbert is? She wrote a little book called “Eat, Pray Love” you might have heard of…anyone? Yeah. Well, her newest project is called, “Letters from Love,” and it’s… amazing.
Elizabeth has been writing herself letters from Love for many years, and now she is inviting other people to join her.
This spiritual practice is as straightforward as it sounds. You basically sit yourself down, take a few deep breaths, open yourself up to the Divine or whatever higher power you believe in and start by asking, “Love, what would you have me know today?” Then you write what you hear in your heart.
Easy peasy, right? Well, maybe. Maybe not.
People often ask her how you can know that the words that come to you are from the Divine and not just yourself. That was definitely my first question and maybe it’s yours too. And Gilbert says…

February 11, 2024

Dust Up: The Challenge of Church

Rev. Sarah Buteux

Mark 1:29-39


I was talking to a colleague this past week about bringing in new members and it prompted them to tell me a funny story about how one of their newest members found their church.

Now I’m going to change some of the details to protect the innocent here, but let’s just say this new member is also new in town and has recently joined the local gym. While getting ready in the locker room, she overheard some folks complaining about their new pastor.

Now normally, if I heard folks complaining about their pastor, I’d probably go out of my way to avoid their church. Who needs more drama, right? But in this case, the more these folks complained about their church the more she thought to herself, I have to check this place out.

As it turns out, the ladies in the locker room were unhappy because of how “in your face” the pastor was when it came to being inclusive.

“We were already an open and affirming church before they came,” said one, “I don’t see why the pastor needs to remind us that everyone is welcome no matter who they love every Sunday.”

“And then there’s the inclusive language,” said another. “We all know God isn’t really a man, but calling God “mother” just sounds wrong.”

“And what’s wrong with just saying ‘brothers and sisters’? Do we really need to add siblings?” added the third. “It’s all just gotten so political. I don’t want to hear about white supremacy or gun control or immigration on a Sunday. I think it’s better to leave that stuff out so we can just focus on God.”

“I was in your pew the very next Sunday,” said this new member. “And when you said, ‘whoever you are, whomever you love, wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith, you are welcome here,' I knew it was true.”

But I’m also here because...

February 4, 2024

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