It Came Upon the Midnight Clear was written by Unitarian Minister Edmund Sears in 1849 while serving a parish in Wayland, MA. Both angels and people do a lot of bending in that carol. Why? And why did they cut out the third stanza back in 1935? What did it say, and what might we gain if we put it back?
Join us Sunday for the first Sunday of Advent and we’ll talk about the carol and what it might have to say to us today. And if you want to join in lighting the first candle of the Advent Wreath at home, have it ready and we can light it together. It’s the candle of Hope—one of the purple ones. Don’t have a wreath? That’s not a problem. Just grab a candle and lighter or a battery-powered candle and be ready to flip on the switch. The weary world needs the hope your light can bring.
This Sunday brings us the intersection of a secular holiday (Thanksgiving) and a Christian Holy Day (Christ the King or the Reign of Christ). The first celebrates gratitude and the second the day when human power will give way to the rule of Christ in the realm of God.
Viewed separately, each has its pitfalls. Counting our blessings might make us think that they are an indication of God’s favor instead of tools for the work set before us. We might think ourselves more righteous—more deserving—than those who have less. And thinking of Christ’s ultimate reign of glory might leave us daydreaming about streets paved with gold and mansions on a hilltop instead of remembering that we are meant to build a world right now that is ready and willing to let justice reign.
But when we look at the two days together—the holiday and the Holy Day—the key to protecting ourselves from both errors comes into view. Join us Sunday to learn about the humble mind of Christ.
Veteran’s Day is a time we often think about courage. We almost never talk about the men and women in uniform without adding the word “brave.” But military service is not the only place we find bravery, and courage comes in many forms. There are those who run into physical danger to save another without batting an eye but who buckle when trying to summon the courage to ask for help themselves.
It takes deep wells of courage to face a life-altering disease, to admit we were wrong, to leave home, to speak truth to power, to become vulnerable enough for real relationship, to live with grief, to turn the other cheek. For many it takes enormous courage just to get out of bed and face a new day.
The call to courage comes to all of us in many forms throughout our lives. But how do we get there? How do we actually develop the courage to face what a life of faith asks of us? That’s what we’ll talk about on Sunday. Join us!
As we come to the end of a tumultuous week, let us breathe and consider the words written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta and widely attributed to her:
People are often unreasonable and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you;
Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten;
Do good anyway.
Give the world your best and it may never be enough;
Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
Many people associate the word “saints” with special people and martyrs formally canonized by the Church; but that practice didn’t begin until the 10th century. In the Bible and during the first thousand years of the Church, all believers were referred to as “saints.” Protestant churches have kept that tradition, and culture has blended the two to refer to anyone who has made great sacrifices or has otherwise shown great love and perseverance.
November 1 is the day on the Church calendar that we celebrate all the saints, whether they have been formally recognized or not. It is often a time when churches remember those from their congregations who have died and when we are encouraged to remember those who helped to shape our faith, both individually and collectively.
At the Blessing of the Saints outdoor service on Sunday we will be doing all of that; and we also will be recognizing one or more special saints in our own lives by dedicating our 2021 pledge to Crawford in their honor. During that special moment on Sunday, the church doors will be open and we will return our pledges to the altar in the sanctuary. More details below.
Come join us Sunday at 10:00 am for this special service of honor and remembrance, and take your place in a new generation of Crawford saints.
When Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana, he signaled that his ministry was about transformation, so we’ve been looking at what transformation and spiritual growth look like in the pages of the Bible. We know it takes time, just like it takes time for a mustard seed to grow into its full potential; and we know that sometimes it takes being knocked to the ground to understand that we aren’t the spiritual giants we might think we are, as Paul found out on the road to Damascus.
In the courage of Ananias, we saw that a sign of spiritual maturity is the ability to love our enemies, but the one thing we haven’t really looked at is what is needed both externally and internally to kick off the actual transformation process. That’s coming up on Sunday—join us!
This Sunday is Laity Sunday, an annual worship service led by people in the congregation. It is an acknowledgement that we are all ministers, all invited to be part of God’s work here on earth. The theme for this year is presence: God’s abiding and constant presence, an intimate presence, a personal presence, a presence that knows your name. These ideas are embodied in the Exodus 33:12-23 scripture, which is part of the lectionary for Sunday. In that story, Moses is asking God to show him what to do, show him all of God’s glory so that Moses can gain strength for the task ahead. And how does God respond? How will God equip Moses for the job? God says, “I will make my goodness pass right in front of you.”
God’s presence, that is what we seek. To know and be known can get us through a lot, through the difficult days ahead, through our questions and fears and uncertainty about the future. To walk in the confidence that we are known by God, that God walks with us as we go, is a reassuring first step. On Sunday, we will be blessed to have Sue DiMarzo give a message based on these ideas in the scripture readings.
I pray that you understand that God knows each of us by name, and in God’s sight we have found favor. Our minds cannot comprehend the vision of God’s glory or the vastness of God’s love, but filled with God’s goodness, we will be equipped for the job ahead. Filled with God’s goodness, the impossible becomes possible. Amen.
Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is depicted in art and referenced in our culture in many ways. Apart from Jesus, perhaps only Abraham rivals the name recognition of Paul (Saul’s Greek name) when people think of the Bible. And yet to move Paul from his cruel rampage of persecution to the saint who established the church across Asia Minor, Paul had to be knocked to the ground and blinded for three days before he could even recognize that he was in the wrong.
There is another man in this story—a humble follower of Jesus and one of the people Paul was headed to Damascus to arrest. His name was Ananias. It would take Paul over twenty more years to reach the spiritual maturity that Ananias had the day God told him to go find the man who had come to arrest him. Learn about Ananias and what he has to teach us in Sunday’s sermon.
The sanctuary is still covered in butterflies.
For some that’s a sign of an Easter that never was; gathering dust just like our spiritual lives as we claw through these difficult times.
But I see them as the promise of an Easter yet to come; a transformation that’s happening within us now, even though the isolation of our cocoon makes it hard to see.
This next month we’ll focus on that cocooning time of transformation—the struggles, the letting go, and the basics of spiritual growth. The high point will be at our outdoor service on November 1st—the Blessing of the Saints.
At that service we’ll remember the saints of our own lives—the ones who’ve shown us the way to faith, the beautiful butterflies who pushed their way through life’s hardships to model spiritual maturity, compassion, and grace.
That Sunday will also be the culmination of our annual pledge campaign. You’ll get a letter and pledge card in the mail soon and we’ll ask you to send or bring it back on November 1st.
But this year we’re adding a twist.
As we remember the saints on November 1st, we’ll invite you to present your financial pledge to Crawford in honor or memory of someone whose life showed you the fullness of faith. We’ll print your dedications in the Messenger and on the website.
Just as each of us has been transformed by God through the saints in our own lives, so God will transform Crawford through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.
Here in our cocoon, the wings we never knew we had are taking shape. Soon we will fly. The butterflies in the sanctuary are keeping watch over sacred space until we join them.
Jesus changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee is Jesus’ first miracle. He only does it because his mother pushes him, and John’s Gospel is the only place that tells about it. Since some traditions (with biblical support) believe John’s mother was Mary’s sister, it could be that extended family were at the wedding, giving John a unique memory from before he was formally called to be a disciple. But I do wonder what Jesus’ may have done growing up that made Mary so sure he could solve the bridal couple’s wine problem.
But all those questions and more, including the question of whether the account as the Bible tells it is factually true, are beside the point if we want to get to the core truth that the story is trying to tell us. For that, we need to pay attention to the fact that John doesn’t call this a “miracle.” John calls it a “sign.” What did the act of turning water into wine signify? What is John trying to tell us about the purpose of Jesus’ ministry? That’s what we’ll be looking at in Sunday’s sermon. Hope to see you there!