January 2024

SERMON: We are the United Church of Christ

Remembering past history helps us step into todays moment.

My goodness….Jesus appears to be challenging the notion of the biological nuclear family!  How Un-American!!!   At superficial glance, that’s what Jesus appears to be doing, but he is really challenging us to see that we have another family:  a family of faith.  In our broken world, many people are looking to a “chosen family” to fulfill their need for belonging, and since its inception, the church has been viewed as a family unit.  This is splendidly apparent in the small circle of what is called Black Mountain United Church of Christ.

Just as Jesus challenged the people around him to broaden their vision of family, on this day of our Annual Meeting, it might behoove us to consider the wider family of the United Church of Christ. We are not only part of the Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, but we are part of a national church.  We have a rich history.  

In 1700, we published the first Anti-Slavery pamphlet in America.  In part this was to atone for our involvement in the sentencing of several so-called “witches” to death.

In 1773, five thousand colonists gathered in Boston’s Old South Meeting House to demand repeal of an unjust tax on tea.

Also in 1773, a member of Old South Church in Boston, Phillis Wheatley, became the first published African-American woman, and Wheatley gained her freedom from slavery shortly thereafter.

In 1785, Lemuel Haynes became the first African-American to be ordained by a Protestant denomination.  He became a world-renowned preacher and writer.

In 1846, the Amistad case spurred the conscience of Congregationalists who believed no human being should be a slave.  In 1846 Lewis Tappan, one of the Amistad organizers, helped to create the first anti-slavery society in the United States with multiracial leadership.

In 1853, Antoinette Brown is the first woman since New Testament times was ordained as a Christian minister, and she was perhaps the first woman in history elected to serve a Christian congregation as pastor.

In 1972, The UCC’s Golden Gate Association ordained the first openly gay person as a minister in a mainline Protestant denomination.

Our history is rich indeed, and we need to honor that history by becoming more welcoming, more loving, more giving, and more rooted in our Gospel of humble service.  We fulfill our mission as a Beloved Community when we are in a perpetual posture of growth, learning, and service.

This is what I wrote about Black Mountain for a Southwest Conference blog entitled “The Little Church That Could”:

“They did everything at the church.  They cleaned the bathrooms.  They replaced toilets.  They brought food.  They prepared the bulletins. There was a dog who sat in the front pew and seemed to listen to my sermon.  There was a piano player who could make all my favorite songs fill the sanctuary with joy.  They never said, “We’ve done enough” or “I’m too busy.”  They always said, “I’ll do that right away.”  They didn’t just talk about the unhoused in our downtown Phoenix community, they showed up in person to visit with them.  They made hundreds of blankets for our asylum-seeking neighbors in Mexico, and convinced non-church members to bring carloads of food to place at our altar before distribution to the local food bank.  The men clean the kitchen.  They know stuff about addiction, incarceration, poverty, LBGTQ issues and loss.  They’re even fun, and they laugh and tease one another.  They recently raised thousands of dollars to provide heat relief during our desert climate crisis.”

You have shown me the best of who you are, and I would like to share with you some of my hopes for Black Mountain United Church of Christ in the coming year.

We would have no difficulty agreeing that we are living in volatile times.  Some of that volatility has erupted into full blown physical warfare, some of it contaminates our spirits in vitriolic political statements, some of it is close to home with the murder of teenagers by their peers.  My friends, we simply MUST be agents of peace in the coming year.

We must prevent our anger from turning into outrage that spills over to the people around us:  the people we love, the people with whom we share neighborhoods, people in public office, the people with whom we pray and worship.  We must avoid the temptation to believe that our anger toward others puts public people in their place, and we must avoid applying any demeaning adjectives when speaking of other human beings.  We must learn other ways to express our fears and insecurities.  We can be living proof that a community of differing opinions can live without polarization and with common purpose and compassion.  As Jesus asks, we can create a Beloved Community of faith where we do not need to rant and rave to be heard, and where we protect the safety and dignity of each of our members and visitors. In doing this we will be the best of who we are.

We can listen to one another….really listen.  We can give up our need to be right and lower our voices.  We can pray for the Gilbert Goons, the incarcerated, the addicted, the soldiers, the hungry and for one another.  We can pray for the leadership of our country and for our own Dr. Toni and other leaders of our church.

We can give up any need to be perfect and laugh at our foibles.  We can continue to consider the unhoused to be our neighbors.  We can love our kids who dance and dive and play ice hockey.  We can weep together when our hearts are broken, and clap together when we overcome fear.  We can welcome visitors and ask nothing of them.  We can volunteer and engage in respectful debate.  We can share our resources and our gratitude for having enough to share.  We can welcome the four legged and the winged. We can, if we commit, become peacemakers. We can be the United, not the divided, Church of Christ. Amen.

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Hide yourself in God, so when a man wants to find you he will have to go there first.


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