Rejoice in God always! Again will I say rejoice! This echo from Philippians (4:4) rings true today. But then… I turn on the TV, or look at my social media feed… or listen to the deeply painful experiences that encircle us, and wonder how any rejoicing can burst forth.
Yet there is Love in action…
The past few weeks, we have been working our way through the “who we are”… or who we say that we are… on Memorial UCC’s website.
Today, as we reflect on God’s work in this place, the Love in action among us, and how we trust in – or rather put our trust in – God, I ask you to draw your attention to the image of that tree rooted along the side of a stream in the reading from Jeremiah.
How does that rootedness resonate for us in the “who we are” of the focus paragraph for this week? Do you think that this describes, in part, who we are as a community? Is this in what we are rooted? Listen carefully to who we say we are:
Open and affirming – The phrase you see under our name at the top of (the webpage) — “A welcoming community growing together in Christ” — says a lot about us. The first thing we hope you will notice if you come to visit us is that we are a friendly bunch. We have a commitment to welcome all people here, whoever they are, wherever they are on life’s journey. We are an open and affirming congregation, which means, in our official language: “We welcome persons of all ages, races, sexual orientations, gender identities, and church backgrounds to participate in the life and ministry of our church.”
Rooted. Branches delving deep into the soil, the trust, the nutrients of God’s way in the world. Welcoming, growing, together. Committed.
One of my faith practices is to take time as each year comes to end to participate in a series of reflections. This practice to “find” my guiding “word” for the upcoming year. In 2018, as a person who was newly ordained and new to this faith community, the word that “found” me was “immerse.” Thus, I spent a year immersing myself in this place: listening and learning about who you are… who we are… as Memorial United Church of Christ. I purposefully made time to learn about, and getting to know, the city of Fitchburg. The newness, the exploration, was fun… and exciting. There was a lot in that early transitional phase of our ministry together to celebrate. To be surprised by. In which to rejoice in God’s Love in action.
Then, back in December, I started the process all over. Twelve days of prayerfully reflecting on a word for 2019. And I must admit, finding a word was a struggle. I paused. I prayed. I opened space in which to let a word discover me.
Part of my struggle was that I really wanted some sort of “green” word, a “growing” word. A word full of energy, passion, joy.
And I got… nothing.
The words were quiet.
But an image formed.
A tree with roots sinking deep, down, into the earth – and branches stretching up, into the space around it.
What was it? Was it the mythical tree of life?
Or, was it something now?
Was this a reflection of our co-ministry in this place as we enter year 2 of our ministry together? There was hope. There was growing. There was greening.
Yet there was also a great tangle of roots below.
Maybe my word for 2019 was a both/and word. One of both growing, and one of digging deep.
Coming up with a word was a struggle.
One of the guiding principles in this faith practice is to be OK in the discomfort of not knowing, not finding… of coming away empty handed. So I kept at it. I paused. I prayed. I paused again. I opened space in which to let a word find me.
And still the words were quiet.
But the image, this tree, remained.
Over time and through prayer, it slowly dawned on me. It was not the greening, it was not the growing, it was not the upward, outward energy, passion and joy that was calling me to follow in 2019, but it was the rootedness of the tree. Those roots of this living, growing, nurturing tree reaching deep into where it is anchored, where it breathes, and where it matures.
For a tree needs good, solid roots to thrive. And so do we. Before you… I… we… as a faith community can grow up, and out, and flourish in the Spirit, before we follow Jesus out into the streets and into our homes, our hospitals, schools, places of work, nursing homes, pantries, shelters, and prisons… we need to (I need to) delve deep into our relationship with God. Root ourselves in God. This rootedness in the trust of God that Jeremiah proclaims to the people of Judah. Jeremiah wrote to the people in Judah just before, and into, their time of being overrun by Babylon in 587 B.C.E. warning that their “defective heart(s) pervert(ed their) relationship not only with God, but also with (their) neighbors, who (were being) exploited for economic gain.”
Dry, parched places.
“Blessed are those who trust in God, whose trust is God.”
If we are rooted there, we will continue to build on a grounding foundation, to sprout, to green, to bear fruit.
A few weeks ago, my word emerged, and was confirmed by this Kindness Rock, given to my by Cindy R: A tree with roots. The word which will be guiding me is “root.” This year I will be rooting myself in my call as pastor, as we root ourselves in our co-ministries. For good roots are needed to build a strong foundation, so that we can branch… grow… bear fruit.
Coming back to “who we are”… is this, is God,in who… in what… we are rooted?
And… can we rejoice?
For today we are a church on the road. Over the past month we have been delving into a dialogue encouraged by the United Church of Christ, on the Doctrine of Discovery. In 2013, our General Synod (the biannual national gathering for the business and worship of our denomination) adopted a resolution “calling for the UCC to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery which authorized the genocide of native peoples and the theft of native lands.”
Love in action: rejoice! Look around. Being in this sanctuary this morning may seem a bit unusual. Empty. To which I say, “rejoice”! Approximately 20 people from Memorial gathered at 7 am this morning to drive to the HoCak UCC in Black River Falls. Over the past month we have participated in self-study opportunities, watched videos, and gathered in small group conversations. Today, members and friends of this church are experiencing the hospitality of our siblings at the HoCak UCC. Worshiping together, breaking bread, and continuing the conversation. People from our church will hear stories of “who we are” through the lens of the HoCak faith community. Our prayers go with them this day, as we worship in 2 spaces.
Rooted here, we continue to build on a grounding foundation, to sprout, to green, to bear fruit. We venture to take risks listening to where, and how, God is still speaking to us.
At the beginning of the reflection I read to our Open and Affirming statement. What does it mean to not only be a congregation “open” to the participation of our siblings who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer, but to be an “affirming” congregation?
I will be the first to admit that as a cis-gender female I am not the person who is able to answer this question. But I can open up space in which we can ask is. At our annual meeting in January, we took a look at our community’s Open and Affirming statement and amended it to include a welcome for persons of all gender identities. However, to fully be Love in action, we must respond with more than just words. We cannot settle in and get comfortable. We need to continually reflect on, and respond to:
- The ways in which people who are openly LGBTQ are included in pastoral, leadership and staff roles at Memorial UCC
- How we (and do we?) reach out to the LGBTQ community
- Include people who are LGBTQ in all aspects of church life: in worship, in adult and youth education.
- And… of course… we need to ask our members and friends here who are LGBTQ… how we are doing….
… and those of us who are not LGBTQ need to listen.
There is, in this rootedness, a sense of being aware of who we are, where we are, and why we are as people of God, followers of Jesus. Setting groundwork that is necessary to develop a solid foundation. The imperative to become firmly rooted before we fully branch up, and out, in Jesus’ way.
Can we celebrate, can we rejoice in, can we reach deeply, into our trust of who God is for us in this place… in this time… this year?
For this is what will give us life as the Body of Christ. The Church.
Reflection on Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Luke 6:17-26 offered on February 17, 2019
 “Who We Are.” Memorial United Church of Christ. Accessed February 12, 2019. http://www.memorialucc.org/who-we-are/.
 The Discipleship Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, including Apocrypha. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. 1059.
 “Doctrine of Discovery.” United Church of Christ. Accessed February 15, 2019. http://www.ucc.org/justice_racism_doctrine-of-discovery.