Link to service

 

I Corinthians 12.4-11

Galatians 5.22-26

One-Stop Shopping

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

It’s that time of year again, when our mailboxes become stuffed with holiday solicitations – and I’m not talking about your UCC pledge card.  Charitable organizations recognize that once the calendar turns from October to November, a certain seasonal benevolence settles upon the population, and the Thanksgiving to Christmas holiday season makes us more receptive to requests for donations.  So far I’ve received mailings from Boy’s Town, St Jude’s Hospital, Christmas Seals, Big Brother/Big Sister and a handful of animal shelters with those sad-looking puppy and kitten eyes staring imploringly at me.  And it’s only November 7!   Newspapers have begun their holiday gift appeals:  The New York Times has its Neediest Cases Fund, and the Boston Globe has Globe Santa.  And in the spirit of pure sermonic research, I visited the Little House Brewery the other day to learn about their Toys for Tots Christmas toy drop and their month-long food drive to benefit the Chester Food Pantry.  The opportunities for giving this holiday season are nearly limitless, so I can’t blame you if you have a hard time making up your mind where your charity dollars will be most effective.

Of course, it is also true that when one finger is pointing out, the rest of them are pointing back.  While our Stewardship season is determined by the upcoming change of fiscal calendar year, and not intentionally tied to the upcoming holidays, it is also true that we are an important component on the local scene, asking you and members of the community to donate turkeys and gift cards for Thanksgiving and stuffing a police cruiser with toys for December.  So yes, this is the season when we all get a lot of “asks,” and at least in our little corner of the world, people are generous in their giving.

My thoughts this morning are shaped by the Stewardship letter we received this week.  Reflecting Rick Holloway’s remarks last week, it contains a litany of many the things our little church does for the community, acts and services that religious communities like our own are best equipped to do.  As I read the list, it reminds me of two other lists that also focus on those things religious communities like our own are best equipped to do, and they both come from the pen of the apostle Paul.  The shorthand for the two passages we heard this morning are the fruit of the spirit from Galatians, and the gifts of the spirit from I Corinthians.  Listen again to the richness, the abundance of God’s blessing through the spirit that creates and calls you and me to be the church:  “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  Folks, what more do we need?  Think of all the good, all the kind, loving acts of generosity we can bring when we are so equipped!  And then, to add to the abundance, are the spiritual gifts Paul describes:  “the utterance of wisdom and knowledge,” healing and the miraculous, prophetic witness, deep discernment, and a window into the higher mysteries of being.  Is there anything we cannot do in the power of the spirit of God?  The saying is sure:  “to whom much has been given, much can be expected.”

The variety and multiplicity of these gifts and blessings are worth considering in this Stewardship season.  The Holy Spirit of God enables and endows the church with seemingly limitless opportunities for ministry and service.  And our own gifts and commitment to the ministry and service of our church are just as varied, and just as numerous.  What does our church bring to you?  What does our church bring to our community?  On Sunday morning we bring magnificent music, thoughtful prayers, foundational scripture and creative reflection.  We bring them with compassion, with grace, with humor, with enthusiasm, we bring the very best of what we have to offer in honoring and praising God.  At the United Church of Chester we continue to create a community of caring, a place where we know we can count, not just on our minister, but on one another to walk with us in times of need, to share each other’s joys and journey.  We support the needs of our community through Shoreline Soup Kitchen and Pantry, we host our local scout troop, we share our space with the Circle of Friends Montessori School, we welcome the Chester Library and the Chester Hose Company for special events, as well as local crafters and quilter groups, we host weekly AA meetings, we provide backpacks for Chester students, we partner with Brian House and the Chester Rotary for community functions, we welcome neighbors and friends to our annual sales and bazaars, we engage in regional ecumenical and interfaith witness, and we really do function as the beacon on the hill.  Add to all this the good work our contributions do on a larger scale through the United Church of Christ, including disaster readiness and response, national and global witness for justice, the denomination’s invaluable assistance whenever we are in a search for ministry, and the covenant and connectivity among our Middlesex Association congregations.  Your one pledge to the United Church of Chester supports all of this. Your one pledge to the United Church of Chester supports all of this.  There is no need to wade through two months’ worth of mailbox fliers and brochures and solicitations in order to support the kinds of things that are important to us.  One generous, thoughtful and committed annual pledge to the United Church of Chester does all of this.  And more.

And more.  During the height of the pandemic we became involved in two efforts that you probably know about, but perhaps did not know that our church was part of them.  The Chester Long-Term Recovery Task Force was put together by the town as a way of negotiating many of the obstacles our quarantine and isolation threw in front of us; our church was involved in the Social Services, Spirituality and Emotional Wellness subgroup of the Task Force.  (Thankfully, that unwieldy moniker,  the Social Services, Spirituality and Emotional Wellness subcommittee of the Chester Long-Term Recovery Task Force has since mercifully been renamed the Chester Community Partnership.)   The first project was a big one:  assisting Chester residents in finding and making appointments for their Covid shots.  If you recall, in the early days of 2021 it was more than a little challenging to find and then sign up for your shot.  It was our sub-group that reached out to the community and helped folks, particularly those folks in the higher age bracket who were eligible first but not quite as computer savvy as their younger counterparts.  If someone in the town of Chester helped you find your first shot, it was very likely a result of our work.  And the second effort was inspired by our own Deb Vilchek, who organized the distribution of food items on Sunday afternoons when we hosted the weekly soup kitchen.  The idea caught on quickly, and grew into the weekly Tuesday food distribution at Town Hall, and again a number of you have helped with the shopping, the bagging and the weekly distribution.  These are two important areas of local outreach that happened because of the level and manner to which we support our church.

I want to close with a story I’ve told before.  I tell it again because a number of you weren’t here the first time I told it, and it is a perfect example of what I’m talking about this morning:

Annie was about 6 or 7 years old when she went to church for the very first time; it was on Easter morning.  Her grandmother had decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to introduce her granddaughter to the worship experience.  Before she even entered the sanctuary, Annie was transfixed by the fragrant scent of Easter flowers:  the lilies, the daffodils, the tulips.  It was unlike anything she had smelled before.  And the vision of the sanctuary:  bright colors, sun streaming through delicate Tiffany windows, the ornate drapes on the pulpit, lectern and altar.  The grand organ cued up and to little Annie it seemed what heaven must sound like.  The stately choir strode down the aisle singing their Easter processional in four part harmony with descant.  The pastor was warm and affable, preached a delightful Children’s Message Annie would remember for days, and she even followed part of the sermon – well, a little bit anyway; at least she managed to stay awake through it.  Her senses strained to take it all in.  It was simply wonderful, a place she knew she would want to return to again and again.  Near the end of the service, the ushers came by with polished golden plates into which she saw people putting smartly designed envelopes.  When the plates moved along her pew, she watched her grandmother pull out a crisp, nearly new one dollar bill, which she ceremoniously dropped into the plate.  Annie’s eyes, if possible, grew wider still, and she said to her grandmother in that child-like mixture of awe and wonder, “Grandma, we get all this for a dollar?”

Well, actually no, we don’t.  We get all this – and so much more – because we are generous in our support of the United Church of Chester.  You and I accomplish an awful lot for a small congregation, because God is able to multiply our generosity abundantly.  May we be abundantly generous with our ongoing financial support for the church we love.

Amen.

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