Sermon 3.12.23

2601 54th Avenue South  St. Petersburg, FL  33712
On land originally inhabited by the Tocabaga

Date:  March 12, 2023
Scripture Lessons:  Exodus 17:1-7 and John 4:5-42
Sermon:  Dried Up?
Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

One of our extravagant indulgences as a household is to have a pool service clean our pool each week.   We started it one year when we were away for an extended time, and just never stopped it.  It’s pretty nice to have the pool cleaned once a week – especially our pool which is overhung with trees in our woodsy backyard.

The person who comes to clean the pool changes frequently.  The guy doing it now has been coming for over a month – a long stint for us.  So, when he came this week, Jeff, my spouse, went out to greet him.  They got to talking.  Not a surprise since Jeff is gregarious and so is the pool guy.  I could hear them conversing in the backyard.  I glanced though the window and they are both working at cleaning the pool. . .  When he came in, Jeff told me about the young man.  And I want to share one part of his story with you.

Apparently, when the young man was in high school, a teacher, yes, a teacher, told him flat out – You’re not going to go anywhere.  You might as well drop out.  Stop coming to school.  Yes, a high school teacher in the public schools here in Pinellas County told him that.  And just for the record, he is not Black.  You’re not going anywhere.  Just stop coming.

Now, before we go on, I want to acknowledge that being a teacher is an extremely stressful profession.  It is a very hard job.  And it takes its toll in many, many ways.  And there is little to no support for many teachers – from the school, the educational system, the government, maybe even from their family.  So we want to have compassion for the teacher who gave the young man that discouraging assessment of his future.  

I also want to say that here at LUCC we have had many teachers in the congregation, active and now some retired.  And it has been part of our mission as a church to be a community of support for those teachers so that they can do their best in their ministry of teaching and supporting the growth and maturation of the students.  This is important to our church because we know that being a teacher is not easy and that many forces undermine the hopes and dreams of those who go into teaching with the desire to be an influence for good in the lives of the students.

So, our pool cleaning technician was told he wasn’t going to amount to much.  So, you know what he did?  First he changed schools.  And then, he did as the teacher advised.  At 15 he simply stopped attending school all together,   And did not go back.  And has never graduated.  No GED.  He is 33.  

This young man was told that he was worthless.  Useless.  A burden?  An annoyance?  From the story we heard from the gospel of John this morning, we can well imagine that the woman in the story who came to the well had also been told, maybe not in so many words, that she was worthless.  Useless.   Maybe even a burden.  Certainly an annoyance.  

You see, she was coming to the well at noon.  That is a HUGE red flag.  Going to the well for water was an important social event for the women of the village.  The women would all go to the well at the same time, in the cool of the morning, or the cool of the evening.  It was a time to gather, to visit, to exchange stories.  To talk about their kids.  And their husbands.  Trade recipes.  To give and receive support and comfort and advice.  It was a time of community and connection.  But in the story, the woman who engages with Jesus comes to the well at midday.  In the heat of the day.  Because, well, she was not wanted, not welcome, among the women of the village.  Why?  Because of her many relationships?  Again, 6 partners?  Was she cast off?  Unwanted?  By the men in her life?  Or was there something else?  We don’t know.  But we are told that she is an outcast from her village, her community.

We are also told in the story of the hatred between the Samaritans and the Jews.  That stemmed from an historic difference, centuries old, about where God should be worshiped.  Now, they were bitter enemies.  

And Jesus was a man.  A man did not talk with a woman outside of the home in that cultural context, except perhaps to a family member.  So an interaction between a man and a woman, strangers, in public, was absolutely forbidden according to religious and cultural customs.  

When the disciples return and find this conversation going on, at the well, at noon, between Jesus and a Samaritan woman, they are aghast.  They don’t know where to start – “. . . no one dared to ask, ‘What do you want of him?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’”  This encounter was so shocking, the normally loquacious disciples are driven to stunned silence.  

To a Jewish man, this woman is nothing less than despicable – beyond worthless, useless; she was an annoyance, and a burden.  

Yet, we have been given this story.  Of Jesus.  A Jewish man.  The Messiah.  Initiating an encounter with this woman.  The story relates one of the longest conversations in the gospels between Jesus and another person let alone a woman.  And it is an involved conversation.   Not only about the well and her husbands, practical matters.  In the womanly sphere.  But there is an in depth theological discussion.  About the Samaritans and the Jews.  About the Messiah.  About the history of their faith and its scriptures and stories.  Jesus makes a clear declaration of his identity to this useless, annoying woman.  He offers his gift of living water, Love which satisfies, heals, connects, includes, sustains, refreshes, validates, and affirms, to this woman who has been told that she is worthless and seems to have yet to experience a trustworthy love in her life. 

The woman then becomes the first evangelist in this gospel.  She  leaves her clay jar and invites the town, populated with people who have hated her and vilified her and ostracized her, to meet this religious teacher.  She invites the village to hear about this living water.  She immediately shares the gift that she is given.  Because, of course, it is true Love, and true Love must be shared, given away, spread, disseminated, with profligate abandon.  

In the orthodox Christian tradition, the woman at the well has been given a name, Photini.  It means, ‘the enlightened one.’ She is honored with a saint day.  She is revered in readings and song.  

The story from John tells of a person who was no one, or even less than no one, that became someone through the love of Jesus.  Someone who was not supposed to amount to anything, someone useless, worthless, someone who wasn’t going to go anywhere, has an encounter with Jesus, and evangelizes her whole town, and is remembered and revered.  

In the Torah, God calls the Hebrew people out of obscurity, away from the fleshpots of Egypt, to become a blessing to the world – to give the world the living water of Divine Love, compassion and justice.  The Hebrews are led away from the familiar customs, material comforts, and power arrangements that they know and understand.  To create something new.  And it is not an easy transition.  In the story from Exodus, the people are clambering for water.  Give us water.  Give us water.  And through Moses, God gives them what they need.

In the story of the woman at the well, again we see a story of Divine love drawing people away from the customs, comforts, and power arrangements that they have come to know and understand.  Into new territory.  

This involves giving up what they have come to know and appropriating a different worldview, different assumptions, it is an invitation to a new realty.  The reality of the commonwealth of God.  Which includes everyone.  No exceptions.  Even a promiscuous woman from an enemy nation.  

There are so many people thirsty today – for love, for meaning, for purpose, for connection, for validation, for respect.  Today, so many people feel alienated from their true humanity, from Divine Love, and certainly from religion.  

And this is the reason that the church exists:  To engage those who are cast aside, vilified, forgotten, devalued, and disrespected.  And to share the living water, Divine Love, with all.  The mission of the church is to let people know that they are loved, all people.  We are here to give the living water that sustains and refreshes everyone.  

Yet, often the church seems to be contributing to the disrespect of humanity, to the divisions that cause harm and that undermine the universal, unconditional, eternal love of God.  The church often seems to stemming the flow of the living water instead of taking it to those who are thirsty.

When we are in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago and we see the ornate gold adorning the sanctuaries of so many churches, we are continually reminded of the church’s role in subjugating peoples of other lands.  The riches of Mexico glitter in Spain.  The church has a long history of appropriation and of subjugation.  And this continues in the church today.  Much of the church still does not ordain women.  Along with sexism, racism is alive and well in the church.  The church perpetuates patriarchy and the damage it causes.  Much of the church continues to try to blame and control women’s bodies.  The church continues to devalue non-Western cultures and to impose culture along with religion.  The church also contributes to the dehumanization of people who are not cisgender, people whose sexual orientation or gender identity doesn’t fit narrowly defined norms created and imposed by society including much of the church.

All of this and more is in direct conflict with the legacy of the gospel of Jesus – the living water offered fully and freely to the woman at the well and others who are considered less than, other, deviant, unworthy.  

In the book Eve’s Pilgrimage, there is a beautiful description of the flowing of living water at a jubilee concert in Rome around the turn of the millennium when there was a focus on international debt reduction.  Author Tina Beattie offers this description of the concert: 

“The evening began with an Iranian Muslim Women’s ensemble singing verses from the Qur’an, and for the next two hours we were swept up in a celebration of music and dance that seemed to emanate from a different universe to the baroque extravaganza of the basilica next door.  Here, the extravagance lay not in the brash proclamation of Rome’s power frozen in marble and bronze but in the human body and voice — the female body and voice — transformed into a living icon of praise.  Peruvian dancers, American sopranos, a Filipino choir, African, Polish and Romanian musicians, Korean women like bright butterflies in their national dress — that night the Vatican was truly catholic, and woman was truly incarnate.  The evening ended with a group of young Italian ballet dancers, dressed in slinky costumes in the colours of the jubilee logo.  As they writhed sinuously up the steps and arched their backs and raise their arms to the risen Christ [The Paul VI concert hall, where the concert was held, contains a vast bronze sculpture of the resurrection.], I wanted to pinch myself.  Could this possibly be happening on the Pope’s doorstep?  This was Eve risen, redeemed, beautiful, sexy, dancing where she should always have danced, in the heart of Christ’s Church on earth.”  [In Resources for Preaching and Worship: Year A, Quotations, Meditations, Poetry, and Prayers, compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild, pp. 18-19.]

That is the living water that Jesus offers.

Jesus does not treat the woman at the well like a second class citizen, less than.  She is not considered different.  She is not ‘othered.’  In fact, in the story, Jesus seeks her out so we can see what it is to be truly freed of all that separates, divides, diminishes, and drains.  And he offers the refreshing, sustaining, transforming, life giving water of Divine Love specifically to her. 

It is the Lenten season, so it is a time when we reflect on our spiritual life.  We seek to be people of faith.  We are here in church.  We want to follow Jesus.  So we may be wondering, have we received this living water?  Is it sustaining us?  Is it refreshing us?  Are we saying yes to the Good News?

Well, we can look at our lives.  Do we seek out those who are different than we are?  Do we engage with those we do not agree with?  Are we involving ourselves with people from different cultures than ours?  And different religions?  And no religion?  How do we treat those from a different political party?  As enemy?  Less than?  Other?  Are we respecting and affirming the full humanity of women and girls?

Do we find ourselves reaching out?  Offering love?  Seeking understanding?  Are we giving affirmation?  Acceptance?  Validating the humanity of those considered less than, other, annoying, bothersome, burdensome?  Are we looking at others with compassion, seeking understanding?  That is Divine Love flowing through us.

If we are seeking to love our enemies and to engage with the ‘other’ than the living water of Divine Love may very well be flowing through us into the world where it is desperately needed.  

When we embody the gospel, as Jesus did, we find Divine Love flowing out from us.  A spring.  A fountain.  A river.  Not a stagnating pond.  Despite all the messages telling us we can’t make a difference.  It doesn’t matter.  Only money talks.  Things can’t change.  We aren’t going to amount to anything.  And when we reach out in Love, seeking to share the living water with others, we find that we ourselves are actually revived and refreshed.  We are made new by that spring of Divine Love.  Don’t be afraid of a dip in the pool!   Amen.  

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Sermon text 2-5-23

2601 54th Avenue South  St. Petersburg, FL  33712
On land originally inhabited by the Tocabaga

Date:  Feb. 5, 2023
Scripture Lessons: Matthew 4:17-23, Matthew 5:13-16, and 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Sermon: Fishing, Part 3
Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

If we had gone to hear a presentation from a religious teacher in Jesus’ day, the set up would have been quite different than what we associate with such events today.  No lectern.  No pulpit.  No raised dais.  The teacher would have been sitting down, maybe even on the ground.  And those who had come to listen would be seated nearby.  The teacher or scholar taught and those who were interested came by and listened.  That is what people would have expected from a rabbi, from a teacher, from Jesus.  Sit down and talk and see who comes.

But as we know from the story we heard this morning, Jesus doesn’t do what was expected.  He doesn’t just sit down and wait for people to come to him.  He takes his message to the people.  He is so filled with the compassionate love of God he cannot passively wait for people to come to him.  He must bring the gospel to the people.  He has a message of such good news for ALL people that he simply can’t contain it.  He goes out and shares this message, especially with those who need it most.  He searches them out.  So we have the story of Jesus walking along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  And he doesn’t just sit down and teach and see who comes, if anyone.  He goes around and recruits people.  He invites them.  He seeks them out.

And what does he offer?  The kin-dom of God.  A group reality.  He offers them community.  A community of unconditional, eternal, universal love.  A community in which to be made whole.  A community in which to experience love and create justice.  A community that is open and welcoming to all.  Jesus calls the fishers to a community where they can experience, explore, and embody a different kind of life.  The reality of God.  Jesus uses a new method to introduce a new message.  

As a community they will live and learn and serve together.  Affirming the child-of-Godness of each and every person and honoring the sacredness of life and creation.  This is not a quick fix – 5 steps to a new you.  This is encountering and creating a new reality in community with others because no one can live on their own, isolated.  We are interdependent.  We need each other and must live together.  Jesus calls his followers to work together to create beloved community.  

Jesus is so filled with hope and promise fueled by Divine Love that he can’t keep this to himself and simply wait and see who may be interested.  He goes out and recruits people to be part of the community.  He invites them.

Now, I can tell you that most days, some time during the day, I encounter something that leads me to think, “That person needs the church.”  In my mind that means a community of support, of alternative values to the society around us.  A community that values people over profit.  That encourages self-giving and sacrifice.  A community that promotes forgiveness not vengeance or retribution.  A community that sustains hope.  A community of unconditional acceptance and love.  

You see someone doing something you know is misguided.  You feel the pain of someone who is clearly being left out.  You see people who are struggling – with finances, relationships, the violence in our society.  You meet someone who is clearly embittered, jaded, hostile.  We see these people every day.  And we read about them.  And we know, if we think about it, that they might not be suffering so much if they were part of a church, a faith community, where they were loved and where they were cared about and encouraged to be their best selves. 

NOW, how are those people going to find the church?  How are they going to experience the unconditional love of God?  We know what is here at church.  We know what difference it makes in our lives.  People need to hear about the good news from, well, us.  

Now, I know the problems with inviting someone to church.  Especially a stranger.  They could very likely think you were a person that is anti gay, anti abortion, and believes the world was created in 7 24-hour days.  I get it.  

So listen to what I am going to tell you.  If you encounter someone who is really angry or having a bad time, it probably won’t help to interject, “Maybe you should try church.”  That might not be the best plan. 

Instead, think about making a personal statement about what church means to you.  Say something like, When I am really upset, I find that going to church helps me get things in perspective.   Or, When I am struggling and not seeing any hope, I find my spirits lifted at church.  Or, When I feel adrift, I reach out to someone from my church and I find that helps.  Or, When I have had hard times in my life, it’s my church family that has helped me to get through.  Or, When I feel beaten down, I find my church community helps me to get up again.  

So, don’t tell someone to try going to church.  Just tell them what the church means to you.  How being part of the church helps you.  Why church is important to you.  What you find at church.  This way you are sharing where they may find help and then leaving it up to them.  Jesus invited the fishers to follow, he did not force them, threaten them, or pressure them in any way.  

You would tell people about a great doctor.  Or a favorite restaurant.  Or where you go for a wonderful massage.  You would tell someone about a movie that you liked.  Or a beach you love.  Or a bookstore your frequent.  

So, it’s like that.  Just mention church.  And how it is important to you.  How it keeps you going and gives you hope.  

Where to do this?  Well, Jesus approaches the people he is passing as he walks along the lakeshore.  So, what about someone in a grocery line who has started talking to you.  Or someone in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.  Or someone at the gym.  Or the barber or hair salon.  Or a neighbor, friend, family member, colleague, or coworker.  When someone is expressing concerns, is upset, is discouraged, just offer a comment about how your church helps you through.  

It’s like that salt Jesus talks about.  It makes a difference.  Maybe a comment about your church experience gets someone going back to their church, or temple, or mosque.  Maybe your comment plants a seed.  And months or even years later, the person makes their way to a faith community.  Maybe the person asks you about your church and then you do invite the person, because they have inquired.  

It’s like that light that Jesus talks about in the sermon on the mount.  It is not hid under a bushel but put on a stand to help more people see.  We are to carry the light of the good news of Divine Love out into the world.  We are to help to shine the light of love, justice, and compassion.  In today’s world, that light is needed more than ever.  Some people, many people, simply have never seen it, sad as that is.  

We are so blessed to be part of this community of compassion and care that feeds our souls and lifts our spirits by encouraging us to love ourselves, each other, our enemies, and the Earth.  Here our wounded souls are tended and strengthened.  There are so many people who need that today.  And we can shine a light, we can be salt, we can make a difference.  

Just tell someone about what you have found at your church.  

I saw an article recently about crazy things people have found at thrift stores.  I have been a thrift store regular ever since I embraced the voluntary simplicity movement in the 90’s and have become more committed as a conservationist – reduce, recycle, reuse.  For me, thrift stores fit into that.  

So here are some of the crazy finds.  One person found a paperback copy of The Shining, signed by Stephen King for $1.99.  

Someone bought a $1200 La Pavone Europiccola expresso maker for, gulp, $6.50.

One person went to Goodwill and saw a painting that looked just like one their grandmother would have painted.  Turns out, the painting was done by the grandmother.  They thought all of her paintings had been sold off 25 years before and were lost forever.  Now, they found one. In a thrift store.  

Someone bought a  locked safe for $15 that was full of money, gold, and silver.  

And then there was the pair of pants with $2,000 in the pocket.  


So, you never know what you are going to find at a thrift store.  What treasures will appear.

Coming to church is kind of like that.  We come here, seeking something.  Maybe we don’t even know what.  And we find supportive compassionate community, a vision of how the world is intended to be, the reality of God, the power of love instead of violence, and money.  And our lives are changed for the better.  

There are so many people in this world who are hurting, struggling, trying to hang on.  We see them every day.  Let them know about church.  What it means to you.  You don’t know what you are going to find at church.  It may be a surprise.  But it will certainly be a treasure.  

The poem, Like on that last ditty, by the writer, Hafiz, ends with the line: 

“Something of great worth in my pocket wants to be in yours.”  

That is the gospel.  That is what we have found here at church. And there are people who need what is in our pocket.  Amen. 

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Sermon text 2-12-23

2601 54th Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33712
On land originally inhabited by the Tocabaga

Date: Feb. 12, 2023
Scripture Lessons: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Matthew 6:24-34
Sermon: SAY YES
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Unless you live under a rock, you know that Valentine’s Day is ahead this week. You are probably getting ads in your email or from your social media feed about the perfect gift for your Valentine. And then in the daily newsfeed, there are suddenly articles about relationships like, “Money ruins marriages. It doesn’t have to,” or “3 ways to deepen your relationship.” There are Valentine’s decorations in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. Then there are the shelves of candy in the stores. One chocolate bar I like has poems on the inside of the wrapper. Now they are all love poems. And there are heart-shaped boxes of candy. And, of course, the classic – Conversation Hearts, maybe helping you say what you have a hard time saying.

Conversation Hearts have always fascinated me. Words on the candy. Sayings. Really short. That pack a punch. I like that. But then I liked alphabet soup with the little letter noodles. And I like the chocolate bars with the poems on the inside of the wrapper. So, I’ve got a weakness for food with messages, evidently.

But Conversations Hearts, they really have a lot to say. BE COOL. CALL ME. HOT STUFF. WOW. CRAZY4U. HUG ME. SWEET. WINK WINK. And then there is SAY YES!

Both of the scripture lessons we heard today involve making a choice. Giving an answer. Choosing an option. In the story from Deuteronomy, Moses puts it right out there. Choose this day. And in the story from Matthew the choice is also made clear: You can’t serve God and money. Choose God. So, the Conversation Heart tempts us. SAY YES. SAY YES to God. To Divine Love. To the way of the gospel.

SAY YES in the Deuteronomy story means choosing the way of the God that promises peace, prosperity, well-being, a good life, and blessing. It is saying yes to a new paradigm of social and economic relationships based on providing for everyone and honoring the dignity of everyone. It is saying yes to obedience to God that leads to the well-being of the whole community in such a way that other communities will be drawn to the justice and peace and abundance that are evident. SAY YES! Moses encourages. Don’t be taken in by other gods or by systems of manipulation and power in the new land that lies ahead. Commit to God. Now. Ensure your well-being. SAY YES.

And in Matthew, there is recognition of how we so easily become fragmented and over committed and conflicted which produces anxiety and stress. We know about that. So Jesus puts it out there – God or money. You can’t serve two masters. He adjures his followers to SAY YES to the way of God. SAY YES to God who will provide and protect beloved humanity just as we see in nature – a carefully balanced adaptive interdependent system that promotes life. SAY YES.

Both of these stories invite us to SAY YES to Divine Love; to the eternal, universal, unconditional love that is at the heart of reality and at our heart. These invitations are like Conversation Hearts from God: BE MINE. FOREVER. I LOVE YOU. SOUL MATE. REAL LOVE.

And when we SAY YES to Divine Love, we experience the goodness, blessedness, and abundance of life. This commitment, including the commitment to obey in Deuteronomy, is not a burden but a gift. It is the way to a good life. To a life of meaning and purpose. To a life of wholeness and community. SAY YES.

Does SAY YES mean we will not have another care in the world? That we will not experience pain or heart break? That we will never be sick or die. No. It means that in the context of this human life on Earth, we can experience purpose, peace, joy, and well being.

SAY YES means having God, Divine Love, or however we may image God, at the heart of our lives. This is the most important filter for defining our reality. No two masters. No love of money. No serving other gods like: Success. Power. Gain. Status. Ideology. Only one center. One master. God. Love. The gospel. Jesus. One core. One commitment. And everything else flows from that leading to peace, well-being, and freedom.

These two stories remind us of the complications of multiple ‘ultimate’ commitments. It doesn’t work. We are divided. We strain. We fray. We concoct involved rationalizations to justify things. The glue doesn’t hold. It is enervating and exhausting.

Instead, as we heard today, we are given the faith option, to which we can wholeheartedly SAY YES, and then settle in to trust knowing that we are being upheld by Divine Love.

SAY YES. We are promised that saying yes to Divine Love ensures a good life. And we see that in our relationships. While relationships are often the most beautiful, mysterious, and satisfying part of our human journey, they can also be fraught with stress, anxiety, and heartache. We know this from experience. We see it in the relationships of those around us. We see it in our society.

What we find is that when we devote ourselves to God, when we SAY YES to Divine Love, well, things tend to go better in our relationships. Our commitment to love of God positions us to be more loving and committed to those who are important to us. Instead of creating polarization and a tug of war, when we SAY YES to God, we are headed one direction, the way of love. And we seek to express that love in all of our relationships. Instead of perhaps experiencing a pull between our faith commitment and our commitment to those we love, we find that our faith commitment helps us to better fulfill our commitment to those we love.

Saying yes to the love of God means saying yes to love of self, love of neighbor, love of enemy, and forgiveness. Let’s look at each of those for a moment and how they may impact our primary relationships including our romantic love relationships.

An awareness of love of self and self care helps us to be more healthy so that we have more capacity and energy to love and help others including those in our families. Love of self makes us more accepting of others. We are more capable of infectious joy from which those around us benefit. It increases our generosity of spirit. Love of self engenders empathy for others and a desire to help others care for themselves so that they can be more loving. Love of self makes us more able to be loving of others including our partners, families, and friends.

Love of neighbor increases our understanding, empathy, and generosity. For people next door, people around the globe, and our families and significant others. The impulse toward being generous and helpful benefits not only the random public and society at large but those in our household and in our families. And we can find common ground working together to help others which strengthens our bond to each other. So love of neighbor helps to strengthen our primary relationships as well as making the world a better place for all.

And love of enemy. Well. I was recently in a clergy discussion group that talked about a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about love of enemy. In the comments, people talked about loving those who hate them. They were from historically oppressed groups. Besides being a woman, I am not part of such a group and have not experienced hate directed toward me personally for who I am. But love of enemies? I have experience with that. There have been times when, if I had a gun, I could have taken out my husband. And then my kids. And then, probably, myself. It is only the grace of God that prevented that – grace that translates into devotion to pacifism, to not having or wanting guns, to not being left to my own devices, to trust in forgiveness. Love of enemies does have an impact not only in society but also in families. It keeps hate out of the home so that love can thrive.

And when we think about our choice to SAY YES to God, we know that we are making a commitment to forgiveness. We are told of Jesus teaching forgive 70 times 7. And of Jesus forgiving his killers from the cross. So commitment to God involves trust in forgiveness. Knowing that we have an infinite capacity to forgive. And forgiveness can transform human relationships in society, in the boardroom, in the classroom, and in the bedroom.

Two years ago, when Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary, Carter was asked about advice for a long and happy marriage. The oldest-living American president said there are only two secrets to a long and successful marriage: “First of all, choose the right person to marry. And every night, we try to make sure we’re completely reconciled from all the arguments during the day.”
[] Maybe the Carters gave the Clintons some relationship advice.
Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Working out the kinks and the knots and the jams. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful manifestations of love. A commitment to God, to Divine Love, makes it possible. SAY YES.

So when we SAY YES to Divine Love, when we choose this day, when we select our master, we are saying yes to embodying Divine Love in all of our relationships. To living from the image-of-Godness within us. To letting our light shine and our salt savor. And that makes us better people: better citizens, better friends, better family members, and yes, better partners, spouses, significant others, and better lovers.

Every day we have the choice. Choose this day. Whom you will serve. When we SAY YES to God, to the gospel, to the way of Jesus, we become God’s valentines to the world. We are God’s Conversation Hearts saying SMILE. BE HAPPY. MISS YOU. YOU ROCK. ASK ME. YOU SHINE. DREAM BIG. BEAUTIFUL. BE GOOD. TRUE LOVE.

Choose this day. Choose every day. Not just Valentine’s Day. The way of love. SAY YES! Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Immediate Action on Immigration Needed!

From Pinellas County Immigration Justice

Governor DeSantis HB1 Legislation is processing through Committees. Thursday at 9 AM Justice Appropriations Subcommittee members will discuss and vote.

If you want to speak to members, here is a list with their email and phone. The message is to please STOP consideration of this bill which criminalizes free speech and protest.


Scott Plakon 850-717-5029
Mike Gottlieb 850-717-5098
Michelle Rayner 850-717-5070
Mike Beltran 850-717-5057
Cord Byrd 850-717-5011
Nick Diceglie 850-717-5066
Sam Garrison 850-717-5018
Lauren Melo 850-717-5080

League of Women’s Voters opposition statement:

Corona Sabbath 41 THE BIRTH OF JESUS Reflection Text

Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath.  This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19.    We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.

We listen to John 1:1-14 read by Sue Sherwood.  This passage includes the prologue to the gospel of John.  No angels or stars here, but a sweeping statement of the import of the birth of Jesus.  

             In the beginning
                         there was the Word;
             the Word was in God’s presence,
                         and the Word was God.
             The Word was present to God
                         from the beginning.
             Through the Word
                         all things came into being,
             and apart form the Word
                         nothing came into being
                         that has come into being.
             In the Word was life,
                         and that life was humanity’s light -
             a Light that shines in the darkness,
                         a Light that the darkness has never overtaken. 

Then came one named John, sent as an envoy from God, who came as a witness to testify about the Light, so that through his testimony everyone might believe.  He himself wasn’t the Light; he only came to testify about the Light – the true Light that illumines all humankind.

The Word was coming into the world -
was in the world-
     and though the world was made through the Word,
     the world didn’t recognize it.
Though the Word came to its own realm,
     the Word’s own people didn’t accept it.
Yet any who did accept the Word,
     who believed in that Name,
     were empowered to become children of God-
children born not of natural descent,
     nor urge of flesh
     nor human will -
but born of God.
And the Word became flesh
     and stayed for a little while among us;
we saw the Word’s glory -
     the favor and position a parent gives an only       child -
             filled with grace,
                         filled with truth. 

Reflection from Kim

Christmas Eve is over.  Christmas Day has passed.  Maybe it was different for you this covid year.  Maybe you had to adapt your traditions.  Maybe the holiday involved a Zoom.  Maybe you were on your own for the first time.  Maybe you missed the usual celebrations with food and family and friends.  But we can all take a deep breath.  Sigh.  Relieved.  We made it!  Christmas is over.

So, now there is the putting away of Christmas.  Taking down the lights.  Undecorating the tree.  Putting away the creche scene.  Storing the garland.  Until next year.  When, hopefully things will be back to normal as far as Christmas is concerned. 

But Christmas is the celebration of a birth.  It is a beginning.  It is the start of an adventure.  As with the birth of any baby, there is more.  There is the unfolding of all that is to come.  The stages and changes and transitions and growth and struggles and adventures that mark a life.  So, Christmas is a beginning.

In the beautiful lesson that we heard from the gospel of John, we are told that in the life of Jesus we are shown grace and truth.  The grace and truth of God.  Of Divine Love. 

What if as we put away Christmas for this year we leave out the grace and truth.  What if we don’t box them up for next year but leave them out?  Grace and truth.  What if we try to hang on to the grace and truth that we see in Jesus and let that be our light in the days to come?  What if we really try to fundamentally integrate that grace and truth into our lives? 

Grace is about realizing all that we are given.  It’s about forgiveness of ourselves and others.  Grace enables us to treat others with compassion and understanding instead of judgment and hostility.  Truth is about affirming that the way of Jesus really does work.  Building community, pursuing reconciliation, living with compassion, ending oppression, creating a society that is anti racist and anti violent.  Declaring Good New to the poor.  This as not about a food bank.  This is about a living wage, affordable housing, good public transportation and healthcare. 

I spoke with someone recently who belongs to a conservative evangelical church.  I was told that they’re is a lot of upset in those churches right now over the race situation in America.  Many, especially pastors, believe that the church, to be true to the grace and truth of Jesus, must promote anti-racism in America today.  But there are many in the pews who do not share that commitment. 

We can think about Jesus teachings with regard to race, yes.  But there is more.  His teachings about money and wealth.  Seldom adhered to.  His teachings about forgiveness and reconciliation.  Often ignored.  Teachings about equality and justice.  We pick and choose. How about love?  Of neighbor?  Stranger?  Enemy?  Self?  When it suits us?   Here we want to remember the grace and truth.  Keep it at the forefront.  Not box it up.  Put it away.  Store it.

In the book The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History by Michael H. Hart Jesus is number three not because his message isn’t valued but because his followers do not adhere to his teachings.  Others have noted that the teachings of Jesus are wonderful but so seldom lived out.  Taken seriously.  The way of Jesus actually embodied.  Apparently his followers are known for lacking commitment to his grace and truth. 

In recent months in our country there has been much talk about voting rights and redistricting and the census.  We want to see sanity and integrity in government.  Of course!  So, we want to think about the same kind of consistency and integrity when it comes to our faith.  We want to think about living out the grace and truth that we see in Jesus. 

There is a story about a poor young Eskimo girl .  She didn’t have enough to eat or clothes to keep warm.  One day, a newspaper reporter came into the village where the little girl lived.  He saw the girl’s situation and decided to interview her.  In the course of things, he asked her, “Do you believe in God?” 

“Yes, I do,” said the little girl. 

“Do you believe God loves you?” asked the reporter.

Again the girl said, “Yes, I do.”

“If you believe in God and believe that God loves you, then why do you think you don’t have enough food or enough warm clothes to wear?”

The little girl answered, “I think God asked someone to bring me these things.  But someone said no!” [From Advent, Christmas and Epiphany:  Stories and Reflections on the Sunday Readings, by Megan McKenna, p. 237.]

If you are watching this or reading this, you have likely been on your journey of faith for some time.  Maybe you have already committed yourself to the way of Jesus.  It may already be your intention to try to live out Divine Love in your life.  So, for you, Christmas may just be a reminder.  An opportunity to re-commit.  To open yourself once again to birthing Divine Love in your life.  And blessing the world in your own way.  So as we put away the decorations may we remember that the Word, full of grace and truth, is seeking to become flesh in us.  Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)