About Rev. Wells

Pastor of Lakewood United Church of Christ since 1991. Graduate of Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

2019 Advent Devotion 19

A little bit?

At our church communion is served by intinction. People come forward and there is a serving station with one person holding a plate with small pieces of bread and another person holding a chalice. The people take a piece of bread, dip it into the cup, eat it, and return to their seats.

On a recent communion Sunday, upon arriving at the serving station, a congregant commented, “I just want a little bit.” Considering the piece of bread is usually about the size of a peanut and can’t hold much juice when dipped, what is “a little bit”? It seems that everyone only gets a little bit. Why would someone want to be sure to get just a little bit of a little bit?

Is the message, I only want a little bit – of Jesus? Like, I can only take a small dose of this Christianity thing? I’m not too sure about this; maybe just a little to see what it is like? Not too much, though. “I only want a little bit.” Maybe.

But I like another way of seeing this. I only want a little bit. Because that’s all it takes. You only need a little bit. Of this Jesus thing. This Christianity. This Gospel. A little goes a long way. It makes a huge difference. Only a little bit and everything is affected. I just want a little bit because that will make all the difference.

Maybe this is good way to think about Christmas. Instead of thinking of all of our manifold plans and parties, remember that it only takes a little bit. Just a little bit of Christmas can go a long way. Make a huge difference. Be transforming. Just a little bit – of Jesus. It’s all we need to turn our lives right side up and leave us singing. We only need a little bit of Christmas. That’s all it takes.

Prayer
In a world where we always want more, we are drawn to Jesus and with him a little is enough. May we look for a glimmer, a morsel, a hint of the holy for that is all we need. Love is potent and in plentiful supply at Christmas and all year long! Amen.

2019 Advent Devotion 18

Successful?

Maybe by this time in December you are starting to abandon some of your grand designs for Christmas and thinking about what actually needs to happen. What must I do before Christmas? Maybe you are lowering your expectations so that you can have a successful Christmas.

But what is a ‘successful’ Christmas? The word successful can mean different things to different people.

I got a holiday greeting this season from Congressman Charlie Crist. It was sent to me at the church. Here is the message on the card: “As your public servant, it is my goal to live by the Golden Rule. When we work together, and find common ground, we build a more successful world. I hope your holiday season is filled with love and joy.” The card is signed by Charlie Crist. [And paid for by Charlie Crist for Congress.] What is a more successful world? That can mean different things to different people. To some it may mean better schools and health care for everyone. To some it may mean fewer obstacles to business and profit. To some it may mean turning around global warming. A more successful world can mean many different things and I think we, as citizens and human beings, should be having conversations about what makes the world more successful; what a more successful world looks like. I think conversations of that nature among diverse people could be very illuminating.

As a Jesus follower, I am going to look to Jesus for ways to think about what it means to be successful and to build a more successful world though I don’t think he would use the word ‘successful.’

As for Christmas, Jesus was born. So Christmas has already been successful. And we didn’t have to do anything!

Prayer
We are grateful for the birth of Jesus. Everything needed to make Christmas a time of joy and love has already happened. May our celebrations reflect what has already been given to us. May we follow Jesus and learn from him what it means to be fully human and build a loving, just, and peaceful world. Amen.

2019 Advent Devotion 17

Morals and Money

This has been quite a week. Lots of news. Which is nothing new. But the impeachment hearings and votes were noteworthy. Many people did not listen this go round unlike impeachment processes in the past. The situation with Nixon, though it did not end in impeachment, was followed very closely by most Americans. The impeachment of Bill Clinton was also closely followed by most people. But then sex sells. But it was not so this time with the impeachment of the current president.

This got me thinking about many things. One is morals and money. If money and power are your game, then you have your perspective on this situation and there is no reason to be bothered with additional information including any facts. The love of money and power predetermine the narrative you will endorse.

If you are concerned with morals, then there is no point in bothering to listen because the facts have spoken. Nothing more needs to be heard. So why tune in to the hearings and debates? Listening to that verbiage can be toxic. Who needs that?

Morals and money. In the birth stories of Jesus in the Bible, there are some very clear messages about morals and money. Mary and Joseph are not wealthy or prominent. God chooses to work through these everyday people not through rich and powerful people with status and position, to bless the world. Money doesn’t get you in with God.

And Joseph could divorce Mary, we are told in Matthew, but he doesn’t. He follows the moral guidance he is given by God instead of protecting his male status and his property rights over Mary. Instead, he does what is morally good.

And the magi mentioned in Matthew, come from a foreign land, seeking to validate this newborn king who will rule with moral authority not with money.

And then the angels in the birth story in Luke go to the shepherds. They do not to the high priests in the Temple or to the governor. But to the shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks, to announce the good news of the birth of Jesus. That’s like making an announcement to the Hispanic farmworkers out in the fields picking strawberries in Plant City. What about Tallahassee? What about Miami? What about Orlando??? Nope. Think Immokalee.

In the Christmas stories, morals talk and money and its accompanying power are silent. It’s a far cry from our current condition. Which is why we still need Jesus and we need Christmas again.

Prayer
This holy season, may we reflect on our values and what we care about. Are the angels coming to us? What moral authority are we validating? Do we let money do all the talking? May we find our way to the manger and go home a different way. Amen.

2019 Advent Devotion 16

Too busy?

Are you too busy? This is a bad time of year to ask that. Of course we are busy! But are we TOO busy? Are the days so full that there isn’t enough time for rest? For healthy eating? For church? For self-care? For quiet? For exercise? For friends and family? For music? For whatever feeds the soul?

I had to admit to my daughter today that I have done nothing about Christmas presents for my family. With one exception. The 6 month old grandchild. “That’s all that matters,” she said. Whew! I hope her brothers and her husband feel that way!

What is too busy? I heard something in passing on the radio that mentioned being too busy for beauty. I think that is a good definition of TOO busy. When we are too busy for beauty, we are too busy. When we are too busy to notice the beauty of nature, the beauty of a smile, the beauty of art or music, the beauty of a kind word, we are simply too busy.

For me, this time of year the test of ‘too busy for beauty’ is Christmas lights. I love Christmas lights. When I am too busy to notice Christmas lights when I am driving at night, I am too busy. When I am too busy to go out of my way a few blocks to see some beautiful lights, I am too busy. When I am too busy to turn on the Christmas lights at our house, I am too busy.

What does too busy mean for you? We should never be too busy for beauty.

Prayer
There is so much beauty in this life and in this holy season. Amidst our busy-ness, may we still notice the beauty around us. Jesus saw beauty in every person. May we look at the world with his eyes. Amen.

Sermon 7.28.19 Saved!

Scripture Lesson: The Book of Jonah                                                                                     Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

The main take away usually associated with the story of Jonah is that God saved Jonah from drowning by sending a big fish, or whale, to pluck him from the depths of the sea and deposit him on dry land.  Jonah’s life is saved.  Whew!  When taught in church school to children this story is used to teach about a miraculous interventionist God who will save you when you are in perilous circumstances.  You can count on God to help you no matter how bad a fix you are in.  

When we teach this story to kids, we don’t usually make a big deal out of Jonah trying to get away from God and God’s assignment to go to Nineveh to save the great city.  We don’t emphasize that in the story God sends the tempestuous storm that threatens not only Jonah’s life but also the lives of the others on the ship.  We don’t go on about the fish spitting Jonah out on the shore near the city that he did not want to go to to deliver God’s message.  And we do not make a teaching point out of Jonah’s resentment and anger at the successful repentance and transformation of the evil city of Nineveh despite the brief message Jonah is instructed to deliver.  Hm.  Just a fish story – a big fish rescues someone who is drowning.  That’s sometimes where we leave it.  Especially for kids.  

Among the many messages and meanings in the book of Jonah, I think there is one needling issue that we can all relate to.  When good things happen to bad people.  Yes, Rabbi Kushner wrote a very helpful book called, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  While that problem confounds us, the situation of good things happening to bad people can lead to anger, resentment, and offense.  

And that is just what happens in this story.  Jonah is a faithful prophet of the Hebrew people.  He feels called by God to deliver God’s saving word to his people, the Jews.  But God calls him to go to Nineveh.  Nineveh?  The great city known not only for its size but for its wickedness and violence.  They are foreigners.  They are not allies.  They don’t even know that they need saving.  Why in heaven’s name would Jonah a prophet of the Hebrews committed to the well-being of his people want to go to Nineveh to proclaim God’s saving word and encourage them to repent and turn in a new direction?  Why would Jonah want to be part of this random act of salvation, helping facilitate When Good Things Happen to Bad People?  

After the storm, being tossed into the sea, and spending three days in the belly of the beast, tossed up on the shore near Nineveh, Jonah sees that he really has no choice in the matter.  But he is still resentful, inflamed with indignation.  He walks into Nineveh and declares the message God gives to him, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  That’s it.  No “Thus says the Lord.”  No fire and brimstone.  No long drawn out prophetic recitations of the evils done by the Ninevites.  No imaging of the scenes of destruction.  Just one short sentence.  “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

But that is all it takes.  The people of Nineveh repent.  The king gets on board.  The repentance is so all encompassing even the animals of Nineveh participate in the rituals of repentance wearing sackcloth and fasting.  The entire city completely repents and turns to the God of the Hebrews.  The city is transformed.   In the eyes of God, this is a triumph.  In the eyes of Jonah, well, since he wants to die, he doesn’t seem to consider it much of a success.  

In this story, we see a God that will go to any lengths to dispense grace.  Goading a reluctant prophet.  Using the natural forces of wind and water to form a storm that threatens life.  Sending a fish to help the process.  All to save Nineveh, the great, wicked, violent city.  God’s sights will not be diverted from the mission of salvation.  And this recalcitrant prophet, Jonah, will certainly not get in the way of God’s purposes.  

When good things happen to bad people. . . This is a story of mysterious, unpredictable grace.  The wrong people, the unlikely people, get on board with God.  We are scandalized by grace.

Divine Love will go to any lengths to dispense grace.  We see this same impulse in Jesus.  Reaching out to those who others think are unworthy, should be forgotten, and are not important.  Yet Jesus is not reluctant or resistant like Jonah.  Jesus is all in.  Send me where the need is greatest.  Why bother being a reluctant prophet?  Why try to undermine grace?  When, as the story of Jonah and of Jesus show us, grace will prevail.  And it will be dispensed from the most unlikely sources.  To those who may not even know their need.  And it may very well prevail in spite of well-intentioned people who are actually in the way.  

In the story of Jonah we see that there is no escaping grace.  The immensity of God encompasses all of the people and the animals of the great city of Nineveh, as well as the fish of the sea, the wind and the waves, and that surly, quarrelsome prophet, Jonah.  Our small-mindedness and resistance is no match for divine grace.  So, why waste our energy and resources digging in our heels?  Look at all those people and the animals of Nineveh?  They immediately and wholeheartedly succumb to grace.  They don’t try to hold out, defend themselves, or bargain.  They simply accept, say yes, and give thanks!

Grace may be amazing, but it is not exceptional.  It makes no exceptions.  No one is exempt from grace.  Grace is also enigmatic,  awe-inspiring, and wonder-full.  Its impact is immense.  It is life saving.  And it encompasses everything and everyone.  We can’t escape it.  

Several summers ago, we went on a whale watch boat tour from Long Beach, California.  They don’t make any promises about seeing a whale, but we saw several in the waters off the shores of California among the oil drilling platforms.  We saw the humpback whale and the right whale.  It was stunning.  They were beautiful.  Then, when we should have been heading back, the boat headed further out from shore.  The announcer told us to get up and look off the side of the boat.  There was a huge light blue patch in the water that looked almost like a sand bar.  It was long and oval shaped.  And as we got closer, we were told that this was a blue whale.  The largest whale in the seas.  It’s really gray but it is called the blue whale because of the light blue patch seen in the water when it is swimming near the surface.  We got quite close to the whale.  We were standing on the deck of the boat.  Our son, Malcolm, and I were standing next to each other.  We clasped hands and wept.  There was nothing that could be said in the presence of this the largest living creature on the planet.  This was simply an unforgettable moment.  The immensity of it inspired awe and wonder.  

There was room in the belly of that whale for everyone aboard our tour and maybe even the boat itself.    And even that huge creature dwarfs the scope of the capacity of grace to impact all of life and creation itself.  So why bother trying to opt out or jump ship – grace will still take you in and save you.  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.