2022 Harvest Report

Each year at LUCC there is a “harvest” of the giving of the congregation. The harvest report is a beautiful witness to the faithfulness of the LUCC and its MANY ministries enveloping the world in love.

Lakewood United Church of Christ Harvest 2022

People who responded to form: 17 members, about 1/3 of the congregation

Total Volunteer Hours: 3,391

Total Dollar amount: $ 69,116

Organizations:

Lakewood UCC

Southern Poverty Law Center

Operation Attack

Political campaigns

Lutheran Services hurricane relief

Center for Racial Healing

Wounded Warrior Project

Kim Foundation

Leon Humane Society

Humane Society of the US

Sea Turtle Conservancy

Maximo Elementary School

Fairmont Park Elementary School

Tampa Bay Watch

Southeast Beagle Rescue

Act Blue for Democratic candidates

IRC – International Rescue Committee

Equality Florida

Radiant Hands

Human Rights Campaign

Women’s History Museum

CASA

Florida hurricane relief fund

RAMWI –  Refugee and Migrant Women’s Initiative

Blue Mountain Center

WUSF radio

WMNF radio

Ready for Life

Food pantries

Ukraine causes

ACT city of St Pete

Morean Arts Center

League of Women Voters

Appalachian Ohio Rural Development

Southwest Florida Community Foundation – Ian Relief

Salvation Army

Planned Parenthood

Southern Poverty Law Center

ACLU – American Civil Liberties Union

St Pete Time Bank

Blessing Hands

Stonewall Democrats

Moms Demand Action

Pinellas County Schools

Innocence Project –  Bail Project

Lakewood High volleyball and soccer

St Pete Raiders Soccer

Pinellas County soccer club

Lakewood High School food pantry

Suncoast residents garden

Suncoast journal

Suncoast employee appreciation fund

Local library and little free library

MAPS – Multidisciplinary Application of Psychedelic Studies

Sarasota Rotary Club

Sarasota Bay Estuary Foundation

New College of Florida

St Pete NAACP – National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Michele Rayner for Florida

Floridians for Reproductive Freedom

Women’s March

Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger

Pet Pal Animal Rescue

Feeding Tampa Bay

The Temple, Atlanta

Chari’s Circle

John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital

James Museum

St Pete History Museum

Holocaust Museum

Dali Museum

Rincon UCC

Grinnell College

SPIFFS – St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society

Scottish Cultural Society

Arizona food bank

Harvard University

Indiana University

Eckerd College

Florida Orchestra

Union Seminary in New York

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Eden Seminary

Wikipedia

Buskers

12-step programs

Meals on Wheels

Carter Woodson Museum

SOTENI

Wellesley College

LUCC Care Team

96.5 WSLR Sarasota Community Radio

Operation Attack

Celebrate Outreach

Neighborhood Association

Friends and strangers who need help

Scholarship fund

DAV  –  Disabled American Veterans

Political candidates who support social and climate justice

Sermon 11.20.22

Date: November 20, 2022

Scripture Lesson: Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Sermon: A Brimming Basket

Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

On our last day of walking the Camino de Santiago, we found ourselves among crowds of other people who were also completing the pilgrimage.  At the end of the Camino, several routes converge, so you make your way to the cathedral as part of a steady stream.  Along the way that last day, I over heard a man, a white American who looked to be in his 50’s, say to his companions, a younger man and a younger woman, “Just think, you’ll never have to walk 15 miles a day ever again in your life.”  Evidently, he was offering needed motivation. 

I can hear the relief in those words having walked 15 miles a day many times on the Camino.  Yup, you are tired.  Yes, things ache that you didn’t know you had.  You bet the day was long.  And while my feet never hurt, I did lose three toe nails.  And I made a significant contribution to the Spanish economy with my consumption of ibuprofen and acetaminophen. And their over the counter ibuprofen comes in 400 mg tabs so you only have to take two each morning and each night!  We walked through the wet, including a nasty squall during which Jeff lost his glasses and had to go back to look for them only to find they had been driven over by a car.  And when there was no room at the inn, the albergue, the hostel, sometimes you had to go more than 15 miles to find a vacant bed for the night.  “Just think, you’ll never have to walk 15 miles a day ever again in your life.”

Despite all the inconvenience and discomfort of long distance walking, I must tell you that I never, not once, not for an instant, desired to be relieved of the challenge at hand while we were on the Camino.

Why?  Gratitude.  Every day, every moment, I was filled with gratitude.  And that gratitude centered around  three things:

One.  Having the long stretch of time needed  to do the Camino.    Being blessed with a job that advises taking three months off every five years for renewal and re-creation.  Having the time.  How amazing is that?!

Two.  Having the money.  I remember Jeff’s Uncle Brad telling me many years ago, Well, usually you have the time or the money but not both.  We had both.  The time.  AND the money.  We had the money to spend two months in Europe.  Sure, the albergues often cost only 10 euros a night, but still.  And at the end, we had the money to fly home direct from Frankfurt to Tampa.   Not stopping in Paris and Pittsburg, or Las Vegas and Denver, with long layovers, on the way back.  Yes, we are the beneficiaries of ancestral wealth, so we don’t take credit for the fact that we have the money, but we are so, so grateful!

Three.   We have the physical capability to walk over 500 miles, even 15 miles in a day.  We have the strength and health and capacity to do it, with a little help from our friends at the famacia. 

And I’ll tell you, after my heel surgery that ended in infection requiring another heel surgery to prevent amputation, being able to walk 15 miles a day was a gift beyond measure.  I can’t begin to describe how happy I was. 

Every day, 10 miles, 15 miles, 6 hours, 12 hours, whatever the walking, the conditions, the upping and downing, rain or shine, with or without the pack, I wanted to pinch myself.  Was I dreaming?  Could life really be this good?  We felt like we were the luckiest people in the world.  “Just think, you’ll never have to walk 15 miles a day ever again in your life.”  I get it.  But I can’t think of anything better than being able to tramp 15 miles a day through the highways and byways of Spain.  Bring it on!

Deuteronomy talks about bringing a basket full of produce to the altar.  There is no basket big enough to contain my gratitude for the blessings I enjoy.  And we are told this ritual is to be observed on a regular basis building thanksgiving into the natural cycle of faith expression.  This is to help people cultivate a continual attitude of gratitude for all they are given. 

This is important because Thanksgiving moves us beyond our self-absorption.  It frees us from the tyranny of the self and self obsession.  Gratitude lessens our pride and our prejudice.  Thanksgiving fosters a perspective of abundance rather than fearful scarcity.  And gratitude promotes generosity.  Rituals of Thanksgiving help us to realize we are part of a larger reality, God’s reality, the reality of Divine Love. 

Deuteronomy also talks about Thanksgiving, the first fruits offering, as a ritual for the faith community.  This was not an individual observance.  This is something that everyone was part of.  And the recitation of the ways that God had blessed the community was a sign of that.  These people were showing gratitude not for what Adonai, Our God, did for me.  But for what Adonai, our God, has done for us.  Us.  Our community.  Our people.  So the whole community is formed and shaped by gratitude.  This creates a culture of gratitude.

And as we remember our Thanksgiving narrative as a nation, it is also a communal observance.  The Europeans and the indigenous people, feasting together after the native people helped the Europeans to survive in this foreign land.  It was a community celebration in recognition of what God had done for the community. 

Part of the role of the faith community is to help us to cultivate gratitude.  Thanksgiving.  It may or may not come naturally.  But the church is here to encourage us to see the good in our lives, to count our blessings, and to give thanks, to God, beyond ourselves, realizing that we are the beneficiaries of so much more than we can take credit for, so much more that we can earn, and far more than we deserve.  It takes a communal formation to help us to see beyond ourselves and to give thanks for the ways we benefit from being part of a community, and for those who have gone before us, and for all that is simply given to us.  The church helps us to be aware of this and to realize our giftedness.  The church offers us a context in which to share our gratitude and to know our interdependence. 

Now, the gentleman who made that memorable statement, “Just think, you’ll never have to walk 15 miles a day ever again in your life.”   Now I don’t know, but I suspect that he does not go to church or participate regularly in a faith community.  And maybe, if he did, he would be filled with praise that he had the opportunity and the ability to walk 15 miles a day in the beautiful countryside of Spain.

I recently read a brand new translation of  the spiritual classic, Practice of the Presence by Brother Lawrence.  It is a compilation of writings that originate in the 1600’s.  Brother Lawrence lived through three bubonic plagues, the Little Ice Age, an additional 2 ‘without a summer’ years of chill through the summer which produced hunger and starvation, and the Thirty Years War in which 8 million lives were lost and he was injured in the leg, an injury which plagued him for over thirty years with severe pain, a limp, and several years of immobility at the end of his life.  And yet and still, he writes this in a letter to a nun:  [Oh, and keep in mind that the translator refers to God in the plural to reflect the Trinitarian nature of God.]  So Brother Lawrence encourages his friend, a nun, “Join me in thanking them, [God], please, for their great kindness to me.  I can never thank God enough for the great number of graces they have give me, such a miserable sinner.  May God be blessed by all.  Amen.”  [Practice of the Presence, Nicolas Herman, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher.]

If the only thing we learn at church is gratitude, that will be enough.  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.

Weekly Update 11.16.22

This Sunday: The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Nov. 20, the service will focus on giving thanks. As part of the worship experience, the congregation will be involved in creating an altar of gratitude. Please think about what you are thankful for, and bring something that represents that to church on Nov. 20. During the service, there will be an opportunity to mention what you are grateful for and to place the representation on the altar. In the context of a 24 hour bad news cycle, expressing our gratitude is more important than ever! Come to church Nov. 20 ready to give thanks and praise no matter what life is dishing out to you at this moment!Childcare is provided at all Sunday services.

The service will be streamed live on Facebook and then posted on the church’s YouTube channel.

The church continues to be concerned about health and safety. There are several stations with hand sanitizer in the church. Masks are optional. Seating is arranged for safe spacing.

Decorating the Sanctuary

Everyone is invited to help decorate the sanctuary for the Advent season on Monday November 21st at 9am. This is a time of enchantment as the church is transformed and hearts are opened to new possibilities.

Choir Rehearsals Resume

The staff and lay leaders of LUCC have determined that the time has come for the choir to resume once again adding to the ministry of music in Sunday worship. Rehearsals are held Sunday Morning in the sanctuary at 9:00 a.m. All are welcome! For more information, please contact music director Hilton Jones at

hilton.kean.jones@gmail.com

Harvest Forms Available

Thank you to everyone who has turned in their harvest forms for the year.

Healing Through the Holidays

The holiday season is just ahead. We had our prologue with Halloween. Now we gear up for Thanksgiving, the Christmas season, and New Years. Whew!

This time of year can be fraught – and not only because we are busy celebrating. It can be a time to remember those who will not be with us this year. It is a time to negotiate difficult family relationships. It is a time requiring us to be with people who may have different values than we do. And it is a time when many of the activities and customs don’t necessarily align with what is good and healthy for us or for the earth. There is a lot to consider and to navigate.

The holiday season can also provide a wonderful opening for healing, for reconciliation, for understanding, and for transformation. In a three part discussion oriented workshop, we will look at some of the stresses and opportunities that may come with the holiday season. We will think about ways that this time of year can be a time of healing and restoration instead of a time of depletion and conflict.

This workshop will be held via Zoom on Tuesdays November 29, and Dec. 13 from 7-8 p.m. All are welcome! The Zoom number is: 270 068 3648.

Giving Season

The Tuesday after Thanksgiving has become known as Giving Tuesday. Some organizations match gifts on that day. Last year, some church members experimented with donating to the church from the church Facebook page to see if the giving was matched. And, yes, the gifts were matched in part by Facebook. As you consider your expressions of gratitude this season, you may want to consider giving to the church through Facebook so that the church receives additional matching funds.

This year, Facebook is sponsoring a Season of Giving from Nov. 15 – Dec. 31. Here’s more information about Giving Season and matching funds: https://www.facebook.com/help/332488213787105 For more information please speak with Bill Parsons, Mark Gibson, or Rev. Wells.

Annual Buy Nothing Day

This ‘holiday’ created in Canada in 1992 and now celebrated world wide is a day of protest against consumerism and impact of over consumption on the planet. It is traditionally observed on the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Instead of facing hoards of shoppers or sitting at your computer shopping, think about planning a day at the beach or in a park. Think about taking a bike ride or getting together with friends or family to play games or look at vacation pictures. Continue the celebration of Thanksgiving appreciating all that you have without having to go out and buy something new. The values of Buy Nothing Day reflect the teachings of Jesus who, we are told, did not own a home and perhaps owned only a cloak, some sandals, and a shirt. Jesus extolled the virtues of relationships, service, and generosity but not the amassing of possessions. Consider expressing your faith by observing the annual Buy Nothing Day the day after Thanksgiving.

Stewardship Season

In the fall season, the church traditionally invites the congregation to make a financial pledge for the year ahead. And this will be happening in the weeks to come. The Sundays while Rev. Wells was away, the speakers each referred to how much LUCC has meant to them on their faith journey. It was a beautiful revelation of the significance of this congregation! On Thanksgiving Sunday, there will be a celebration of the Harvest of giving by the congregation. Again, a beautiful expression of the impact this church is having on people’s lives and on the world.

The ministry of this congregation is very much needed by the church family and the world. In the face of rising prices and decreased dividends, it is more important than ever to make the church a priority in your financial planning. Please begin to give prayerful consideration to your call to generosity in the year ahead. You will hear from the Stewardship team soon!

The UPS Pods

Our pods have finally been moved to their proper location. Thank you for your patience.

Guided Labyrinth Walks Wednesday mornings at 9:00 a.m.

Each week there is a guided labyrinth walk on the outdoor labyrinth at the church. It is a time of prayerful faith sharing, and a time to listen more deeply to our spiritual lives.

In case of rain, the walks are held on Thursday morning.

Also, the readings and prayers used each week at the guided walk are put in the mailbox by the labyrinth for use during the week.

The labyrinth is on the church grounds near the southwest corner of the church property. It is available for use at all times.

Toiletries for Celebrate Outreach

Celebrate Outreach is a local ministry with people who are living without shelter in St. Petersburg. An average of 135 people are served each week. LUCC was asked to collect toiletries to be distributed to the community at the meals that are provided on Saturday and Sundays each week. This collection will be ongoing in addition to the food being collected for Operation Attack. All are invited to donate the following items:

Celebration Outreach has an ongoing need for men’s and women’s underwear.
Men sizes 30, 32,34
Women’s sizes 5,6, 7,8.
Also in high demand are socks of all kinds /sizes for both men & women.
Other needed items are Deodorant & disposable razors.

Toothbrushes, toothpaste, disposable razors, bar soap, wash cloths, deodorant, feminine hygiene items, travel size creams, shampoo, body wash, individual packets of Kleenex, hand wipes, toilet tissue, and paper towels are always needed as well.

Many thanks to Janet Blair and Jim Andrews for taking the donations to Celebrate Outreach.

Inkjet Recycling

The church is continuing to collect used inkjet cartridges. They are sent to a recycler and the church receives payment for the cartridges provided. So, don’t throw out your cartridges. Bring them to church. Not only do they get recycled but they provide income for the ministry of the church.

Operation Attack Update

OA needs donations of cereal/oatmeal, mac and cheese, pasta sauce, peanut butter, canned meat, fruit, soup, and vegetables. Donations may be placed on the shelf in the hallway at church.

Sundays

Look for the bulletin posted on the church website on Friday: https://lakewooducc.org/category/bulletins/

Watch the service on Facebook Live Sundays at 10:30. https://www.facebook.com/LakewoodUCC

Or on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/LakewoodUCC/videos

Instructions for how to access Facebook Live: For additional assistance, please contact the church office.

Here are some instructions to watch our Sunday services live through Facebook:

Use the following link to visit our homepage: https://www.facebook.com/LakewoodUCC/

On Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. please use the link above to visit our homepage. There, after using the link, you will see a section labeled “Happening Now”. This is our Livestream of the Sunday Service.

To watch the live stream, locate and click the “watch video” button in the lower right corner of the screen.

If the link above is not working, there is also a link to our Facebook page on our website. Please try that link located on the Home page of our website.

USEFUL LAKEWOOD LINKS

For the above church website links, please note the “Older Posts” button near the bottom of each page.

You can stream Hilton’s music and videos for free at hiltonkeanjones.com/look-listen/ as well as purchase his CDs and digital albums there.

November Birthdays

11/9- Lucille Ruga

11/15- Emily Bell

Rev. Susan Sherwood

11/21- Edward Kaspar

Lorne Palmer

11/22- Bert Lee

11/23- Bill Lindsay

Wally Leblanc

11/27- Kai’Lyn Washington

11/29- Jane Divens

Circle of Concern

Erik Johnson

Colombian Family

William Owen-Cowan

Family and Loved ones of Carolyn Moore

Ann Quinn is under Hospice care

Maggie Brizendine

Janet Hall

Tony Larson

All those suffering from COVID-19 and all healthcare workers

Schools: Students, families, teachers, and staff.

Weekly Update

If you are involved with an activity or event that you would like to share with the LUCC family, please send the information to the Church Office by Wednesday. Please provide the information in paragraph form with pertinent details and links. THANK YOU!

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Sermon 11.13.22

Date: Nov. 13, 2022

Scripture Lessons:  Isaiah 65: 17-25 and Luke 21: 5-19

Sermon:  A Vision

Pastor:  Rev. Kim P. Wells

If you need to plan to be out of the country for an extended period, like two months, here’s something to keep in mind.  Try to schedule it before an important election.  So, Jeff and I just spent September and October in Spain and Germany.  We knew that we wanted to be home in time to vote, so we were home the week before election day.  But we can’t say that we missed all of the electioneering in the lead up.  When we got home, evidently our son and girlfriend, Malcolm and Samantha, had culled all of the political flyers from the huge stack of mail.  Thank you very much!  After being home for a day or two, I had the radio on NPR.  After about 5 minutes, I said to myself, I don’t have to listen to this.  I can turn this off.  And I did.  I just did not want to hear more about all of the intrigue and the voting system and what is wrong with the other candidate and all the rest of it.  Do I really need to know that a candidate claimed to be selected by God to serve in office?  Talk about a messianic complex!

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not a cynic.  I was born on the sunny side.  I have not missed an opportunity to vote since I first registered when I turned 18 in 1978.  I was voting by mail when I was in college and lived in Minnesota but went to school in Massachusetts.  I get the importance of using our rights and fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens.  A lot of good and a lot of harm can be done by elected lawmakers.   But politics and government is, well, politics and government.

Seldom do I hear what I really care about discussed by those running for office.  Because we, as followers of Jesus, are called to place our hope and our trust in, as Isaiah puts it, ‘a new heaven and a new earth.’  We are called to invest our lives in God’s new reality.  

And we heard a beautiful, poetic, expression of God’s dream from Isaiah this morning.  Despite everything that has happened — the loss of the land, the return to the land, the departing from the ways of God and the teachings of God’s chosen ones — God is STILL promising these wayward people a new heaven and a new earth.  A new Jerusalem characterized by delight and joy and peace.  And what does that look like?  No more weeping in distress.  Well, still waiting.  The loved ones of those killed by gun violence are still weeping in distress along with so many others including families with loved ones lost to addiction.  Isaiah tells us the new heaven and new earth are characterized by a low infant mortality rate.  Now the infant mortality rate has been going down, worldwide.  But in this country it is still higher among people of color.  No new heaven and new earth – yet.  What else does Isaiah tell us about that new heaven and new earth?  Isaiah tells of people living to a ripe old age.  Not neglected, forgotten, or bereft of needed healthcare.  But treasured and healthy into old age.  No new heaven and new earth – yet.  Isaiah then tells of people building houses and living in them, and planting fields and eating the produce.  That is a vision of people benefitting from their own labor and not having their labor stolen from them, to build houses and provide food for others.  No more taking advantage of the labor force, an underpaid workforce, no more farmworker abuse, no more rich people living at the expense of poor people.  Well, after the blathering of the election season, we know – no new heaven and no new earth — yet.  Then Isaiah tells of life like a tree – a community established for the long haul, a long term vision, not just immediate pay off.  It’s not just about getting re-elected.  It’s about the long term health of the community.  Think of the indigenous perspective of weighing the consequences for those seven generations ahead.  Well, no new heaven and new earth — yet. And then we hear of that new heaven and new earth characterized by the peaceable kingdom.  No violence.  No abuse.  No pain.  No destruction.  No war.  No veterans.  God’s dream is of new systems and arrangements that are just and equitable and compassionate.  Shalom.  Life, in profusion, in mutual support and respect. A  new heaven and a new earth.  

To the original audience for this writing, people who have betrayed their God, their God is promising a beautiful future.  The fulfillment of re-creation.   A new beginning.  

From Luke, we hear teachings associated with Jesus that remind us that the new heaven and the new earth, that dream of God, that peaceable Kingdom, is a drastic departure from current circumstances.  And a lot has to go down for this new reality to emerge.  We know that that kind of drastic transformation is difficult.  We don’t like change.

Now the US is a young country compared to many countries in Europe.  We had a conversation with one German person who asked why we in America don’t change our government.  He told us that Germany has some kind of upheaval every 50 or 100 years, and they institute a new system of governance.  Times change.  New arrangements are needed.  He wanted to know why the US was still functioning with a government designed almost 250 years ago.  Well, there is a lot that could be said about that.  But the point is, we don’t like change.  

But like Jerusalem, the Jerusalem addressed by Isaiah, the countries of Europe that have gone through major devastation, again and again, and so have more experience with emerging from the rubble.  Here in the US, we are holding on, and reticent to let go.  The emergence of a new reality is a struggle.  

Luke mentions false teachings and being led astray.  He refers to upheaval, conflict, and natural disasters.  The old order, crumbling.  All of these images are to remind us of the gap between what is, and what God intends for us – a new heaven and a new earth.  

And then there is the Temple.  Oh that Temple in Jerusalem!  The people believed that Temple was the home of God’s presence on earth.  Sacred.  Holy.  Perfect.  The Temple was the locus for community sacrifice which was thought necessary to maintain right relationship with God.  The Temple was the headquarters for the meat industry because animal flesh was needed for sacrifices.  And then the sacrifices became food.  The Temple was also the center of banking and the exchanging of Roman money for Jewish money to buy the animals needed for sacrifice.   And the Temple was the edifice housing political power, such as it was, for the Jews even in Roman occupation.  Ah, the Temple.  And there are many stories of Jesus and the Temple.  He was dedicated there.  He became a full-fledged member of the community in the Temple.  He healed people by the Temple.  He challenged religious leaders in the Temple.  He made his triumphal entry near the Temple.  He praised the poor widow putting her two coins in the Temple treasury.  He turned over the tables of the money changers at the Temple.  Oh, Jesus had a long term relationship with the Temple.  So, he knew it well.  And he calls out the Temple – it is a building.  Stones.  It is not the dream of God which is forged through relationships, behavior, and values.  It is not the new heaven and new earth.  God’s dream is so much more than a building, stone on stone.  

In the story we heard from Luke, Jesus promises his followers words and wisdom for making real the dream of God.  His followers will bear testimony.  To the new heaven and the new earth.  A new order.  A new reality.  Where no one is left out or left behind or neglected.  Where no one is taken advantage of or degraded or demeaned.  Where differences are respected and celebrated.  And everyone lives in peace.  

Now we share a wisdom story about a chief with three sons that comes from the indigenous heritage of this land.  

Once there was a chief who was nearing the end of his life.  Even though he had tried many times, he was not able to decide which of his sons should succeed him as chief.

One day, he gathered his sons together and told them, ‘Do you see that mountain in the distance?  I want you to journey to that mountain, climb to the summit and bring back the thing you think will be most helpful in leading our people.’

After several days, the first son returned with a load of flint, used to make arrow tips and spear points.  He told his father, ‘Our people will never live in fear of their enemies.  I know where there is a mound of flint.’

The second son climbed to the top of the mountain, and on the way found forests rich with wood for making fires.  When he returned, he said to his father, ‘Our people will never be cold in winter.  I know where wood can be found in abundance to keep them warm and to cook their food.’

The third son returned late and empty-handed.  He stated, ‘When I got to the summit, I found nothing worth bringing back.  I searched everywhere, but the top of the mountain was barren rock and useless.  Then I looked out towards the horizon, far into the distance.  I was astonished to see new land filled with forests and meadows, mountains and valleys, fish and animals — a land of great beauty and great peace.  I brought nothing back, for the land was still far off and I didn’t have time to travel there.  But I would love to go there someday; I delayed coming back because I found it very difficult to return after seeing the beauty of that land.’

The old chief’s eyes blazed.  He grasped his third son in his arms, proclaiming that he would succeed him as the new chief.  He thought to himself, ‘The other sons brought back worthy things, necessary things.  But my third son has a vision.  He has seen a better land, the promised land, and he burns with the desire to go there.’    [From  One Hundred Wisdom Stories from Around the World compiled by Margaret Silf, p. 82-83, adapted.]

So what is our calling as the church?  We are not here to win an architecture award with our building.  The church is not here to promote a political party or a candidate.  Our mission is so far beyond any kind of campaign or election or media marketing initiative.   It’s about a vision of a new heaven and a new earth – the reality of shalom, dignity for all and a relationship of respect and adoration for our mother Earth.  

We are here to promote and live into a far greater reality.  As a church, we are here to live into that reality in the way we treat each other.  In the way we organize our life together.  In the way we work with each other.  In the way we treat the Earth.  In the way we worship.  And the way we treat the land that has been entrusted to us.

While we were away and were hearing that Hurricane Ian was headed for Pinellas County, I thought about the church, the building.  What if it was damaged or flooded or washed away?  I thought of all my books and papers and treasures in my office.  Had I seen them all for the last time when I locked the door on my way out after church Sunday August 28th?  Maybe.  But I realized that our church family would still exist.  We would still be a church,  building or no.  We would need each other.  We would be needed by each other.  And we would still be needed to keep the dream of God alive and to make that dream real.  

God, however we may understand God or imagine God, wants the best for us.  Wants us to thrive and flourish.  Wants us to live in delight and joy.  Every.  Single.  Person.  Every.  Single. Life form.  All of Creation.  As followers of Jesus, like it says in Luke, our testimony is needed.  And we are being given the words and the wisdom.  

In the weeks to come, you will be asked to consider making a financial commitment to the church for the year ahead.  You already know – from the politicians and the electioneering – about rising prices, rising utility costs, rising insurance rates, and the need for rising pay so that people can have what they need to live.  And you know about diminishing returns on investments and decreasing dividends.  And you know that our church building is intentionally simple so that we can put our energies into our ministries making the dreams of God reality.  So why does the church need your money?  

We need your money to keep our community vibrant and faithful.  Our church is so much more than a building.  Or a campaign.  Or a party.  We are keeping alive the dreams and visions of God.  We are making those visions real.  We are making our testimony.  

The church is the embodiment – a manifestation – of the new heaven and the new earth.  And we’ll never get that from the legislature or the congress or the city council.  Jesus never ran for office.  He never won an election.  A new heaven, a new earth.  Only God, above, beyond, within, has a dream that big, and it has been entrusted to us through  Jesus.  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.