Gifts of the Spirit

May The Spirit of the Lord rest on you—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and awe of God

— Isaiah 11:2

We know we are related to each other by God, and seek ways to discover our connections in life. Genealogy is about connection across time. There is also connection across space. A popular parlor game called “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon” is based on the notion that any two people on earth may be connected by no more than six other people. In the game, you name someone in a movie with actor Kevin Bacon. Then someone who was in another movie with that second person. Then someone connected by a third movie to that person, or maybe a TV show, or perhaps who went to school with them (you are now “three degrees” out from where you began). And then someone who knew someone from that school, until you reach your neighbor who knew the principal there, or maybe their dentist, and voila! You are within “six degrees of Kevin Bacon.”

For example, I was once at a workshop on “God and Creativity” where someone wrote a book which Kevin Bacon’s wife later optioned for a movie, which makes me four degrees removed from KB (myself to the author, the author to KB’s wife, his wife to Kevin). And you know me through church, so congratulations, you are five degrees removed from KB! Didn’t know you were almost famous, did you. (And anyone who knows you is six degrees from KB!)

I mention this thinking of Pentecost this month (Acts 2), and the many ways the Spirit connects us. We sometimes think of church as being the place from which spirituality emanates. But it is into the world that the Spirit sends us, and so in the world that we should expect to recognize links of the Spirit as well. Church may be where we share awareness of our connection in God. But here nor anywhere can we limit God’s Spirit.

So, the school’s recent Community Clean-up day brought some familiar faces to the church grounds. Some you will know from being raised in our pews – Confirmation class members Libby (pictured) and Zoe (not) were here. Colton (also pictured) is Sarah’s brother – you know her especially from kid’s time, of course, and Sunday School too. Her grandfather was Poof. Great storyteller and local historian. Also learning to call out hymns up front during hymn-sing these days is Lucy, who comes in with Brian and Deb – who added the Easter Lilies to Martha’s marvelous silk arrangements. In the picture too is a young man taller than when he made his first hike up at Horton Center on Pine Mountain with us for Vacation Bible School a couple of years back. And yes, that is our dog Maya, already being optioned for play with others new to our church family.

All of these connections – some simple and obvious, others deeper and less well known – are given us in life and in God. Some we know easily and some we may never realize. Some may be made manifest here and others elsewhere. Some we learn of from a picture, and some we learn of helping with Sunday School. Some we deepen in a conversation shared because we spent time together in God’s garden. Some we further by our giving that helps a church continue its witness of God’s welcome and Christ’s love. There’s simply no containing God.

The connections we see, as well as those we do not, are given in God and given in life. We miss things hurrying on the way to something seemingly more important. We push to the front seeking something profound for ourselves. We drive past the garden and do not see the bud in bloom, the branches growing yet before us. Is this not God’s gift too? Is this not a pearl of great price? (Matthew 13)

There are six degrees of separation of any one of us from any other of God’s human beings, it seems. Seven gifts of the Spirit given to guide us (Isaiah 11:2). Seventy tongues of the spirit given expression on Pentecost. Gifts of the Spirit everywhere. And sometimes we even see them. Thanks be to God.

Pastor Bill Jones
Pentecost, 2018

The Gorham Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
Gorham, NH

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Knowing Who I Am

We’ve been looking at saying of Jesus’ self-understanding in Lent as we move toward Easter this year in Bible Study. Taking up the basic statement of the God of Israel that “I Am who I Am” when Moses asks “who shall I tell them sent me” (Exodus 3:14), Jesus responds with manifold variations on the answer, especially in John’s gospel. So we find Jesus saying “I am the true vine (John 15:1),” “I am the good shepherd (John 10:11),” “I am the light of the world (John 8:12)” and so forth.

To get to “who I am,” sometimes we must answer “who I am not.” When leaders come to ask Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, who he is, they first ask is he the Messiah, the anointed of God, and he replies, confessing freely, “I am not the Messiah.” Then they asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” To which he replied “I am not.” and finally “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered “No.” (John 1:19-23). He is emptying the cup of other’s expectation in order to fill it with the answer of his experience in God.

“Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?”
(Jesus, in John 18:11)

Three searching questions, three ever-more-concise answers which serve to clear the field as to who he is not. Then, and only then, does John begin to say who he is .  . . or rather, how and for whom he is preparing: “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.” “I baptize with water.” “Among you stands one you do not know . . . who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:23-33).

John knows who he is not,
for whom he is preparing,
and who truly is the great “I am.”

It is tempting (there is a fine Lenten word!) to think of who someone else is – or is not – when we come to questions like this. Who they “should be” to us. For us. Around us: A perfect worker. An ideal partner. A parent (or child) who never gets anything wrong.

But when we come to who they (and we) are in God, I think the vision is something different. Both clearer to God, and less clear to us. Someone given to be here, even if we don’t always understand how. Someone given in God’s love, and so with the capacity to love. Someone given into a world so beloved that Christ is given for all (John 3:16).

In this light (in Christ’s light) perhaps I may recall that, after all, God loved enough for me to be here too. And so, Jesus says, has love enough for me to enter through his gate, to follow after his way (John 10:9).

 

Meet me God again in this season,
that I might be filled more in you.
That I might see others more as you see them.
That I might be more in this world as you ask.
Amen.

 

Pastor Bill Jones, March 3, 2018.

The Past is Behind us, the Future is in Reach

The Past is Behind us, the Future is in Reach

I was delighted to attend a concert by one of the founding members of The Moody Blues recently. Speaking of the tendency we sometimes have to turn toward fearful outcomes, singer-songwriter John Lodge realized it would be just as easy to consider things from the other direction – that this is the moment in which things could begin to get better. “It seems to me that only the past is behind us now, the present is still in reach.” To borrow from the title of an early Moody Blues album, if we are standing on “the threshold of a dream,” we move into that dream by going forward, not back.

We occupy ourselves a lot with trying to understand why things happen, and how things become the way they are. But there is also freedom in recognizing Who holds the future, and in moving into God’s future with trust and hope.  Over-idealizing the past may keep us from living into the possibility God calls us toward.

Yes, we live in the present, and yet we operate from some base of experience, and lean into some expectation of next. Letting faith guide our steps on Jesus’ way of well-being in the world can free us to be about our daily lives with less concern for holding the big picture. It is God, after all, not me, as another song says, who has the whole world in God’s hands.

If we live as if God is in control of the whole, and pray as if we God wants to be present through us, it might even be easier than the other way around.  “By faith” our forbears traveled in God (Hebrews 11), in faith we are made able to continue. May we continue to live into God’s dream. And let God be present in our reality.

Peace and good,

Pastor Bill Jones

November, 2017

 

 

“To Build Further than We Can Ask or Think”

“The Spirit of [God’s] grace…is able to build
further than we can ask or think…”

(The Translators to the Reader, King James Bible, 1611)

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“The Spirit of [God’s] grace…is able to build further than we can ask or think…opening our wits that we may understand [God’s] Word, enlarging our hearts, yea, correcting our affections that we may love it above gold and silver, yea, that we may love it to the end.” So wrote the translators of the 1611 King James Bible. That God’s view reaches further than ours. That God’s grace can enlarge our heart. That God’s Word may “correct our affections” to their proper end. Pretty amazing grace.

Twice recently others have returned me to a Bible passage I have previously thought of as primarily a “spread the gospel abroad” type of message. Once was with those gathered in prayer as the men’s prayer group here in Gorham, and the other was with two dozen clergy and lay members of churches gathered in Bethlehem (New Hampshire). In both settings we were led to the promise Jesus makes his followers in Acts 1, that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The point at hand both times was not that we are promised that the fullness of God’s realm will be realized because we go to these places, but that we are called to witness in these places. Ours is to witness in God’s power. God makes manifest God’s rule.

The commission Jesus issues at the end of Matthew’s Gospel seems to highlight the type of “go and do” activity we most easily think of a mission. But there is a “stay and witness” aspect of life here too. In fact, even as Jesus calls his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations,” he also requires their “being-in-place” in order to accomplish the fullness of their assignment, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19, 20).

This seeing-further-by-discipling-truer may be like gaining the view from a church steeple. In taking in the scene from above place perhaps otherwise over-familiar to us, we are both stayed in one place and made aware of a scope wider than our own. We see further because we are rooted and built in God. The translator’s of the King James Bible put it like this some 400 years ago: “The Spirit of God’s grace…is able to build further than we can ask or imagine.”

How might this apply to us? I think of the richness of the Moments of Thanks-Giving we have had shared in Worship recently. We are blessed with a church whose members recognize that faith is often lived in place, and witnessed to over time. One member tells of brothers who lived seemingly simple lives, and yet left resources which still enable ministry today. Another tells of blessing received from an unknown other when she was not able to fulfill financial goals she set for herself. A third speaks of finding in this congregation a spiritual home, even if there are larger, less personal cathedrals one might visit.

Still to come is the witness to be given of some of our youth, eager to tell us about their time at the Confirmation Retreat on Pine Mountain. And of a church couple who split their time between our congregation and one in another part of the country. Rooted deep. Visioned wide.

All of these stories of faith are possible, few of them foreseeable at the outset, because someone decided to take their child to church. Someone came to Gorham, to witness the gospel here. Someone came to your hometown, and witnessed in the Spirit where you grew up. Someone met you along the way, and shared the power of Jesus with you. God’s grace is indeed able to see further and build more than we might imagine.

May we continue to witness in the power of that Spirit. Not because we determine the timing of God’s fulfillment. But because our Creator calls us to do so. And gives us the means to witness as well. Amen.

Rev. William B. Jones

(Pastor’s Page, November 2016)

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Fire Tending

“Tending the Fire of Heart and Faith”

Dear Friends,

On the tour we made of the area when we arrived here two winters back, someone pointed out a series of small islands in the river running up north of Cascade Falls. I might have wondered on my own why they were so evenly spaced, but it was not until a local historian made his presentation at the church recently that I came to appreciate the significance of these man-made “boom piers.” Here the early loggers stood in order to guide enormous rafts (“booms”) of logs down toward the lumber mills, floating them on either side of islets just large enough to hold a worker.

So we we eager to take in the annual “RiverFire” festival this past month. As evening came on, music wafted up from the park where kids had their faces painted and learned about local forestry heritage. The islands in the middle of the river now provide a base for bonfires to be built on top of them. And come dark-fall, a boat slid along from one island to another, lighting the woodpile on each at its base, until the flames began to rise. “Look! Fire!” came the voice of a child near us on the riverbank. And then, as another island’s fire took hold, she exclaimed “Oh – there’s more!”

"RiverFire" on the Androscoggin
“RiverFire” on the Androscoggin

Though it was close to freezing as the crowds quieted, it seemed we could feel warmth crossing to us from the line of islands with flame now rising from them. The longer the flames burned, the deeper the heat settled into the stones of the islands beneath. It was a good night to be in the beauty of God’s creation, with others joining in the moment as well.

I think of that image as we deepen into fall, and of the way faith can deepen as we draw from it more fully in our lives. In the first flush of fire, the flame is brightest and seemingly clearest, held against the dim-mess surrounding. As time goes on, the fire may outwardly seem to settle, shifting to embers. And yet the depth of faith increases, as fire on a boom pier can warm still deeper. The truer we tend the fire as it settles, the deeper the draw we have against night. And as we realize we are not alone, we smile to see God has placed us with others.

Come to a season of Thanks-giving, we have the opportunity to give thanks for the ways our faith has been tended by others, and to help tend the faith entrusted to us. I give thanks for those who have helped in very practical ways already to welcome others to the table in Fellowship hall this fall, at the Harvest Dinner.

I give thanks for those who gather in worship upstairs on Sunday – in prayer and song. I give thanks for those who come to hear a word of God in season, to teach our children Jesus’ love. To offer their time and their treasure that the gifts given of God are not burned up in a sudden flame only, but tended that faith may continue to find expression here (Luke 18:8).

It is as though the tongues of the Spirit have visited each in their own way – to kindle our possibilities as and where we are, and lead us together draw from what God has provided (Acts 2:1ff). May the gift of being called in Christ together be ever more a blessing, as we come into days in need of yet more light and warmth!

Peace and good,
Rev. Bill Jones, Pastor

November 2015

Fire of Resurrection

Photos of brilliantly blooming flowers sent by a clergy friend seemed especially fitting for the Christ-in-the-garden resurrection story given us in John’s gospel. The title my colleague gave her photos, “first fire of the season,” reminds me that Jesus’ resurrection was itself but a beginning. The blessing Jesus in turn makes his disciples crucially extends his peace.

In the first part of John 20, Mary comes to the site of Jesus’ burial to find someone she takes to be a gardener. Only after Jesus speaks to her does she recognize the voice of her teacher – past, present & future. In the second half of John’s telling, a male disciple who missed key events of the week is informed of them, but has his doubts. Thomas reaches toward Jesus to see for himself if he is who they say he is – and Jesus pulls Thomas even closer. 

“Peace” Jesus gives his disciples as he sends them out following his resurrection, entrusting the Holy Spirit to them on their way. That crucifixion not have the last word in the world; nor fear, nor doubt, nor huddling by an empty tomb. But rather the giving of God’s love – in and through their lives, and ours (John 20:21, 31).

Fire of resurrection, lead us beyond the dawn.

fire of resurrection'

 

“Fire of Resurrection”

(May be sung to “Now the Green Blade Rises”)

Fire of resurrection,
flower of the morn,
rising ever after,
love into world reborn.

Come, Lord, our asking
how we should be yours.

Fire of resurrection,
reaching beyond the dawn.

(on John 20)

William B. Jones, Easter 2, 2015
photo courtesy Mary Giles

Ours the Journey!

Install wide view alvinAs we come to a year shared in faith together here, it is fitting to also celebrate a service of Installation with you. In this special worship service, a pastor who has answered a call issued by a congregation of United Church of Christ is “installed” by other churches in the same association. Thus the North Country Association of the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ came to Install me as Pastor and Teacher of the Gorham Congregational Church, UCC, November 2, 2014. Now there’s a mouthful!

Instal2014KidsIn essence, such an event highlights the connections we have with the wider church. It also allows members of the wider church to speak to us, that we might be strengthened for the journey in faith that is ours. For although we speak of it as “the installation of a pastor,” it is really about the covenant we make in faith with each other and with God through Jesus.

2014.11.02GorhamBulletinSo we sang hymns together, we received anthems of the choir, we heard the children tell of “one thing needful” of the many things at hand as they prepared for a grand party. The tables to set, the welcome signs to letter, the lasagna to get ready (thanks Pam and crew!). Even before we began, there were those bringing gifts for the occasion, including fellow pastor-poet, the Rev. Maren Tirabassi, who sent a poem which served as the bulletin cover. Many are the people who made possible the “one service needed” to celebrate the covenant we named together. We give thanks to God in thanksgiving for all that’s been done.

Gary Schulte and John RussellThree invited guests brought special meaning to the evening. Rev. Gary Schulte, Conference Minister for the New Hampshire United Church of Christ, spoke of the Bible context of the “One Thing Needful” theme. The Gospel story of the “many things” tended by Martha that “the one thing needed” may be received by Mary of Jesus is preceded by the “go and do likewise” conclusion to the Good Samaritan story, and followed by the prayer Jesus gave his disciples – and us (Luke 10:25-11:4). In setting the story thus, we are reminded, as were Jesus’ early followers, that “doing” and “praying” are key aspects of the Christian life.

Installation2014MollieGaryRev. Mollie Landers Hatt brought a centering, pastoral prayer to us. Serving as the Outdoor Ministries Director for New Hampshire, she prayed from a perspective on where we are in God’s beloved creation. She also challenged us to be aware of the challenges before us in our time. “Pour out your Holy Spirit on Rev. Jones as pastor to this congregation, at this moment of transition in our church, turmoil in our world. Strengthen him for the journey, give him a bold voice, for your Grace is BOLD and your Gospel is UNBOUND. Help him continue to learn and love this congregation. Ground him in your beauty and may he always inquire in your temple.”

2014.11.02GorhamBobMolliePoJenBringing the charge to pastor and parish was a early mentor of mine, Rev. Robert C. Curry. Bob served the Plymouth Church in Framingham, Massachusetts, when I was a student minister there. Bob took as his charge the simple but challenging command suggested by his wife for the occasion, to “be kind.” As a person, as a church, to each another. Be kind. His presentation to me of the copy of the Bay Psalm Book his father left him was a highlight of the service for many of us, I know. It will be on the shelf with the oar he carved to present me on my ordination at the Old South Church in Boston on November 12, 1995, where Bob’s father once served as Associate Pastor and where I also met and married Evelyn.

Be kind in the world. Be kind to each other – as church, as pastor, as friend. It’s a Jesus (Matthew 11:30), God (Luke 6:35), getting-along-in-the-Spirit (Ephesians 4:32) kind of thing. Be kind.

Amen.

Rev. William B. Jones
Pastor and Teacher
Gorham Congregational United Church of Christ

Rev William Jones, Gorham Congregational United Church of Christ, New Hamsphire