I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Thursday, December 30, 2004


Of course, like everyone else I have been thinking a lot about the Tsunami/Earthquake tradgedy that has dominated our news over the past few days. Today it is Indonesia and Sumatra Island that seem to be the large stories. Of course, it is hard to rest the mind on one specific detail. The magnitude of this event is, for many of us, impossible to grasp. We can try to compare the numbers of dead and injured to quatntities we understand. Earlier we were talking about a population the size of Natick. Now we are talking about Worcester. By the time we are done we will be comparing the casualties to the population of Boston.

It is during moments like this that many of us can feel rather peripheral to world events. We go throught the motions of our own lives, struggling with whatever crises come our way. Every once in a while it strikes us that our problems don't add up to that famous "hill of beans" when compared against the suffering of others. This is one of those times.

"What can I do?" This is a question we must ask ourselves. Ask this question and then pray on it. Then ask again, "What can I do?" There is very little that they do not need right now. You can give money, of course. Is your church doing anything? If you go to uua.org they have a way to give money to the UU Service Committee's tsunami relief fund. You may also think of some other ways to help, too. Not everyone can put their work aside to volunteer in Indonesia, but there are, no doubt, opportunites here in the US, too. Of course, you can also pray. Prayer matters certainly in a time like this.

This is a disaster. It will not be the last the world will see. As we reach out to help, do not forget to feel the motions of your heart and soul. In moments of immense turmoil such as this, we find out who we really are and what we value. Cry if you need to, hug your kids, be human. It is a hard time for all of us. Or, at least, it should be. Let every single person cry out to God and ask "how" and "why". Let us all wrestle with the problem of suffering and try to find a solution to the suffering we see today.

Although it may sound strange these days to say it, we really are one large community on a very small planet. The fact that we may not know the victims doesn't matter at all. They are family. Therefore, let us remember no only to help but to pray and to care. The fact that we can feel the pain of those who live so far away is what, in the end may save us all.

Yours in Faith and Hope,

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Advent Sermon IV

So, here is the last of the Advent sermons. I apologize for its lateness, but I was stranded away from my computer longer than I expected, thanks to a snow storm between Natick and Maine, where my parents live. It is a little rougher than the others, probably because of the intensity of the season....

I am very much indebted to a sermon I read by the Rev. Rick Brand, that helped me to put the people back in my internal nativity scene. I do not know much about him and probably will not encounter him again. However, it is important to note that one of the great things about living in community is that our thoughts and deeds affect many folks we never never meet or get to know. This is a great responisbility, too...

In other news, Christmas Eve went extremely well. We had our two services and they were well attended. The high point of the first was the musical participation of our older kids. They really made a "family" event. It was lovely. Thank you to all the kids!

Also, the Catholic Church near us (almost next door, actually), Sacred Heart is experiencing a painful struggle as a part of the church closing issue here in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boston. My prayers go out to them this holiday season. That they are willing to fight for their church to remain open is a sure sign of the strength of their faith and of the importance of church communities everywhere....

Advent IV
Eliot Church, 2004
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

What child is this who laid to rest On Mary’s lap is sleeping
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?

What child is this?
This question has been asked for well over 2,000 years
And in that time there has been no general consensus
But a great many competing answers
The quest for a better understanding of Jesus of Nazareth
Has raised up countless denominational institutions
And competing orthodoxies
Founded universities and nations
Brought war and established peace
Yet in all this time, we still do not really know
For certain what or who this person is or was

This confusion is natural
As it concerns a life that was only vaguely
Sketched by biographers who
In their varying agendas and perspectives
Contradicted each other
Yet it is a life that has affected us all
So, naturally, we have stepped back a bit
To consider smaller parts of the bigger question

Today, amongst mainline Protestants, for example
People question whether the Romans
Those masters of governmental efficiency
Would actually take a census based on where one was born
Rather than where one lived
Requiring people to travel around the ancient world
Clogging up the highways and slowing commerce
And in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary
Conclude that Jesus was either born at home in Galilee
Or in Bethlehem under different circumstances

But that discussion would take us well past lunch time
And, really, for today it is beside the point
We can get so hung up on whether the story is true
That we miss the truth that the story contains
There is something else that needs to be addressed:
And that, is the role of the Inn and the innkeeper
For regardless of where Jesus was born
This story exists for a reason
And much of it hinges upon one moment
The moment in our pageant
When we hear the words
No, no, no! No room in the Inn

Now, in the misty past of my own life
I spent some time working as a case manager
For people with special needs
Who were employed on laundry and cleaning crews
At motels in Bangor, Maine

In the spring, near the end of basketball season
There would occur an annual pilgrimage
To that city a much anticipated event
As regular as the flooding of the Nile:
The regional and state
Boys and Girls Basketball tournaments
[I (and many others) have always been partial
To class C and D (small school) ball]
An event so big in the life of Northern, Western and Eastern Maine
That it is usually also televised
But the action is best in person

So for two weeks, in the city of Bangor
(Which is not much bigger than the town of Natick)
In the city of Bangor you cannot get a room
At the Holiday Inn, or the Motel Six,
Or any other similar establishment for that matter
Every bed is reserved and filled
And sometimes the floor space, too

The city is crowded
There is traffic and confusion
As people try to get to where they need to be
At the appointed time
And all attention is centered
On the Bangor Civic Center
The local coliseum, if you will

I tell you this story not to celebrate the wonder of sport
But because this is what Bethlehem
Was supposed to be like when Jesus was born
Except paying your taxes is less fun
Than watching basketball

So into this maelstrom of human activity
The holy family arrived,
And went looking for an inn
Each one they visited was full
And each time they were sent away
Until they arrived at this one particular place
And one particular innkeeper

Upon this pivotal figure, with his brief appearance
Hangs, in many ways, the foundation
Not just of the holiday but of the faith
He decides not to turn Joseph and a clearly pregnant Mary away
But sends them to sleep in the Barn

The innkeeper is a somewhat ambiguous figure for us
He didn’t make room in the inn
But he did ease their burden

This is where many of us
Start to ask ourselves some questions
Rev. Rick Brand, a Presbyterian puts them this way
Was the innkeeper’s offer of a manger an act of compassion or greed? Do you think the innkeeper charged Joseph for the space on the floor? Do you see the innkeeper looking at Mary and, out of compassion offering them the space? Did the innkeeper’s wife and children help Mary and Joseph clear out a small corner?

Whether we admit it or not
His complexity is part of his attraction
There are many characters in the Bible
Who play bigger parts yet have drifted into obscurity
The innkeeper is human, like us
And has to deal with the situation before him
He must have asked himself, standing at the door
“How much can I do?”

In that job in Bangor
I came to know many innkeepers/motel managers
Some of them could have been a bit more caring
Others were generous
To the point of risking their own financial security
But most were somewhere in the middle
Just like the rest of us
Just like those who, while we seem to be busy
Forget to take the time for the things in our lives
That are really worth taking time for

But, no matter what the reasons of our particular innkeeper
Everyone in town was busy and nerves were raw
And our little family found a place to stay
Far from the Coliseum, far from the center of the action
And there they were, mostly forgotten
But, really, they still were not alone

The animals, of course, were there
But, in Bethlehem, or wherever,
There were other people
Sleeping with the animals that night
Slaves and servants of the wealthy
Some employees of the inn, probably as well
Making room for one more guest

And, yes, there were
A few others like Mary and Joseph
Homeless, tired, and too late to town to get a room
They are not visible on our Christmas Cards
And few folks add them
To the pristine silence of the nativity scenes
That decorate mantles this time of year
But they were there, too
If we were honest we would put them in
Impromptu midwives to help deliver Jesus
And willing carpenters, servants and slaves
To congratulate Joseph and keep him out of Mary’s way

All of them making noise that could be heard
Along the tightly-packed streets
Possibly drawing other onlookers, too
Pulling their attention from whatever business
Had brought them out
Turning their attention
To the side stage that for a moment seemed more important

We should put these people in
Because Jesus wasn’t born on a Christmas Card
Or a movie set
But in the real world
In a place where people need miracles
And sometimes even look for them

A place where, (like we do today)
Where they look up into the heavens
Hoping for a sign
Why not a star? Asks Rev. Peg Gooding
Some bright star shines somewhere in the heavens
Each time a child is born

But, of course, the story doesn’t end there
It continues on to the present day
And we questers for faith
May ask what it means for us
That Jesus was born in a manger
Not in the quiet rural refuge
But in the crowded tenements
Of a first century city

Well, to start, we can consider this:
That Jesus was born into a community
It was a community of strangers
And one made up
Of the poor and the dispossessed
Of those who live constantly at risk
Of ruin
And of the beasts of the field
A community of the good, the bad and the indifferent
Drawn together and, at least at first
Strangers to Jesus and to each other

Now, we all enter into this world
As strangers
Throughout life
Our comfort depends on our ability to reach out
And on others ability to do so
Sometimes we come to a place
A community, a town and too often a church
We come to a place where we find
No room at the inn
The door is shut,
And no opportunity for us to enter is given
No chance to make room

This is not the way of Christian hospitality
Jesus tells us in Matthew 25 I was hungry and you gave me food: I was thirsty and you gave me drink: I was a stranger and you took me in.
That is to say that
When the door is closed to us, we are not alone
And when we are inside,
We must keep the door from being closed
We need to challenge ourselves
We need to ask what kind of innkeepers
We want to be
Sometimes we must choose to make our bed in the barn
Among those who arrived late
And those who had no choice but to be together there
To take our place with the animals
With natural world, too
To be like Jesus, learning and growing
And finding the spirit in all that we see and feel

And so, the birth of Jesus tells
To tread lightly, and to give back
To, in the words of Henry David Thoreau
Suck out all the marrow of life
Not just for our sake, but for everyone’s
For that is where we find the divine
That is how we make the beloved community
The Commonwealth of Heaven

So Merry Christmas to you all
May it be all that you wished for
May you keep the spirit of this season
Of the birth of Hope, Joy, Love and Peace with you
All through this year
And those that come after

Friday, December 24, 2004

Merry XMas!

Well, I am in the midst of preparations for tonight's two Christmas Eve Services. At 5:30 we have our "family" service complete with children's performances. At 7:30 we have "Lessons and Carols." this is for families, too, but a little less freewheelin'. There are no poems about Santa at the second...

This is just a quick note to wish you all a joyous Christmas. I pray that it is all that you wished it would be. Or maybe that it will be just what you needed. That is fine, too. You will all be in my heart and on my mind this evening, whether I see you in church or not. I will think of you tomorrow, too.

Anyway, that is all from here! I hope to get you that final Advent sermon soon! I had planned to post it this week but, sadly, things got ahead of me....

Yours in Faith and Peace,

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Advent Sermon III

So here is my Advent Sermon on Hope. This was somewhat complicated by the fact that it was "joy" week on the advent wreath and, of course, the aforementioned really great pageant meant I had to watch that clock. Also (not a complication but a Joy), my predecessor, the Rev. Micheal Boardman was in the house to visit his friends and former congregants and too watch his grandchildren perform. It was good to see him and his wife, Barbara Prairie. Best of luck to both of them on their journey back south....

I should also note that this sermon was slightly controversial because I implied that I wanted to see Pedro back with the Sox next year. Alas, for he is now joining the Metropolitans of New York and we shall ne'er see his arm again....

Advent III
Eliot Church, 2004
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

It is a great thing to have a Christmas pageant
It makes the whole church feel alive and healthy
But not everyone is so lucky
I once knew a congregation that
Was not so blessed in the way of children
In fact they had almost none at all
And every year the they would struggle
To put on some kind of Children’s service
During the holidays
To get the kids
(What few kids there were)
Out in front of the congregation in some way
Because, as one elder in the church told me
Because where there are children
There is hope
And hope is something we all need

Hope is something we all need
We have all walked on lonely and painful roads
It is part of the human condition
We get sick, we get divorced and laid off
We struggle with our mortality
And with loss

Our loved ones can find themselves in similar situations
And we worry about them, too
There is a great deal of pressure
Growing up and living in our modern world
This pressure often leads to feelings of anxiety
Causing many to wrestle with depression
And others to experience
A hole in their lives that needs filling

Now, Often the way we respond to this absence
Is to lower our expectations
To replace our grand dreams with smaller
Self-focused wishes

This time of year, for example, we often
Regardless of age
Hope for a new toy for Christmas,
Or, if your inclinations lead to baseball
For Pedro to stay in Boston
These are things to make us happy for a while
But this isn’t what the church elder meant
In that small country parish

Instead, the hope of the season
Is the same hope experienced by John the Baptist in prison
When he sent those messengers to ask Jesus
Are you the one who is to come?
John, in the dark of his captivity
Dared to hope that his mission was done
That he had achieved his task as a messenger
To prepare the way
To usher in a new era that John, himself, would not live to see
This is hope for the future

This is the hope of people in war-torn nations
For peace and for self-determination
It is the hope we all have for healthy, happy, productive lives
Safe communities, meaningful contact with the ones we love
This is no Christmas wish list
Or baseball dream

It is the pageant hope, the Christmas hope
And yes, the hope of the Hannukah story, too
Seeing the children come out
And tell the Christmas story once again
Complete with sharks and scorpions
Connects us to the future
Reminds us of our desires
And the expectations we have
For our children’s world

But there are always those anxieties
That sense of absence or general busyness
Can overwhelm us
Not just during the holidays but at any time
If we are not careful

The 19th Century Anglican Priest and theologian
Edward B. Pusey recognized this
And in his writings urges us to
Grovel not in things below, among earthly cares,
Pleasures, anxieties, toils, if thou wouldst have a good strong hope on high

Anxiety, earthly cares, can obscure that trust we have
In God and the future
When this happens our dreams can start to become impediments

But a greater vision one reinforced
By the vibrant striving of our strength
Can help us to survive
In our reading today Reinhold Niebuhr
Writes that Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime
Therefore we are saved by hope

Our faith draws us to great and small tasks
For the benefit of others and we are driven by hope
For we will not see the end of the story

For example, it is this sense of responsibility
Of contributing to others
That has led us to plan
The “100 Year Solution” for our steeple,
Now it may be hard to think of it as
Something not to be completed in our lifetime
But in a real way it is just that
It is a gift not to ourselves,
But to those who will come after
In order to make that commitment we have to believe
That there will be a future/A positive one
At least in the continues presence and ministry
Of the Eliot Church

Still, even as it motivates us to do good things
There is still a flip side to hope
There is despair
Much of what we see in this world
Not just in our personal lives
But nationally and internationally as well
Does not serve to instill much confidence
In the future of humanity

Balanced with the hopeful vision of Isaiah
Of a world where Everlasting joy shall be on [our] heads..and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away
Is the warning of George Orwell
In his novel, 1984
If you want a picture of the future he wrote
Imagine a boot stamping on a human face

Fear of the future can make us lose
The will to be optimistic, to see the good
It can make Orwell’s vision that much more likely
This is a possibility that all of us
Need to be aware of

In 1988, the Baptist Minister
And sometime candidate for president
Jesse Jackson
Ran on the slogan Keep Hope Alive

It was good advice then
And it is just as important
For us today
We must keep hope alive
Fight back despair and fear
And try our best for the long-term goal
Of a kingdom of equals

So, how do we do this?
Many of us volunteer, vote, lobby discuss and participate
In the civic life of our towns and this is good
But it is not the public manifestation
Of the dominion of God that Jesus describes
It is not the public deeds that most of us have trouble with

The question many of us have today is
Is a spiritual one
Not of works but of faith
How do we, not just in the Christmas season
But in the cold, dark days to follow

How do we keep hope alive
How do we keep the desire
And the wonder in our hearts?
How do we keep from becoming too cynical
For our own good?

Well, there are as many ways as there are people
Much of what we do to survive during this time
Is based on our own temperament
And our own spiritual strengths and weaknesses

But, to oversimplify a complex thing
In the time we have left this morning,
Keeping hope alive in ourselves requires
Balance/Balance between
Retreat and Action

Now, when I say retreat
I do mean in the religious sense
Not running away, but things like
Private reflection, meditation, and prayer
And public worship and prayer

The Rev. Eric Wikstrom,
A contemporary Unitarian Universalist
Explains his prayer practice this way:
The central metaphor of my practice is “prayer as journey”
He writes Whatever else it might be—a conversation with the Divine, and internal dialogue, a practice of calming and centering—I think of prayer as a movement into and through the Mystery

What he seems to be saying is that when we retreat with intentionality
From the regular world
We are getting in touch with the transcendent
We are looking for strength and balance
In some cases we are looking for direction and love
Some may not even be looking for answers to their prayers
So much as support in their quest for answers

We must, sometimes, retreat
And strengthened by our time in communion with God
In prayer, worship, and meditation
We must then take our lessons
Out into the world
In order to act on them
Action/Not reaction
Is the key word here
When we do not act out of our authentic selves
Teaching and participating and yes, learning form the world
We cannot expect the future to be bright
For any of us
And we, personally, will not grow

Oliver Wendell Holmes puts it this way:
I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: to reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it—but we must sail and not drift, nor lie at anchor

To act, in other words, is to sail under our own power
Not to stay in port out of fear for the unknown
And not to drift without a guide a compass and a faith

This is truly something to hope for
So in the dark nights of winter
And the frantic days of Advent
And any other time that the way is unclear
Let us take time out to remember
That hope still lives within us
As it lives in our children and in their children

Let us also take the time to pray and work
So that it will always be so

Monday, December 13, 2004

Have We Gone Far Enough?

It has been a VERY busy week at the church. Our pageant was yesterday and, as usual, it was a huge success. It took a great deal of work on the part of the Sunday School volunteers and the parents to pull this off. Many children...great attendance...a good time had by all. I will post my sermon soon, but I thought first, that it would make sense to spend a little time on a statement posted by that most prolific of posters "Anonymous." S/hewrote that, "The issue for this Advent is 'Have any of us gone far enough in our pursuit of peace on Earth?'"

Right On! Absolutely this is a key question particularly for Christians during this time of year. Thinking about this question during the week has generated a few thoughts that I, at least, am still trying to articulate...

I found in the January issue of Sojouner's Magazine a list of ten practices of "Just Peacemaking." they found it in a book of the same title by Glen Stassen (Pilgrim Press, 1998). Here they are:
1) Support nonviolent direct action
2)Take independent initiatives to reduce threat
3)Use cooperative conflict resolution
4)Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness
5)Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty
6)Foster just and sustainable economic development
7)Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system
8)Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights
9)Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade
10)Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations

One thing that I think Stassen implies, but I would like to lift out a little more, is the issue of our own "first-world" consumerism. It seems to me when we ask ourselves if we have done enough for peace we are usually talking about voting and/or protesting through marches, the written word, sermons/speeches, peace vigils and similar activities. These are, of course, important and irreplacable aspects of our social witness and we need to speak out more in the days ahead. However, it is suprising how many people drive home from the protest or polling place in their Escalades without seeing the mixed message we send to our leaders. Our hearts and our voices say one thing while our wallets (in this case) scream "Cheap Oil Now!"

It is easy to beat up on the SUV drivers and, in fact, I feel a little bad about it as it distracts us from the larger issue. I mention it only to illustrate something that occurs all over our economy. I know of no one living in the United States (regardless of what they drive and where and how they live) that does not benefit in some way by the way we do business. We are the wealthiest country and, like it or not, we need to recognize that what we do disturbes the balance of every other society. We are good people but we are also the bull in the china shop or like a big boulder thrown into a pond. We do not necessatrily mean to disturb things but we do and we do not always see it.

We (yes, we I am as guilty as anyone) North Americans find something we like and the market tries to give it to us as inexpesively as possible. Today it is oil, other times it is food or drugs, both legal and not. Other countries go hungry to support our desires for more leg-room, cathedral ceilings, cheap pineapples, and, yes Pot and Cocaine. They allow our companies (the other "Coke") to come in to their nations as well, not because of the insatiable demade for an nice, bubbly Cola import, but because they have become too attached to our own economy to make their own as they form non-sustainable agricultural and development strategies to support our whims.

I blame myself for this. I, too am a consumer of goods in this country and I could do more for peace by using my dollar wisely. It makes sense for those of us who try to put our faith first to ask if what we are buying supports our beliefs. For example, many people I know (myself included) do not allow our children to play with toy guns. We do this to show our children how we feel about violence (gun violence, in particular) in our society. That same thought needs to be spent thinking abour other toys (this includes grownup toys, too!) and about other products we all purchase without considering our need and their impact on the environment and on other people.

I am not saying that we all need to reject american culture and run off to the woods. For starters, the woods would not sustain us! But we do need to become a more caring culture and one where we, as individuals, always know that the anser to "have we done enough?" is "no." This is a question I have not wrestled with enough. It will continue to be one I take with me as I go about the rest of my Advent duties

Thank You Anonymous! You made me think.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Advent Sermon II

Here is this past Sunday's sermon. It ended a series I did on the Five Aspect of Civilization, at least, as listed by Alfred North Whitehead. In Alfred's defence I should say that the connection to him doesn't go much farther than that...

These notes are a bit shorter as the first Sunday of the month is Communion Sunday at Eliot. Also, we had a baptism and a little Advent Candle-lighting thing that took up some of our worship time. All in all, it was a good Sunday that was capped off with a special congregational meeting. Oh, Church in December is never boring!

Advent II: Peace on Earth
Eliot Church 2004
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

During this past week I have walked past
Quite a few holiday decorations
Some in homes and some on storefronts
And some that were for sale
Upon many of them
Were the stock phrases of the season
“Merry-” or “Happy Christmas”
Joyous Noel, Happy Holidays
Happy Hanukkah,
And, of course, the subject for today
Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth
When I see that slogan this time of year
I sometimes wonder what it is that we mean by that
Do we mean “Peace” as in the “peace and quiet”
That so many of us crave this time of year?
Or do we mean something more?
Is it the institutionalized expression of the need for World Peace
A small protest, if you will
Against the situation of violence in the world?

The hymn goes
Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me
And the sentiment is well founded
After all, we do not have to look as far as the Middle East
Or Africa, the former Soviet Republics, Serbia and Montenegro
To find recent examples of violence
We certainly can and we will, as the news reports tell us
We will find it in all its forms, not just the fist, stick, knife and gun
But the institutional violence of starvation and poverty

But a close reading of the MetroWest Daily News
Will show us that we have all these things right here
Right here in Natick and in our neighboring communities
And the alarming statistics concerning the increase in
Domestic violence that does not distinguish
Between race, neighborhood or class
Should have all of us concerned
Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me
There is plenty to do right here

Now, there have been times when I and, no doubt, many others
Have been a bit confused about another word
One that is often used interchangeably with the word “war”
And that is “conflict”
Sometimes people will clarify what they mean
By saying “armed conflict”
And an Armed conflict is a lot like a war
Sometimes the only difference being the absence of a formal declaration
Such as in the case of factional violence
Or, in this country, gang violence

But the word “Conflict” also has a positive, non-violent connotation
Conflict, itself, is in many ways necessary for a real peace
One enforced not from above
But from within
We need only look at the non-violent protesters
Of the 20th and 21st centuries to see the real need
For constructive conflict of this sort

Arundhati Roy, the international activist and journalist from India
Once observed when speaking of
Mohandas Gandhi, Marin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela
That It is interesting how icons, when their time has passed, are commodified and appropriated (some voluntarily, others involuntarily) to promote the prejudice, bigotry, and inequity they battled against.
Her observation is a good one
We tend, after a while, to wish to identify with some great hero
It can be an easy thing, then,
To use this self-perceived solidarity
As an excuse to act contrary to the teachings of that hero

Think of all the acts of violence by nations
And individuals done in the name of Jesus Christ
Or the even in the Buddha’s name for that matter

When Martin Luther King
Was given the Nobel Peace prize in 1964
It was because he was willing to risk conflict
Because he was willing to struggle against
The unhealthy systems that surrounded him
In the Birmingham Jail he wrote:
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed

Such a statement doesn’t immediately make one think
Of tinsel and colored lights
But maybe there is a connection
Maybe the peace of earth we pray for this time of year
Is not the Pax Romana the Peace of Rome
But instead the Peace of God
The gift of Divine Love

This different view of peace is what Jesus speaks of
In one of the most intriguing passages of the Bible

Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth;
I have not come to bring peace but a sword
For I have come to set a man against his father
And a daughter against her mother
And one’s foes will be members of one’s own household
Those who find their life will lose it
And those who lose their life for my sake will find it
(Matt. 11:34-39 assorted verses)

In this passage Jesus isn’t declaring his opposition
To peace or peacefulness
So much as the peace of the status quo
That is to say, Jesus has come to stir things up
To make the powerless,
(The sons and daughters of the ancient clan structure)
Find their own power and to struggle for their independence
The sword he speaks of need not be a literal one
It is a call to conflict to struggle for that bigger peace
He urges us not to look solely to our own family, tribe or clan
For support and approval, but to strike out on our own
To find a way to connect to the Divine
Even to lose your life for God’s sake
To remember what is important

While conflict is a great instrument of growth and change
It also can be a prelude to violence
And this brings us to an important aspect of human relations
That is respect
We must learn, all of us, to respect everyone
And, indeed, all of creation
(A creation we are all equally a part of)

We would do well to think of those two warrior-presidents
Grant and Lincoln, negotiating terms with their southern enemies
[Lincoln] always showed a generous and kindly spirit toward the southern people Grant writes and I have never heard him abuse an enemy

It is possible that an admiring Grant exaggerated
Lincoln’s patience and understanding with both the south
And those people of the north who said cruel things
That pierced him to the heart
But, still, in a world turned upside down
In times of conflict both armed and unarmed
True peace cannot be achieved without respect
For those who you work with
Regardless of whose “side” they are (or were) on

This requires that we listen and try to understand
That we try to be patient and assume
That those we work and live with are competent
Loving, caring human beings
With needs and hopes of their own
Yes, peace at home, in the heart, and in the nation
Requires Humility
For the problem may not lie with them, but you

True peace is based on justice and equality for all
True peace comes from reaching out
It comes, interestingly enough
From giving
Not so much giving the kind of gifts we see on Christmas Day
But giving those things we care about and hold most precious

The passage from Romans started today
We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor (15:1-2)
That is, we should concern ourselves with another’s well-being
Even if that means we must give something up
Peace requires a balance of power and resources
Whether the parties are nations or people

Romans goes on to say
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another … (15:5)
May this be so both during this season and beyond
May there truly be peace
A fair and just and holy peace
On this our earth, our home

Friday, December 03, 2004

Things I Read With My Coffee This Morning

I am a subscriber to the MetroWest Daily News, a fine local paper. This morning I was drawn to three articles concerning current events/issues that I am concerned with.

The first was an article written by a local reporter (Laura Crimaldi) about the reaction of local churches to the CBS/NBC ban of the "God is Still Speaking" campaign. This was front page news in suburban Boston, I might add. This issue has been discussed in various parts of the blogosphere the last couple of days, but I just wanted to add a quote from my friend and colleague the Rev. Vicky Guest, minister of First Congregational Church here in Natick.

"I've never encountered this before. The media was so hamstrung by the political aganda the the (Bush) administration. I thought we had a free press...I guess I sort of woke up."

Way to go Vicky! Thanks for stepping up.

The other was a piece entitled "Democrats put God in hibernation" by the columnist Peter Reuell who asks, "what ever happened to devout Democrats?" I was pleased to see this as I was beginning to wonder if it was just me who saw this as a problem. The folks interviewed had some interesting isnights and comments. Some of them were quite "strong."

First, the article he lifts up the Rev. Peter Cook of Plymouth Church (UCC) in Framingham who says, "The kind of Christianity of which we speak means we care deeply for people who are poor, or who find themselves on the fringes of society, and trying to welcome them to take their place at the table." Peter is a great guy who does many good things for this area. I have been priviledged to watch him work on occasion and think he is right on.

In the article Cook also said, "I do have a concern about the moral decline of the country. It has to do with selfishness and the inability to honor our differences."

Also, he quotes Rabbi Mendy Kivman, from the Chabad Center of Greater Milford who said, "Kerry can blame his defeat on Michael Moore and all those (people). They coined Bush as the God candidate...they gave him that title."

Finally, Prof. Stephen Prothero of the BU Religion department had this advice for the Democratic Party.

"They could start by saying 'we don't hate you because you love God.' (The Democrats) need find a candidate who can speak convincingly about his faith." He continues, "The perception is that the Democrats are hostile to religion, that the Democrats think they are stupid, they're irrational, they are moral zealots. So the Democrats are actively telling evangelicals to get the hell out of the our party, and surprise, surprise, they have"

All food for thought for me and, I think for many of us. As a person of faith, I, too, feel ignored by the Democrats. As a Democrat, I wonder who I might be ignoring. It seems to me to be a good time to reach out in spite of our differences and to break down any sense of "liberal orthodoxy." Again, we have two years to listen to each other. I believe we can grow from that.

Finally, the last article was a fun one. It was about Harriett Buckingham, a pillar of the Eliot Church and the Natick Community. Last night she was given the Natick Boy Scout's "Good Scout" Award for her work. I was pleased and honored to both attend and give the Invocation. Congrats, Harriett! You truly deserve it.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Advent Sermon I

In the interest of broadening the use of this Weblog, I have made some alterations. Among them is a slight change in the description of the Blog (I added "the minister of" up above to indicate that the opinions and perspective in Unity are mine rather than those of the congregation as a whole. Also, I have made a promise to myself and some others at Eliot to post some of my sermons. This is the first. I tried a few high-tech ways to do this but alas! I have failed....

So here is my sermon from last Sunday. It is about not going completely bonkers during Advent. This is, of course, a very busy time and we can loose sight of what is important, particularly if you live near the Natick Mall! Anyway, feel free to use this with appropriate attribution, etc, etc....

P.S. The odd format is intentional. They are sermon notes. This is the way I read it when I preach.

Advent I
Eliot Church
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

A fellow Rotarian,
At our weekly lunch this past Tuesday
Put a five in the “Happy Dollar” charity bucket
And informed those assembled
That we wouldn’t see him until January
No, he isn’t going on a trip for business or pleasure
He is a small business owner
And we are in the midst of the holiday season
So, for him there will be no rest
Until after New Year’s Day

“Black Friday” the day after Thanksgiving
Is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year
And things do not slow down too much
Until after all the holidays
Have run their course
It is a time of great anticipation and excitement
But also one of waiting
Of waiting in traffic and in lines
Of waiting for grandparents and parents and children
For parties and for quieter moments
There is a great deal of waiting that goes on this time of year
And quite a bit of hurrying, too

At times, we are so busy and bothered by the wait
That we can forget
What it is that we are truly waiting for
We can forget that there is more to all of this
Than a myriad of small tasks
There is a bigger picture
There is a bigger story

This time of year can be summed up
By considering the great lesson of the Heinz Ketchup Bottle
Holder of the thickest and least convenient condiment of all time
Good things are worth waiting for

Good things are worth waiting for
But it is also true that
Bad things usually are not worth your time
Waiting this time of year can become an end in and of itself
Or the mere anticipation of disappointment
And this is unfortunate
It makes life hard when everyone is trying
To make it look easy
And leads to the sort of burnout and depression
Immortalized by those two great literary figures
Of Grinch and Scrooge

Much of this can be avoided
If we remember that it is the good thing
That we are waiting for
There are things that we can do, of course
To keep this goal in our hearts during the holidays
Here are three:
We can prepare and practice,
We can take time for ourselves
And we can spend time with those we love
With our Family and friends

First, though, What are we waiting for?
One of the great messages of the world’s religions
Is that God lives both in times of plenty
And of scarcity
Both the Hannukah story and that story of Christmas
Are about the presence of God during the hard times
And their observance at the beginning of winter
Only serves to underscore that

This presence during times of cold and discomfort
Is something that we all yearn to lift up when we can
Neither of these holidays
Holds any great official weight in their respective religions
Neither Hannukka nor Christmas
Could truly be considered a “High Holy Day”
In their respective faiths
But the need and desire for a little light this time of year
Has given them much more power than
The systematic theologians probably would have wished for

The goal, the event we are waiting for
Could be described as the birth of God
Or, even better, the discovery of an eternal
Always constant Divine Presence
Now, we could spend a great deal of time this morning
Debating the meaning of such a proposition
For, in any church or congregation
The words each of us use have different meaning
Walter Kring gets at this in our reading this morning
When he says that
There is no more inclusive word in the English language, or in any language than the word “God.” There is probably no word that means so many different things to so many people as this word.

We do not agree on its meaning and, really, are not expected to
For our purposes, many folks
Will hear me speak of the “Birth of God”
And will think of Jesus in the manger
Some will consider this an actual divine birth
And others will consider it metaphorical
For some the Christmas story has less meaning
For some it has more

But the point is that what we are waiting for
Is that presence of God
(Regardless of how you choose to accept the term)
In our hearts and in our world
That can happen not just on December 25
But at any time

The Advent season, however,
Gives us a good opportunity to practice
To learn patience and to hunt for the holy
Now, patience requires preparation
The prayer by Robert French Leavens
Ends with these words:
Three unseen guests attend,
Faith, hope, and Love:
Let all our hearts prepare them [a] place

A great deal of what we do this time of year
Is just this type of preparation
Like cleaning out the guest room
For out-of-town family
We are, as we do it, aware
Of those who will come and occupy that place

Some of the things we do to get ready for the holidays
We already know
And are relentlessly reminded of them
We buy or make presents
We put up and decorate a tree
Grab a wreath or two at the grocery store
And set up the holiday lights
The plastic snowmen and maybe even a Santa

These preparations are important and good
(Although we rarely need to spend as much as we do)
But all of them are merely the public activities
Of what should also be an internal process
The tree and the decorations
Help to connect us to our history
To our culture and they help us to see the holy

The same can be said for the presents
The gifts we make and buy
This year I am trying to make
As many of them as I can
My brother and sister-in-law
Are organic farmers
Every year I receive a basket or box
Full of some combination of
Cheese, candles, soap, jam, beer, sausage and wool socks
All of which they made themselves
All of which help us to remember them
When they are far away
All of which helped them to think of us
While they worked on them

Now, obviously, that level of craftiness
Puts most of us to shame
But we can usually find a little something
A small way to put ourselves into our giving
At the very least we can choose the wrapping paper
While we do this we should do it with our minds
On what we are waiting for
For It is during this quest for presents
That we can feel the most separated from that goal

After all, as hard as we try
Each and every one of us will probably do some time
On Route 9 in December
Giving can dominate our lives in an unhealthy way
The goal can become Tickle Me Elmo
Or its age appropriate equivalent for that special person
When really most of us are aware of the fact that
The gifts of faith, hope and love
Matter most

That brings us to our second Christmas activity
That is Take time for ourselves
Ministers like to call this “retreating”
But you do not have to

Even with all that we have to do
We can take some time to read a book
To do something we love
(other than shopping)
If you have a hobby,
Advent is a great time to get into it again
Certainly for those home-made gifts
But mostly for your own peace of mind

Down-time is a traditional part
Of the holiday season
The wreaths we all put up this time of year, for example
Have their origins in the wagon wheel
In the past, people would literally
Take the wheels off the wagon
Bring them in the house and decorate them
Partly it served to bring the outdoors in
Much like the tree
But practically, it also made people focus inward
After all, you cannot go anywhere on three wheels

Consider how you can take the tires off your holiday season
(metaphorically, of course)
Christmas doesn’t have to be
The perfect Martha Stewart moment
It just has to be what you need from it
Relax, stay at home when you feel like it
And be sure to stop
To experience the world around you
What better way to do that
Than to spend time with friends and family
Don’t forget to spend time with the people
You actually like to be with

One basic and essential part
Of our lives here at Eliot Church
Is that we can see the Divine in the people we love
We cannot do that, unless we take the time
Check in with them once in a while
The greatest gift you can give yourself
Is to remember not to go crazy
And to keep close to your friends
We can do this not just on the morning of the big day
But right now

All that time when we think
We should be doing something and are not
Could be the most important time we spend this holiday season

Finally, there is a tool that we can use
On all three of these steps toward a healthy holiday
And that is this church
If you are having trouble keeping perspective
Come to church on Sunday
Or give me a call during the week
It is ten years since I first participated
In the holidays as a member of a church staff
And I can safely say
That regardless of where you are
A great deal gets put off until the New Year
So that the church can be here for you
In the chaos of the season

For all of us in fact
If this is a happy, a sad, or an indifferent time
The church is here to help you through it
Always keeping its eyes on the prize
On the great story of the holy

Our reading from Matthew today
Said in part:
Understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night of the thief was coming, the owner would have stayed awake and would not have let the house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Human One is coming at an unexpected hour.

Enlightenment can come at any time
So let us take a moment of silent prayer and meditation
To prepare us for this busy and holy season

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

God is Still Speaking?

My mother is a UCC pastor. I am (as you probably already know) a UU minister who serves a (partly) UCC church. I have been proud of the work and culture of the United Church of Christ. It has struggled to develop its own unique place and identity in the 21st Century religious landscape and continues to grow in faith and committment to Jesus' message. I was, therefore dismayed to hear of the ban CBS and NBC has placed upon the new commercials produced by the UCC's identity campaign "God is Still Speaking." My church is not involved in the campaign, but probably will be when we get the chance to sit down and go through the application process.

I have seen the commercials. Obviously, I will have to see them again. They seemed pretty inoffensive to me! The concern appears to be that they endorse homosexual relationships. First, as I have mentioned elswhere, I am in favor of loving, committed relationships regardless of the gender of the two participants. Second, when I saw the commercials, I wasn't entirely sure that they take a firm position either way. They certainly did not condemn being Gay. Maybe that's their problem...

I have watched ads from other religious groups on TV and did not agree with all that they said, yet they are still on the air. I can only assume that the networks do not mind controversy as long as they promote it without disturbing conservatives. The UCC isn't some fringe group, after all, they are a well established Christian denomination. Why aren't they interested in what we have to say? It is hard, sometimes, to find effective avenues for communication when the major roads are no open to liberals of faith. This, of course does not mean that we must give up! We must clear the barricades, find new routes and build bigger streets of our own. I do not necessarily know how to do this other than to keep preaching and writing. I encourage you to do the same. If anyone has an actual plan, feel free to share...

On the one hand, I find this situation with CBS and NBC disturbing. I am frustrated that a good, faith-filled Christian organization is not allowed to broadcast its views because they might be unpopular. On the other hand, I am honored to be a part of that group (as a member of Eliot) and am pleased that we are doing the work that Christ called us to do. God is still speaking. We must make it so that God can be heard.

Sadly, I have the tendency to vent. I encourage you to get involved on this issue, however. If you want actual information about what has been said and done on this subject. I refer you to Philocrites' link on this page. He actually has links and things and the addresses of the heads of CBS and NBC.