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!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Another Lenten Sermon (Welcome Spring!)

So, here is that sermon I was writing during my last post. These are the notes, at least. Today when I openned my New York Times there was a picture of two Roman Catholic nuns rollerskating in Manhattan. This was just what I needed to see on a day when office work will take up the vast bulk of my pastoral time. Thank you Nuns, for finding joy in your vocation and reminding the rest of us how honored we truly are...

Welcome Spring!
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
The Eliot Church

Today we didn’t read that famous passage from Matthew
When Jesus tells us to
Consider the lilies, how they grow, they neither toil nor spin
But, of course, that is just what many of us are doing these days
Both toiling and watching the flowers bloom

Now, those of you who are regular visitors to the dam
(Across the Street)
Know that the flowers are starting to come out there
(I have no idea what kind of flowers they are
But I am sure someone can fill us in later)
Last week the flowers in the park slowly began to make their appearance
And this week they have picked up the pace

They are among the first signs that a change is occurring
Both in nature and in our own lives
Rise up fair one and come away for lo the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.

No matter how we may feel about winter: the season
Whether we love the cold clear days,
The skiing and other sports
Or if we could just as soon do without these things
There are few people who cannot identify with this passage
From the Song of Solomon
After all, there are very few who haven’t
At one time or another endured the winter of the heart

You know what your winter feels like
Better than I can tell you
But we have, most of us, experienced the emptiness
Felt the cold of a moment of doubt, pain, or anxiety
And struggled through day after day, week after week
Unsure, sometimes, of what to do or what the next moment will bring
Many of us, also will acknowledge
That the winter of the heart comes regularly, too
On its own cycle
And that some winters are more harsh than others

Martin Marty, a professor of Church History
Describes the feeling he had since the death of his first wife
In this way
Winter can blow into surprising regions of the heart when it is least expected. Such frigid assaults can overtake the spirit with the persistence of an ice age, the chronic cutting of an arctic wind

Marty also believes that these cold times are necessary
For our own growth
But still, just as we cannot survive long in the arctic wind
We humans cannot live with total absence
Bereft of joy, warmth, creativity forever

And so we hang on to listen again for those Divine words
Rise up fair one and come away, for the winter has past

Now, according to the calendar, spring is here
But, of course, it comes slowly
Our liturgical calendar, focusing as it does
On the big holidays, like Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter
Sometimes neglects the gradual nature of change
Walking every morning by the dam I see new things each time
But these new things are small
Their alterations incremental

And so we wait,
Just as we wait during Lent for Easter Morning
We wait and see the awakening of the earth

Now, there really is a connection between spring
And the growth of the soul
After all, for all our pretences concerning
Civilization and the use of logic and reason
At the end of the day people are animals, too
And the warming of the days
The chance to be out in the natural world
Changes us, gives us an opportunity to experience the magic
Of creation

The minister and religious educator Jeanne Nieuwejaar
When I was a child, the fields and the forest were my playground…I remember moments of lying in a meadow, grass and wildflowers tall above me, vast sky overhead, insects buzzing and brushing by me. In such moments I felt a sense of near dissolution into the earth…moments of feeling that the boundary between me and the meadow was a permeable [one], when I was a child I was a spiritual being—as all children are…

The birth of spring gives us the chance
To experience the rebirth of something inside us

Now some folks, don’t have to wait too long
Before spring enters their hearts
They are already up and about
But others don’t rise as quickly

We want to realize that promise of Psalm 107
For God satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry are filled with good things
But sometimes we need help
And we need to find the faith to see the hope that love brings
This is the faith that defies creed and sterile theology
It is basic and elemental to who we are
It is a faith, that, itself sometimes needs
That unexpected but always hoped for
Message from God

Thomas Long, a professor of preaching
At Candler School of theology writes
Then I realize that I am face down on a linoleum floor somewhere in my life, powerless, praying like mad “You have done it for others, God, I am begging you, do it for me.” And when I find myself lifted up [he says]
I am more grateful than I can say
So we wait, during this time of year for that kind of help, as well

Now, waiting can be done in a variety of ways
We can pace, we can plan, we can complain
About how long the trip has been

But there are other ways
And this is a good time to practice them
Because, no matter when the winter of your heart is
The transition from the season of winter to the season of spring
Is marked by Lent
This is an excellent time to intentionally practice transitions
Charles Dickens describes those
March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.

What better time to build up our strength
To push ourselves up off the floor
And to develop our spiritual sensitivity
So that we can hear the voice telling us to rise?
This is the time to develop new habits,
Not the immediate kind
But gradually, as with the flowers in the park

Now, last week we talked about relationships
Nothing fills the absence as well
As sharing the love others have for us
And we for them

Now, there are ways that we can do this (each of us)
There is the formal way
For example, since Lent is already halfway over,
It may be a good time to give something up, for example
And instead of giving up a material thing (like dessert)
Why not make it be something to do with the connections we have?
I have a colleague, for example,
Who has given up the judgement of others this year
Last year she refrained from gossip
Apparently life was pretty quiet for her in March
There are these kinds of things
That make us think about how we relate
In an often cold environment

But, of course, there are other less structured ways to practice relationships
I remember the congregation I served in Sangerville, Maine, for example
where we would all gather in the kitchen on Wednesday mornings
This time of year before the sun came up
We would have pancakes and smoked salmon
We would have some short reading, usually from the Bible
And then we would just visit before folks went off to work.
Human connections get us through the hard times.
Casual rituals such as this help us relate to each other
So we are ready when the hard times are less seasonal and more unexpected

Before walking my son home from school Friday
We stopped at the playground
So he could hang out with his friends
The other parents and I were marveling
At how all the children had grown over the winter
And also at how little we had seen of each other
The winter of the heart, as with the actual season
Is a time of inwardness
A time where the lack of ease and comfort
Naturally limits our movements and our encounters
There is a lot of connecting going on these days
In church, in town, and everywhere else

But this does not mean, however,
That we should start living so far outside ourselves
That we ourselves stop growing
After all, as our quote from Dickens said earlier
There are days of winter in March, too
And we need to be ready for them

One relationship that needs to be kept up
Is the one we have with ourselves
We need to spend time,
Yes, in nature
Yes, with each other
But also listening to voices inside
Both in times of absence and abundance
We need to just be

Robert Frost writes
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year

So let us, during this time of awakening
Remember to spend time together
And to spend time alone
To not look too far ahead
To wait patiently for the breaking in of the Divine

But let us also cry out when we need to
Reach out when the spirit moves us
And seek out the voice of the Beloved
Calling us to rise up
And to move on

Friday, March 24, 2006


I am tired these days. Probably it is in part because of the new baby and partly it is because of Lent. My computer also died, precipitating more hours in the office writing and researching my sermon for this Sunday. The title: "Welcome Spring!"...

This time of year, I think, many of us feel this way. Certainly in my conversations with colleagues I have heard much the same thing. There is a weariness that runs through our talk. There is an accumulation of winter concerns that weigh us down. We are right on the edge of turning some corner that--when we do--will change our perspective and, quite possibly the arc of our lives.

That corner for me comes some time around Easter morning. Sometimes not right on the day but it comes and I say "Oh...this is how it is!" then I get that burst of energy to carry through to the next small revelation. The trick is to understand that there is no speeding the process up. Now is the preparation time. Right now we wait, go about our work and get ready for the moment when inspiration (or resurrection) strikes.

Of course, we don't wait alone. This is part of the reason I love church. I remember a congregation I served in Sangerville, Maine where we would all gather in the kitchen on Wednesday mornings before the sun came up during Lent. We would have pancakes and smoked salmon. We would have some reading and then we would chat before folks went off to work. I am thinking about those meals this March. Human connections get us through the hard times. Lent helps us practice relating to each other for when the hard times are less seasonal and more unexpected.

So I have a question, dear reader, how does this process work for you? Does your life cycle from winter to spring in this way, or does your spiritual calendar differ? I have always loved Easter because of the change and the clarity I get from it. For someone else, this may come at a different time. I am curious about this. I know of few people who never experience times of serious reflection. The few I do know I often think could use one...

Here is a quote I found from Charles Dickens that goes well with the week.

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.

May your summers grow and your winters recede this season and when your winters return, may they make you strong.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Beloved Community

Here is yesterday's sermon. Note the shout out to my anonymous colleague PeaceBang...

Beloved Community
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
March 19, 2006
The Eliot Church, Natick, MA

Johnathan Swift once observed that
We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love
When we look honestly at the condition of our world
And of human relations today
It is hard not to sympathize with Swift’s statement
So much of what passes for religion in modern society
(All religions)
Seems at times to devolve into various exercises in finger pointing
Into a sometimes deadly debate
Over who best knows the unknowable

And while there are many people
Who are truly sincere in their beliefs
Too often we find under the surface piety of our leaders
Conflicting self-interests and willful misunderstanding
In an environment such as this
It can be hard to build a truly community of faith

We can see this is in the work and career
Of St. Patrick, for example
Who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery in Ireland
And who, after escaping, returned there as a priest
A man of peace and opponent of slavery
Surrounded by tribes and clans
Constantly at war with each other
Now That was a challenging work environment
And while he achieved many things
He never was completely successful

And just like Patrick, all that we achieve
Comes from the dedication and hard work
Of individuals and groups
If this were not the case
If a true community was easy to build
Then there wouldn’t have been any reason
For Jesus to behave the way he did
In the temple

Take these things out of here! [he declared] Stop making my father’s house a marketplace.
Then he chased them,
Making a whip out of rope, turning over tables
Generally creating a nuisance

Why did he do this?
Not because there is anything wrong with commerce
But because the temple, a sacred space
The house of God
Serves a higher goal
There was, in the presence of these merchants
Selling sacrificial items, religious trinkets, souvenirs
A confusion of communities
A conflict between secular norms
And religious requirements

The purpose of religion, after all
Isn’t, really to develop products
But to build an inner life both for the individual
And within congregations
The presence of the merchants challenged that basic function

Much as with the temple in Jesus’ time
We can see this trend/
This confusion of communities in the church today
(And here when I say “the Church” I am speaking of the church universal
Rather than the Eliot Church specifically)
We see the confusion of a consumer culture
Applied to religion
In an area where the mall
Has become a greater gathering place than the common
It is natural to expect that people’s understanding
Of other parts of their lives
Would change, too

The most obvious example would be the Las Vegas Wedding Chapel
Where a “church wedding” of sorts can be had quickly, for cash
And with no real reflection or discernment required
But this attitude can also filter into how people relate to
Actual religious communities
A colleague of mine who serves a church near here
And also near a popular reception hall
Told me recently that only 10% of her wedding services
Are for people with a connection to the congregation
And only 2% of the other couples
Eventually form a connection with her church

Now everyone is entitled to the kind of wedding they want
But when a location is selected based on convenience and architecture
Rather than a sense of belonging
Then the basic relationship with and expectation of religion has changed
From a provider of community and connection
To a provider of services

(I should note that 100% of my wedding here have been for people from our Eliot community…maybe we should move)

The basic function of faith communities is still
To bring people to together in meaningful ways
Aristotle tells us
That all healthy communities have certain things in common
There is an assemblage of people
With different interests and gifts
And there is a shared goal
In his words
The salvation of community is the common business of [us] all.
Without this common business
A group of people make
Not a community but an assemblage of self-interested individuals
Sharing services

In religious communities this common business is worship
Worship in the sanctuary
And worshipful lives in the world
Jesus spent his life, as did his followers like St. Patrick
Trying to build
A community of faith loved by God
A Beloved Community
A love that can be seen in Genesis
Between God and Abraham and Sarah

And it can also be seen in our covenant:
In the love of truth and the spirit of Jesus
We unite for the worship of God and the service of All

That is:
On a quest for truth, (the same quest that Jesus took)
We come To worship together in love
And to serve, not just our own Eliot community
But everyone we touch
That is a tall order, but all around us in the sanctuary today
We see people who are willing to try

We are getting ready for annual meeting
On April 30th
So we are well aware
Of the many different gifts our members have
From managing money to educating our children
And lately we have been thinking
A great deal about our outreach programs as well

The programs of this church
Aren’t undertaken because we need to feel busy
Most of us are busy enough as it is
They aren’t even done merely because they are good things to do
No, the purpose of the activities of our congregation
From the deadly serious to the fun and whimsical
Is to deepen our faith
And our relationships with each other
All our activities
Help us fulfill our covenant

For example, Last week we celebrated Outreach Sunday
Where the committee focused
On one of their many projects
Namely the West Virginia Workcamp
In the part of the service where we heard from participants
Each of them told us that the experience had changed them
Had deepened their faith enough that they wanted to return

The same can be said for volunteering for the service council
For working with the Pine Street Inn to fight homelessness/
Even when we invite people to our after service forums
To discuss things like the Community Preservation Act
We are living out our love of truth and of the Divine

All of these activities have something in common:
Human contact, the exchange of ideas of hopes and dreams

Today we are having a forum after church
Focusing on a relatively new endeavor, both for the church
And for the MetroWest region
The Metropolitan Interfaith Congregations Acting for Hope
(or MICAH) Project
A group founded on this concept of beloved community
Specifically, it contends, as many people of faith do
That the basic glue that holds a community together
Is made up of the relationships that we make with each other
And with the God
At MICAH Catholics and protestants, liberals and conservatives, believers and seekers, Christians and Jews sit down together to talk about
What concerns their local communities today

This emphasis on conversation
Is inherently religious or spiritual
John Haynes Holmes in our reading today wrote that
Religion has to do with the ideal ends of life. In the very nature of these ideal ends [he says] religion must direct its attention not to individuals, but to relationships between individuals.
Building a house, serving food,
Meeting to discuss the issues and problems of the world
These things are often harder than sending money
More challenging, even, than voting
(Though we certainly should do these things, too)
Because it requires us to risk ourselves
To take a stand
To make our faith a relevant part of the world
And of our own lives

We are also required to set clear boundaries
Rules for healthy interactions
Healthy relationships
That is another reason the church has a covenant
For the quality of our conversation is important

We are always in relationship, after all
In a rapidly shrinking world
Each of us is even more dependant
Not just on family and friends
But on people we do not know and may never meet
And, strangely, this proximity can make us more isolated than before
It can encourage us to give up control
To those who seem to have all the answers

By being here at Eliot, by sharing/ belonging
We do risk something
But the rewards of right relationship
Are greater than the risk
We have become part of something larger
What Martin Luther King called a Network of Mutuality
Each of us is an essential part of the human drive
Toward that new and ideal society
The commonwealth of Heaven here on earth

Among the legends of St. Patrick
There is one involving a sacred fire
One lit on a hill in the darkness that could not be put out
We, too, here at Eliot
And in every church, temple, synagogue and mosque
Can light that unquenchable fire in the darkness
Not on some lonely hill
But in our hearts and in the hearts of others

So that we may, someday prove Swift wrong
And have too much religion to hate
And just enough to love

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


I am taking a semi-blogcation! With all the work at church (it is Lent) and the baby at home there is just no time to do much in this department of my ministry. I will, however, post sermons when I can and will return when I can (most likely after Easter) to writing more extensively.

Yours in Faith,

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Three Sons, etc...

We spent most of last week at the hospital. Baby #3 came into this world weighing a remarkable 10lbs 4ozs. That is a lot of baby! My wife and I spent a few days getting used to our new arrival and getting him to be somewhat less jaundiced than how he entered the world. I, being the dad, had somewhat less to do and, since I was not an actual patient, had the freedom to explore and to…well…watch TV.

Actually, I had a lot of time to think and hit upon a variety of topics that are more or less interesting enough to be blogged-upon. Here are some of the issues that occupied my time.

NFLPA: The NFL Player’s Association is doing its darndest at the moment to stand up for the rights and interests of its members. I say “good job!” Even as I write, the owners are discussing whether or not to accept the Union’s offer. At first, you may wonder why you should care about how much money these players make. All I have to say is that you probably have a job, too and you probably would like to be (or enjoy being) paid what you deserve. There is not real difference in this case. The players work hard and are making the franchise owners very wealthy. They deserve a large piece of the pie over their remarkable short careers.

It is, as in many businesses, the rank and file that make the product. After all, I don’t tune in to watch a bunch of old white men play football do I? No, I do not and you don’t either. Not all of these guys are wealthy. For every Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, there are many, many more people who play for a few years at the league minimum and then find themselves unemployed and with little to fall back on. They may have a college degree, but even this may not be helpful, as college for many of these folks ends up being more like a minor league franchise than an educational institution. The owners owe it to the players to find a way to put aside their own differences and address the needs of the men who make them rich.

MFK Fisher: While I was in the hospital all I had to read was the food writer MFK Fisher. I have now read two of her books and I can safely say that I will read more. I enjoy them. However, I do not think I would have enjoyed Fisher, herself. She seems to be condescending toward her readers, rude toward the “help” and the “simple” folk who cannot cook or eat as well as she, and overly self-involved in a way that can be grating. However, she is a great writer who has given more than one gift to the English language and I enjoy reading what she has to say.

I remember a phone interview I once heard in which the host (Michael Feldman) told an author (Ann Lamott) that he liked her new book but didn’t like the characters. Lamott appeared to get upset and hung up. I, however, understand what Feldman meant. Fisher is an annoying character. It doesn’t mean she isn’t interesting...

Hospital Food: The care at our hospital was fine. The food was horrendous. One time, while collecting various items in the cafeteria, I overheard the cook telling a co-worker that he no longer ate what he made because it was killing him! I would like to say that this revelation caused me to get the salad. It did not.

What we eat is extremely important, not just for our bodies but for our souls. Please hospital establishment, please find a way to restore some sanity to your food services! Hospitals strip us of our humanity. We need you to help us find that humanity again. Paint you cafeterias with something other than discount colors. Hire actual chefs to develop a menu that is both nutritious and soul-affirming. Make us feel like something other than an afterthought. We will thank you for it and we will shop with you again.

Pat Tillman: Need I say more?

I also gave quite a bit of thought—as many parents do—to the state of society and the immense responsibility we have to make this a place that, when we die (and we will) there is something worth experiencing, living for, and loving in this world. That subject, however, requires a great deal of thought and prayer. After all, isn’t that what true religion is about?