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, September 14, 2006


Here are a couple of pictures from our "Camp" in Maine. I know that I have explained this in the past, but it never ceases to confuse folks from other parts of the world (South of Portsmouth, NH) what a "Camp" is. It is not a campground, nor is it a "summer home", a term which implies--in Northern New England at least--a relatively large piece of land with an actual house on it (often by the ocean). A camp is a one or two room structure (sometimes called a "hunting cabin"), usually lacking in electricity and plumbing which is located in the woods or on a lake. Obviously the limitted infrastructure creates some challenges. It also makes them quite a bit less expensive.

The key, however, is the view. These are a couple views from mine.

From this bucolic location I drove last Saturday back home to Natick to help prepare for and then participate in the annual Spagetti Dinner/Church School Registration night. The next morning, I preached the "Kickoff" Sunday sermon. Here it is...

Doers of the Word
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
September 10, 2006

This is the year

This is the year that we celebrate
The power of our faith
And the strength of our community
This is the year that we worship and learn
Mourn and be comforted together
This is the year that our neighbors
Hear the joyful noise coming from the Eliot Church
Prophetic and Strong

It is the year we get to know each other even better
In meetings, potlucks at home and at church
In worship services and Sunday School

It is the year we will lend a hand
In ways large and small
To friends and strangers in need
And the year we will honor the past
While looking toward the future

This is also the year that we lean in to listen
To the still small voice
Whispering to us from our own hearts
It is the year that we will sit in silence
And pray our own private prayers

It is that year, (I hope)
And I know you hope so, too
A year when great things will flow from our shared ministry
From what we do as a church

James wrote
Be doers of the word and not merely hearers
“The Word” here meaning (among other things) Divine wisdom
But for James wisdom was much more
Than passive understanding
Instead, the Word is an active force
Motivating us to step out of ourselves
To go forth to seek and discover the ultimate truth

When we think of this passage
And of the Epistle of James in general
We often consider its implications
For social justice and outreach ministries
Service to the community at large
And it makes sense that we would
Yet his message is broader and deeper than that

Again, from the passage we read today
James tells us that
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

There is a challenge implied in this passage
A requirement from James to be both engaged and separate
Which is difficult to accomplish
Even with the best of intentions

How can we, care for others yet remain unstained?
The answer, of course is
That it isn’t being “in” the world that is the problem
But being “of” it
Becoming so much a slave to the expectations of society
That we become strangers—not just to the poor or to God
But to ourselves

Now next week we will be talking about service
Specifically about the ministry that this church is beginning
In relationship with the Pine Street Inn
An organization fighting homelessness
And providing affordable housing opportunities in Boston

But this week, this “Kickoff Sunday”
I am going to focus on that second part of James’
Pure and Undefiled religion
That is, not so much what we do for others
But what we do to keep our own feet on the right path
And how this congregation helps us do that
For while the church is an agent for change
A beacon and light in the dark places of society
It is able to do this and perform powerful ministries
Beyond our doors
Because it also serves the same function
In our own hearts and souls
You see the Word
Does have a contemplative component

The role of our faith isn’t just [in the words of John Dewey)
For conserving, transmitting, rectifying and expanding the heritage of values we have received
It is also for supporting, healing
Nurturing the spiritual lives of those individuals who are trying
To make sense of what they see and do

Spirituality is a part of our humanness
It may seem that the term is best applied
To hermits living in caves
Or mountain monasteries in Tibet and Europe
But our tradition tells us that the transcendent
Is accessible everywhere
That wisdom can be found in the mundane
All of creation has the Spirit within

The religious life, of course, doesn’t preclude
Participating in the world
Feeling pain and outrage
And it does not prevent the experience of
Pleasure at what is around us

The protestant minister Eugene Peterson
Tells a story about a Catholic mystic and nun Teresa of Avila
It appears that the now Saint Teresa
Really enjoyed her food
Once when she was enthusiastically devouring a chicken
One of the other nuns expressed her shock and disapproval
At Teresa’s behavior
To which Teresa replied
When I eat chicken, I eat chicken, when I pray, I pray
For her, the simple acts of going through the day
Were as much a part of the religious life as prayer and worship
Peterson puts it this way
There is an intimacy with God, but it is like any other intimacy; it is part of the fabric of your life.

This may be true
But still circumstances can sometimes threaten
To tear that fabric apart
There is tension in our living
We can struggle at times
With the desire to conform to the
Pressures that are placed upon us

So Thank God we are not alone
Our faith and tradition are there to help
When the going gets rough
Now some people may say
That some religious liberals have compromised too much
With the secular world
And perhaps have been conquered by it
That is a real risk, of course, just as it is with all faiths

But our willingness
To say that we do not know all there is to know about God
To remain open to new perspectives and new voices
To accept that (as they say in the United Church of Christ)
That God is still Speaking
Our openness places its own sorts of requirements on us
And we are answerable and responsible to
Principles that have as much of a hold
As any creed or doctrine
Our faith—at its best
Isn’t so much a compromise between
Our ethics/our morals
Our sense of what God wants us to do
On one side
And our desire for what is crass and ungodly on the other
Instead it is a commitment to values and to a world view
That embraces diversity
And encourages us to boldly go
(Yes) where no one has gone before
In all our differences of opinion
In all the various directions we may take as individuals
Here we are committed to becoming and being
A community of radical hospitality
Of faith-filled welcome

People have many different reasons
For coming through those doors for the first time
People have many different reasons for staying…

“I come here to worship God” some say
Others aren’t so sure about God
But wish to follow the path of the rabbi and reformer Jesus
Still others tell us
“I wanted a community in which to raise my kids”
Or “I love being in this building”
And enjoy “seeing my friends and making new ones”
A few come here for intellectual stimulation
And others (though they may not admit it)
Come for the coffee

All of you—(all of us!)
Have found a place, a religious home
Based on mutual respect and a covenant
To walk together, Going
(In the words of Fredrick Lewis Hosmer)
Forward through the ages
In unbroken line

This morning we read together the words from Kenneth Patton:
This house is for the ingathering of nature and human nature. It is a house of friendships, a haven in times of trouble, an open room for the encouragement of our struggle… [It] is a cradle for our dreams, the workshop of our common endeavor.

No matter what our expressed reason for attending
This idea of church as a dynamic place
And “doing church” as something more than an exercise in nostalgia
Of being together working on a joint project of great importance
One no less than the exploration of our own existence
And the Wisdom of God
This idea runs through all that we do here
We are working together

We are working together/But we are still individuals
With our own goals and dreams
The challenge
My challenge, the challenge for our lay leaders and
The challenge that lies ahead for you
Is to figure out how
We can take all these different perspectives
All these differing understandings
Of the “hows” and “whys”
The profound mysteries of the world
All this great energy around our building today
And then use it
To help us grow and maintain
This gift that has been given to us
The congregation of the Eliot Church

Verse One in Psalm 15 asks God
Who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell in your holy hill
The rest of the psalm tries to answer that question
Including Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart

Or, if you prefer, people who
In the love of truth and the spirit of Jesus/Unite for the worship of God/And the service of all
This could be the year
This could be the year for communities such as this
And it will be,
It will be at least, a time of joy and sadness
Of peace and war, of hope and of love
All the moments great and small of which life is made

It will be a great year
A great year like and unlike any other
And special to we who are fortunate enough
To bear witness to its unfolding