Jennifer: In today’s scripture, we heard how Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing, trusting that what they needed would be provided. The circumstances are different, but this congregation has also have been sent out, and we have found that what we needed has been provided in abundance.
This morning we are opening a gift from Greendale Community Church UCC in Greendale, which came accompanied by this letter, which we will read to you.
Jennifer: Grace and peace to you from our Lord, Jesus Christ and from your brothers and sisters at Greendale Community church, United Church of Christ in Greendale WI.
The news of your church fire reached us Weds afternoon on May 25. Of course, we were deeply saddened by this news, especially when we learned that the fire was intentionally set. We were also deeply affected because two of our dear former members, Chuck and Jan Foulke (who cannot be here this morning, unfortunately, because they are travelling with family), recently joined your ranks and we know this fire causes them grief, as it does all of you.
Of course there are not adequate words that can be given to you to take away the pain and anger that you must be experiencing in these days. Please know that you are much loved, not only by people in the community who are interacting with you and helping you through this, but by people you have never met who open their hearts in prayer to you at this time.
As a congregation, Greendale Community Church in Wisconsin experienced our own devastating event in 1998, and from it we learned much about ourselves. We send you a gift on this day as a reminder of what is truly important. Everything you need to be the church is in this box, and we give it to you in love.
Jerry: The first item in this box is a book, and one that is probably familiar.
It is a collection of books, actually, in it are stories that have grounded and guided our faith for thousands of years. In it are stories of God’s amazing love, stories of Jesus speaking truth to power and living God’s justice, and stories of the Holy Spirit of God calling the church into newness. It is these stories which have been your anchor since you first came into being in 125 years ago. It is these stories which have guided your ministry of love, and inclusion, and justice. These stories are not only bound in a book, but they live in your hearts.
Pam: The second item is a plate. In the sacrament of communion, it is used to hold the bread. We pass the plate to each other, not only to share the testimony that the Divine One who sets the table is present for us all, but in passing the plate to each other, we are reminded that we are given the incredible gift/task of serving each other Furthermore, when we do this, we DO love, Christ is incarnate, Christ lives within us. The plate is something tangible that we can hold on to, but the joy of service is letting go of what is tangible, so that we can make way for the Holy Spirit to move. We receive the plate, we take from it what is needed to nourish our souls, and then we pass it on that others might be nourished as well.
Richard: The third item is the cup. As a vessel, the cup serves our sacramental lives well. In the Sacrament of Baptism, it can be used to pour water onto the baptized – causing them to wake up and work wit the reality that is being poured upon them. In this incredibly difficult time, you are having to work with a new reality, one you probably never thought you would be wrestling with. Like the waters of newness, we imagine that you will find new ways to be church in Hazel Dell. You will find new ways to be church in Hazel Dell. You will find new ways to embrace the newness poured upon you.
In the sacrament of communion, the cup holds the contents of the fruit of the vine, that all may partake. In our congregation, when we celebrate communion, we talk about the cup of blessing in the Jewish Passover Haggadah, and how the cup would have been filled to the brim, as God’s blessings are, indeed, many. So, this cup is sent as a reminder that in the face of the devastation, God’s blessings are many. You have each other. You have strong, committed folks. You have a pastor who loves you. You have people across the country praying for you. Your blessings are many. In the Sacrament of communion, as you drink from the cup, you are refreshed. We know the days are long now, but you will renewed. This the promise of God and it can be trusted.
Pam: The cup and plate were created by an ordained UCC minster who also creates pottery. This pattern, called “Living Waters” was chosen for you because you have living water to many people in Vancouver. You have been on the front lines for many people whose voice has not been heard. You have given witness to the inclusive nature of God’s love. You have helped your neighborhood experience God’s justice flowing down in an overflowing stream. Living Waters seemed like the appropriate pattern for who you are.
Greg: We have packed for you smaller boxes within the large box. Each box is a prayer box – if you choose one of these boxes, you may choose to write your prayers, hopes and thoughts and place the here. When you come forward for communion, you may wish to choose a prayer box. The prayers will be held close and secret and safe. In this way, we remember that God’s love is planted within our hearts, as well as within your hearts. In this way we remember that God’s word comes to each person who follows Christ’s example. In this way, we remember the still-speaking God is also the still-listening God.
Joan: Finally, within this box there are shawls. They have been created by a group of folks in our congregation and as they are made, the persons who are either knitting or crocheting are constant in their prayer. And they pray, simply, that those who receive these shawls know that they are loved and that they are being prayed for. These shawls are a reminder that that God’s love is wide, wide enough to embrace each and all of us. So, although we have not met, First Congregational Church – UCC know that you are prayed for and loved by us, your brothers and sisters of Greendale Community Church UCC. As you come forward for communion, you may choose a prayer shawl to keep for yourself, or to pass on to another who needs it
Jennifer: It is not described in the letter, but we have more gift here – an empty box. This box will be kept by us, and filled sometime for someone(s) – a congregation or community that does not even know yet the what it needs. As we have been so abundantly gifted, we will pass on that gift sometime in the future to another congregation or community.
Pastor David ends his letter by saying “We cannot wait to meet you this summer, so that we can place our arms around you and be in prayer with you. We shoulder your grief with you in this time, and look forward to the renewal that will come to you.
Blessings and peace,
Greendale Community church UCC and Rev. David. J. Gaeth, Pastor
So, embraced by a community that is a stranger to us, and yet a true friend in Christ, we join with them, and with Christians around the globe and across time who gather around a table like this one. Please join us, if you will, in signaling your this desire to share in this feast by joining us in this ancient prayer and blessings, made new and fresh with each recitation.
Readers: May the God of freedom be with you.
P: And also with you.
Readers: Children of God, lift up your hearts.
P: We lift them to the One who sets us free for lives of service and hope.
Readers: God’s children: let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
P: We will sing our songs of freedom to the One who calls us to new life!