751 Alameda de
las Pulgas
Belmont, CA 94002
(650) 593-4547
E-mail: belmontucc

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Well Done!

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
June 12, 2016

Well Done! Today we celebrate our accomplishments and the saints in our midst! We’ve recognized our graduates, our Sunday School Teachers, our choir and Choir Director and Pianist/Organist. I wish we had also lifted up our Trustees who do so much to keep this beautiful community alive and well. Nearly every one of you could and should be honored for the work you each do to make this church the vibrant and growing community that it is.

The early church would call you all saints! To be a saint simply meant you were set apart, to do the work and be the people of God. We are all learning to be better people and we learn how by watching each other! I am so proud to be a part of this community where so many people walk their talk.

Our Scripture lesson this morning is short but not so sweet. James was known as the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Jesus died. He was Jesus’ brother by birth and disciple by choice. His teachings don’t match up exactly with the Letters of Paul. Paul emphasized being saved by grace. Martin Luther particularly appreciated this as he felt like such a sinner that any works he might do were just not enough. James insisted that “faith without works is dead.” If we don’t live and grow in our faith, both inside and in the outer world, we are empty and false. It is not so much what you believe but how you respond to God’s call to love your neighbor as yourself that defines you.

I came across a great article this week on continuing to grow in our faith called, “Eight Steps Toward Sainthood (Wink)” By Chris Glaser. Actually, four of the steps recommended were “Humility, humility, humility and humility!” So there are really only four steps for us to ponder, if we can begin to comprehend humility!

“Humility is endless,” according to T.S. Eliot and just about anyone who has tried to follow a spiritual path knows this. We’ll talk more about that after we look at the other four steps suggested by the author.

The first step is Awareness! Glaser reminds us that “Religious traditions call this by different names: awakening, conversion, enlightenment, mindfulness, transcendence, [being] born again. Something or someone draws us out of ourselves and our self-concerns. It might be an experience of awe—say, viewing the Milky Way in a very black sky. It might be an experience of terror, or of hitting rock-bottom, and realize our need to reach out to a Higher Power or other people. However it comes our way, it’s an awareness that we are not alone, that there is something greater than us, deeper than us, more vital than us. Some call this God, others call it Spirit, others simply the human community.”

But we can’t stop there, although some folks do.

The next step (after a good dose of humility) is to begin to practice and expand our awareness. As we deepen our faith, we may expand our awareness enough to embrace other faiths, other spiritual paths. We practice prayer, meditation, using sacred and inspirational texts, participating in spiritual community, we recognize others who may serve as soul friends or spiritual directors. This inner work is essential But we can’t stop there.

Next, we need to move, to act, to serve! We are on a journey, a quest, for justice, for a peaceful world. We have to do our part! “Faith without works is dead!” God be with us as we do the work of the church! But we can’t stop there!

Remembering humility every step of the way, we need to arrive! We need a destination, a vision, a home. We need to make a commitment to work together in a place and time toward that vision of a promised land. And as we arrive in this place that serves and strengthens us and allows us to use our gifts, we have to be willing to move on, return to the work. Some of us will literally move to new towns, new faith communities. Some of us will retire, discover other ways to use our gifts. The journey is cyclical: move forward, arrive, renew, return, move forward again. And we can’t stop there!

Always we must return to humility. True awareness makes me see myself, my experience, as only a part of the whole. When I feel that I have arrived, that’s a really dangerous place. If I think I have no need to grow, nothing to learn, nothing to receive, I’m really in trouble! We have to be careful of staying too long on what Chris Glaser calls “the oasis of life.”

“A sociological axiom has it that, at an oasis in a wilderness, those who talk about where they have been rather than where they are going have been at the oasis the longest. They have contented themselves with the oasis and have an “oasis mentality.” In the spiritual life, there is no “finish line.” We are nurtured in community and with support but we have to return to the wilderness of discovery and courage and challenge and confusion.

Today we say “Well done” to all who have served our church this year. And we celebrate the gifts and accomplishments of our community even as we ask ourselves, now what can we do together? What new thing is God speaking to us? What new thing is God calling us to do?

We have finally put up our Rainbow flag and our Coexist flag (thanks to our Trustees and Greg Thornhill and Keith Howard and the Church Council!) to tell the wider world, this is a church that welcomes all, something we have said quietly in our literature, our bulletin, and by our actions for years. We were the first church in our denomination to call an openly gay woman as our solo pastor. Wendy Taylor started working with us in 1988. We chose to become Open and Affirming of all LGBTQ folks in 1992. But now we speak it loud and clear by our visible symbols. We are different than the churches that condemn and reject LGBTQ people. We are different from the churches that say “My way or the highway!” Wherever you are on life’s journey, you are truly welcome here!

The world is full of saints! People who serve in quiet ways the needs of others. People who continue to grow and learn and teach and serve. Some of them are a part of this community of faith. We are alive and well because of the work we do together and the ways we grow together, in humility, with God’s guidance and grace! I am so thankful to share this journey with all of you.