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

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at 10:30 a.m.

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Why are We Here Today?


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
November 12, 2017

"The story of the ten bridesmaids has always troubled me! Jesus is always telling us to be loving and generous, but here the selfish bridesmaids are praised, and the unprepared bridesmaids are locked out of the party! Matthew chose to put this parable towards the end of his gospel as Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and certain death. He's talking to an audience at the end of the 1st Century. They thought Jesus would have returned by now. Some are giving up on this new religion. Matthew wants them to stay ready. 2000 years later what are we to make of it all?

One of my colleagues on my trip to Israel was Prof. Eugene Park, a New Testament scholar at San Francisco Theological Seminary. He's working on a new book about Matthew's gospel. He used to focus on Paul's writings. Now he sees Matthew as written in reaction to Paul. Matthew wrote in the region of Antioch where Paul founded many churches. Paul was all about Grace, no matter what.
Matthew wants to emphasize choices and actions, not just grace. The Ten Virgins made choices. Some stayed wise and prepared and strong. Some just fell asleep and weren't ready when called.

First Century weddings were complicated affairs. First the parents arranged the marriage. Then the bridegroom came to formally get his bride. The bridesmaids and everyone went into the party. It was time to celebrate, time to make connections and find possible partners as well. Jesus and wedding banquets always seemed to go together!

Today is Stewardship Sunday ~ the one day a year I'm asked to talk about money.
Usually we have speakers share why they pledge to our church for four weeks during this season. This year we invited you to bring your dreams and ideas for our budget to last week's Stewardship brunch. We can't put a budget together until you share what you plan to give in the new year. We can't plan without your input!
In the 'Grow the Church' surveys I saw that some of you think we talk       about money too much! I get that! It's uncomfortable. It can make people feel guilty or judged or compared to others. I hate that! So let me just talk about me: I made a living as a bookkeeper before becoming a minister. You can tell a lot about people by how they spend their money. So I've looked at my own spending. I've known that tithing 10% of my income is recommended in the Bible, but it always seemed crazy to give that much away! Then I took a workshop on stewardship that was led by a minister who said flat-out "Ministers should always tithe." And so many of my colleagues tithe that it gnawed at me! So I tried it!
I've discovered it feels good to be brave and make that commitment. It works for me! I'm not saying it would work for you. But think about being brave...Up your pledge a little, or maybe a lot. I went from giving 2% to 10% and it feels great.

What does this have to do with our Ten Bridesmaids? These are crazy times!
How do we prepare for wildfires? earthquakes? random violence? What keeps our light shining? our wicks trimmed? Does church help?

Why are we here today? To sing? to pray? to learn? to share? Each of you is a shining star to me. You are unique and give of yourself in your own way. I missed you terribly while I was traveling! Maybe the best thing about traveling is knowing how wonderful it is to come home! You are home to me! You inspire me! Your creativity, your values, your practicing what you believe help me to grow. I can't imagine not having our church to come home to!

We are blessed that we have such a beautiful, rentable building that Irene and Maura and Trustees work so hard to keep it useful and in use. But we have dreams for our children and for ourselves that require more than just a building. Programs and ideas are percolating. We'll need to commit to our future, to plan ahead, trim our wicks, make choices.

While I was in Israel we went to Friday night Shabbat services at a synagogue that was led by a woman -- very unusual in that religiously conservative country. She spoke about Re-Dreaming Jerusalem as a place of compassion, justice and love.
The service was full of wonderful music. They planned service projects that brought together Christians, Muslims         and Jews. She and her community inspired me. And they reminded me of us!

Why are we here? I'm here to grow with you! To prepare for a future where this little church continues to be a beacon on a hill for years to come. May it be so! Can I get an amen?