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How Much of You is Real?

a sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday, January 25, 2015


I know someone who writes deep, penetrating articles that are published in scientific journals and read only by individuals in the academic stratosphere. But in his free time, he is Casey Jones. He has the world’s longest, largest, most intricate and impressive electric train set. On a rare free evening he will go down to the basement, put on his engineer’s cap and talk loudly to himself for several hours as he routes and reroutes his own miniature model railroad world.

I know someone who is as caring and fair as the day is long. She is much sought after both as a professional and as a friend to immediate disputes, heal wounds, comfort the lost and befriend the lonely. But give her a ticket to Fenway Park and she will exercise her considerable lungpower in providing a running commentary on the wisdom or lack thereof demonstrated by Red Sox players, managers and coaches and on the frailty of the human condition as demonstrated by the umpires. When my friend engages her passion for the Red Sox the furies are unleashed. Caring and sensitive though she may be she regards every Sox game as a contest between the forces of good and the forces of evil.
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Homily on Martin Luther King, Jr.

preached by the Rev John H. Nichols on Sunday, January 18, 2015


The community in which Martin Luther King Jr. grew up was deeply rooted in the stories of the Bible. They did not take these stories literally. They did not love these stories blindly. They were not naïve or foolish nor did they worry over much about whether the Bible was factual. Instead they knew that images from the Biblical stories most closely reflected the stories of their own lives. For King’s people the truth of the Bible was very personal.

All too often, they had lost friends to accidents or illness or violence and so they been to the valley of the shadow of death. They had wandered in the wilderness of an unpromising land. They had traveled the highway from Jerusalem to Jericho, been beaten and victimized by robbers and experienced the kindness of a Good Samaritan – or they hoped for it. They had seen more than their share of people suffering on the cross.
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Your Application to Become God Has Been Rejected

a sermon preached by the Rev. John H. Nichols on Sunday, January 11, 2015

To listen to this sermon please click here.


In the UU seminary I attended, the students and faculty divided into those who believed in God, who were called Theists and those who did not, who were called Humanists. At one point, these two groups became hostile camps, and it seemed to me there needed to be some way to ease the tension. But, I was just joking, when I suggested that we hold a football game to decide the matter. Some took it very seriously.

To my horror, suddenly the date for the First Annual Humanist-Theist touch football game was set. Students and even some of the younger faculty began signing up for the Humanist or Theist teams. The teams began to practice. The agnostics agreed to referee.

Those of us on the Theist team decided to concentrate on our passing game. We figured our best chance was to loft the ball into the air in hopes of receiving divine assistance. (This was before Doug Flutie gave new emphasis to idea of a “Hail Mary” pass.) The Humanists developed a defensive and running strategy. They counted on either intercepting our passes or making logical end runs around our front line.
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In the Fullness of Time

a sermon preached by the Rev. John H. Nichols on Sunday, January 4, 2015

To listen to this sermon please click here.


Every year Nancy and I exchange Christmas letters with people we have known in congregations I served long ago and far away. Among other things, the letters tend to remind me how poor a prophet I have sometimes been. Last year there was one letter in particular that brought wonderful news about a family I had counseled when they were in serious trouble. At the time, it had seemed that they were in so much pain there was no way out of short of separating the parents.

They had been a poster family for the era in which I met them. The two parents were attractive, talented and successful. Their children were bright and charming. Many people watched them and thought, “If my family were only like this family.” Beneath all outward appearances, however, the cauldron was boiling.
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An Armistice in Human Affairs

a homily preached by the Rev. John H. Nichols on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.


In 1914, six months into World War I British, French and German troops faced each other from opposite trenches across a barren battle scarred landscape. Day after day they poured withering fire into each other’s fortifications. Periodically one side or the other would make a suicidal charge to take the enemy’s trench, and hundreds of bodies were left in the middle.

When they went off to war, all sides thought the war would be an easy win for their country. Each side believed it had the superior men and armaments and the superior rationale for fighting. As the deaths piled up the soldiers on each side began to question why they were there in the first place. And slowly they understood they were at the dawn of modern warfare, a warfare of attrition, from which no one would come home in glory or honor.

On Christmas Eve in 1914, the first year of the war, by no prearrangement, both lines fell silent.
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Filling the Manger

a sermon preached by the Rev. John H. Nichols on the Fourth Sunday in Advent, December 21, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.


It was the weekend before Christmas. I was driving a lonely stretch of interstate on my way from Chicago to Boston with my then four-year-old son. It was dark and late and snow had been falling for about an hour. I was very tired. Our son, David had been asking every ten minutes when we were going to stop, and I knew I couldn’t stay awake to drive much longer. So, I was immensely relieved when I saw the familiar words, “Holiday Inn.”

But the Inn had no available rooms. I couldn’t believe this was happening. At my request they called ahead on the interstate and told me it was unlikely I would find a room anywhere for at least one hundred miles. I doubted I could drive safely for thirty more miles and sleeping in the car on that cold winter’s night was just not an option.
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Mr. Dickins’ Holiday

A sermon preached by The Rev. John H. Nichols on the Third Sunday in Advent, December 14, 2014


In 1843 Charles Dickens published a short novel that could have ruined him and sent his family into poverty. He paid for the full cost of publication. Even his publishers no longer had any confidence in the manuscript, because he is writing a Christmas story about death and ghosts, haunting, poverty and despair? It was called “A Christmas Carol.”

There was not a large market for Christmas stories to begin with. Christmas was not a major holiday in the 1840s. It was not a holiday at all for the poor. Rich people used it an excuse for a sort of high-class orgy. But when Ebenezer Scrooge reluctantly gives his clerk, Bob Cratchit, the day off to celebrate Christmas, and Scrooge grumbles Cratchit is robbing him of that day’s pay, he is not alone in that attitude. Many middle and working class people in England felt or had been treated the same way. Scrooge also spoke for many people when he called Christmas a “Humbug.”
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What About Jesus?

a sermon preached by the Rev. John H. Nichols on the Second Sunday in Advent, December 7, 2014


Once there was a minister who thought very highly of his “children’s sermons.” Every Sunday he gathered the children before him and began with a few questions that were designed to elicit cute answers – but in the end his message always always was that they should have a closer relationship to Jesus.

Jesus was the bottom line for every one of their minister’s stories. And the children had their own strategy for getting to this bottom line as quickly as possible. They informally designated Timothy to raise his hand and answer all of the minister’s questions for them.

One Sunday when this minister gathered the children at his feet, he asked them, “Now children. What is small, furry, has a long tail, gathers nuts in the fall and jumps from tree to tree.” The children looked genuinely confused but then all eyes moved to Timothy. He reluctantly and dutifully raised his hand. He said, “Well, it sounds like a squirrel, but I guess it must be Jesus?”
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The Atmosphere We Share

a sermon preached by the Rev. John H. Nichols on the First Sunday in Advent, November 30, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.


There is a Cape Cod restaurant I particularly enjoy and when I am in the area I frequently stop in. I’ve been going there often enough that some of the servers greet me by name. A glass of my favorite wine rushes to my table and often it gets there before I do. I look forward to being recognized there.

I enjoy the ritual. And to show my appreciation I leave a generous tip. It has occurred to me that my generous tip and my warm reception may be related to each other. I don’t care. It means a great deal to me to be treated with courtesy. I think it means a great deal to most of us.

When I needed gasoline in the Wellesley area, I drove to one particular gas station in Needham. I could get cheaper gas out on Route 9, but then the only human being I would deal with would be some kid in a glass cage who took my money in on a tray and then, without speaking, pushes my change back out.
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