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Your Next Minister: Some Things You Need to Know

A sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday, October 5, 2014


Many years ago on a Saturday afternoon, I was walking through the Wellesley Hills Unitarian parish hall and on my way home. We were hosting a youth con and so kids were scattered around the room in small conversation groups. Suddenly one young man, a member of my congregation, appeared at my side to ask me a question. As was his style it was posed in a semi-humorous way, but although I did not learn it until later, it contained a serious purpose. I was tired. I wanted to get home, and so I kind of tossed his question aside with what I thought was an equivalently humorous response. I thought no more of it.

Twenty five years later, when I began serving the First Unitarian Church in Providence, R.I. I met that young man, now married and a father. I wondered why he looked like a thundercloud every time we were in proximity, and then one Sunday he asked for an appointment. We made one. He came into my office and told me he had borne a grudge against me for thirty years. It had been eating at him, until he heard something in a sermon I had given that previous Sunday that convinced him I could understand why he had been upset. His question back then had been serious, but I had not taken it so. We’re friends now. I dedicated his daughter in Providence and occasionally receive semi-humorous, semi ironic messages from him. But for me that incident remains an object lesson.
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Your Wilderness Experience

A sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday, September 28, 2014


Sooner or later most of us will go on a wilderness journey. The journey I have in mind does not take us into the national park system. We won’t need to bring along bug dope, a flashlight or a snakebite kit. The only beasts we’ll encounter will be those created by our own fears. These will be the beasts, which populate that wilderness of everyone’s imagination, the internal beasts that puzzle or frighten nearly all of us.

Why would anyone take such a journey? Frankly I’d rather stay home. But, usually we don’t have much choice. It may be that a serious illness starts us on our way or it may be the loss of the job. It may be the breakup of a marriage or a time of testing for our families. It may be the death of a family member or of a close friend or it may be the betrayal of a false friend that hits us more seriously than most. It may be reaching that classic mid-point of our lives where we begin to look at our choices differently and we look at our time left differently as it now seems to be running out. Perhaps none of this will happen to you, but my guess is most people who have lived awhile will recognize in their own experience elements of what I am going to describe.
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That “Love Passage”

A sermon given by the Rev. John H. Nichols on Sunday, September 21, 2014


When couples come to me to plan a wedding they frequently request what they call, “That love passage.” Some are not sure if it’s from the Bible. Some believe it was probably Shakespeare or perhaps Ben Franklin. Others remember it’s in the Bible but they aren’t sure which testament it’s in or who said it. But they do remember these words, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.” This haunting passage from 1 Corinthians 13 has been called Paul’s hymn to love.

We read it often at weddings. But, every time I read it, I am aware there are some verses that are now very hard to understand. For instance, the writer affirms, “even if I give up my body to be burned but have not love, it would gain me nothing.” This passage has a meaning, but time has made the meaning unclear to modern ears.
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Remembering Jonah

A sermon given by the Rev. John H. Nichols on Sunday, September 14, 2014


In some ways the Biblical story of Jonah is a very silly story. It has a comic element, which I will exploit shamelessly this morning. It is also a serious story, reminding us of the causes of hatred and violence and of the devices and desires of our own hearts. You’ve heard of Jonah but be aware that I am going to dress the story up in contemporary garb. It will sound a little different this time.

Jonah was an average sort of guy. He worked hard all year, and he looked forward to spending two weeks with his family in their time-share condominium by the Dead Sea. But one day – just a week before his vacation – God comes to Jonah and says, “Go and warn the people of Nineveh that they are doing bad things, and if they don’t clean up their act I am going to punish the whole misbegotten lot of them.”
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Introducing Myself

a Homily Preached by the Rev John Nichols on Sunday, September 7, 2014


It was eleven years ago – almost to the day – that I began as the interim minister of the First Church in Belmont. I was following the successful ministry of Victor Carpenter, who had just retired. In Belmont the door to the minister’s study and the door to the sanctuary are opposite each other when you enter the church so the sound travels freely between them. It was the first Sunday and I was spending the last few moments before my first service with my study door open as I was listening to the prelude coming from the sanctuary across the hall.

Suddenly there was a commotion outside my door, and a girl, about six years old, rushed in. She had a look of eager anticipation on her face … until she saw me sitting in the chair last occupied by her beloved minister, Victor. At that moment of seeing me her expression turned to fear and horror. She turned around and ran out shouting loudly, “ Mommy, Daddy, come quick. They’ve done something to our minister!”
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Walking on Water

A sermon given by the Rev. Rosemary Lloyd on Sunday, August 10, 2014


READINGS:

1. Our first reading is from the Hebrew scriptures. These verses from the book of Isaiah open the book of consolation and herald the end of exile. As the news from so many war torn areas–especially Israel Palestine–breaks our hearts, these verses of covenant have been echoing in my mind. I share them this morning as a prayer for peace everywhere, for all people.

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers,
the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion,
herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem,
herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
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The Rest of the Story

A sermon given by Rev. Roger Paine on Sunday, June 8, 2014


“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”
– Mary Oliver, from her poem “Evidence”


READINGS:

1. Our first reading is a prayer written by the Most Reverend Kenneth Untener, a Roman Catholic bishop
who spoke out strongly for the poor and for a more diverse, accepting state of mind in the Catholic
church. He wrote this prayer in memory of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. It’s called:

MINISTERS TO THE FUTURE

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

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Reverence

A sermon given by Rev. Roger Paine on June 1, 2014


“By practicing reverence for life, we enter into a spiritual relationship with the world –
we become good, deep, and alive.”
– Albert Schweitzer


READINGS:

1. Our first reading is a poem by Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996), who was born in Leningrad and was expelled from the Soviet Union for writing what Moscow called “anti-Soviet poems.” He came to America where he taught at the University of Michigan and then at Yale. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987 and was our Poet Laureate in 1991. Here’s one of his poems, written before he left Russia – it’s called “In Villages God Does Not Live in Corners.”

In Villages God Does Not Live in Corners
by Joseph Brodsky

In villages God does not live in corners
as skeptics think, but everywhere.
He sanctifies the roof, he blesses the dishes,
he holds his half of the double doors.
He’s plentiful. In the iron pot there.
Cooking the lentils on Saturday.
He dances sleepily over the fire
and waves at me, as to a witness.

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We

A sermon given by Rev. Roger Paine on Memorial Day Sunday, May 25, 2014


“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
– Cicero


READINGS:
1. Our first reading is from a talk by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain given one day before the battle of Gettysburg. You’ll find it in Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer-Prize winning book, The Killer Angels, or you can hear actor Jeff Daniels, as Colonel Chamberlain, give this talk in the film, Gettysburg, which is based on the book.

Colonel Chamberlain was the commanding officer of the 20th Maine Regiment. Before the war he was a professor at Bowdoin. The day before Gettysburg, a ragged group of 120 soldiers in union blue uniforms was handed over to him – they are prisoners, under guard, who have been marched up from Virginia at bayonet point. They are all that’s left of the 2nd Maine Regiment. They’ve fought in eleven bloody battles, they were the last regiment to leave the field at the Battle of Bull Run, and these survivors have refused to fight again because they feel they’ve done their part, and they’ve lost confidence in their generals. The Union captain who turns them over to Chamberlain tells him: “You’re authorized to use whatever force necessary, colonel. You want to shoot ‘em, go right ahead. Won’t nobody say nothin’.”

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