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How to Raise Sturdy Enough Children and Grandchildren

a sermon given by the Rev. John H. Nichols on Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Earl of Rochester once said, “Before I got married I had six theories about raising children. Now I have six children and no theories.” John Mason Brown once affirmed “Reasoning with a child is fine as long as you can reach the child’s reason without destroying your own.” And an unknown philosopher once commented, “Heredity is what a parent believes in absolutely until his/her child begins to behave like an idiot.” Raising children is a humbling topic for everyone.

Anyone who dares speak of it needs to establish some credentials first. Here are mine. My wife and I, together, raised two children who are now adults, and we have five grandchildren. To the best of our knowledge, none of our children or grandchildren is a serial axe murderer yet. None is a mass murderer of any kind. They are not perfect or even nearly perfect, but they are sturdy enough for the lives they lead, which make my credentials on sturdiness as good as any and we all have very modest credentials.
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For All the Saints

A sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Communion Sunday , November 2, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

Albert Schweitzer reflects on how “so many people gave me something or were something to me without knowing it.” And then he suggests, “If we had before us those who had thus been a blessing to us, and could tell them how it came about, they would be amazed to learn what passed over from their life into ours.”

Much of my life has been inspired by gifts that were passed on to me by people who could not have known how important their gift would be. I suspect the same may be true for many of you.
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Tipping the Balance

A sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday, October 26, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

When we get up in the morning most of us want a comfortable, safe, predictable way to get through the day. This is a staple of human nature. We seek a place for ourselves that feels familiar. We were not born for revolution or even to stop revolutions. And so, when we look back at something like the rise of the Nazis – and we ask ourselves “Why didn’t they see it coming?” — the answer is that at one level they did see it coming, but they did not want to know what they saw. They didn’t want to change their lives, to take the risks involved in stopping it. And indeed the risks were potentially fatal.

This leads psychologists and clergy to wonder, “What changes our minds and moves us to action?” What challenges our prevailing view of the world, what penetrates our overwhelming desire for security and then causes us to alter our behavior to do something differently?
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Why Religion is Funny

a sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday October 19, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

Once long ago, a rabbi wrote a book about the tragic death of his young son. Many read it and loved it and they told their friends, “You have to read, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.” But that was not the title of the book. “Why bad things happen” is what all of us ask. It is the question that motivates people to join churches. Some religions do offer answers, but most traditions believe that final answers are not given to anyone.

Rabbi Harold Kushner did not try to answer that question either. His first book was actually titled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. But we remember the words, “Why” instead of “When” because the “Why” question is closest to our spiritual pulse.
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Taking Time Seriously

A sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday, October 12, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

Could you take off your watch and put it out of sight for an hour? Could you even leave your watch at home for a couple of hours? For an entire day? Could you put your watch in the drawer for a week? There’s a daunting thought. And an irresponsible thought. One of the things many of us pride ourselves on is that there are people who depend upon us to know what time it is so that we can be where they want us to be and keep our commitments to them.

On the other hand, if we carry the time around with us only to meet schedules that are not entirely of our own making, how likely is it that the pace of our lives is set by other people? How much of each day that we are granted to live is lived on a timetable that we did not create or even control? Where does it say, on our calendars, “This time is for me? Or are these mechanical devices on our wrists really symbols of servitude in which we cooperate?
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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

To listen to this sermon please click here.

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

To listen to this sermon please click here.

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

To listen to this sermon please click here.

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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