This week's author is Charlie Kuchenbrod, Executive Associate Conference Minister of the Connecticut Conference, UCC.
Scripture: Matthew 3:13-17 (NRSV)
Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?' But Jesus answered him, 'Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.' Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'
The musical Hamilton illustrates something that I think is crucial for understanding and appreciating scripture. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the genius creator of the show, started with Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton and then perfected the story. In the process of perfection, the story became less factual and more truthful. Less factual because some material was created and some actual history was changed or ignored. More truthful because there is knowledge that is beyond facts and that is only conveyed by story and experience. More truthful because life cannot be explained or understood only by facts.
This is sometimes hard for many us: All facts are true but not all truths are factual. (This does not mean, however, that we can ignore facts!) Paul Tillich wrote that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Faith is trusting the truth of the story - even if the facts are uncertain. Parables, for example, are stories that teach us much about what is true, but their power has nothing to do with whether or not they are historically accurate. Stories convey truth. The truth changes us and changes the world.
(An aside: Faith has something to do with which stories we take to heart and which stories we reject. I think, though, that this is a topic for a different reflection…)
John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were real figures in history. They encountered each other. The Gospel writers took these facts and perfected the story of Jesus’ baptism. This is true: If we want to follow the way of Jesus, if we want to live a life full of God and God-encounter, then we need to start with repentance and forgiveness. This will make us children of God, who will be well pleased with us.
God, forgive us when we only trust facts. Open our hearts to the truth. Guide and strengthen us so that we may be truth-seekers and truth-spreaders, so that we can be changed and so we can change the world according to your vision, which you have given to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Special Prayer Requests:
- The Rev. Da Vita McCallister, Associate Conference Minister of Leadership and Vitality, whose father died on Dec. 24;
- the members and staff of Thompson Congregational Church after a fire severely damage the building on Dec. 29;
- those grieving or suffering in Turkey after a New Years' Eve attack by a gunman left 39 dead and more injured;
- the people of Irag after several bombings this weekend left more than 50 dead and many more injured; and
- those grieving in Brazil after a prison riot left 60 dead and sparked a gang war in the city of Manaus.
- the people of San Pablito, Mexico, grieving or suffering after a series of explosions at a fireworks market left more than 30 dead on Dec. 20;
- the people of Berlin, Germany, grieving or suffering after a tourist attack left 12 dead and many others injured on Dec. 19;
- the Democratic Republic of Congo, where clashes between protestors and authorities have left dozens dead and many more injured or arrested;
- those grieving after a Russian military plane crashed on Dec. 25, killing all 92 passengers;
- the Rev. Da Vita McCallister, Associate Conference Minister for Leadership & Vitality, who is recovering from surgery on Dec. 16;
- those grieving or suffering after a bombing in Cairo, Egypt killed 24 Christians who were attending Mass on December 11;
- the people of Iraq impacted by the renewed fighting in and around the city of Mosul where Iraqi forces are trying to retake control of the city from ISIS;
- Rev. M. John Arens, Pastor of the New Preston Congregational Church, who had surgery on June 28;
- The Rev. Sara Smith, pastor of United Congregational Church of Bridgeport, and her sister Ellen, who is recovering from a stroke;
- Rev. Kelly Hough Rogers, Associate Pastor of the Norfield Congregational Church in Weston, whose parents were involved in a tragic car accident. Kelly’s father, Wallace, has died and her mother, Janet, is hospitalized;
- Michael White, former Operations Manager at Silver Lake Conference Center, who was diagnosed with colon cancer;
- Juliane Silver, the daughter of the Rev. Jim Silver of Middletown, who is in dire need of a liver transplant. We pray that a donor will come forward giving the gift of life and a portion of their liver to Juliane;
- Chacy Eveland, husband of the Rev. Marcia Eveland, pastor of the First Congregational Church UCC of Ansonia, who has been moved to a full-time facility for care of dementia;
- the Rev. Mary Nelson, South Central Regional Minister of the Connecticut Conference, whose brother is recovering from surgery;
- Alisia Selders, daughter of Bishop John Selders, pastor of Amistad UCC in Hartford, in a new round of treatment for cancer;
- the thousands of migrants worldwide who flee from violence and persecution in search of safety;
- our ecumenical partners in the Kyung-Ki Presbytery in South Korea;
- the Conference's partners working for peace in Colombia amidst violence;
- the leaders of this nation, that they may meet the challenges of the day with insight, wisdom, and compassion;
- this nation, that it may continue its difficult work to end the practices of racism;
- those suffering due to the ongoing financial woes of the nation, be they struggling to meet an unaffordable mortgage, seeking employment, or working to find just resolutions; and
- those serving or living in war or conflict zones around the world, or where terrorists have struck.
To be added to the prayer list, please send an email to Drew Page at: email@example.com.
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
First Congregational Church of Woodbury, UCC
Howard A. Mayer - DT
North Congregational Church, UCC
Richard A. Koenig - P
First Congregational Church of Woodstock, UCC
Jocelyn Gardner Spencer - P
Kate Murdock - Y
Tara Smock - CE
Edward Bradley - MM
Ellen Boylan - OL
Leilani Nixon - OL
Union Chapel UCC
Candace Whitman - P
Abington Congregational Church, UCC
Bruce A. Hedman - P
The Executive Associate Conference Minister oversees the Finance and Development Team of the Conference staff, and directly supervises several of the senior staff members.