The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Guest Sermon - June 23, 2019
Rev. Bob Sweet
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8  John 14:15-17, 25-27

It is said “The only constant in life is change”.  There is one more, but you have to wait until the end of the sermon to hear that one.

Sometimes change is very difficult.  Moving, for instance, can be very stressful.  Losing a loved one is very traumatic.  When someone undergoes an amputation, they often describe grief over their loss.  Children whose parents divorce have to readjust to totally new circumstances.

Change can also challenge the very basic assumptions of our lives.  My mother was a died in the wool Republican.  She was also very prejudiced.  My parents and grand parents were members of the Ku Klux Klan. When Ed Brooke ran for Senator from Massachusetts years ago, my mother had to make a choice  between voting for a black man or a Democrat.  That really shook her up!  (The Republicans won out.)

Barbara Kingsolver’s latest book, Unsheltered,  s a story about two different dysfunctional families living in Philadelphia in the same poorly constructed house, in two different centuries.  In the 19th  century a high school science teacher who totally disbelieved the theory of creationism lived next door to an old woman who was kind of a recluse, but was in constant correspondence with Charles Darwin.  Their challenge was to live in a time and place where their scientific beliefs upended completely the thinking of the day.

The second family lived in the twentieth century.  Here a suddenly unemployed journalist finds herself bringing up an infant grandchild with neighbors of another ethnicity, family pattern, and life style quite unlike anything she was used to.  Her quasi-hippie daughter is a rabid environmentalist challenging her family’s lifestyle and assumptions at every corner.

In both cases basic belief systems and assumptions of every day living are challenged and turned topsey turvey.  Those challenges to belief systems bring challenges to relationships and to every day living.

Now we heard JoAnn read to us from Ecclesiastes.  I confess that over the decades I have not often preached from Ecclesiastes because “The Preacher”, as the writer of Ecclesiastes was known,  challenges some of my basic beliefs.  I’m not convinced there is a time for war and a time to kill, for instance.  On the other hand, it is clear that times and change come to us whether we like it or not.  And there is a season for every change.

Phyllis Tickel, a prominent church historian, has written that cataclysmic change has come to the church every 500 years.  At the end of the first millennium there was a major split in the church between Rome and Constantinople.  Roughly 500 years later came the Protestant Reformation.  Today, half a millennium later, the church is in turmoil again as people turn away from the institution in droves, congregations close their doors, and people ask why we need religion at all.  Traditions and belief systems are challenged every day.

As you know, the United Methodist Church, a world wide denomination with nearly a third of its membership in other parts of the world, is split right down the middle over the question of how we treat LGBTQ+ people.  Currently we do not lawfully ordain them or allow them to marry in our churches.  Fortunately the New England Conference of our denomination has endorsed a policy of non-conformity with the rules of the denomination.  And I do believe, unless God intervenes in a miraculous way next Spring when the General Conference of our church meets again, the Church will split again, as it did over the issue of slavery more than 150 years ago.  And if it does, I have no doubt but what the New England Conference will disaffiliate with the denomination.

I look at the history of the church in Marlborough.  Our town had, at one time, I believe, had  six different churches – Congregational, Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian, Finnish Lutheran and Roman Catholic.  As time passed, so did the churches.  In ….          the Methodist, Unitarians, and Congregationalists joined together to form The Federated Church.  Was that merger merely a survival move or was it based on mission?  We chose this building for our worship and educational venue while designating the Methodist building as Mission Central, or the center of our outreach to the community.

But look at us today.  Most of our hair is gray.   Our Sunday School and youth ministry reaches a tiny group of youngsters.  Do we have a future?  Our operational assumptions and some of our belief systems seem no longer to be valid.  What is the challenge to us today?  Do we go on as usual until we peter out and have to close the doors?   Or do we accept the changes that are happening to us and ask, “What does the Lord require of us today?”

It seems to me that is the question we must ask ourselves daily, whether as a church organization or as individuals of faith.  What DOES the Lord require of us today?  The prophet’s answer is clear:  “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” 

Yes, we live in a day of constant change and challenges.  I said at the beginning that it is said that change is the only constant in life.  But there is one more, and that is the promise we heard from St. John’s Gospel, the promise that God is always with us.  Verses from John 14 are often read at funerals because they are words of comfort and give the promise of peace to the bereaved.  But that promise holds true for us as we meet other challenges and changes in life as well.  Jesus assures the disciples that when he is physically gone from their midst, God will provide another source of strength and hope for daily living, the Holy Spirit.

We have just celebrated Pentecost, the account of the Holy Spirit descending upon the early church.  It is that Spirit of which Jesus speaks in the 14th chapter of John’s Gospel.  It is that same Spirit that accompanies us on our life’s journey as we face challenges day be day, year in and year out – challenges to our health and well being, challenges to our assumptions and  lifestyles, challenges to our thinking and belief systems, challenges for our church as we look to the future. 

I believe it was John Wesley who said on his death bed, “The best of all is, God is with us.”  Amen.