Sermons

Read recent sermons delivered by Rev. Dr. Jean Halligan Vandergrift, Interim Minister

 

Scripture: Acts 9:1-19 | Sermon: “The Energy of Conversion”

“Conversion” is a tricky word. Sue Carroll and I got a chuckle this week proofing the worship bulletin, because either due to auto-correct or a simple miss-stroke, the first version she sent me had my sermon title as “The Energy of Conversation.” Just two letters – an “a” and a “t” – made that much difference!

Conversion can be a tricky religious concept as well. There is more than one kind of conversion story in the Bible and in church history. They aren’t all the same. Some are sudden, dramatic changes like Saul’s, while others are subtle transformations over time like Ananias’. Some might be private experiences, but most involve a community. Conversion is contextual. Furthermore, it is not ‘one and done,’ say at a confirmation or a revival.

Some probably think of conversion negatively, as ‘churchy’ or holier-than-thou, because, tragically, instead of inviting people into faith, some churches try to frighten and force others to convert. At the same time, to convert to Christ’s way is a change of “Lords,” so it is a weighty, radical commitment. (sermon continued [PDF])


 

Scripture: John 21:1-19 | Sermon: “Ready for a One-on-One?”

I think I first heard the phrase “one-on-ones” in a church. The evangelism group used it for an intentional conversation that a church member might initiate with a friend or prospective attender. This particular kind of one-on-one was designed so that the parties could share stories about each other’s lives and what each of them most valued – a natural way of conducting a meaningful conversation about faith.

This evangelism practice borrowed the concept of “one-on-ones” from the realm of community organizing. Through simple conversation, community organizers learn what issues are most important to citizens, eventually empowering residents to engage politically.

“One-on-ones” are also part of the lexicon of the business world – a practice in managing teams, drawing out the best in an employee. In busy families, also, one parent and one child may opt for some one-on-one time, and it’s basketball championship season; you’ve probably heard commentators espouse the advantages of either a zone or one-on-one defense! (sermon continued [PDF])


 

Scripture: John 20:19-29 | Sermon: “Blessing Amid Doubts”

In one of his greatest hits, the rock musician, Sting, sings about losing faith: “You could say I lost my faith in science and progress. You could say I lost my belief in the holy Church. You could say I lost my sense of direction. You could say all of this and worse, but if I ever lose my faith in you, there'd be nothing left for me to do!”

Thomas was a smart, idealistic, and sensitive person, who was losing faith after the traumatic experience of Jesus’ crucifixion. Think about it. Like Sting, Thomas had lost faith in the religion of his upbringing and its leaders. He also didn’t have any confidence in the system of governance. Thomas couldn’t have thought any longer that society was going to get better. The violence, the greed, and the abuse of power was so well engrained and installed. In our time, too, right? It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Thomas was even questioning Jesus’ good news of the Reign of God. After all, he could’ve sighed: “No one follows God’s lead! There’s nothing left for me to do!” (sermon continued [PDF])


 

Scripture: Luke 24:1-12 | Sermon: “Look Among the Living”

It’s been two years. Ramona is still in a panic over the pandemic. It is good to be cautious and careful, of course. It is appropriate to follow protocols, but recently, Ramona has felt enclosed in a ‘tomb’ of fear. She still can’t venture into the new normal. She’s stuck. In a place of death.

Adam is a young man, but he feels trapped in grief. Back when he was a teenager, his friend was tragically killed in a senseless car accident. It feels like yesterday. They had done everything together, went everywhere together, except that night. Guilt plagues Adam, and the good memories don’t bring him comfort. He’s stuck. In a place of death.

First Congregational Church doesn’t come across to those that visit as having any energy or purpose. In the estimation of its members, their past was better than the present, and no future could ever compare to those ‘good ole days.’ Truth be told, this community of faith is depressed. It’s stuck. In a place of death.

The leaders of nations today never get a respite from crisis, and the enduring global problems don’t get addressed. It feels to me as if they and their citizens are in bondage to social patterns that are killing them little by little. Violence, racism, and greed are old habits that die hard. We are stuck. In a place of death.

            Nina Simone sings for all of us: “I wish I knew how it would feel to be free…I wish I could live like I’m longing to live!” (sermon continued [PDF])


 

Scripture: Luke 23:1-25 | Sermon: “When Hosannas are Heard”

“Everybody Knows,” is a song by Leonard Cohen, and it starts this way: “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded; everybody rolls with their fingers crossed. Everybody knows the war is over; everybody knows the good guys lost. Everybody knows the fight was fixed. The poor stay poor, the rich get rich. That’s how it goes; everybody knows.”

Everybody knows that the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus was a terrible miscarriage of justice and an example of bad leadership.

Many different leaders were involved in this fiasco, both religious and secular leaders of the time, with different types and levels of authority. They exercised their power, sometimes directly taking charge, and other times under cover of darkness. The Chief Priests, Scribes, and Elders of Jesus’ faith group were the religious leaders that plotted against him; it is sobering to note that it was the clergy that seized Jesus!

The ultimate secular leader was Pilate, the Roman governor. King Herod was somewhere in between. Rome had appointed him as the King of the Jews, but just so long as he would keep all the rest of his nation in line and make sure that Rome received its tribute money. These earthly leaders followed their own devices in support of “the domination system.”

As far as Jesus’ case was concerned, these leaders did not care about the truth; rather they perverted it. For example, they accused Jesus of insurrection and then released Barabbas, an actual insurrectionist! They also did not seek God’s will in what to do. Therefore, when they had the chance, many leaders failed to support Jesus, the One, True, Good Leader, whom God had sent to save us all. They sentenced him to death. (sermon continued [PDF])


 

Scripture: Isaiah 43:16-21 & John 12:1-8 | Sermon: “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow”

The Rev. James D Ross, II, minister for diversity, inclusion, and equity for the for the Southern New England Conference UCC was our guest preacher this day. There is no transcript of his sermon. The service can be reviewed on our Facebook page.


 

Scripture: John 15:1-11 | Sermon: “Do the Meno”

When I was in college, my mother started ballroom dancing. She got good at it and enjoyed it, so much so that she would sometimes invite me to one of her class parties on a guest pass. There, her dance instructor, Jim, would give me a lesson.

He was an excellent teacher, but I was so self-conscious! I didn’t know the dance, or its steps. I was afraid of stepping on his toes and of looking into his eyes; I didn’t trust myself or his leadership. It wasn’t fun, because I couldn’t get out of my own way!

Dancing can be intimidating and not much fun, especially if we are preoccupied with choreography and doing it without any mistakes. Sure, there are a lot of things to keep in mind as we move. I always liked what Ginger Rogers said: “I do everything the man does, just backwards and in high heels!” (sermon continued [PDF])


 

Scripture: Luke 22:24-27 | Sermon: “One Who Serves”

In my head I hear the disciples singing along with Liza Minnelli and Frank Sinatra. They want to be “king of the hill; top of the heap!”

Jesus’ first disciples aren’t the only ones who get caught up in competitions and disputes about which among them is the greatest.

I researched a congregation for my dissertation in which the lay leaders had become preoccupied with status. At Cityside church this showed up in the trappings of class, education, profession, and tenure in the church. As just a small example, the church expected members to address each other by “Miss,” “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” which of course can be a practice of respect. This congregation also expected to be addressed by their degree and professional titles. More concerning, though, it also quietly closed leadership roles to those without a degree. This ecclesial classism created an unhealthy environment. (sermon continued[PDF])


 

Scripture: Luke 9:1-6 & Luke 10:1-17 | Sermon: “Sharing Leadership”

In his book God’s Potters, Jackson Carroll presents sociological facts about pastoral leadership in Christian congregations, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, and among the Protestant groups, Mainline denominations like our own, plus evangelicals, and historic black churches. His conclusions derive from the research project called “Pulpit & Pew,” and were correlated with data from the U.S. Congregational Life Survey.

Carroll shows that ministers generally lead in one of four styles: 1) those that make most decisions with laity generally following; 2) those that encourage and inspire members to make decisions, though acting alone if necessary; 3) those that exert some influence, while the laity make most decisions; and 4) those that enact the laity’s decisions. Of these four styles, number 2, is preferred by large numbers across all four church groups.

The study also found that churches value shared leadership, that is, styles 2 through 4, when clergy and laity share in decision-making and leadership, which correlates to congregational effectiveness. (sermon continued [PDF])


 

Scripture: Psalm 149:3-4 & Luke 8:1-3 | Sermon: “The Dance of Leadership: Will You Follow God’s Lead?”

This is the time of year when we can see the way that Roslindale Congregational Church is organized and how it approaches leadership. March 20 will be the Annual Meeting of the entire congregation, and this meeting is when RCC makes several decisions, such as how you will spend your collective financial resources, how you will divide the work of ministry between officers, deacons, committees, and teams, and who you will elect to lead these various roles.

The Church is not organized quite like any other group that you know. There may be some similarities, but, for instance, a church is not exactly like a family; its way of making decisions is not really the same as that of the government either; how it gets things done is not necessarily as this would occur in a business. Leadership in the church is not handled exactly the same way as it is in a classroom things done is not necessarily as this would occur in a business. Leadership in the church is not handled exactly the same way as it is in a classroom, or a hospital, or the military. The Church has a unique purpose and practices.

So, like me, are you at least a bit curious about how this group of Jesus followers in the first century organized itself and how it exercised leadership? Do you wonder about how this movement made decisions and got things done? (sermon continued [PDF])