March 28, 2004
Rev. Virnette Hamilton
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776
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Scripture Reading

John 12:1-8

1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" 6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." (NRSV)

Isaiah 43:16-21

16 Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, 17 who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: 18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. 19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 20 The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, 21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise. (NRSV)

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Sermon: 3-28-04 - On the top of the mountain

We live in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains – in some very steep hills. It is one of the things that I love about CT. I love the hills and the mountains. My first experience with mountains was when I was little – really little. My family traveled every summer to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to visit my grandfather. I grew up in flat as a pancake Iowa, so I was intrigued with the mountains – especially the continental divide – my imagination loved the idea of a place where the water would go in each direction, depending on which side of the hill it was on. By the time I was 10 I had picked out a meadow above the timber line where I thought that I could build a house… because it allowed one to look in both directions – east and west – with the turn of the head. As I grew older and revisited that meadow even as a college student, I felt as though I was standing in the present and could see the past on one side, and the future stretched out before me, beckoning.

A couple weeks ago I was on rt. 109, traveling to Washington Church, and when I reached the second big hill I remembered how I got to the point of standing here in this pulpit. In the spring of 1987 I was traveling to a baby shower in Washington on 109. Church was just over, and I was exhilarated. The children’s choirs had just offered their production of 100% chance of rain, and it had been well received. I was thrilled for the kids – because I knew that they had been given a deeper connection to the Church and their faith. As I approached the top of that hill my mind jumped to the question of what I would do if a car came over the hill in my lane – where could I go, with a stone wall and a steep bank instead of a shoulder. As I got to the top of the hill, there it was, the car. I don’t remember how I came to stop my car, how I avoided a collision, but there I was -stopped half way up the bank, by the stone wall, safe and sound. I sat there for a moment, stunned. I looked around – I could see both East and West… and I knew, this moment would be remembered as a turning point. From that vantage point I could see in my mind, both my past and a new future opening up. It would be months before that future began to gel into something that I would ever describe as my call to ministry, but that moment remains in my mind as the beginning, not an end.

We are a people of memories. Just like the Israelites, we savor the past, the moments that we believe have defined us, just as they remembered the time that God delivered out of Egypt by opening the Red Sea so they could cross. They were once again in exile, as they had been before and they were putting all of their hopes in their old expectations. They were waiting to be rescued. The pattern of the past was dictating their future – and limiting what they could do.

We are no different - each of us does this. We wait – expecting what worked before to be the current solution. Isaiah is saying that God wants to do something new with our lives – so we need to let go of the old ways and be open to the new ways. Our memories can inform us, but we shouldn’t let them define us. Our memories can be useful but only so far as we learn from them and move forward. If we stand in the present and rely on the past to direct each new step, we will simply be wandering in the wilderness. And the top of the hill experience will elude us.

Not only do we do this as individuals, we do it as a corporate body – We see it in the work place, and our town and we do it as a Church.

The temptation to look to the past as the total indicator of our future acts to hinder creative solutions. I think we can all think of issues facing this community that could benefit from a new way of thinking.

Our Strategic planning committee has spent hours collecting data from all of us members of this congregation, in order to distill it into goals for our future. They feel as though they are standing on the top of the hill ready to look at that new direction. They have had an intimate look at our history and expectations – they have the bigger view, But the rest of us are still in the wilderness of past and all that it has dictated.

While we can see clearly our old issues, expectations and disappointments they act to cloud our vision of the future. We cannot yet see the path that is being prepared for us. Our task is to we need to acknowledge what is in our wilderness, process it and then let go.

That is what the strategic planning process is all about. It is not just an opportunity to set new goals like a business, it is about our corporate relationship with God. It is about clearing our hearts to allow for new expectations and it about a new way of living as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

At the Spring meeting in May, the strategic planning committee will come forward with the goals that they have distilled from all that we gave them. We have a choice, will we do the work in our hearts and our minds to be free of all that limits us? Will we take the steps before us that will lead to the top of the hill? Will we vote for these goals just with our voices or with our time, our energy and our financial support?

We hear Isaiah say that the Lord will make a new path for us – “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.

God will be with us when we all stand on the top of the hill, firmly rooted in the present, able to see the past on one side, and the future will stretch out before us. And then God will beckon to us to go forward. This is a beginning, not an end. Let us pray. Amen.
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