June 27, 2004
Rev. Virnette Hamilton (last sermon as Associate Pastor)
First Congregational Church, New Milford, CT  06776

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Scripture Reading

Galatians 5 - selections

1 For freedom Christ has set us free. 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. (NRSV)

Philippians 4:4-9

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. (NRSV)

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Last Sermon, First Congregational Church of New Milford

This isn’t going to be easy… because I love all of you.

But I have moved 19 times as an adult, and I know the value of change. It is never easy when you are going through it, but in the end it is always positive. And you never leave a place without taking a huge part of it with you in your heart… and you leave a piece of yourself behind, to be forever remembered.

I began thinking about the time that I have spent in this congregation and realized that I have been here over a third of my life. We joined this Church in the fall of 1983, nearly 21 years ago, two years after we moved to New Milford from California, and right after the birth of our third Daughter Jackie, who attended new members classes with us. I was already directing the youth choir and playing in the bell choir and my husband Bruce and I were teaching the third grade Church school class, which had 36 kids in it and not the easiest 36 kids either. Being active in the Church wasn’t a new idea for us… I had been a CE director in Niagara falls, taught Church school and led the youth choir in California and Bruce was the head usher. Church had always been central to our lives. So we embarked on the journey of being a committed members of this congregation with enthusiasm and energy. It wasn’t long before there were nearly 100 kids in the 3 children’s choirs and Bruce was a Deacon. We were busy and happy, until I disrupted the whole plan by hearing God’s call to ministry. It would have been natural for me to leave here at that point, taking a different Church, only to visit occasionally. But that isn’t what happened. I came back as the associate pastor – called by the search committee in late June of 1993.

When I began seminary, this Church was recovering from having had 3 pastors leave within one summer. Russ Ayre retired, Dennis Calhoun, the associate was offered his own Church in Middlebury, and the pastor of visitation, Frank Thurston retired, once again. Suddenly this thriving congregation was thrown into flux and seemed like it was struggling with their identity, almost feeling deserted. Then came Mike. And the steeple repair and a more staff changes. After my first year here I started to see signs of new life… and I was pleased. It was as though the congregation was beginning to relax and trust this set of pastors would stay. And we have.

I have many wonderful memories of this Church… and I have learned a lot of lessons, all valuable.

Like: Never let the youth choir sit in the choir loft without adequate adults mixed in with the kids, because one of them might decide to entertain the congregation during the sermon, by pretending to pick his nose.

Or If a child decides to say “Ding Dong You’re wrong” after everything the pastor says during the children’s story, stop trying to talk… and let them say what they need to say.
Or in you decide to take the steeple off of the Church, make sure that you know if it is anchored by steel first, and if not that, get the biggest crane in the world to tackle the job. And if all those things fail, and you are standing on the green when the crane starts to wobble, like it is going to fall over, run. Don’t stand there with your mouth open… or just keep aiming the video camera –

I learned that if there is any special occasion, like an ordination, the fellowship hall is sure to flood… and if there is going to be a tag sale, get ready for a heat wave. Also, if a bride says that she wants to get married during village fair days, and arrive at the Church in a horse drawn carriage, just say “NO”

I also learned never to take high school kids on a mission trip in August. They have all been at gender segregated camps most of the summer, and the minute they all get back together - let just say, the chemistry can be intense. Go right after school is over, when they are sick of being together.

I have learned to listen and learn, and I have learned to apologize. I have learned to say “yes” to things that I was sure wouldn’t work, but with the help of God, they can. And I have learned that sometimes, no matter how much I hate it, I have to be the bad guy and say no. I have learned that I am not perfect – but I also learned that none of us are… and by the way, it is ok, better than ok, it is the way the world is supposed to be. Only Jesus Christ was perfect…

We aren’t perfect, and maybe that isn’t really even the goal. In the Church the goal is love… and love requires something of us that is difficult to give… but certainly worth striving for. Love requires that we step outside of our own selves to embrace another person, in their pain, in their dreams, in their joy and their sorrow. Love is about connections, so deep that they change us and our lives.

Paul said it about as well as it can be said.

through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.

It reminds me of all of the lessons my mother taught me,

If you can’t say something kind, say nothing at all. Generosity.

Sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never harm you… forgiveness and tolerance.

Cross your legs at your ankles, fold your hands quietly in your lap and don’t let anyone know what you are thinking… self-control.

Find the good in others and you will find the good in yourself. joy

Always wear clean underwear… you might get in an accident? No, that doesn’t work..

Please and thank you are two magic words. Gentleness

You will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. kindness

And lastly “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” Peace..

So my advice to you as a congregation that I love, and I want see grow and flourish, are in these 4 simple rules

1. Give compliments, even when you think criticism would go farther. Because when you build each other up, You build up the body of Christ.

2. Always say “Please” and “thank you” and remember they really are magic words.

3. If you see something that needs to change, remember that God works through your desires… so your desire for something better, is a call from God. Answer the call and volunteer yourself. That is the best way to discover God’s grace.

4. And reach out to God – don’t be afraid, God won’t bite… so pray often, for others and for this congregation… but don’t forget to pray for yourself - the best way to find your spiritual center is to discover how important you are to God. You ask, God will answer… and God is never the bad guy… God will provide you with what you need… and I don’t say that lightly.

If you can do these things… and I am not saying that they are easy… but if you concentrate your energy on these tasks, this Church will truly blossom. 

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