On Poetry and Pat Feldman

I started reading the newspaper to begin my days in graduate school at Iowa State University–The Des Moines Register.  It was an excellent newspaper from an era that now seems as far away and quaint as fading memories of my parents watching Walter Cronkite on a black and white TV.

The news is not black and white these days, as we all well-know; facts go begging and we are awash with options and opinions–it is all so exhausting, conflicted. 

A few months ago, weary of it all, I broke a habit and started a new one.

I stopped reading the newspaper in the morning, quit looking at my phone or iPad to start my days, and started reading poetry. This small change of habit has been such a blessing, such a relief, and such a gift, shifting my sense of time and feeding creativity.

Currently, I am reading Jim Harrison’s last collection of poems, Deadman’s Float.  Here is favorite poem, which I would be glad to quote for you by heart:


This year, we have two gorgeous 
yellow warblers nesting in the honeysuckle bush.
The other day I stuck my head in the bush.
The nestlings weigh one-twentieth of an ounce,
about the size of a honey bee. We stared at 
each other, startled by our existence.
In a month or so, when they reach the size 
of bumble bees, they'll fly off to Costa Rica, without a map.

Much of pastoring is about poetry, learning to find the lyrical rhythm of our lives together, the beauty of it, ways we are startled by our existence, times we discover our stunning ability to fly like warblers into chartless lands.  

Pat Feldman loved birds and flowers and the startling joy of our mutual existence–loved poetry And when we celebrated her life, the church full to capacity with people standing in the aisles, granddaughter Scout and her son Jason shared poems they wrote in her memory.

These poems below are offered in memory of Pat, to be sure, but also to remind us all that in all the news of the world, poetry reveals truth that sustains us.

May  God bless you and keep you,
Pr. Craig Jan-McMahon

Be Like You
by Scout Feldman
When I was young
And staring at the multiplication tables that you brought when you came to visit
I never imagined I’d want to be like you
As I stared at that paper, filled with multiplication, 
Having no idea how to even add double digit numbers,
You told me to multiply by two
You told me it was the same thing as adding the number to itself
Three times two
Three plus three
Multiplication is replication
You taught me to replicate
To duplicate
To recreate
At the time I had no idea how appealing replication could be
But more appealing than the replication of numbers 
Was the replication of your smile
I wanted to make people smile the way you did
The way you made people laugh
I wanted to be like you. 
Something I never thought I’d do.
By Jason Feldman
Rest: While we mourn the loss of you
A collector of things
Custodian of friendships
       - epicurious relationships, toasting to the meaning
       - literary discussions turned to laughter, over knowledge
Celebrations of talent, as if they were her own, knowing she played a part
Prayers, with eyes shut so tight and hands clasped so strong 
              Knowing she will hear and provide
              Keeping us all safe, so precious
A woman to whom Cardinals sang
                in pre- dawn spring
Calling for her to awaken- acknowledge life
To her:
Loons have swooned while discussing a sunset 
              Shimmering on the water
              before the fire begins to crackle
                                         and children's laughter makes the stars brighten
Her classroom was a child's refuge
          - Knowledge, Energy, Growth, Safety
New paths to intellect - welcomed and pushed away
        Old ways still ring true
Look me in the eye
I care about you 
Your success is a reflection
My Effort
My Kindness
My Sweat 
My Tears
After years of hope we pause for breath and celebrate
Even though in the beginning of this chapter she asked, "Why me?"
However, show me no pity.
I have lived and loved.
Cause in the end we circled around, 
                 While she asked, "When will it be over?"
She took the time to roll her eyes and gasp 
Smile, and pray for us.
Rest: As we celebrate the memory of you.

Annual Report: Windsor UCC 2022

Dear Congregation,

2021 was a hard year.  We witnessed all communities groaning under the strain of the pandemic, wondering how this time will change us, asking how the effects of 2021 will shape our lives in the coming years. We begin 2022 more aware than ever before that our lives are in the hands of God. How will we respond in faith to become light in the darkness?  What will it mean for us in 2022 to answer the call of the Holy Spirit though we are weary and suffering losses we are yet unable to name?

Last year, our first full year together, began with four months of online worship followed by a survey to develop a plan for our phased return to in-person worship.  Following Dane County Health Department Guidelines, with the help of our Medical Advisory Team, we organized an online sign up process to meet capacity limits, set up the church to ensure social distancing, and wore masks, believing all of this was transition to emerging fully from the pandemic and returning to normalcy.  

Our efforts to install an AV system were delayed, first by the challenge of making such a consequential financial decision during a pandemic, and then, when funds were generously given, by the Evergreen container ship running aground in the Suez Canal, of all things.  

As summer ended, with hope of emerging from the pandemic stronger and more united, I recommended we continue to worship together in the fall, combining worship times and styles.  As it turned out, we have not emerged from the pandemic but find ourselves adjusting to evolving conditions.

We have responded in faith as best we could, each step along the way bringing new challenges straining our resources–time, patience, good-will.  In all of this, we are united in a sense of loss most often expressed as a desire to return to normalcy.  

We enter 2022 like Mary going to the tomb on Easter morning, heart broken, eyes blinded by tears:

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. John 20:11-12

Faith calls us to mourn our losses, grieving the many kinds of death we have suffered, trusting God will wipe away our tears and transform us, like Mary, into witnesses of resurrection. 

I am thankful to God for the faithfulness of many and for the new life emerging in our congregation. I am especially grateful to Terry Anderson, who completes four tumultuous years serving as church Moderator–pastoral resignation, interim process, search and call process, pandemic, transition to a new pastor.  In normal times serving as Moderator is demanding; the past four years have been more demanding than any four years in our church history.  

As the Apostle Paul encourages the early church to grieve with hope, so I pray you will be encouraged,

“so that [we] may not grieve as others do who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13c). 

With Stubborn Faith and Steadfast Hope,

Pr. Craig Jan-McMahon

Windsor Word January 2022

On a snowy night in February 2020, I met with the Search and Call Committee for the first and only time. Less than a month later, COVID 19 began disrupting our lives and all of our plans, as it continues to do today. 

Back in February 2020, as we discerned whether God was calling us together, we had no idea how the world would shift and change, nor could we have foreseen the challenges our congregation would soon face.  But then as now, we all strive to faithfully answer the call of God on our lives, and our desire to do so unites us together.

With thanksgiving that the Holy Spirit called us together, and with prayers for our coming year, I offer the same prayer for our congregation in 2022 that I shared with the Search and Call Committee that snowy night two years ago, The Merton Prayer:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton, from Thoughts in Solitude, Farrar Straus Giroux

God bless us as we walk the road ahead of us in 2022, wherever the Spirit leads us, trusting we will be led by the right road, and our lives will be pleasing to God. 

Yours in Christ,
Pr. Craig Jan-McMahon

Windsor Word, May 2021

Dear Congregation,

Two weeks into reopening our sanctuary for safe worship, we continue to learn and to adjust.  I will continue to send regular updates to you of ongoing changes as we celebrate the grace and love of God and seek to open our hearts to the challenging call of the Holy Spirit.  

Here is a summary of current and ongoing developments in the life of our congregation:

Worship Capacity: Our Medical Advisory Team has increased our capacity limit to 75 worshippers. This number does not include those who serve in worship–Ushers, Greeters, Hosts, Musicians. 

We will need to consider how to improve worship participation in our narthex.  Projection of prayers and songs is too small to be seen, and sound quality improvements are also needed.  These needed improvements are a “good problem” generated by increasing in-person worship attendance.  I pray this problem will increase in the fall, when our families return and guests join us for safe worship with our big-hearted, welcoming congregation.

Worship Time; 9:00 a.m.: Three weeks ahead of schedule, on May 2, we will move to our summer worship time of 9:00 a.m.  We make this change for three reasons:

  • Increased capacity limits allow us to combine services.
  • Combining services is good stewardship of our resources–those who serve in worship as our musicians, greeters, ushers, and hosts.
  • We expect our members to begin to travel to see family and friends from whom they have been long separated, catch up on life event celebrations, and take well-earned vacations. 

Holy Communion on May 2: We will celebrate Holy Communion together in-person for the first time together as pastor and congregation next Sunday, May 2, and the first time as a church since February 2, 2020–455 days!

Video and Audio System: Our new video and audio systems are in the first phase of installation. By the end of this week, both video cameras are scheduled to be installed. Our new digital sound board was on one of those ships blocked by the Evergreen cargo ship stuck in the Suez canal.  We hope it will arrive soon.

Luke 15 Ministry: Our Luke 15 Ministry has been a great success. Twenty-four members have signed up to help us give preferred seating to our guests. To join this ministry, visit http://windsorucc.com/luke-15/

Thank you to all the people who have contributed to re-opening our building for in-person worship, musicians who have done “double-duty,” ushers and greeters and hosts who have taken on new responsibilities, and all of our members who have supported our safe worship ministry by using our on-line sign up process and by masking and social distancing in our building.

God bless all of you, and God bless Windsor UCC.

Pr. Craig

Windsor Word, April 2021

Dear Congregation,

In the past month, I have given my full attention to meeting the target Council set for reopening our sanctuary for in-person worship: April 18th. Thanks to the help of many, I gladly report that we will meet this target, though not as we had expected or planned.

This article summarizes plans and decisions for reopening. This summary served as an outline for my Zoom presentation on Sunday, March 28th. Further details will come as we progress toward reopening and then adjust as we go.  

We all know the approach we are taking won’t please everyone in our congregation, but I believe that working together to create a safe worship environment is how we as people of faith serve God in these challenging times.  

With God’s help, your cooperation, and mutual sacrifices, our congregation will emerge from this pandemic stronger and more united.


Pr Craig


Number of Worshippers: As more of our members are vaccinated, the number of members ready to join us for in-person worship has grown.  Thirty-five (pink) of the 84 members who planned to return to in-person worship after they had been vaccinated have been vaccinated, bringing the total number of members ready to attend in-person worship to 135.

Given our current capacity limit, two worship services are needed.

Capacity Limits: We are unsure how many worshippers can be seated in sanctuary with social distancing. One hundred chairs are set up.  The total number of worshippers in the sanctuary will depend on the size of family units, as three chairs between each family unit is required. Capacity also depends on ushers maximizing seating. 

Additional seating in the Narthex may be needed as capacity limits increase, as determined by our Medical Advisory Team.

Ten percent of capacity will be reserved for our guests.  

Worship Service Times: Worship service times will be 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.  Questions about these times tend to rise from expectations that by default we would worship at the pre-pandemic times of 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.  There are several reasons for these worship times: 

  1. Ushers and greeters will need extra time to prepare for worshippers to enter and be seated.  
  2. Extra time is needed between services for ushers and greeters to sanitize frequent-touch, hard-surface areas. 
  3. Extra time is needed for 9:00 a.m. worshippers to visit outside of the building and depart from the parking lot to open spaces for 11:00 a.m. worshippers.

Intermediate Technology and What to Expect:  The new sound and video system has been ordered. The expected installation date is the week of April 18th. We will devote our resources to setting up the new system rather than also setting up an intermediate system. As a result, as we begin in-person worship, we will continue to livestream worship using an iPad. This decision will affect the way we conduct worship in ways we will discover as we go. 

Also, as we launch our new system, there are sure to be glitches and problems to solve we cannot see in advance.  

Online Registration for In-person Worship: Worshippers will sign up for weekly in-person worship using an online system. 

  • Phone and email support will be provided for those for whom technology is a barrier to participation.  
  • The registration system will be open to the congregation for a trial run after Easter.
  • Online registration is required to attend in-person worship. 
  • A process is in place in case of cancellation.
  • A process is in place in case capacity limits are reached, enabling those who are unable to attend because of limits to be first in line to attend in-person worship the next week.  
  • Help and explanation documents will be available before registration begins.
  • There are sure to be adjustments needed as we go.  

Serving in Worship: In-person worship depends upon support of safe worship through active participation of our members. The following roles for serving in worship are needed, totaling 17-20 per service, 25-27 per week: 

  • Online Registration Support: 3 per week. (may not attend)
  • Ushers: 4 per service, 8 per week.
  • Greeters: 2 per service, 4 per week.
  • Tech Team: 3 (estimate) per service,  6 per week.
  • Musicians: 2-3 per service, 4-6 per week.

AV Thank you

Dear Windsor UCC Congregation,

Congratulations and Thank You! In a very short period of time you have contributed the funds necessary for the purchase of a new system for our audio-video ministry. Your rapid response helps us prepare to reopen our sanctuary in a manner that will allow all our church family to worship at the same service either in person or online.

The rapid response provided us the means to order the equipment that should be installed in about one month.  All this before we were able to get word to everyone that may have a desire to contribute to this program. Even though we have sufficient funds for the initial system additional funds could help us make additional improvements in our worship services. Should you wish to join the campaign to improve our worship experience at Windsor additional funds will help the Council to consider things such as an additional speaker to improve the sound in certain areas of the sanctuary, a component to aid the hearing impaired or additional microphones to enhance the broadcast amplification of choir and congregational participation during worship.

Our new audio-video ministry is exciting. Soon those unable to attend our services in person will be able to participate through our livestream broadcasts. Our ministry will truly live beyond the walls of our church building. People looking for a church home may visit us at any time. If you wish to join this campaign, please send your contribution to the church office with “AV” on the memo or contribute online at windsorucc.com/give

Again, thanks for your support of this new worship dimension at Windsor United Church of Christ.

In Christ,
Terry Anderson, Church Moderator
Dwight Miller, Church Treasurer
Hope Schultz, Council Secretary
Pastor Craig Jan-McMahon

Prayer, Lent 2

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
Windsor UCC
Lent 2B, 2/28/2019
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:23-3
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Let us Pray: O Lord our God, hear our prayers, and send us your Spirit, that we might learn how to pray. 

We are here, waiting on you, O Lord, opening our hearts, praying for courage, listening for you in the silence

But in the silence, there is a lot of noise, hurtful voices echoing inside from the past, fears deafening us to your voice, distractions demanding our attention and sending our minds racing, anxieties and worries as familiar as friends we are afraid to let go of. 

And so we wait; and so we listen; and so we pray.

We pray for ourselves in this Lenten season, for courage to examine our hearts to find the noise and distractions that limit our capacity to listen, to feel compassion, to act with love.  

And we pray for the very real suffering that goes on all around us and invades our lives, and so we harden our hearts to protect ourselves, and so we hide behind judgments of others, and so we hide behind our sense of what others need to do to fix their problems.  

And so we lift our hearts to you, confessing our own brokenness, our own mutual need for healing, for pain that we have to locked deep inside our hearts because we believe we can hide it away there as if it will have no effect on us, as if it will have no effect on those we love, and because, somehow, foolishly, we think we need to pretend as if we can bear it alone, as if anyone can bear it alone.  

But then we are here, examining our hearts, promising again, to make good on our covenant with you, to walk with you into challenges and difficulties, denying ourselves, and walking with you by faith ever forward, never stopping, transformed and renewed all along the way.  

For we trust you do not despise our afflictions, nor do you hide your face from us, though we often feel misbegotten, unloved, and abandoned.

For we trust you promise to feed the poor, whose suffering we see multiplied before our eyes, and we pray they will be satisfied, and we ask, dear lord our God, for the honor of contributing to your good provision for the poor, for those who suffer hardships we cannot fathom, but which is known to you.  

Clean our hearts O God, 
And renew a right spirit within us.  

And our great congregation will praise you, with freedom borne of humility, and with strength founded in repentance, our hearts broken open by love.  

Into your hands we commend all those for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  

Windsor Word, March 2021

Dear Congregation,

In our annual meeting, I updated the congregation on progress toward installing a sound and video system. There has been a lot of interest in these systems, including offers of contributions to “get the ball rolling.”  After worship on March 7th, we will hold a zoom meeting to offer details and to answer questions. This report offers basic information to help with our discussions, and offers a proposal for congregational support.  

Through Christmas, our online worship services included images, prayers, scriptures, and muli-media. When we return to in person worship in our sanctuary, I intend to use our screens in our building the way we used our screens during the pandemic, projecting all parts of the service so we can pray and read and sing together. I would like to supplement children’s time and the sermon with mutli-media.  

We have selected a company that can install an audio-video system so what we project on our screens in worship will simultaneously be streamed online for those who cannot be physically present with us in our building.  

Member Care
As we have learned through the pandemic, our shut-ins have enjoyed the advent of online worship. I have received many grateful messages from elder members such as Dorothy Dahl, 92, grateful for the connection online worship offers them.  Some of our members recovering from surgical procedures have found online worship a welcome source of peace and hope during their convalescence. Members traveling or away on vacation have been glad to join us online from their remote locations.  

Our reopening survey helps us to see many of our cherished members who have special health concerns will not return to in person worship until safety protocols are no longer advisable, and will rely on our online services until it is safe for them to return.

From August to December, we added one new member through our online worship, and three guests have been regularly attending, actively participating, and contributing financially.Online worship is the digital front door of the church; guests will visit our webpage, sample our services online, skim a written sermon, before they decide to visit us in person.  

In August, our Finance and Stewardship Ministry recommended that Council designate the $10,000 gift Betty Gene Diener bequeathed to the congregation as a fitting way to honor her generous commitment to the life of our congregation. Council approved this recommendation. Proposals to install a system were solicited from four audio-video companies, and one was selected: WI Audio Video.

Video System: We have been live streaming services to Facebook using an iPad without words or images. Installing a video system would allow us to livestream words and images and also to make our services available on multiple platforms, not only on Facebook. We cannot continue to use our current method of livestreaming when we return to in person worship without choosing to focus on members who worship with us on-line at the expense of those who worship in person, or focusing on those in person at the expense of those who worship online.  

Sound System: As we have recently experienced, our analogue sound system does not allow the kinds of controls needed to share audio from our sanctuary with our congregation and guests online.  A digital sound board and new microphones would allow us to share the sound of our musicians and vocals online.  

Contingency: It is wise to plan for contingency costs for complex projects such as this. For example, a digital sound system can be controlled through a tablet such as an iPad. We may find that to add systems will require that we physically alter our current sound booth. We may need to increase the speed of our internet service. Should this project go forward, an amount to meet contingency costs should be included, with a plan for how unspent funds would be allocated.  

Video System$13,000
Audio System$8,000
Contingency Funds$3,000
Sub Total$24,000
Diener Memorial Fund-$10,000
Fundraising Goal$14,000

Installing an audio video system is an act of compassionate care for our shut-ins and members with health concerns who will be the last to rejoin us for in person worship and is necessary for growth in the future.  I encourage Council and the congregation to initiate a fundraising campaign to install an audio video system giving our members an opportunity to care for the least among us and invest in our future together.  

Humility is Freedom

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
Windsor UCC
Ash Wednesday; 2/17/2021
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 51; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
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We turn from the outward Epiphany journey of looking for the light that comes not from within, but from without, to begin the inward journey of Lent, examining our own hearts, sitting with deep questions, confessing that our intentions have not been pure and our desires often lead us astray, invisibly, and without our consent.

Our guide these forty days is the prayer of the 51st Psalm, a prayer I cannot pray for you and you cannot pray for me and we cannot pray for each other,  a prayer we each have to pray for ourselves, for the answer is found within.

Give me a clean heart, O God
And renew a right Spirit in me.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen.

I have been called a hypocrite so many times by the people I most love that I wonder sometimes if it is my middle name.  

When I try to explain that their use of the word and idea of hypocrite is misplaced, that in calling me a hypocrite they are themselves hypocrites, their audible eyerolls drown out my noble efforts to disabuse them of their error.  

I have adopted an alternative strategy of saying, “Yes, I am a hypocrite, and I am grateful for your help seeing what is so obvious to you but which I cannot see in myself.”

Yet, I would like to rescue the word Hypocrite, as we find in scripture, from how this word is commonly used.  

People use it to day to name those who say one thing and do another, a person who fails to live up to the ideals she professes. This sense of hypocrisy can be seen in our gospel lesson, people who perform their piety in order to be seen by others, their motivation not coming from within themselves, not expressing their inner journey, but rather looking out for the approval of others. 

In this sense, the modern idea of hypocrisy is consistent with scripture to describe those who say and do things in public that are belied by what they do in private.

But those Jesus condemns in the gospels, those he points to as counter-examples for us are a particular sort of person common but not limited to religious communities, those who elevate themselves by criticizing others, by putting others down.

Religious people are especially good at this, their belief that they have been chosen or have found the truth sometimes causing them to look at others and see them as lesser than, failing to recognize this vision of others expresses their inner souls, for we only love God as much as the person we love the least.  

The idea of hypocrisy in the gospels comes from Greek actors playing a part on stage, who pretended to be something they were not.

The person who practices his piety in the public square is merely pretending, he has not opened his inner heart to God, has not prayed in private, has come to understand his own failings, does not yet see that his sins are as visible to others as theirs are to him: the result, an utter lack of humility. 

Humility is often referred to in scripture and fear of the Lord, an idea rather out of fashion, but fear in this sense is humility borne of self-understanding, awareness of our own blindness and deafness and need of help, a confession that we live in the broken world we have ourselves created.

But humility is freedom.

Freedom from those who elevate themselves above us by criticizing us for trying our best and for often failing, freedom from shame that says we are wrong and unworthy, freedom from the anxiety that comes from trying to be perfect, freedom from following the rules of expectations no human can meet, freedom from the need to pretend for others 

Why then do we pretend? 

Because it is so much easier, I think, so much easier to focus on the sins and failings of others rather than confess our own sins and failings, easier to pretend as if we have the answers and can tell other people what to do than to work with them and fail with them and learn with them, easier to demand that others meet our expectations than to hope together with them.

But the easier way is not the right way, and the easier way is not the way Jesus follows. Lent is not about the easier way anyway. 

To live real and authentic lives demands more of us than playing the parts we have been assigned and putting on the right face to please the crowd; it requires attending to our souls.  

As we embark on our Lenten Journey, I hope we will all see the work of Lent as leading us to freedom, as delivering from our own blindnesses, as an opportunity to practice humility in the world everyday, to do good things secretly, to make sacrifices daily to see how our desires  secretly control us.

And hope we will all pray this Lenten prayer when we rise in the morning, take breaks during the day, and lay down to sleep at night, each and every one of us praying this prayer at least three times a day every day these forty days:

Give me a clean heart, O God
And renew a right Spirit in me.

Give me a clean heart, O God
And renew a right Spirit in me

Give me a clean heart, O God
And renew a right Spirit in me

God bless you and your family,
God bless you on you Lenten Journey
God bless Windsor UCC. Amen

Friends are Sacred, To Befriend is Divine

Rev. Craig Jan-McMahon
Windsor UCC, 2/14/2021
Transfiguration Sunday
2 Kings 2:1-12 • Psalm 50:1-6 • Mark 9:2-9
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What songs come to mind when I say the following word:  Friend.

Is it: “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear….?”

If not a hymn, then maybe Simon and Garfunkel.

“When you’re down and out /When you’re on the street/ When evening falls so hard/ I will comfort you/ I’ll take your part/ Oh, when darkness comes/ And pain is all around/ Like a bridge over troubled water/ I will lay me down/ Like a bridge over troubled water/ I will lay me down.”

No?  Maybe the theme song from Friends.

“So no one told you life was gonna be this way/ Your job’s a joke, you’re broke/ our love life’s DOA/ It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear/ When it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month/ Or even your year, but/ I’ll be there for you/ (When the rain starts to pour)/ I’ll be there for you/ (Like I’ve been there before)/ I’ll be there for you/ (‘Cause you’re there for me too).”

It is no surprise that we sing that Jesus is our friend, for friends are sacred to us us–they are like bridges for us, they are there for us and we are there for them.  

Truth is, we can’t get through life without good friends, and hard times deepen the bonds of friendships and clarify the difference between true friends and mere acquaintances.  

We should not be surprised that like us, Jesus needs friends too, nor that God provides friends for him as God provides friends for us. 

And we would do well to look at Jesus’ ministry through the lens of friendship, for friends are sacred, and to befriend is divine.  

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord our Rock, and our Redeemer.  Amen

True friends, more than anything else, are our equals. 

We share our lives with our friends, honest as we can be about our private struggles: celebrating together, making time and plans together, mostly agreeing about what is wrong with the world and with other people, learning how to avoid topics that will put too much strain on our friendship.  

I had a friend who used to say, “The problem with the world is that my perspective is unequally distributed in it.” 

Our friends tend to agree with our solutions to the world’s problems, which is a balm for when we feel bruised and lonely.  

Now more than ever, we are defined by our friends, by the people who are in our safety bubbles–friends are sacred because they make us feel safe and help us to see we are not alone in this wide world.  

Our experience in these hard times might help us to see that Jesus is in need of friends too, equals to him, to help him bridge from his ministry before the mountain top to his ministry after it, from establishing his authority and gathering a following to leading them down the mountain to contend with religious authorities and state power – all for the divine purpose of befriending the friendless.  

With the light of truth shining on the mountain top, Jesus is joined by Moses, the great liberator, and Elijah, the great prophet who escapes death.

They mark a turning point in his ministry as he descends the mountaintop and begins his journey to the next mountain he will climb, carrying a cross to liberate and to set us free once and for all, God resurrecting him after death.

The shining brilliant moment on the mountaintop is a moment of clear vision, when the clouds are lifted and the sun shines and we can see the way forward clearly–it is, more than anything, a moment of clear vision.

We see clearly who Jesus is when he is transfigured on the mountaintop, and we also see clearly that to follow Jesus means descending the mountain into the valley below.

He does not stay on the mountaintop, thank the good Lord, because if he did he we would not sing hymns of friendship, for friends do not hold themselves above us, look down from the mountain and tell us how to live our lives, but rather walk into the valleys with us, serving as bridges through hard times, there for us as we are there for them.  

The light shining from the mountain adds a deep challenge to the sacredness of our friendships, for friends can also hold us back and limit us from faithfully following Christ into the world, for as followers of Christ, our highest calling is to befriend the friendless.

There are times, as on the mountaintop, when this requires us to leave some of our friends behind.  

Moses and Elijah appear, and then vanish, as Jesus descends the mountain.  

Peter and James and John are not yet equals, but they follow after him confused and terrified and gain clarity later, when their eyes are opened, when the Spirit fills them with the power of the light revealed to them that day on the mountaintop.

The highpoint of my week is Thursday evening through Saturday morning, when my two little grandsons stay with us.

By Friday night, my wife and I are pretty well exhausted, so we have moved our normal tradition of having popcorn and ice cream for dinner on Sunday night to Friday night, much to the delight of our little fellas.

One of my jobs is to choose some music for us to listen to while we munch on popcorn. For the past few weeks I have been playing Neil Young for them because he sings as badly as I do, and the boys love my caterwauling:

One of these days/ I’m gonna sit down and write a long letter/ To all the good friends I’ve known/ One of these days, one of these days, one of these days/ And it won’t be long (it won’t be long), it won’t be long (it won’t be long)

This is a moment of clarity for me;  I think of my own grandparents who loved me so well, and though they are gone, I think I am writing them a long letter in how I love our boys.

But the song plays in mind, too, when I come into church to work, and think of all the good people who nurtured me in faith, who loved me enough to tell me when my anxieties were getting the better of me, who taught me to love Jesus and helped me find my way to pastoral ministry.

I wish I could write them a long letter, these good friends.

I hope I am writing a long letter to them in how I live my life and how I serve as your pastor.

And in this empty building on this bitterly cold Sunday, I know sacred friendships are holding us together.

Long lovely letters have been written in the lives of our congregation, in friendships over time that sustain us now and will serve as a bridge as we return to celebrate together, to mourn together, to be there for one another… for this is the sacred gift of friendship.

In all of this, one truth is a brilliant light of shining truth that gives us strength and unites us together.   

We are all called to the divine work of befriending the friendless; we follow Christ down the mountain, into the valley below, trusting always that God will provide friends for us when we walk by faith.  

God bless you and your sacred friends;
God bless you in you in your divine befriending;
And may God Bless Windsor UCC.

O Lord our God: We have followed you up to the mountain, and we have prepared ourselves to follow the way of  your son, but what are we to do and how are we to be?  

People look at us and expect us to be miracle workers, they expect us to pretend we ourselves do not struggle and are not ourselves confused, even as we confess our faith in you.  We long to accept we belong to you, we yearn to believe that you have given us enough to meet the demands of this present moment. 

Let us Pray.

With your disciples throughout time, we travel down the mountain into the valley unsure whether we are equal to the sacrifices you call us to make. With your disciples throughout time, we can look back and see how you have been faithful to us.  

You have given us your word and your law to bring order to our lives and to make of us a community, a people, called and chosen, set free to live and to serve.  

You have given us prophets to challenge us and to remind us that we are to bring good news to the downhearted and set the oppressed free. 

But what is your law for us today?  And what is your challenge for us in our time?

Hear us O God, and answer our prayers.  We pray for you word to inspire us, that we might be ruled by the freedom to which you call us, that we might be formed as a community that befriends strangers and aliens, a people faithful in our compassionate sharing and our willingness to be ruled by your grace.  

We pray for openness to challenge, for your light to shine in the shadows of fears threaten to posses us. 

Protect us from those who claim to be our friends but who hold themselves above us on their high mountains and deliver us from the sin of pretending that we are perfect and do not need to change, and give us courage to reflect your love for the friendless people in our world today who ignored, belittled, dismissed, hated, reviled, shamed, and imprisoned.  

As your Son is transfigured on the mountain, transfigure us also, that we may follow him into the valley without fear, that we might willingly sacrifice on the journey of salvation.

And We pray for those we love and those with whom we struggle, trusting that you hear prayers we do not have words to utter.

We remember today especially Monica Hernadez Sigfried, with prayers for her parents Scott and Charna Kelsey and their family; and we pray for members recovering from surgery.

Hold us with tenderness; grant us strength to endure and faith to thrive; give us courage, resilience, and decisiveness; and fill us with your Spirit no matter where we might travel; and reveal your vision to us, that we might see ourselves and others as your own beloved children, in Christ, united as one human family.

Into your hands we commend all those for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord.