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Sermon by Nicole Grant Yonkman and Shai Pina at Beneficent Church on 23 March 2014. Text: Matthew 21:12-16. A moving conversation on the importance of teaching children the practice of worship.

Sermon by Todd Grant Yonkman at Beneficent Church on 5 January 2014. Story of the Magi, Epiphany, the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, and Bruno Mars.

Sermon by Todd Grant Yonkman at Beneficent Church on 24 November 2013. What does it mean to be fed spiritually?

Sermon by Todd Grant Yonkman at Beneficent Church on 17 Nov. 2013. Text: Mt. 14: 22-33.

Sermon by Nicole Grant Yonkman at Beneficent Church on 3 Nov. 2013.

Sermon by Todd Grant Yonkman at Beneficent Church on 8 September 2013. Scripture: Luke 2:41-52. Summary: the story of the scariest moments of my life.

Recently, the United Church of Christ began raising money to do a national run of our “Here’s the Church, Here’s the Steeple” TV ad. I really like this ad. When I first saw it several years ago, I was deeply moved. It communicates (in my opinion, more clearly and acurately than the other UCC TV ads) in a simple, beautiful way the promise of the UCC–a place that promises “whoever you are, wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” It’s this promise that inspired me to become a part of the UCC movement–a movement that began 50 years ago when Christians from four existing denominations let go of the institutional barriers that had divided them in order to realize Jesus’ dream for his followers “that they may all be one” (John 17:21).

What incredible courage that took. What incredible daring. One of the church leaders of that time said, “We are willing to die as a denomination in order to live for this vision.” The people who gave birth to this United Church of Christ were movement people. I have met some of the people who were a part of the birthing process. I even had the honor of being Rev. Clayton and Mrs. Virginia Rammler’s pastor for several years. I must say, especially in the Rammler’s case, I love them. They are family to me. The example of their hard-headed, single-minded commitment to Jesus’ vision for the church keeps me moving forward despite disappointments, suffering, and failure.

There are many who have and continue to give their lives for the realization of the promise of the UCC. It’s because of the efforts of many people working together and the grace of God working with, in, and in spite of us that the UCC has so much to celebrate. Even so, it can be heartbreaking when we notice the gap between the promise of the United Church of Christ and the reality of how the UCC, its churches, and its people actually behave.

Risk-taking creates its own attendant anxiety. And anxious people often behave badly. Anxiety can make clear, truthful, compassionate communication very difficult. I think that’s why Jesus said again and again, “Don’t worry!” Don’t worry! Your free-floating, energy-draining, vision-shrinking, self-preserving anxiety will be your undoing!

The antidote to worry? Don’t get me wrong. Worry, anxiety, defensive self-concern: these are pervasive and on-going, deeply rooted in the human condition, a result and cause of sin. Nevertheless, as followers of Jesus, what choice do we have but to drop these anxious thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors? How?

With deep humility let me suggest words of Jesus: “Seek first the kingdom.” Not seek first the budget, not seek first the young families with kids for our Sunday school, not seek first the pastor or the musician or the program. “Seek first the kingdom, and the rest shall be added to you.” Seek first God’s vision for our lives, our churches, our world with open hearts, clear eyes, and a willingness to be whatever God wants and our world needs us to be.

That was the example of the Christians who were willing to sacrifice so deeply to give birth to the UCC 50 years ago. That can be how we live our lives today.

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