Pastor’s note: Today in worship, we considered the epistle text recommended by the lectionary: Colossians 1:1–14. As he approached this text, Rev. Todd wondered what a letter to the Danville Congregational Church might include. Modeled loosely on this letter to the church in Colossae 2,000 years ago and through his own experience of DCC, stories people have shared about their experiences, and conversations with the senior pastor Rev. Eric out of his great love for DCC, Pastor Todd imagined just such a letter. This is not a letter from Pastor Todd but an imagining of what someone, some day might write to us.
To the saints and faithful siblings in Christ at Danville Congregational Church United Church of Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our eternal mother and father.
We are writing you from our little cabin up in the mountains. The morning air is crisp and clear—a bit chilly as one generally experiences this time of year. As we sip our coffee, the sun rises, casting its warm glow; we immerse ourselves in the silence. Our meditations are held within the Holy who surrounds us in nature and emanates from within us.
It is in the beauty of this moment that we hold you in our prayers. We can’t help but smile when we think of you! If ever there were a shining example of a faithful community of believers, it is you. You who have been blessed so abundantly are continuing the great work that was started long, long ago by those who first followed Jesus as you do now; by those who built that first chapel on the land that now not only contains a thriving faith community but a school as well.
Your good works are widely known; yet you do not boast; rather you continue the work set before you, possessing a fervent hope that what you do matters in the world. You long not for the notoriety or praise but for others to feel welcomed, loved, seen.
We have always remembered you when we pray, holding for you hope that you continue to ‘gird yourselves’ with knowledge, that your wisdom deepen as you seek out additional sources of knowledge to enrich your experience of the sacred texts you rightly hold so dear. “God is still speaking,” as you are known for saying, and we see how you understand that God comes to voice in manifold expressions, through a variety of messengers.
In particular, we are reminded of how your depth of love and fellowship has deepened because you opened yourself to the stories of gay and lesbian people–how you allowed their stories to open your own hearts to the depths of God’s love. We have observed how since then, you have sought to love more deeply and widely, how you have embraced the stories of others, holding them as sacred, weaving them together into the tapestry of your fellowship as a community of believers.
Beloveds at the church in Danville: you are sowers of seeds. And “just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.” (1:6) And though you are aware of some fruit born from your good works and have even tasted some of its sweetness, by and by you do not fully know how truly fruitful you have been. While you often never saw where your money went or what the sweat of your brow brought to fruition, others experienced in their very lives.
- How many babies wear the craft of your hands and the prayers of your hearts when the weather is cold, children who may have never had anything hand-made for them or those who no longer receive handmade gifts from an abuela or tia who lives far, far away…
- How many people who have experienced housing insecurity–including a transgender woman from Nicaragua seeking asylum here in the US–have been given not just the means for a place to live but also hope that they are cared for, that someone is rooting for them…
- How many people struggling with addiction know there is a faith community that practices hospitality toward them…
All of this, and more, because you saw to it. You saw to it as an expression of your faith in a God who calls you to walk alongside those who are strangers, who suffer, who mourn, who just need someone to see them.
For all this we continue to give thanks to God who remains with us, made real through the expression of our shared work and ministry.
We have seen how you love Jesus, how you strive to follow his ways.
- When many of you bought extra coats so that a child would be warm and have something brand new…
- When you tied a friendship bracelet on the wrist of a child you had no idea was transgender, transmitting to them through your smile and your eyes unconditional love and acceptance that will keep them from self-harm…
- When you showed up for the children and teenagers among you, instilling a love for God and being present to them in a variety of ways…
- When you companioned parents who struggled to understand their gay children and how to do right by them…
- When you look after those in your number who are sick or homebound or have no children nearby…
These and countless other acts offered in humility show us you know Jesus in a real and tangible way, making visible his presence for all to see and know. You are not perfect—none of us is—but you realize through Christ our sovereign all is being reconciled, as “you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel.” (1:23)
You have listened to the messengers and prophets sent to you—though you struggled at moments with their words. (Haven’t we all now and then?!) You have owned your faith, following the Way not the messenger. You honor the saints and elders among you who gave so much to provide a place of worship, a place of safety and sanctuary, a place from which you could strengthen your faith and go into the broader community taking this light with you.
The Way of Christ v. False Teachers
We have every confidence that you will continue to live your lives in [Christ Jesus the sovereign]. (2:6). As you do so, remain aware of those peddling a toothless Christianity or proclaiming a word that says Christians are not to challenge systems that oppress some while benefiting others or preaching gospel that says God has chosen some and not others. Always interrogate what you hear and feel in your heart; determine through study and relationship and prayer whether what you are hearing is true. Through prayer and meditation on God’s word and through understanding the lived experiences of others, we trust the Holy Spirit to make clear the living, breathing truth of God. We desire your “hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that [you] may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ[’s self], in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (2:2–3)
New Life and Relationship with Each Other
You, beloveds of Danville church, have been raised with Christ (3:1) and exhibit a mature faith! “In each generation since your founding and through the present age, [you, the Danville Congregational Church, have sought and seek] to make this faith your own in reality of worship, in honesty of thought and expression, and in purity of heart before God.” (Preamble to the Constitution of the UCC)
This faith is made reality among you by showing up for each other and those to whom you are called to serve. Take care of yourselves, tend your spirits with things that bring you joy and rest, but tarry not long in idleness or recreation. For, our dear friends, we do not have time to be comfortable. Gone are the days of sitting back to enjoy the fruits of our labors. Rather, enjoy your blessings by exhausting the greatest measure of them to transform the world.
Therefore, “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as God has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. [Oh how we love the music there!] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Eternal Parent through Jesus.” (3:12–17)
Treat all people you come into contact with as equals—see and honor the dignity they inherently and always possess—and regard no one with disdain. For it is said, “be kind, for everyone you meet may be fighting a battle you know nothing about.” We know not the burdens or hardships another faces but know that kindness and love are the way of Christ. Excel at such things.
”Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in [your meditations] with thanksgiving. At the same time pray for [all who are in this great work around the world—but particularly in this moment in history, in this country we know as ‘home’] (4:2–3), all those who bring good news to the poor, who labor tirelessly to release the captives and see that all who are oppressed go free. (Luke 4:18) Oh, our dear siblings in the faith, model a Way of being in the world that foregrounds compassion and justice-seeking over nationalism and an exclusive religion that is “whitewashed and beautiful on the outside but inside is full of dead men’s bones.” (Matthew 23:27) “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” (4:5–6)
Final Greetings & Benediction
Our dear siblings in the faith:
Endure in your knowledge and faith—but pay special attention to the stories of others.
Tire not of doing right, of showing up, of stretching your selves to gain Wisdom, to pursue her elusive insights, to grow beyond labels of progressive or conservative or liberal, to earn the reputation of a follower of Christ.
Let not yourselves not be lulled into complacency by your comforts but be restless for justice always, never content until all of God’s children and the earth are free.
Continue to show up for each other…to provide a safe, nurturing space for children and teenagers…to ever-stretch the boundaries of “open and affirming,” inviting all to share space and fellowship beneath God’s great canopy of grace.
Remember always your baptism. Continue to meet each other at Christ’s table. Provide a safe space for all who the world around them oppresses. Be bold, resolute in caring for all children, for all people, for our precious Mother Earth.
And so we reach the end of our letter to you, written to you with great love. A new day has begun, full of promise and great hope for the advent of the kin’dom of God.
Grace be with you.