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January 15th 2023

Sermon By Rev Joel Crouse

It’s January, the high of Christmas is gone, the sun has gone missing, the snow is falling heavily, you’re back at work or staring down exams or bored with inside living. There is a sense in our fair city of grin-and-bear-it until spring arrives. So let me tell you two stories that cheered me up this week. The first is about an 11-year-old named Jude Kofie in Colorado. Money is tight in his house: his parents are from Ghana, and they are working hard to raise their family in the United States, while still sending money back to Africa to help relatives there. Jude has autism, but one day, he finds a battered old keyboard in the home his parents rent and start playing. He had never had a lesson, and yet, he was making wonderful music. Along came Bill Magnusson, a piano tuner. He didn’t know the Kofie family, but he’d heard about Jude. Using money from an inheritance, he bought a grand piano for the young prodigy, and offered to tune it every week, and cover lessons for Jude. “All for free,” Jude’s father said. “Who does that?” A few days later, another story caught my attention: This one was about a veteran named Butch Marion, who, at 82, was still working as a cashier at Walmart to pay his bills. Rory McCarty happened to cross paths with him one day and decided this was an injustice he could correct. Using his following on Tik Tok, he raised $100,000 and gifted it to Butch – enough money for him to quit his job and finally retire, and maybe visit his kids in Florida. A few days after that, a study came out: a group of researchers in Ohio had divided up patients with anxiety and depression into three groups: two groups received regular treatments such as therapy or social activities. But the third group was assigned acts of kindness – they had to perform three acts of kindness a day, for at least two days of the week. The acts were simple – they gave a ride to a friend, or left a happy message for their roommate, or baked cookies to cheer somebody up. All three groups saw their mental health improve – but researchers suggested that the acts of kindness had the edge – people in that group felt more deeply connected to others. And in fact, when I sat down to read the gospel early this week, it all came together. Bill Magnusson created a connection with Jude Kofie and his family. Rory McCarty created a link with social media followers that led to Butch Marion. Those acts of kindness in the study created more connections – tying people – strangers – together into community. And that’s what our gospel is essentially about: the power of the gospel to spread, to connect strangers, to build community. We can see how that story grew – John the Baptist meets Jesus. Two men standing by encounter them together the next day and are welcomed into the fold as disciples. From there, more disciples are added, more followers join the crowd. The community grows. And it travels, not on the dusty roads of Jesus’s day, but through time, across thousands of years, to connect to us sitting here in 2023. We are all connected. But not by hate or fear. We are connected by the welcome one stranger showed another: by the generosity of acquaintances, and by the kindness of friends. Without that welcome and generosity and kindness, there is no story at all; the link would be broken. “Come and see,” Jesus says to those two newcomers. Come and see. And in this way, Jesus calls them into his circle. This week, our Service Committee met together – and it was another heartwarming experience to observe. People coming together from our three congregations full of ideas not for how to save money or pay bills – but how to be kind in giving. How to answer the question: Who will we be? How to respond to the call from Jesus: to come and see what the gospel can do. Now I know I talk about kindness a lot. But there is a reason for that. I fully believe that kindness works best when it is a deliberate practice, when we get a booster in how to accomplish it. But also, I see every day, the truth of those stories. People who become happier and feel younger when they focus on giving to other people. And I see what those actions offer those who receive them, reminding them of good in the world often when they need it most. January can be a grumpy month. But only if we let it. We are connected to those first disciples who, in our reading this morning, are meeting Jesus for just the first time. We know the life-changing epiphany that awaits them; how their lives will be forever changed. They answered the call: “Come and see.” The same call we hear from Jesus. The same calls that connect us. Come and see who I am, Jesus says. Come and see the need of the world. Come and see the kindness we can accomplish together. Amen

Story of Bill and Jude IxMjczODM4N18xMDE1NzYwNjIxNTk4MzM4Nw%3D%3D

Story of Butch and Rory

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