“True Disciples Leave Survivors” Sermon from 1/31/21

“No Survivors” or Alt. Title, “True Disciples Leave Survivors” given by Rev. Ron Brugler, via Zoom, Sunday, January 31, 2021.

Watch the complete service here, or read the sermon, below.

Good Morning.   Thank you for the opportunity to offer the sermon today.    I hope that I can offer you some “food for thought,, or maybe I should say “give you some gas for your spiritual tank for the coming week.”   

Gloria’s service about world religions a couple of weeks ago reminded me of a class that I had at Boston University where I attended graduate school.   The professor began by asking us a question.  He asked, “If you could join any religion in the world, which one would you choose?”   There were about 100 of us students.  All were Catholics except for me.   The answers were interesting.  Some said Buddhist, others said Mennonite, others said Muslim.  At last he pointed to me.  I said “Swedenborgian.”   He had me stand up and say it louder.  I did.  He then said that it was amazing to him that not one Catholic has said they would choose Catholicism.  It’s no wonder, he said, that the church is in so much trouble and might be dying.  It was a very interesting exercise.  

Today my sermon title, or I should say, titles, are “No Survivors” and “True Disciples Leave Survivors.”    I am speaking of the important role we play in presenting our faith so that others might be drawn to it.   But, I get ahead of myself a bit.

Some 35 years ago I served as Director of the Almont New Church Assembly and Retreat Center.   One quiet Sunday afternoon, I remember reading the Detroit Free Press, and believe me, making one’s way through that pile of paper took a lot of effort.   I eventually made my way to the obituaries and still remember seeing one that seemed to jump out at me.   It was about a 93-year-old single woman whose career had been as an elementary school teacher.  Her first position had started out in a one room school in Grand Rapids and she had concluded some 45 years later in the Detroit City Schools.   She received many awards over the years and had even been named Teacher of the Year in the state on more than one occasion.   Her students loved her.    

The obituary also included a long list of her relatives who had gone on before her.   And the obit ended with what to me were strange words. “In her passing, she has left no survivors.”    I was shocked by that statement!  I mean, here was a woman who had spent over 45 years teaching children.   Her service had been exemplary!   I figure that over 1,000 students had passed through her classrooms! And those walls had been filled with love.   I knew that she had left many survivors!    

I share this with you today because I want  you to ask yourselves an important question.  If you were to wake up tomorrow morning on the other side of life, who would be the survivors that you leave here?   And friends, I am not speaking of just family members. I want you to think about all those who have been touched by your life.  And how and why might these people remember you?   And lastly, what might they say about your faith?  Our scripture lessons for today tell us in very real terms, true Disciples leave survivors!  It is to make an impression upon those we meet on life’s road.  Our faith is to be that important to us.

I appreciate the way this point is underscored in today’s reading from the Gospel of John.   It is a lesson about our willingness to respond to God’s call.   In the person of John the Baptist, we are presented with pondering ways that we can Prepare the Way of the Lord.   In knowing the Lord, we are to serve him in ways  that will help others be drawn to God.  And in the first two disciples, we can consider if we can follow God’s call to serve.  But   what can learn from their response?  They were willing to jump in feet first without hesitation.  Even when Jesus asked them what they were looking for, their response was to learn where he lived!   Please think about that.   Where does  God live in your life?  What acts reveal his presence with you for others to see? 

In his work Heaven and Hell Swedenborg placed before us a very similar invitation when he wrote “Some people believe that it is hard to live the life that leads to heaven because they have heard that you must renounce the world and give up the desires that people associate with the body and flesh and instead, “Live spiritually.”  But living in this fashion is to live a mournful life because it is not receptive of heaven’s joy.  If order to be receptive of heavenly life and joy, we should by all means live in the world and be involved in its duties and business.  In this way we accept a spiritual life.   There is no other way that our spirits can be prepared for heaven. “

This teaching, when viewed in the light of our scripture lessons, encourages us to engage in productive daily life.  We are not to stand idly in the background.  Instead we are called to lives of sharing and witnessing.  And we are called to be and create survivors!   

I know that we all have faced times of pain and rejection.  But we have also known survivors who have reached out to us, taken hold of our hands, and have encouraged us to go on.   Please, during the week to come, remember those survivors who have been with you.   Thank God that they were there for you.    But do not stop there.  Instead, take a much more meaningful step toward being a true disciple by offering God your willingness to be the same for others.  Ask that God help you leave survivors by sharing the way.   

Ours is not a religion of transcendental abstraction or of brilliant speculation.   Its children are neither monks, mystics or stoics.  Ours is to be a faith of loving, speaking, believing and doing.   It is life.  It includes a word for the tongue, a way for the feet, and works for the hands.  

Martin Luther King once urged his survivors with the following words,  He said, “Take the first step in faith.  Even if you cannot see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

There is the Lamb of God!  Said John the Baptist.  The two disciples heard him say this, and went with Jesus.  They took the first step, and by doing so, came to leave Survivors.   May we each do the same.    Amen.

#SundaySermon 8/16, “Boots on the Ground”

old couple holding hands in hospital

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Boots on the Ground, a Sermon by Rev. Dagmar Bollinger

August 18, 2020
Good Morning!
I am Rev. Dagmar Bollinger from Ann Arbor, Michigan. You might remember me from visits to your lovely “brick-and-mortar church” in Glendale. Although not the same as physically being there, I am glad technology allows me to be with you virtually while saving gas and reducing air pollution at the same time.

You might also remember that I am a board-certified healthcare chaplain specializing in providing spiritual care to cancer patients. During the Coronavirus lock-down, St. Joseph Mercy Cancer Center closed and I was temporarily reassigned to acute care at the main hospital. The virus was quickly peaking and the hospital started resembling a war zone as infected patients streamed into the ER while the staff scrambled to get their hands on scarce personal protective equipment, also known as PPE. I was part of the essential Covid19 workforce that came to be known as“boots on the ground,” which is, of course, the name for the ground soldiers who are exposed to the highest danger in a war.

The work at the hospital was grueling—physically, mentally, and spiritually, but encouragement came every day from people who rallied outside the hospital to show their support for the overburdened staff. There were lots of prayers, endearing entertainment such as groups singingand dancing, there were fire engines circling the hospital, sounding the siren and fighter jets flying in formation overhead. It was extraordinary. Despite the personal hardship and danger—or maybe because of it—I had never felt more needed, more useful, nor more honored in my life.

Then, at the end of July came the announcement that due to enormous financial losses, hospital management had to reduce and restructure its workforce drastically. Hundreds of workers were furloughed or laid off. My oncology chaplain position was among the casualties. Although I had anticipated that this might happen, losing my job felt like someone was pulling the ground from underneath my chaplain boots.
I am still grieving the loss of a job that I loved dearly. But I am realizing that the ground is still there, and so are the boots. But now I think of the ground as ‘the ground of being’ which is a modern expression for God coined by the well-known German theologian Paul Tillich. The ‘boots on the ground’ are the means for doing, such as doing God’s work. Being, then, is the condition for doing. My esteemed professor Rev. Dr. George Dole might say: “they are distinguishably one” and the element making them one is love.
And this is how I relate the boots on the ground to the two great commandments Jesus gave us. As Christians and Swedenborgians, we believe that God is love. In 1 John 4:8-10 says: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” In Divine Love and Wisdom, §1, Swedenborg simply says: “Love is our Life.” And as beings created in God’s image, the acts of loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself are again ‘distinguishably one.’The Buddhist master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh calls this state “interbeing,” which means to inter-dependently co-exist. In Divine Love and Wisdom, §47, Swedenborg expresses it poetically. He says: “Love consists in desiring to give what is one’s own to another. To feel the joy of another as joy in oneself—that is loving.”

I have to admit that there has always been a wrinkle in my readings and understanding of Swedenborg’s writings and that is the absence of the word ‘suffering,’ as in physical suffering that arises in the wake of illnesses, wars, earthquakes, floods—and yes, pandemics. Pete suggested that I look at what Swedenborg said about‘vastation.’ I did. Swedenborg describes vastation as a spiritual state of devastation. While spiritual devastation undoubtedly enters into the equation of physical suffering, I found it hard to relate it to my question: how can we feel joy in a world that is currently suffering great pain of every kind due to the Coronavirus?
I came to the conclusion that the difference lies in how we define joy vs. happiness. These two terms are used interchangeably and for most people, the distinction is probably simply a matter of semantics. Not so for me. I regard happiness as a feeling that is pleasant, but fleeting and momentary, like the weather. It tends to be externally triggered and dependent on other people, things, places, thoughts, and events. By contrast, joy is cultivated internally. It transcends the daily ups and downs and comes when we make peace with who we are, why we are and how we are.

My understanding, then, is that joy is a deep expression of our spirit. Let me give you an example from my own experience. I had been tenderly caring for a terminally ill cancer patient named Mary over an extended period of time. The last time I saw her, she was drifting in and out of consciousness. She loved Taizé chanting which is a form of meditative singing using verses from the Psalms. I sang her favorite ‘Bless the Lord my soul.’ At the end of the chant, all she was able to do is squeeze my hand in gratitude. It was a precious moment when a quiet joy filled both of us even as tears were rolling down our cheeks.Not only did I feel Mary’s joy as joy within myself, but through the act of sharing in Mary’s suffering, the literal meanings of compassion and loving kindness were fulfilled with the grace of the Divine.

In the war against the Coronavirus, we are all “boots on the ground,” because there is no safe haven except in the sanctuary of our heart and soul. In this extraordinary time, compassion and loving kindness emerge in form ofcountless unselfish acts by people from all around the world. And although it may be hard at first to feel the “joy” in fighting virus, we can all serve with acts of selfless love.Some displays of love are spectacular, such as a famous trio of beloved Italian opera singers belting out arias from balconies to rapt audiences in the streets below, making them forget the pain, if only for a moment. Others are quieter but equally joyous, such as people providing home-cooked meals for self-isolating neighbors who caught the virus. A ten-year old boy living on my street delighted the neighbors with organizing a dress-up dog parade viewable from the safety of our doorsteps. His message: Help walk your shut-in neighbor’s dog. Another story: A flower shop owner had to close her store. For weeks, she delivered flowers that had already been ordered from the nurseries to the doorsteps of seniors.
Ideas like these abound. Some hospitals and charities will distribute hand-written get-well cards to Covid-19 patients and notes of encouragement to their families. Donating blood is a huge need. So is donating homemade cloth face masks to hospitals, nursing homes and homelessshelters. Picking up necessities for neighbors without transportation is another need. Small acts of kindness are big to those who receive them. All that is required is love and the commitment to help.

Of course, there are questions. Some people ask why God is letting all this suffering happen. It reminds me of the question I once asked of George Dole when I was his student. It related to the subject of the Holocaust. “George,” I said, “why does God allow horrendous evil like this to happen?” There was a moment of silence and then George asked in his gentle manner: “Couldn’t God ask us the same question?” At that very moment, a gigantic chip fell of my shoulder and I finally assumed responsibility for the evil in myself—all of it: selfish thoughts leading to mindless, irresponsible, careless, and sometimes intentionally mean actions that hurt other people. I repented and made amends where I could. As a global society we are responsible for our actions at every level: individually, locally, state-wide, country-wide and globally. God doesn’t cause suffering, we do as a result of our selfishness, greed, and power struggles. When we suffer because of our evils, God suffers, too. But maybe this tiny and ferocious virus is God’s wake-up call to get us a step closer to the realization that we are and must act as one human family living on a fragile planet which is our home.

I want to conclude with some words from a woman who admitted in a tweet having gone through a low-grade depression during these past few months. She said: “The idea that what this country is going through shouldn’t have any effect on us – that we all should just feel OK all the time – that just doesn’t feel real to me. So I hope you all are allowing yourselves to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.”

This is my hope and prayer for you as well.

Rashani Réa
From The Wild Edge of Sorrow by Francis Weller

There is a brokenness
out of which comes the unbroken,
a shatteredness
out of which blooms the unshatterable.

There is a sorrow
beyond all grief which leads to joy
and a fragility
out of whose depths emerges strength.

There is a hollow space
too vast for words
through which we pass with each loss,
out of whose darkness we are sanctified into being.

There is a cry deeper than all sound
whose serrated edges cut the heart
as we break open to the place inside
which is unbreakable and whole, while learning to sing.

God bless you and keep you. God make his light to shine upon you and give you peace!

Sermon notes: 2/23/20 “Jesus: Filled with Light”

ncom-sunset“Jesus: Filled with Light.”

Rev. Dr. Sherrie Connelly

New Church of Montgomery, in Glendale


Moses was promised the stone tablets of instruction from God at the top of the mountain.  After six days of clouds, Moses disappeared for 40 days and 40 nights.  The Psalms warn that the Lord will be angry if we do not kneel in service to our God.  We are invited to the holy mountaintop.  The Lord God, the father anoints Jesus with his blessing because he is well pleased.  Heed this message as a lamp, like the morning star rising to your hearts; moved by the Holy Spirit of the Lord our God.

In John, the Gospel, Jesus took several disciples up the mountain alone.  He rose in light, as if transfigured, with a shining face and dazzling clothes of white.  Then suddenly they were joined by Moses and Elijah.  Hearing a voice from the cloud they knelt in fear.  Feeling the hand of Jesus touching them, they rose to His command, be not afraid.  And saw Jesus was with them.  And they were cautioned not to share what they had seen until after the Lord’s Resurrection.

Arcana Coelestia, Secrets of Heaven number 10811

We are blessed to see that the radiant fiery cloud was the presence of the lord surrounded by angels.


Each of the readings tells us of the shimmering white light presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ radiating from a cloud at the peak of the mountain top.

In some, he has disciples with him.  In another, he is alone.  In all, his presence is filled with light.  In all, we are promised the coming and the rising of our Lord God, present with us as a holy being of light.  What can be more special?  What can be more reassuring? That this Lord Jesus is verified as the Son of God, and as God, the Lord present and fulfilled.  Fully with us.  Indeed, we are blessed.  Amen.

Let us reflect for a bit in silence.  And then share together in conversation, how is it that you may have experienced the coming of God’s love to you, as the Holy One, as Jesus, as a being filled with light.

Sermon Notes for the #Epiphany, 1/5/20

Wise Men of the Creche

By Rev. Dr. Sherrie Connelly on the occasion of the Epiphany. January 5, 2020. New Church of Montgomery, at the Glendale New Church.

Isaiah 60: 1-6 

The light has come with the Lord’s glory.

All nations will come together into the light.

In radiance your heart will thrill.

Camels will bring gold and frankincense.

Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14 

A psalm of liberation freeing those who are oppressed. The rain refreshes the earth and beings kneel before the Lord.

Ephesians 3:1 to 12 Paul speaks of how he has come to understand the mystery that is Christ. To help all see the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.

Matthew 2: 1-12 the wise men from the east came to Jerusalem asking after the child proclaimed king of the Jews. They noted the star which they had followed. Herod hearing this posed a threat to the child. When the star stopped they found Mary and the Christ child, brought him gifts, and returned home by another route.

Emanuel Swedenborg Divine Providence (Dicht Pulsford, n. 178) man anticipates the future but does not predict it; has no knowledge of it. In this we have hope. He is free and his reason, prompted by his loves – Delight is completed and the event and cause and effect must operate together, in tandem, interdependent, each on the other two.

Blog by Christine Valters Paintner 

Seven Lessons of Epiphany

1. Follow the star to where it leads

2. Embark on the journey, however Long or difficult.

3. Open yourself to wonder along the way.

4. Bow down at the holy encounters in messy places.

5. Carry your treasures and give them away freely.

6. Listen to the wisdom of dreams.

7. Go home by another way.

Message from Rev. Connelly:

“2020 vision” is looking ahead with good clear eyes and full and warm hearts. Through divine influx we are privileged to receive Divine Wisdom and to make it our own. By continuing to listen and learn, our ongoing growth is assured, and our direction is guided with the help of Divine Providence. While we cannot predict the future, we can live into it fully.

#ThursdayThoughts Sermon: 11/3/19

Sunday, November 3, 2019 , Rev. Dr. Sherrie Connelly
Habakkuk 1: 1-42, 2: 1-4
Habakkuk is fretting over the prevailing violence and injustices he observed in his homeland. Neither law nor justice is helping any at all. The Lord appoints him to make the needs plain and reveal them at the right time.
The Lord appoints him to make the needs plain and reveal them at the right time the enemy is puffed up but the righteous will live by faith.
Psalm 119: 137-144
The song praises the connectedness of the Lord’s law. Even in times of trouble and distress, your precepts give me delight and help me to understand how to live rightly.
Isaiah 1:10-18
The Lord is appalled and offended that the rulers of Sodom and the people of Gomorrah are so in diligent in their empty sacrifices. It is time to wash and make yourselves clean, it is a time of renewal. Time to do right. Seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Protect women and children. The bloody will turn as white as snow.
Psalm 32:1-7
Forgiveness is a blessing when we are open about our transgressions and ask for them to be lifted. I find solace in the Lord, protection and songs of deliverance.
2 Thessalonians 1: 1-4, 11-12
We thank God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ for our faithful community at Thessalonia. Your faith is strong and your love of each other grows and grows. May your faith bring forth all that you wish for.
Luke 19:1-10
When Jesus came to visit Jericho, the very short tax collector Zacchaeus   climbed into a tree to see above the crowd. Jesus invited him to climb down, and the key is invited Jesus in return to eat dinner at his house. The public muttered, and Zacchaeus made promises to help the poor. And this is how the Lord saves the lost sinners.
Emanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence (Dole) n. 178
We are promised the ability to act in freedom, to be blessed with free will in our lives of action. We use our reason to further what we love. Love and reason together produce a good result, and a furtherance of loving. We receive help you because we can anticipate possibilities. The mind and braces purposes, means and results, such as will, thoughts and actions. All three together are necessary for a good outcome to come to fruition.
These readings instruct us to be present with our a mindful purpose, loving thoughts, and expectancy of good outcomes. As we partner with the Lord, appreciating the delivery of many blessings, we follow his instructions to love him and to extend love to our neighbors, near and far. And while a life without sin may not be possible, we are given the means of faith to seek forgiveness, and we are lifted in liveliness and in spirit, to live in a community of grace. We are generously blessed. Not only now, but in the hope for the future that our Lord has bestowed on us. We are fortunate, Forgiven and blessed, now and forever. Amen.

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