The Eyewitness: He is the One Who Knows and Lives the Way
We continue this week reviewing the eyewitness account of John, “the disciple that Jesus loved” and in many ways the grandfather of the early Christian church. John has already in this letter testified to Jesus as being “what love looks like” and a reminder for us all about how to be a child of God. Today we will see Jesus as one who lived and knows the way.
This week I showed the preschool classes examples of gifts I received one in a direct and straightforward way and the other in a roundabout way, both gifts meant quite a bit to me in ways that go way beyond the value of the object. The latter gift I referred was from my Russian Orthodox grandmother. In my trips to St. Pete Florida she would always love listening to my endless questions… Grandma where do these bananas come from? Grandma why are there so many ingredients in these can foods I never ever hear of? She used to call me the professor and in so doing honored my curiosity about the world and eventually God. When my grandma passed my mom asked me to keep this in her memory. It is a simple small replica of an icon Holy family *. This was given long before I sensed the calling to the ministry and its value goes way beyond its monetary cost. The same with this gift in a simple way*. It was given to me by the staff of military sealift command far east. No one knew but them and my family the days I spent away from home riding many ships and visiting many ports, to them both Japanese, civilians, and military, I was the Samurai Chaplain befitting a kind of authentic samurai sword. I cherish both these gifts today.
In I John old grampa John bestows the most precious gift of Jesus that can live within our lives today. The results are of Christ laying down his life for us, how it epitomizes the Way, as the early church was called, after the way of life we live because Jesus lived it for us first. What does it mean for us to be on the receiving end of Christ’s love? What effect does his love have on our daily lives, in the way we live? That is what we’ll explore today.
John said, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.” Jesus uses this same phrase over and over. He says: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” “I lay down my life for the sheep.” “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” “I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again”.
For Jesus we know this is not just a manner of speech. He actually does lay down his life for us. He willingly enters into suffering and death for our sake, for our sins, more accurately so that we would not be living lives without a purpose or a plan. Christ lays down his life by being lifted up on the cross. This is self-giving, self-sacrificial love, love that goes to the utmost. “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That is how much Christ has loved us, has loved you!
There are even more results here because of this gift than eternal life, you have new life even now. These days there are many preachers who only speak of the hereafter when referring to this gift of Jesus, but it is more important to realize how it impacts us today. Even now, you have been raised to newness of life with Christ. Even now, you know what love really is, since you have received it and experienced it yourself. Even now, you share in Christ’s character of love. His love rings true and resonates in your heart. You know love, so now you can share it with others. That’s “the way” God’s love works.
So this is what John is getting at, when he writes in his epistle, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Since we know love, we can show love. The Jesus kind of love, the love that lays down its life. To Jesus this is truly the way that leads to the early church calling itself “The Way”.
In the military we know that acts of valor do not simply fall upon us from out of the sky. The times when actions require a heroic laying down of life, calls for giving up on our self-will, our self-interest, in order to help a brother or sister in need. This is the kind of way of life we are called to live daily. The countless little acts of selfless giving lead to a well sculpted character that helps us to rise above the ashes of worldly greed and lust to struggle each for his or her own way.
This Christ-like love takes the initiative and actually helps others. It is not just a warm and fuzzy feeling. No, love works, it acts, in practical ways. That is what Jesus did when he laid down his life for us. So that is what we do as his people. We lay down our lives in countless ways and the benefits to living this Way may not be suddenly grasped, but it is a large part of God’s recreation project of human existence.
Sometimes opportunities for love may not cost us very much money. Instead, they may call for our time or our patience or our thoughtfulness. For example, bringing dinner over for a family dealing with a surgery or a hospitalization. Providing a ride to church or to a doctor’s appointment. Making a phone call to see how somebody’s doing. Look, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m just reminding you, to get you thinking and looking for opportunities to put love into action in all sorts of situations.
If you are like most people though the undone things probably out number that which you have done. Are you troubled by your lack of love? That is a good sign. It is called contrition, a recognition that deep inside you still need to make changes. But John encourages this Way of life too, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”
Did you catch that? God is greater than our heart! That is good news! Our heart may rightly condemn us. We have not loved as we ought. But be reassured by this: God is greater than our heart that can only see our sins. God sees the bigger picture. He sees the Spirit of Christ in us. That is what God sees! So be reassured today!
If you want a good summary of the Christian life, here it is. John puts it like this: “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” See those two aspects, one leading to the other. First, “Believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” There is faith in Christ, who lays down his life in love, the love by which you are saved. And then, “love one another”: There is the love with which you lay down your life for your brother and sister, the love we put into action when we serve our neighbor, the we have particularly for the stranger. Believe in Christ. Love one another. That is it. That is the Christian life in a nutshell.
So come now and be refreshed in this life through the gift of not just Jesus of the past, but the gift of Jesus living in your present. Be strengthened by the faith that his laying down his life is your legacy now inherited, live it out in how you treat your brothers and sisters, found in friends and strangers alike. Amen!
Beyond the Event and Into the Christ Who Surrounds Us
In the book The One that Jesus Loves by Robert Crosby, is a paraphrase of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus, the wee little tax collector so desperate to see Jesus he climbed a tree in order to encounter him. Jesus then encounters Zacchaeus and says to him “I’m going to leave my place in heaven” “I am going to your place in Jericho, your house, in fact” “I’m going to take your place on the cross” “Then, we’re going to my place in heaven.”
Over lent we studied the characteristic traits of the person of Jesus, and we will continue to focus on who Jesus then becomes for us this Eastertide, as we look at the first letter of John as an eyewitness account of how Jesus intends to form us now as the community of his people. Jesus when he had compassion on the crowds was showing us how we are to have compassion for our community. The answer is not in our building, in fact what we do outside our place of worship is more vital than what we are doing inside. The community is not only our place of ministry. It is our place to learn more about Jesus. It is our place where we can go to be fed spiritually. It is our place to take the presence of Jesus with us. And here is the key, we do not do this only because Jesus is in us, but because Jesus is in the community.
As I spoke about during lent, we cannot become the Easter people without first encountering Jesus as he truly was and is today. To be transformed one needs to become vulnerable (As even the Son of God became vulnerable for us), dying to the self requires letting go of the self and realizing self-determination may at times be counter to a life lived in the spirit of Christ, as Paul later commented about his growth as a Christian, our very weaknesses can become our strengths. We must encounter community as ones who need those to connect with others who also are yearning for authentic relationships, maybe even more then we like to think they need us, we too need them. Zacchaeus gave Jesus room and board, and can you imagine how useful and needed he felt he was because of it.
Only after leaving church purposefully, encountering others deliberately, and dying to self intentionally, may we begin to see some (not all, but some) respond and come to our earthly temporary representation of the Kingdom, our church. God does not call you or me to this church for one of us to tell the other what to do and why, but for us to grow together in following Christ. Let us keep the spirit of Easter alive, as we connect with each other and learn to connect with those who share a need with us to be each other’s neighbors!
Eastertide blessings to each of you!
Learning More about Jesus from Mr. Rogers
It is very good for us to celebrate (as requested by the evangelism/mission team) a Sunday to remember the influence of Mr. Rogers in the middle of lent and amid our exploring the character of Jesus. The seven traits we are studying in Jesus: compassion, vision, sound judgement, irony and humor, humility, directness, and obedience seem to be traits one sees in the good neighbor, ah yes, the good Samaritan and Mr. Rogers.
You have probably already noticed that the emphasis of getting to know who Jesus was when he ministered here on earth is not only useful in reacquainting us with our Lord, but also hopefully realigning us with our best selves. According to Jesus there is no better way to live in preparation and in the reign of God’s presence now than to be a good neighbor.
We remember the aforementioned story Jesus told to the lawyer who concerned with his dwelling with God on a permanent and eternal basis, said it was all about being a good neighbor (treating your neighbor as you would yourself). Jesus liked that answer but probed more deeply when asked just who is that neighbor. Jesus focused not on the ins and outs that qualify someone for us to be neighborly to. But, emphasized using someone who was no doubt on the out list of the lawyer as a prime example of being a neighbor.
Mr. Rogers used just such a tactic to teach children about being a neighbor. His neighborhood intentionally included people of all types, and they were all greeted by Fred, Mr. Rogers, with the same sort of welcome. Beyond that he was always a caring listener ready to show concern and loving aid to all those in need in the neighborhood. He also tended not to take sides except to encourage understanding and reconciliation. He was also constantly asking his little ones what they would do not only teaching them but valuing their ability to make right choices. There was both a gentleness and a directness in the way Mr. Rogers shared times with his audience, both young and old. He displayed confidence in his calling but never in an egotistic way.
I look forward to honoring this fine example from my fellow Presbyterian minister during worship on March 21. One of the best reasons for doing so is that just maybe it will provide us with a great example of recognizing how we too can live out the character of Jesus in our lives and become better neighbors to everyone.
Beginning to Make Our Way Together Through Lent
We begin the holy season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, February 17, practicing meditation, contrition and confession, spiritual practices for refreshing our relationship with God. Lent is a time to seek ease from self-inflicted hurt and illusions. We practice release and acceptance of actions and ideas to grow in integrity and drawn closer to God and one another (As we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God). Lent lasts 40 days without Sundays, concluding on Easter morning. Based on the lunar calendar, the dates of Lent vary year to year.
Traditionally, the dried palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burnt to make ash for Ash Wednesday service. This year many of you will join us from home on zoom and some may not even be able to do that. We can however practice these rituals at home and those attending will be applying ashes that I will provide in packets. Burning sheets of paper with written notes of what we intend to let go of and/or embrace as we begin lent is one way of doing this meaningfully.
We will be doing something like this at church. To make dried “palms”: Assemble pieces of regular weight paper. Use what you have – used or new paper. You will need pieces about the size of your hand — notepad sheets, cut up used envelopes, quartered larger pieces of paper. Invite members of your household (or just yourself) to write on the paper whatever they wish to offer to God for transformation or let go of to clear the way to be transformed, this may be confessional or promissory. If it is a family or group, the sheets of paper may be folded once in order to maintain confidentiality.
Prepare to burn “palms”: Select a fire-safe low- or no-wind place outside. Assemble: a votive candle in a fire-proof holder, matches, metal tongs for holding burning paper, a medium to large fire-proof bowl or pot, and folded paper “palms.” Fire safety: have a bucket of water or a fire extinguisher at hand.
Prayerfully burn the “palms”: Light the protected votive candle. This is a time to ritually release our confessions, promises and prayers to God. Using the tongs to hold one piece of paper, light one end of the paper and burn over the fire-proof bowl or pot. Release the paper as the last bit of paper burns (it is okay if not all the paper burns.) Repeat until all the “palms” are burnt. While you do not need much ash, you may want to burn a few blank papers or dried plant matter as well.
You may want to stay outdoors as you make the ash because it can be messy. Take a lidded glass jar and a wire mesh sieve or strainer. Place the strainer over the jar opening. Pour some of the burnt ashes into the strainer (MAKE SURE THE ASHES HAVE COOLED) and push through with a finger. Continue until all the burnt paper or dried plant matter has been processed. Whatever bits remain behind in the strainer can be sprinkled over the earth and dispose of any unburnt portions. Mix the askes with olive oil for consistency and ease of application.
Here is an example of a service you can do at home if you cannot join us in any other way.
Acknowledge God’s Presence, light a candle.
“God, You are the Source of All Life. God, You are Embodied as Christ. God, You are the Ever-present Spirit.”
“Return to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to Me, your God, for I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; I relent from punishing.” (Joel 2:12-13, NRSV)
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Amen.” (Psalm 51:10-12, NRSV)
Private Prayer of Confession and Hope
Talk with God about changes you’d like in your life, in your community. Conclude with The Lord’s Prayer.
Words of Assurance
“Take assurance in God’s faithfulness. Burdens placed at God’s feet have been released. Requests made in God’s presence have been heard.”
Receive the Ashes
Mark yourselves on the forehead or make the mark of the cross on the top of your hand.
As you make the mark of the cross you can say…
“From dust we came”
“To dust we shall return”
May we all enter the holy season of Lent to become open to God’s transforming mercy. May we journey together, seen and unseen, spiritual pilgrims on earth and in heaven. Lenten peace upon all beings. Amen.
-Based on revisions from an article from Rev. Kathryn M. Schreiber, Berkeley Chinese Community Church.
Getting to Know Jesus Better in 2021
We are turning the corner once again leaving behind the tough lessons learned in 2020 and looking forward to new insights and possibilities for ourselves and our world in 2021. We begin with some promise to be sure, a new president, a new vaccine, and what I hope within the church in our country and from what I am hearing around the world, a better and clearer understanding of who Jesus was and by that what he intends his Church to be in 2021.
Why do I say this? Anyone who has taken any of the classes I have led at church or who has bothered to understand why sometimes during the past year I have become more forceful and insistent on the challenges that exist culturally for us in these times when we honestly are confronted with who Jesus was in the gospels, knows that I think the church, if we perceive it to be popular Christianity today, is not just moving away from Jesus, but seems to be determined to make his personality, and therefore his person irrelevant to what it teaches and what it seems to be calling followers to center on. My that is a long sentence, but the fact that grammar check has not warned me tells me it is one single thought. One that has haunted me throughout this last year.
Simply put Jesus has a very identifiable and consistent character portrayed throughout the gospels and who he is ought to be the center of focus for those who claim to follow him. But let’s take a look at these character traits and what they reveal about Jesus…
#1 Compassion (no less than 75 references)… This shows forth in what often is indiscriminate healing. This is at the core of who Jesus is. Healing is not for show or display and is often tied a mere impossible pledge to keep it a secret. When Jesus seems to direct his compassion, he directs it toward the poor (in material goods and spiritually), the sad, the humbled, those who have empathy on others, the persecuted, the abandoned, those particularly powerless, and those who are seeking change within. There is a particular nature to the compassion that Jesus exudes, and it seems never to be connected to building up a prideful and boastful spirit. To the contrary, Jesus seems to indicate throughout his ministry that compassion flowing from him ought to be a contagious outpouring in those who are moved to follow him. I have said that without compassion there is no Christ and without Christ there is no compassion. In a world that emphasizes worship and church life centered and focused on prosperity and entertainment in order to enrich the lives of it’s flock primarily, and one that enflames congregations to defend there own rights and liberties over the compassion towards the weakest and most at risk in our midst, we are at risk of not only losing our compassion but losing track of our Lord.
#2 Visionary (no less than 69 references)… Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God is totally other than how we envision what an earthly kingdom is built upon. We tend to feel stability and status quo makes for a strengthened realm, but Jesus refers to change based on repentance, justice, and a shared righteousness that seeks the good of all of it’s subjects. Jesus saw signs of this realm all around him and spoke of it using analogies from the natural world and culture around him. He did not believe in a never land in a distant future, as much as a world in the process of transforming to a new set of standards beyond borders, power boundaries, and divisions based on appearance. Jesus’ standard of the new realm was an internal identity driven by what we mentioned above in his life of compassion.
#3 Judgement (no less than 55 references) This is not that Jesus chose to stand in judgement of others because of their moral wrongs. To the contrary what Jesus judged was the heart. He had no patience for religious hypocrisy, for those whose attitudes lacked compassion, and motivated by selfish gain. When he called those around him to judge their own lives, he forced them to look at matters of the heart. Did they follow his lead in living lives changed and altered by grace, mercy, and love? Did they show a cynical snobbishness toward others like Jesus’ religious opponents had? In this way Jesus never shied away from telling it like it was not only to those who rallied against him but to those who were within his closest circle as well. We seem to live in a world where people judge one another based on common appearance and not on matters of the heart. The church called to repentance and grace is often first and foremost judging others first and not excising the sound judgement rendered by our Lord.
#4 Humor and Irony (no less than 42 references) Jesus loved telling stories and he had a wry sense of wit and dramatic irony. Jesus was definitely not an advocate of being one of the “frozen chosen”. Jesus talked often in an exaggerate style that was not meant to be taken literally but to be pondered and thought about as we live our day to day lives. Taking Jesus seriously then means to often struggle with and discuss with others about the parables he tended to tell. More damage has been done to the Word of God by those who want to worship the letters on a page more than the spirit of the one whose story is being told.
#5 Humility (no less than 39 references) Wow! This is definitely not what one would expect as one listens to almost all the TV evangelists of our day! Jesus was humble and even Paul who struggled immensely with this Christ taught virtue understood this well when he said, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.” Jesus wanted that spirit in not just himself, but all those who follow him in our giving, prayer, and all human relationships with those below us or who have authority over us. This was no minor part of the character of Jesus, but it is sorely lacking in those who call themselves “prophets of the modern age” and not surprisingly their adherents tend to emulate this behavior.
There are other characteristics to note including simplicity, obedience, steadfastness, directiveness when seeking just causes, challenging unjust authority and hypocrisy, reliance on God (His Abba), praise to those who surprise them in their faith, praising God, living out his oneness with God, contemplation, and understandable sadness most usually on behalf of God and others.
None of the above was shocking to me, but as we slowly move into a new year I think we need to take a lot of time concentrating on who Jesus really was and not how we would like him to be. There is an obvious clash of contrast between much of the Christian world today and the savior we claim to be worshipping. This itself should not be shocking. Did his disciples always understand him? The way of Jesus is indeed quite rare is we are to believe the assessment of Gayle Weinraub, who wrote “What Was Jesus Personality Type?” in the Truity Personality and Careers Blog. She goes into detail saying that based on the Gospels Jesus is most likely an INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging *also borderline Perceiving personality which is INFP). What is interesting about that assessment is not so much that we all should be INFJs or INFPs because Jesus was. What is of interest is that those are the two rarest personality types. Understanding Jesus is not an easy thing. Much of what Jesus asks us to do as disciples cuts against the grain of popular thought. That is the whole point I would like to make at the beginning of 2021. If we are to become people who resemble the Lord we worship, we need to make the effort to get to know him as he was. We need to understand that while it does not come natural to us there is something about the way Jesus was that outweighs even what he has done for us and promises to do for us. The early church was, like Paul, overtly aware of this. So much so that they called themselves not merely Christians, but “People of the Way”. How wonderful would it be if we as Christians devote ourselves to rediscovering that Way in 2021!
The Redemption of Scrooge and Me and You and Many More
Much of my time this past month has been spent kicking off the new sermon series “Redemption of Scrooge”. So far, the theme seems to be something everyone is enjoying as the young people are reviewing each lesson in Sunday School. Whether in person or on zoom, come and enjoy a redeeming message of remembering the past, living out the present, and hoping for a brighter future in Jesus Christ who is always the same yesterday, today, and forever.
The 12 Days Before Christmas Caroling from 12/13- 12-24… I have not heard from many of you yet but please let me know if you would like to be a caroler for simple and brief opportunities to share the joy of Christmas with shut- ins, in front of nursing homes, and perhaps engaging briefly in a public place where we can sing at a distance. Also, please let me know if you’d like to be one of our stops (carolers will not be enter the home but will sing at a distance). On either account, please let me know before the 10th, calling or texting 513-446-3837 or emailing email@example.com.
The Christmas Eve communion service will be different because it will be a Zoom Christmas celebration put together by the Choir in order to avoid an overcrowded church, as we are still trying to social distance. It will be the joyous, song filled Christmas we are used to having that you can enjoy at home with us. In this article, I’ve included the Zoom welcome invitation. See below for the details.
Here is an idea for this Christmas day that I would like to explore. Let’s celebrate Christmas Day by dedicating the best gift that we could offer Jesus and that would be ourselves. This will be a celebration of the joy of Christ’s presence in each of our very unique lives while hoping to grow in our ability to share that gift of Christ’s presence with all those around us. Looking forward to seeing you throughout this wonderful season!
Christmas Eve Service Zoom Invitation
Edward Kahl is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: Christmas Eve celebration with communion
Time: Dec 24, 2020 06:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 847 1387 7087
One tap mobile
+13017158592,,84713877087#,,,,,,0#,,107094# US (Washington D.C)
+13126266799,,84713877087#,,,,,,0#,,107094# US (Chicago)
Dial by your location
+1 301 715 8592 US (Washington D.C)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)
Meeting ID: 847 1387 7087
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kee0K6h00j
How can we connect with each other during the holidays in meaningful ways?
First, November 1st will be All Saints Day and if you have a loved one who has recently passed that you want to lift up in our hearts for that service, please email that request before this Sunday’s service at firstname.lastname@example.org. As I say this, I know that while we have a sizable online attendance throughout this season of uncertainty, as I have said before, if you can’t come to worship we want to make sure you can either join us on line and I am willing to help you get connected in any way I can. I have set up connections online for others and would be happy to do that for you. Or… if there is a way that you feel safe and would like an at home visit with me masked, I would love to see you in that way as well. Either way, please let me know.
Well, we know Advent and Christmas will look different.
The season of Advent lasts for the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. This year Advent begins on Sunday, November 29. During these weeks leading up to Christmas, we wait, reflect and prepare to celebrate the birth of God’s son, Jesus, and anticipate the return of Christ in glory.
This year we hope YOU will join us on this Advent journey. We’re excited to share some ways we, the family of God, can prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas (whether in person or at home).
First, We Can Prepare by Reflecting Together:
Our 2020 Devotional booklet written by members and friends will help us engage and reflect upon our faith. Sharing our stories can connect us in a special way along the Advent journey to Christmas. It is not too late to participate in offering a written portion no longer than a few paragraphs at either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Devotional booklet will provide you with a daily Advent reading. You will find illustrations in the booklet by our children and youth.
Secondly, We Can Prepare by Lighting Candles Together:
This year, At-home Advent candle lighting kits are being created. The kit contains glass votive cups, candles and greenery. These were designed especially for those who are not currently attending in-person worship. We hope you’ll find a special place to set up your Advent Candles and gather to light them daily as you read from the Advent Devotional booklet or maybe each Sunday during worship as you participate on Zoom. If you have difficulty picking these up at church, I would love to drop them off in any way you would like.
Finally, We Can Prepare by Worshipping Together:
We will have a Hanging of the Greens amidst our Nov. 29th service, but it may be simpler this year than in the past.
Throughout Advent we will watch together Matt Rawle’s Redemption of Scrooge and while exploring the transformation in the heart of this classical Christmas character, we too might recognize our own need for and hope of redemption within our own lives. I will provide a brief comment or two in lieu of a sermon in response to the video.
For those willing to share their faith in an innovated and meaningful way we will be sending groups of three or four on mini caroling missions on the twelve days before Christmas. These will include visits to shut ins and nursing homes at a safe distance and might even include a few opportunities to surprise passersby at public places that are frequented but not packed, so we can remain distant enough for safety. You don’t need a choir grade voice to join these simple carols and each visit or flash performance will be brief but joyous. Please let me know before mid-November if you would like to join in on this and what days you would be available (From Sunday, December 13th to Thursday, December 24th, Christmas Eve) Also just as important if you or someone you care about would like to be one of our stops, all you need to do is let me know 513-446-3837 by text or call or at email@example.com by email.
And finally, what about Christmas Eve? As you know we have had a packed church before and the Session was concerned about this being too early to break our safety protocols, so the choir and I will be offering up a joyous and meaningful Christmas Eve celebration that will be available to all on Zoom… This will allow as many who want to participate, to participate together on Zoom. Look for more details to come. Until then be safe and be joyful!
Words of Hope from Viktor and Paul
From pandemic to a painfully sad political melodrama that we are facing, I often think of the words of Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychologist who survived a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. While many of the hallmark theories of psychology emphasizes sexual and survival motivations that are repressed and civilized as we mature, like Karl Jung, Frankl found that humans are ultimately motivated by meaning. We are purpose driven creatures and that purpose is our interconnectedness.
Because of this perspective, he literally survived, while others perished, in large part due to the inner conviction: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” In other words, if a person still believes his or her life has meaning and purpose, and a conduit for living it out in the presence of others, then he or she can endure almost any situation.
Frankl was very careful to distinguish between our limited view of “meaning” and the oft hidden pattern of God’s plan and purpose. No human knows exactly what the ultimate meaning of all we experience in this world is all about, that is the realm of God and those who feel that they alone are capable of knowing it all (The Bible calls these hucksters false prophets who believe in false gods they can control, sometimes I get the feeling that rather than seeking authentic meaning within our own lives we are trending toward these folks in pulpits, self-help gurus and political theater).
And yet, Frankl said that we must believe that our lives are filled with meaning, especially in the midst of suffering. In fact, Frankl went so far as to say, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning”, such as sacrificial love. Suffering loses its greatest sting when we hold on to the hope of purpose.
Paul understood this as he shared with the church at Corinth that God said to him,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9b-10
We can discover three truths during this long time of trial and social upheaval.
We are all interwoven as creatures who are mutually dependent upon God for the breath of life and the meaning and purpose that comes in living and sharing life in each present moment, be it filled with joy or trepidation.
We in this moment of weakness are all alike in our search for hidden strengths that we both find within ourselves and the inspiration that comes with our connection with those around us.
We may be weak today, but sharing our weakness helps us to lean upon one another, and in turn lean upon God, who gives us the WHY as we endeavor out of love to care for one another.
I hope you too will draw encouragement from lessons learned from Paul and Victor Frankl. Lessons that reconnect us with a WHY worthy of all we are experiencing together today.
Finding Our New Normal
According to a recent article, “Finding Our New Normal” by Susan Beaumont at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, we have reached a point in our current struggle with this pandemic where one must face that we having weathered this storm, once it subsides, will be moving forward changed because of it. As with the nation’s reactions from the September 2001 attacks, we will be experiencing a number of stresses, griefs, adjustments, as well as commitments to one another, ways we can be more adaptive, and learnings that come with perseverance and having know what it took to be our best in trying times.
There are five aspects that the article lifts up that may help us in this unique moment in our history…
*Surrender- This does not mean to give up or even to give in, but to understand there is a purpose and a plan that is worth living for and even dying for that makes what we experience transformational. We are told by Jesus that if we are to follow him, we need to deny ourselves, lift up the cross, and follow a path that is not of our own will (Matt. 16:24). We don’t get to forge our own way in life always, no matter how hard we work or try. When we overcome that which cannot be wished or willed away, learning begins with surrender. We realize in times like these, we don’t have all the answers. We surrender then to one more in control than ourselves and the spirits leading calls us to first be still and know that.
*Use the Disorientation (Reorient toward the new)- Deep change is seldom a matter of change because it is more appealing. It is more like the choice of holding on to the old map that gets us further from our destination, or choosing to develop ways that slowly begin to identify where we are and redefine where we need to be. The call of the prophets has always been the same at times more disastrous than even our currant dilemma. God is calling out, “Behold I make all things new”. We could not have made it this far as a church if we were set and determined to do things the way we always have or give up. We need to take advantage of this moment to know that which needs to die about us, and to learn ways of being who we are on a path on a road we have not driven down before.
*Invite Meaning Making- Tell stories, share how you are coping, dream about what things will be like when this is all over, live into tomorrow. The most discouraging thing about the new normal is when out of frustration people turn toward rage, expressing a contagious aggravation. We need to strive toward higher values and practices that come forth though faithfully being God’s people in trying times.
*Define One Good Next Step- This is what has encouraged me the most about our church recently. We do not get bogged down in can’t, won’t. will never, but we carefully and thoughtfully consider what is next. There are a thousand things we would like to do, what is the one or two things God is calling us to do this given moment. Martha is not the only one missing out on the “one needful thing”, as she bickers about her daily chores. (Luke 10:38-42). If we are to regain our footing we need to rightly execute our next step.
*Attending to the Yearning – “Yearning is the language of the human soul.” This is a call to listen and share into our new normal, making our vision more commonly accessible and therefore uncommonly hopeful. Letting go of what is no more, we let ourselves be led by God who is making a way that will lead us into the future. This is a wonderful opportunity to pray for one another when we are more apart, to understand those who are doing things different than ourselves but envision ways we might remain one in God’s love, and too as Opal said when we talked about this at our last session meeting, ”Visualize how precious is the simple gift that comes with each embrace”. That would be a wonderful way to live the new normal into a new day.
We Are Striving and Struggling Together
Throughout the past few months, we have tried to navigate as best we can, faithfully, responsibly, and as mercifully as we can. As many of you know we are now returning to live services in the sanctuary in a carefully distanced, yet celebratory way. I say many of you because while we made many efforts to get the word out, an every-member email was sent, notice was given on the church website, and letters were also sent out. It appears the letters sent out did not make it out of the local post office. I apologize that it took a couple of weeks to discover this. Many on session also attempted to call or email members as well and those who have not will be doing so soon. You will see enclosed in this communication a brief rundown of how services look right now and the fact that you may still join us by the internet and phone as we have offered and will continue to offer throughout and beyond the COVID period.
The good news is that both a large handful of people have returned to worship and a large handful of people still join us online. Those who have not been able to do either let me know if you would like help in any way to make that happen (513) 446-3837. We also have a number of services online on the website and we had been sending out manuscripts of messages as well.
I am sure that these days are not easy on anyone as we are now facing both the health crisis and social calls for justice throughout the nation. We seem to be finding ourselves together facing harsh realities that call for us to show as much understanding and compassion as we can toward one another. Reading a devotion from These Days seemed to help me keep these days in perspective to me so I will share that with you…
” M. Scott Peck began his best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled, with these words: “Life is difficult. This is the great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.” The psalmist says much the same thing, though it is in the context of his abiding trust in God.
He acknowledges the difficulties that every life encounters. To be “tested” is to be tried “like silver.” To accept that life is not easy for anyone, never free of “tests,” is the first step in living through inevitable life challenges. The next step, which the psalmist describes later, is to trust that God will be with us and strengthen us through life’s difficulties. God will bring “us out to a spacious place” (v. 12) where our trials are behind us. q Loving God, we know that life can be difficult. Be with us and strengthen us so that we may come once again to “a spacious place. ”
-Michael L. Lindvall, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Most importantly I would add let us continue to be in the habit of caring and praying for one another and others around. Maybe even particularly for those we are having a hard time understanding and agreeing with. We truly are in this together and in our midst is a God who loves and is shining mercy upon all.
REOPENING JUNE 7th!!!
I am filled with joy and an even greater feeling of responsibility as the Session and I announce the reopening of our sanctuary for worship on June 7th. As you will see in the summary of our plan below, this is a well thought out plan that we are aware will be modified throughout the remainder of this time of balancing what we hope to do with the safety of all participants and the community. Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 4:2 how we are to treat one another,
“…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
This is always what it means to be following our Savior who said in John 13:34-35…
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
We need this kind of identity today. There is no mention here about demanding our own way. There is no mention of shaming those who are less thoughtful. There is no mention of resenting those who have decided to live more thoughtfully for their own sakes and others. You have shown such wonderful patience and resilience and now we are given another opportunity to be compassionate and caring Christians in choosing to reengage in in-person worship for those who are ready, while continuing to be loving and caring for those who are not.
Below is an indication of the thoughts and prayers that have gone into this plan. If there is anything we can do to help you whether you are planning to join us at church, or continue to watch or listen to worship at home, or you are just waiting prayerfully to reengage in the future, be sure to let me or an active elder know. We love and care for you all!
As we reopen, we will do our best to provide that…
- Air Conditioning Filters will be checked regularly.
- A cleaning and personal sanitation plan has been written down and will be practiced.
- We will maintain a roster and update contact info for every worshipping member and visitor.
- We will expect every worshipper to respect at least six-feet of distancing for the time being and will have signage and announcements to remind one another.
- Masks will be highly recommended but not absolutely required.
- People will be ushered orderly to their seats and be expected to wait to be ushered out (unless needing to access the bathrooms which we hope they will maintain physical distancing)
- During inclement weather, signage and ushers will encourage a more rapid, yet as much as possible, distanced, entrance to allow worshippers to enter into the sanctuary until seated.
- Bulletins clearly visible for individuals picking them up and hand sanitizers will also be readily accessible.
- We will be having offering receptacles placed along with the hand sanitizers for leaving your offering upon entrance or exit should you desire to. No offering plates will be passed for now.
- Seating will be spaced with 2 pews in between beginning on the second pew. Individuals or families would be allotted the end of each of the two pews per row. Contingencies have been planned for should we reach an overflow.
- Singing will be ensemble only. We will be encouraging folks to hum and/or make symbols during the singing. The passing of the peace similarly will involve the same liturgical response but no leaving the seats for now; making symbols to one another showing peace will be encouraged.
- Communion will be by observing the pastor only at this time. This will be communicated as an observation of a spiritual reality that we are all one in Christ and Christ is in us all. This in no way will be communicated as the pastor being in any way an intercessor to that actual living relationship that we share in an equally valid way and are remembering.
- We will continue to offer online services, continuing with zoom set up at a location in front of the chancel by a dedicated tech volunteer. It is highly recommended that members consider age and underlying health conditions before attending live services.
- Hymnbooks and Bibles will be removed from the pews for now, but the scripture reading that day will be printed in the bulletin.
- The pastor will remain up front on the chancel after the benediction for now.
- It is assumed as a courtesy and a sign of Christian love toward one another to be patient with one another and at the same time respect the need to distance and remain safe at this time.
- If there is anyone who tests positive for COVID 19 or any other likewise serious infectious disease, they ought to inform the leadership of the church so that everyone can be informed and can make necessary precautions going forward.
- For the time being, we will be a worship only center: meaning for now, Sunday school will be practiced at home or by virtual classes. We will not be using the upstairs for any group event, and there will be no day care. Parents are asked to keep children seated with them as much as possible. It may take a village to raise a child but the rest of the congregation should extend grace, love and understanding in this. The pastor will include a brief children’s sermon-type intro to make the brief homily more relatable to kids of all ages. We will also put up a couple of lollipop trees at the entrance for kids as well.
- For now, expect that the liturgy and service will be more similar to what we have done online. We will be briefer, perhaps no more than 45 minutes.
- We will encourage people to share joys and concerns by text 513-446-3837 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to the pastor no later than Saturday evening, if at all possible, and the only other joys and concerns will be spoken briefly and Ed will do his best to repeat them in brief so that they are understood.
- Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals will follow these same guidelines and must be approved by session or the worship committee when all these requirements are agreed to and understood in addition to any other previous requirements.
“Our Dwelling Place” John 14:1-14 May 10, 2020
The farther we travel down this road of life the greater is the realization that this is not our home––heaven is, but what is heaven, and why is the longing so much like a sense of the increasingly familiar at least as we grow in our spirituality, rather than the exotic nature of the unknown.
The disciples of Jesus had good reason to be “troubled” because as they reclined at the table a few moments earlier He spoke of the traitor in their midst, and His leaving them and going where they could not follow, at least for now. Jesus saw in their faces that night confusion, hurt, disappointment, fear, frustration and bewilderment. Their world was caving in around them like an earthquake.
The words he chooses instill not just a blind hope that things will all be better, but a vow that they knew by his love and devotion toward making of them what he saw in them and you and I… “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me” (v. 1)
These are the words of the Good Shepherd we talked about a while back. The promise here is of the self, not in things, not in miracles, not in blessings, but in presence.
In no way did Jesus intend for His disciples to be escapist, or to live in utopia, or some kind of neverland dream world, never again experiencing trouble, disappointment or trials. Later on he says, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world”
“Let not your heart be troubled” is present subjunctive with the negative indicating the stopping of an action in progress. “Stop it. Quit it right now!” “Stop the pity party, it is not the best that you can be now!”
“You are not alone; I am with you. And as long as I am with you there is no need to fear.”
Jesus did not promise them their troubles were going away. He told them He would be with them in the midst of their troubles. He would be their stabilizing force and strength. He did not tell them some foolish make-believe philosophy that their pain, suffering, evil and sin didn’t exist. Thinking beautiful thoughts won’t make these things go away.
Jesus recognized what they were experiencing and gave them comfort and hope.
But what form does that comfort come in. I will tell you that this passage is used often at memorial services. It is often used by me. But, I have never been comfortable with the interpretation that here we have an image that is strictly about the sweet by and by…
That image that comes to mind like a couple who meet both from far off places. Romance ensues… Then said promises begin… And one says to the other, don’t worry honey, I am going back home and when I get there I will find a fantastic flat, with a beautiful garden and a priceless view and you and I will be the happily ever after that we read about when we were kids. Right?
The word rendered sometimes as ‘mansion’ here is ‘mone’, which most modern versions translate more accurately and prosaically as ‘place’. It simply means ‘room’ or ‘dwelling place’. And it only appears twice in the New Testament—both times in this chapter. The other occurrence is in v.23: “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home, our ‘mone’, with them”. The context of this verse is the coming of the Holy Spirit to live in the disciples. Indeed, the Spirit’s coming to them is really Jesus’ coming. He won’t leave them high and dry, waiting for some sweet by and by, but rather, he will come to them.
But it doesn’t stop there. The verbal form of the noun ‘mone’, is ‘meno’, which means to ‘room with’ or ‘stay with’. We render it ‘remaining’ ‘abiding’ ‘dwelling with’. So later Jesus switches metaphors from a home to a vineyard. In images from Isaiah, he encourages his disciples to “remain in me” and assures them that he will also remain in them. And that is exactly the promise he is meaning to convey to them throughout: the mutual dwelling together of the God, who comes in three forms with his people.
So, he was speaking about the present. Right here and now we live with him, in a dwelling of the heart.
But what about “…and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am going.” It sounds like Jesus is going someplace else, and will come back and take us there. Surely, that’s heaven. But wait, where is Jesus going? Is it someplace else? The next verses answer that question. Jesus tells the disciples that they know the place where he is going. Then to Thomas’ bewildered admission that they know neither the place nor the way to get there, Jesus tells them both the destination and the means of arrival. He announces, “I am the way…no one comes to the Father, except through me”. He will take them to the Father. So, Jesus isn’t going somewhere but to someone: And when will the disciples see the Father? Jesus says, “And from now on…” (v.7).
Jesus’ original hearers would have understood his ‘Father’s house’ as a reference to the Temple, a beautiful place, but a place defined by safe distancing so to speak god for the priests, the priests from the people, the men from the women, and the initiated good folk from the others, the nations, the unclean, the heathen. But Jesus speaks of a spiritual reality that is beyond the social distancing of his time and our time for that matter. He promises, soon its doors would be thrown open for all to enter. This was dramatically symbolized after Jesus’ death on the cross when the curtain of that Temple was torn apart. The way into God’s house was made open. And the dwelling place is wherever you dwell. And be mindful it is also to be reflected on what you are dwelling on inside.
So, Jesus is telling his disciples that by dying and rising again he’ll go and prepare a place, or a room, for them. And it won’t be a case of ‘book now’ before all the rooms are taken. No, once atonement for our sins has been made the way is opened and there’ll be lots of rooms in the Father’s house. Safe distancing is never a factor that separates us from God in Christ Jesus because by his Spirit, he and the Father will make their home and abide in all his people. This is a small place for that kind of Jesus, the national cathedral is a small place, our favorite clique is a small place, our family is a small place, our nation is a small place, our ideology is a small place, and that is a good thing, because where there is no room for others there is no room for God.
So, sorry, there are no mansions in the sky. Just a much richer expression in the new creation of what we experience now, by our life in the Spirit. Right now, we are at home with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. And there’s plenty of room for everyone, even in this age of social distancing, even in this age of cultural, political, religious and ethnic divide. The dwelling place includes every tribe, every nation and every tongue. That is the dwelling place that will make us whole again.
Heading Into Holy Week
This Sunday will be Palm Sunday and as Bob Dylan recently released a 16 minute plus song on the death of John F. Kennedy entitled “Murder Most Foul”, I couldn’t help but be moved by the Novel of a song. Here is only about a quarter of it…
It was a dark day in Dallas, November ’63
A day that will live on in infamy
President Kennedy was a-ridin’ high
Good day to be livin’ and a good day to die
Being led to the slaughter like a sacrificial lamb
He said, “Wait a minute, boys, you know who I am?”…
Shot down like a dog in broad daylight
Was a matter of timing and the timing was right
You got unpaid debts, we’ve come to collect
We’re gonna kill you with hatred, without any respect
We’ll mock you and shock you and we’ll put it in your face
We’ve already got someone here to take your place…
But his soul was not there where it was supposed to be at
For the last fifty years they’ve been searchin’ for that
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom over me
I hate to tell you, mister, but only dead men are free…
They killed him once and they killed him twice
Killed him like a human sacrifice
The day that they killed him, someone said to me, “Son
The age of the Antichrist has just only begun”
Air Force One comin’ in through the gate
Johnson sworn in at 2:38
Let me know when you decide to throw in the towel
It is what it is, and it’s murder most foul…
That was a moment in time when I was almost three years old and yet of all the things I can’t remember, I remember that. I remember my mom so filled with joy that I was one of the many babies he reached out to hold before that day. I remember a nation that changed and was never quite the same.
We are now in a whole other era, so it seems. Caught in memories we will never forget. But, it is Holy Week soon, and we must lift up another murder at another time. One that came soon to grip the world and made men and women ponder about God’s love most precious, sacrifices made most exacting, and freedom that never comes without some kind of price. Will we measure up to what has gone on before us? Will we embrace a grace far greater and a mercy farther reaching than anything we will ever see and have seen? Will we in the limits that this virus has placed upon us be mindful of what Jesus accomplished on Calvary?
What will that look like? How will it make a difference? Is there light left in us enough to shine across these quiet neighborhood streets, shining brighter than the serious and sometimes frightening voices that flow from our TVs, computers, and mobile devices, shining in a hope that we are more than one safely distant individual in a sea of 7 billion? Resurrection to is on its way, but Lord, sometimes it seems off in the distance, when one day 7 billion lights, even 7 trillion gathered throughout the ages, will be one in the greater light of the Lord of the Dance.
I am excited to announce for the first time ever you can experience web-based, video worship shared from 1st Presbyterian this Sunday. We need one another and using the Zoom format will make it so that we can comfort one another in worship and prayer in an interactive format while staying at home.
What you need to know to sign in…
Devices can be personal computers, lap tops, i-pads, and cell phones (with internet access). If you can access the internet you should be able to download and join.
What you will need to do…
Make sure that your device has volume “on” for both your speakers (or headphones) and your microphone. You can still join without a microphone but we won’t be able to hear you during joys and concerns.
Click this link… https://zoom.us/j/256546917?pwd=V0EvOVdSR0hPWVZXY1JZZUg2bnN6dz09
You will be asked to conduct a brief download.
You will be prompted to join with video… CLICK YES (Clicking will allow you to be seen.)
You will then be prompted to join with audio… CLICK YES (Clicking will allow you to be heard.)
You will then have a screen configuration appear on your device. It may be best to enlarge to full screen. You will note that usually above the main screen there will be 5 to 6 small feeds of individuals watching as you watch.
NOTE that whenever you speak into your microphone you will appear on the main screen. For the benefit of all participants, please try not to talk over anyone during the service.
To keep from interrupting the flow of the service with unintended sounds, you may want to mute your microphone until you want to speak. You can mute your mic on the screen usually by clicking the mic icon on the lower left-hand corner. You would then need to unmute the mic if you want to share a joy or concern, during that portion of the service.
PLEASE consider signing in as early as you can I have the meeting open at 10:30 for you to do that. And before the service and perhaps if you can’t access your mic you may text me your joys and concerns anytime on Sunday before the service at 513-446-3837. I may be able to check that during the service for that portion if need be. I am not an expert but if you are connecting early (before 10:50 AM) and are having difficulty connecting, call me at the above number and I will try to assist.
What to expect during ZOOM worship service (11am)…
PRELUDE with Sheila
Brief Call to Worship
HYMN “I Love to Tell the Story” vs. 1 & 3 (Look it up online or in a at home hymnal, the third verse will have the words, “for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting”)
TIME OF PRAYER with Joys and Concerns (You may interact if the God of Tech is smiling down on us)
Scripture Luke 4:42-44, 5:12-16
Brief Homily “Finding Jesus at the Crossroads Continued”
Special Music “Be Still My Soul”
Call to give and serve
I miss ALL of you, please try to join us on Sunday!
Growing into a Beloved Community
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
The words of Jesus above are from Matthew 25:31-40 and they have always left an unerasable imprint upon how I have interpreted the crux of being a Christian, understanding the mission of the church, and being able to measure whether any particular body of Christ is faithful to a Christ centered ontology or a human oriented organizational ontology.
As we continue to move forward in our efforts to be the church Christ calls us to be in the future, this understanding of what we are to be given by Jesus should not ever be absent from the discussion. In fact, this is the emphasis of a new PCUSA mission directive that will be striving to help churches measure up to the timeless challenge of our savior. Let me acquaint you with the three areas of ministry we want to be identified with…
Building congregational vitality by challenging people and congregations to deepen their faith and get actively and joyfully engaged with their community and the world.
We are living in a world where spiritual hunger and thirst is largely unmet by churches that merely uphold doctrine, habits of worship, and the lure of guilt and blessing. If we want to reach those who thirst and hunger for grace, righteousness, and love, we must always lift up that we are striving toward discipleship. Worship must then be seen as an invitation to follow, to serve, to grow, to be compassionate, to align ourselves with the One whose offer to live in us should never be taken for granted. This in turn provides a focus of our Christian educational nurture, our evangelism, and our mission.
We are beginning to move beyond what we do in our hour of worship here to emphasize Christ’s claim upon us and the world we live in daily. From children to elder adults this has been what we are more focused on in our Christian Education. As we continue to move in this direction we are exploring ways in which we engage our community by offering this well-grounded vision.
Dismantling structural racism by advocating and acting to break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color.
One of the reasons I felt called to come to First Presbyterian in Jacksonville is that we are an open church family that does not distinguish between in crowds and any type of visitor that might walk into our worship. As we grow in this identity, we are striving to guarantee that no one who enters a stranger, leaves without knowing that they are welcomed to be family. Our world seems so divided racially, politically, and economically and we need to be more upfront and transparent about how we truly believe Christ can visit us in all shades of color, in all the rainbows reflected in our cultural diversity, in our ability to think differently yet serve and love in unity, and most of all to be compassionate toward whoever fills the current definition of the least of these that Jesus and the prophets clearly wanted us to focus on. In a “me first” and “we first” era, the church loses its relevance the more it blends in with this anti-Christ ethos.
Will we be a church that continues to break down the walls that divide our society and thereby reveals our true alignment with Jesus?
Eradicating systemic poverty by working to change laws, policies, plans and structures in our society that perpetuate economic exploitation of people who are poor.
We are active throughout the year in reaching out to those who are less fortunate than most of us. With volunteers at CHEW, United Way, Onslow Community Outreach, Inc., Rise Against Hunger, Onslow Women’s Center, Inc., and countless other efforts churchwide and individually, I am certain that we are making our identity known. Can we be more direct about seeing this as our mission because this is how we see Christ calling us to make a difference? Can we rise above the fear that sharing what we have been blessed with in life nationally and internationally will lead to scarcity? Travelling around the world I can tell you that we live in a nation that has made a great difference in the world but could make a greater difference worldwide and within. The church should be in the forefront of that movement!
So, as we have ventured to encounter Jesus at the crossroads this Lenten season, may we consider where we are identifying with the characteristics Jesus promised to distinguish us by from the beginning and until the end. And whether we move forward and join the Matthew 25 Initiative, may we grow into a beloved community that lives in that vision that Jesus left with us and calls us forward today in order to fulfill.
Why I Have No Doubt that I Need Doubt to Have Faith
The scriptures are filled with references to the juxtaposition between faith and doubt. Jesus is constantly asking his disciples why they doubt, why they exhibit such little faith at times. Paul too seems to address “the doubters” in polemics that would point a finger at any opponent that would question his teachings. But, no matter how many verses one could quote and many people do quote about doubting in scriptures, the view changes substantially when one considers that every person of faith in the Bible seems to encounter doubt and that the struggle that ensues strengthens their faith.
For years Abraham wondered around trying his best to put up a believing front, yet when promised land by God he kept wondering, when promised offspring he and Sarah found ways to make it happen on their own, and when he did show some sense of religious certainty and was about to sacrifice his very own son, then God intervenes and prevents this ultimate yet archaic display of devotion. When Moses was called to deliver his people he too went to wondering, he too came up with every excuse in the book, including the familiar, “I am just not a good public speaker Lord”. I can’t help but think if Moses would be half the example that he is to both Christian and Moslem and Jew alike had he not had these very human fears that he had to face.
As we head toward lent it is good to recall Jesus had his prayer in Gethsemane asking that the cup of suffering be passed from him if it were in God’s will, John even though he certainly had faith that he was preparing for Jesus sent word via his disciples questioning, “Is it true? Or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:20), Peter’s denial of Jesus three times before his crucifixion, Thomas’ insistence to see for himself, Paul’s thorn in the side, doubt plays a prevalent role in the New Testament as well.
Phillip Yancy, one of the most premier reformed writers of our time was asked why he wrote that the single question about faith that has given him sleepless nights is, “Why doesn’t faith work?” His answer should make us all wonder, doubt, struggle and pray ourselves…
“By that I mean, why doesn’t the church look more like Jesus? Why are so many people content to live just like everyone else except that on Sunday they put on uncomfortable clothes and sit in an uncomfortable seat for an hour? Surely this isn’t what Jesus came to earth to found!”
Then he was asked, “So what is the answer!?”
“I don’t really have an answer. All I can do is examine my own life. We shouldn’t be surprised that the church disappoints—the apostle Paul’s letters and the book of Revelation certainly don’t give a whitewashed picture of the church. At the same time, we dare not stop pointing to the ideal and asking why we don’t measure up.”
This side of heaven ought to be filled with just that type of trepidation, just that type of dissatisfied longing for what ought to be but plainly is not, within us and around us. Show me this kind of doubt and I will show you the seeds of faith.
A More Lasting Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled.
When the star in the sky is gone.
When the kings and the shepherds have found their way home.
The work of Christmas is begun!
To find the lost and lonely one,
To heal that broken soul with love,
To feed the hungry children with warmth and good food,
To feel the earth below the sky above!
I am the Light of the World
You people come and follow me.
If you follow and love, You’ll learn the mystery
Of what you were meant to do and be.
(From the Lyrics of I Am the Light of World, Kelly Joe Phelps)
As we move from Christmas to the New Year, we began with some of us wondering about the future of ministry and how more effective we can be as a family in Christ to thankfully seeing year end gifts giving us a much more encouraging outlook financially, and then as I have noted from the pulpit welcoming many new visitors that have really added to not only our celebration as a congregation of worshippers, but also given us the opportunity to welcome and include in our family those who we are thankful to receive. No church grows like a car accelerating down a highway on ramp from 0 to 60. We grow by being consistently faithful in the little things. Do we embrace one another and are we truly sharing Christ with one another through our attitudes and prayer life? Have we welcomed those around us in ways that allow them to see a deeper love than they see in the world before they have met us? Are we learning to look at others through the eyes of the One whose birth we just celebrated last week?
We need to really take account of these small moments and opportunities. We need to discover how each of them added up can really make a huge difference in the world around us. If we perhaps strengthen one relationship, make things better for just one person, cause just a little light to shine in someone’s life each day and every day, Christmas cares on in our lives well lived and Christ’s love continues to be made known. All the sudden a church like ours is not as easy to define and box in as we think. If we allow Christmas to continue in our hearts throughout the year First Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville can be part of a love that can change the world! Let’s see how we do in 2020…
“I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them- though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. “
1 Corinthians 15:9-10
Beginning our summer months here in Onslow County, the atmosphere of warmth turning to heat and summer outings and reunions gives us a season to look forward to. I would hope that during this time we all take a while to look forward to what our church might become. The apostle Paul surely saw the potential of his ministry in an accurate and freeing way as he writes to the Corinthians above. Here at FPC we have so much potential in what we can do and be as a church, and it’s not our building, program, or worship style.
Like Paul we might begin with the understanding that in and of ourselves we are not all that hot, in fact if left to our own designs this church would have a hard-enough time maintaining the present, let alone envisioning what God holds for us in the future. But we also must tread forward in the same way as Paul. We often think that if we are not young enough, if we don’t offer the latest and greatest programs of mega churches, if we aren’t towing the line of a popular theological or ecclesiastic political movement, we have little to offer the seekers among and around us. But such an assessment is really not only a dishonest way out of being the church we are called to be, it is covering up our lack of understanding of God’s grace with a pessimistic humility.
We are who we are, and God’s grace toward us is not in vain. It sounds all too simple but it is also very expectant and self-demanding. We are called to be who we are not only as a church, but called to recognize that our lives our deeply woven into the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. It is extending that identity to one another and everyone we connect with that truly makes me excited about all we do here together.
The Best of Friends and the Strangest of Strangers
We are living in a time that is causing us to reflect once again on the origins of the church and what it means to truly reflect Christ in a rapidly advancing age in terms of societal variance and the definitions of what people seek in becoming a part of a community. Like the early church we are caught in the struggle to define tradition narrowly enough to both identify our shared calling and include a diverse group of those who we aim to reach out to. Author of the book Open Source Church, Landon Whitsitt, led a discussion I once attended a few years ago, encouraging us to recognize the evolution of participation and involvement on the online encyclopedia community of Wikipedia. His main question was, “Why would a visitor in our church want to wait though a period of indoctrination and learning the ways we do things, in order to engage in mission and participate in our shared spiritual growth, when they can instantly become part of the effort “to provide and share the sum of all human knowledge” (the expressed mission of Wikipedia).
Winsett offers the view that the freedom in Christ is the key to what a Christian community ought to be sharing in its ministry. This is indeed a key to understanding not only the liberating appeal to the gospel, but also in what potentially unites so many diverse cultures in what we call Church. How are leaders to advance this spirit of shared freedom. One quote we kept going back to was Luther’s call to understand the two aspects of this freedom…
A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
In our endeavor to be the friendly church that we consider ourselves to be, I believe we need to live out this call of Luther, which embodies the fullness of what Christ practiced in leading his disciples and how Paul was capable of expanding the realm of that freedom, while at the same time uniting the early church in the essentials of what was at least for his time a very basic Christological approach. We need to truly manifest this spirit of welcoming openness intentionally. No one should say that our worship is bound to the comfort of a few well-meaning gatekeepers. No one should have to attend a fellowship event and sit alone and no one should ask themselves whether or not that responsibility lies with them. We are subject to all. The best of friends and the strangest of strangers, who seek the solace of our presence and the hope of sharing the love Jesus calls us all to share. I am excited here at FPC, because while I know we have not yet totally arrived, we want to become the open church that welcomes and embraces all who enter in.
A Look Ahead Toward Lent, Holy Week, and Easter!
In February, we begin the walk to the cross with Jesus that the church calls Lent. Based on the Book, “The Gifts of Lent” by Donald H. Neidigk, this year I want us as a church to emphasize the opportunity to recommit what we have and who we are to Jesus. So, while others think about giving things up period, I want our focus to be the title of our theme, “Giving up to God for Lent”. We will witness several real life Biblical characters in monologues and dialogues meant to inspire us to take account of the fact that we all have something to offer. Christ can use our lives, our characters, our material possessions, and even our flaws to the greater glory of God’s grace revealed. We will all be faced with the same question throughout lent, what do we have to give?
Here is the basic outline…
Ash Wednesday (Setting the theme), March 6: A brief service observed at church at 5:30M in the Fellowship Hall.
Lent 1, March 10: “A Widow Gives Her Mites” Luke 21:1-4 Giving out of what we think we lack.
Lent 2, March 17: “Mary Gives Her Perfume” Matt. 26:6-13 What extravagant gift might you have to offer God that you cherish deeply and you know that God can use in a deep and personal way?
Lent 3, March 24: “A Family Gives Their Home” Luke 22:7-13 Jesus calls us to sacrifice our creature comforts for the needs of others at times. Is there a situation in your life that God is calling you to open up and be a host to those in need of shelter physically and spiritually?
Lent 4, March 31: “Simon Gives His Strength” Mark 15:21 Every one of us knows that if we can make it to church and enjoy the fellowship of First Presbyterian we can also serve in some way giving physically. Serving others by cooking, cleaning, doing something unexpectedly kind to make it easier for those we encounter on life’s journey, maybe even something simple like kneeling down and praying for someone who needs it are ways we can all give of our strengths!
Lent 5, April 7: “A Soldier Gives His Wine” Matt. 27:45-54 Even out of the most tragic occasions, even when we find ourselves caught up in the sin around us and in us, even when we think we have nothing to offer and do not measure up to offering anything of use to God, God knows us and is calling us to service regardless.
Lent 6 Palm Sunday, April 14: “A Man Gives His Donkey” Matt. 21:1-11 What do we have that we use daily that can be used towards.
Maundy Thursday, April 18, 6pm (Church Fellowship Hall): We will gather in much the same way as the disciples did on the night of Jesus’ arrest we will eat and drink and remember the eternal presence who loved the world so much as to walk this walk of lent before us and within us. This Bread and Cup reminds us of the very life of Christ within us and potentially within others. Let us live up to the gift of this meal!
Easter Sunrise, April 21, 6:30 a.m. (Pavilion at the church ): “Joseph Gives His Tomb” John 19:38-42 and following. We all are marching toward the same reality at the end of our time on earth. I have met those who proceed toward the end of this parade and are kicking and screaming and regretfully complaining with no sense of inner peace whatsoever. Then there are those who refuse to stop giving of themselves. These are the ones that you come to pray for whose time you spend with them is like a prayer that empowers you more than you can ever imagine. Joseph’s offer of the tomb to Jesus and those who loved him strikes the same cord. Can you afford to give away your last moments? That is a great resurrection theme!
Easter Sunday, April 21, 11 a.m. Special Easter Celebration… Let’s sing praise together for He is risen indeed!
Beginning the new year the mission committee felt that expanding our connections with missionaries abroad in the PCUSA would be a good idea. This not only may help us to come alongside them at times of need, but it will help us as we strive to be all that we can be serving Christ in our local mission field as well. After reviewing many fine biographies we settled on Dessa and Cobbie Palm who are mission workers in the Philippines.
This may give me an opportunity to meet with them as I have travelled there from time to time, also I am hoping to host them when they are available in the States. Here is a little bit more about them from
Cobbie serves the church as a mission facilitator. He leads seminars for local church pastors throughout the Philippines, enhancing their skills in church development and revitalization. He also develops curriculum and trains churches in peace and reconciliation for the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform. Dessa coordinates the UCCP’s Theater for Evangelism and Advocacy, which seeks to train church workers and members to creatively communicate the gospel and bear witness to the transformative role of a caring and compassionate church.
Cobbie, who has served in mission for more than 20 years, says he has been “taught to appreciate the wisdom of the Asian proverb, ‘To hear is to forget, to see is to remember, but to feel is to understand.’” Dessa says, “My mother, a nurse who became a teacher, instilled in us a deep sense of duty rooted in a strong Christian ethic of service, love and compassion.”
Cobbie works to nurture and strengthen churches and communities that are hindered by realities of fatigue, fear, apathy, and conflict caused by the lack of resources and an overwhelming disbelief that change can help their lives and communities.
“I look into the eyes of an impoverished child, and I am told silently by that face of anguish that God demands that I care enough to give my life to building a world in which each child has a future in societies where faith leads to the transformation of communities from death to life,” Cobbie says.
Dessa traces her calling to mission to age 13, when she was a “sickly asthmatic girl who went to a theater workshop.” She says the experience turned her life around. “The adage that ‘the creative allows you to touch the Divine’ became real and compelling for me,” she says. “I was born anew.”
After she married Cobbie, Dessa began to sense a natural kinship to Cobbie’s work. She is grateful for the opportunity to pursue her calling through Christian theater. “I feel deeply connected to what God has tasked me to do, especially in using my gifts to educate, to heal through the arts, to minister to children, youth and women,” she says. “Doing this makes my heart feel so alive.”
Both Cobbie and Dessa were born in the Philippines. Cobbie’s parents were longtime Presbyterian missionaries James and Louise Palm, and Dessa is of Filipino descent.
“I have been deeply blessed by the opportunities the PC(USA) has offered me to serve the Lord,” Cobbie says, “in all that I do, and into each new ministry where God leads me, my presence brings to that place the presence of the PC(USA).”
Here is what Cobbie briefly shared with me in our initial correspondence.
“I have taken the opportunity to learn a little about FPC from your website and was excited to see your connection to CCI in Thailand. The work of Dessa will have many points of common interest with your partner in Thailand. My work is local and national. Locally, I work with communities in need of clean water in rural communities and I also conduct peace training, preaching, and church growth seminars nationally for the churches and church leaders in the Philippines.
I hope by looking over our newsletters on the PCUSA mission connections website you will come to know more about us.”
I hope you take a brief moment to read this and if you would like to be more involved in keeping track with them please let me know.
This Advent we will be looking together to discover the plan of redemption as we remember what was told of this event in scriptures and as we remember the hymns affirming our expectation of Jesus entering anew in our lives today and in the future.
We have already witnessed to the fact that this was an eternal plan that fills the yearning not only of the nations but all creation. Mary and Joseph would travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem in her ninth month of pregnancy. This was an arduous trek through hills and mountains totaling nearly 90 miles. Why would Joseph take his pregnant wife on such a trip?
Think about the times of trial in your own life and recognize this journey is a sense the journey we are all a part of. Many years the prophets foresaw the birth that would take place in Bethlehem. And when finally the time comes it is a long and trying final chapter. We too are part of that waiting and all waiting leads us to spend ourselves on the way. But take heart God lights the way not only for Joseph and Mary, the Shepherds and the Wise Men, but for you and I.
Right now, for you, there may appear to be no way things can turn out right. But you belong to the God who led them all to Bethlehem. It was a difficult process, but God delivered them exactly where they were supposed to be. And God is working to shine a path ahead for you as well.
God can do and will do what must be done so that your life might be a reflection of the real Star of Bethlehem, Christ Jesus in You!
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.
The young lions suffer want and hunger…There is no accident that we call a group of lions a pride. The competition involved in remaining a vying male in a pride whittles away at the lifespan of a male lion. In much the same way we can literally strive ourselves away on things that in the end may mean little or nothing. When I spent my time with young Marines I was reminded of this myself. I took part in their bull sessions joining the topics of the day, within reason. I took part in many of their physically demanding exercises, again within reason. Often at the end of a long day with them inside I sighed calm down Ed, you’re not a young lion anymore. We all at times live the life of the pride until the pride becomes who we are. The fear of God is not really fear in the sense of dread as it is the awe of discovering there is much more to life if we just let go of the reigns, stop all of our senseless yearning and pursue the yearning of goodness and peace and grace that is our life in Christ.
No matter how old we are the young lion is always in us. We feel it when we try to dominate conversations. We may not understand the implications when we are quick to criticize and complain in order to gain control of situations, but it’s the young lion in us still wanting to roar. I have seen it in the best of churches, small and large, and I know it’s prevalent not because I am completely innocent myself.
I was once a young lion and in many ways a young lion I remain. I crave attention. I don’t mind some of the finer things in life when they can be placed within my paws. I want to win often rather than seek a win/win situation. It doesn’t always happen but in those moments when after the service a parishioner walks up to me and shares that what I said that day really made a difference, really hit home. You may not see it but often I feel myself smiling even too deeply inside. Like I said it doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does the young lion arises.
If we are honest with ourselves we need not be ashamed of such moments. They define our humanity over and over again. But, perhaps as I mention this you may develop a keen ear to the words of the psalmist and a keen sense of humor and humility about what your feeling deep within. Beyond the striving…the vying…the hurting…and the need to roar once again, lies the healing and the wholeness that is the peace that passes all understanding.
Come children both young and aged, let us seek and help others who are searching as well for the presence of God.