A Month Of Love

Dear Saints,

Only 5 shopping days left until Valentine’s Day! So…when you just read that, what was your reaction?

Was it “Where did January go?” or perhaps “We’ve got to make reservations!” or maybe…“Ugh, I never know what to get my spouse”. For some Valentine’s Day is just one ‘perfunctory’ holiday that means burdensome card shopping, maybe even perfunctory but hollow flowers (sent or received) or sadness that love seems to have ‘left the building’.

You may remember that last year’s Valentine’s Day was also Ash Wednesday. It set us up for a natural and awesome Lenten theme of  “Love and Forgiveness”.

Last week in our Time for Youth  and Children we explored how to show Love. The kids and youth were mostly stumped, which then surprised and stumped me. But it also inspired me. It means we need reminding of how to show and act out of love, not just Feb 14th but all year long.

So we are going to explore themes of Love all month long (which is supported by our lectionary, in part) since Feb 3rd is 1 Cor 13! You probably know the text by heart or if not, at least a good portion of you had that text read at your wedding, or have heard it at least half the weddings you’ve attended.  The middle section is the juiciest:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Wow-what a tall order! 15 things that LOVE is NOT- and 5 things that LOVE IS.

Let’s face it- we’ve all had some wonderful Valentine’s Days and we’ve all had some we’d rather forget or have already blocked out.

But what if…we made an intentional commitment to work towards living out 1 Cor 13 Valentine’s Day and every day?  What if we refrained from even some of the things LOVE isn’t for the entire month? OR… what if we committed to  seeking to bear, believe, hope endure…just a little more.? Because dear friends, that’s really the call of the Valentine. It’s a message you give to another without or beyond the candy, flowers, card, or dinner but it pierces the heart in a way Cupid could only imagine.

Maya Angelou famously said “ I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Make this Valentine’s Day and the month that you and at least someone else will remember.

Loving others with you because of Christ,

Jen

Can You Pray 5 Minutes A Day?

Dear Saints,

Happy New Year! I pray that your New Year is already off to a good start! In seeking ideas for a fresh New Year’s message, I googled the history of New Year’s. Among the articles I found, one from Psychology Today, caught my eye. Author, David Ropeik posited that the motivation to celebrate the New Year is rooted in our desire to survive and that making New year’s resolutions is a way to exert control over an uncertain future. I’ll agree with half of that.

We all know how challenging it is to keep our New Year’s resolutions. In a 2007 British study of 3000 people who made New Year’s resolutions, 88% failed to keep their resolutions for the year. That was not surprising but comforting. What was really interesting though was that among the resolutions made by these subjects, the resolution to pray more, was among them. 

Ropeik claims that psychologically, people find more ‘control’ over the fear of death by “affiliating with religions that promise happy endings. Pray more and death is less scary”. Granted this article is in Psychology Today, not Christianity Today but it got me thinking. ‘Praying more’ is a terrific resolution to make ANY time of year but it still seemed a little vague. So, I’m challenging all of us to create a new daily habit of: praying each day, for 5 minutes a day, for the next 30 days. 5 minutes may seem like a small amount of time but if you were with us in worship during Advent, you know how long even a minute of silence can be, but how fruitful it was!

One Sunday after ‘pondering the meaning of Advent’ as part of our Time for Youth and Children, one of our Sunday School teachers asked his students “What did you learn during today’s Time for Youth and Children?” Their responses? “I can tell them the story of Jesus.”, “Know that God hears your stress and anxiety.”, “To focus on Jesus and God.”, “I should ponder about my choices.”, “Always believe that God is around.”, “I should ponder about what God does for me every day of my life.”, “We don’t need to gift each other but love each other”.

Saints!!!, if our kids are getting this from a brief story retold and a minute to ponder about God’s activity, just imagine how our lives can be impacted with an intentional 5 minutes each day in prayer?

Maybe we’ll feel more in control. Maybe we’ll have less fear of death. Maybe we’ll even shift from ‘surviving’ to thriving. But since our future is already certain because of what God did for us in Jesus Christ, maybe we can start to enjoy the present with God, for even 5 minutes a day. That’s why the present is called a gift.

Praying for 5 minutes a day with you,

Jen

Ponder and seek peace

Dear Saints,

It’s that time again, when I pick out (and pick on) a Christmas-themed commercial that whips me up. This year, there are two, juxtaposed to make a point. The first of my picks is an ad for a cell phone company  where we see back-to-back home videos of individuals in utter delight (screaming, dancing, laughing and crying) as they open a gift of the new cell phone.

The second commercial however is not Christmas or holiday-themed at all. It’s the next in a series of commercials where’s there an exchange between a yoga/sage-like man who has appeared at someone’s home and is inviting them to try ginger ale. The drink offers a retreat from the chaos as well as an invitation to ‘drink in the peace’.

Hmmm delight… and peace… I’m sure that’s what we hope for each year as Christmas arrives, but I imagine that, as the scriptures tell us God hopes for us to experience a goodly amount of delight, peace, surprise and hope even before Jesus is born.

To that end, we have created our Advent and Christmas services to reflect a time to ponder, to seek peace and find hope and perhaps even time to be quenched from whatever you’re thirsting for. This is not only for adults but for youth  and children alike. The more we all focus on pondering what God is about to do and the peace that God desires for us, the more we can enjoy and truly celebrate the Advent season and feel the joy when the child is born.

It’s a simple idea, it’s hard to do. But I promise you, if you seek delight over disappointment, joy over judgmentalism and peace over perfectionism you will find and rediscover that Immanuel (God with us) is actually already with you.

If Mary and Joseph, who had no security and an uncertain future BEFORE the angels shared the news of Jesus coming and they chose to be faithful, trust God and let God reveal God hopes for the future, than maybe we can too.

Waiting and pondering about Jesus with you,

Jen

Yes, We Are Blessed

Dear Saints,

To begin our November newsletter by saying , “It’s that time of year again”….or “it’s the ‘holiday’ season and time to give thanks” … is not only trite and hackneyed (my favorite SAT word) but can also produce anxiety and/or dread around both the holidays and stewardship.  It’s also like every other (boring) church appeal.

BUT, we are not like every other church. In fact, I believe we’re not like ANY other church. We’re atypical in almost every way. For starters, we have kids! And lots of them! We have not only a wide range of kids ranging from 12 months to 18 years old we have a wide range of opportunities for them from experiencing worship and communion but also super experiences in Sunday school, youth group and confirmation. Trust me, this is not only a huge blessing in the life of our church, but highly enviable in most every church our size as well as churches much larger.

We also have a truly awesome music program which is ever-changing, life-giving and relevant. We have a superb organ as well as other offered instruments and instrumentalists who add weekly to our worship. And our choir? The BOMB. Choir director/organist? Talented, creative, dedicated and always partnering with our worship committee and me and to bring fresh, new and meaningful ways to re-invent worship to add meaning and depth.

We also have a great church administrator who goes above and beyond; whether it’s being pastoral to a parishioner, patient with an elusive vendor, taking out the garbage or shifting support to the ever-changing needs of what’s urgent or important.

And…we are blessed to have two parish associates who have been teaching, preaching, caring and supporting with and for us, for almost 4 years.

Our space? Always in progress…we’ve received grants to renew our two most cherished stained-glass windows’ we’ve cared and upgraded our manse for our wonderful tenants and are in the process of making a transformational  changes to our (L2L) basement space to create a food bank where kids, youth and adults can connect and carry out our Mission statement: “Faith, Hope and Love in Action”.

We also enjoy fellowship together in all its forms from weekly coffee hours, a traditional Christmas dinner and many new and fin ways to connect like paint parties and create-your-own wreath!

I pray that as you remember all the blessings that come from this community of faith and pray about your part in the future, that you can HONOR your part in its past, CELEBRATE all you’ve done it its present and DEDICATE yourselves to participating it its bright, hopeful and generous future in every way you can.

Giving with you in Christ,

Jen

Vine-Sign

Dear Saints,

If you have taken exit 44 on Route 287 (north bound) anytime in the last 6 weeks, I wonder if you have seen anything unusual or ‘out of place’.  What I’m referring to is the vine growing on the guard rail on the left-hand side of the off ramp.

Initially I thought it might be a zucchini vine and considered harvesting a few of the blossoms (a delicacy that chefs pay large sums for) Then I realized it would be both a safety issue and a health issue in harvesting a few of them, given their location.

I’ve since come to believe that the vine is indeed not a zucchini, given that it is fall, it is still blooming, and the blossoms are actually too large to be zucchini. Yes Charlie Brown, it’s a pumpkin! Each day that I come to church I look forward to seeing its’ progress and keep marveling at its’ tenacity to grow, in the midst of this very unlikely and unfavorable environment. The vine is deep green, healthy and the blossoms are gorgeous, big, orange flowers.

This pumpkin vine is a sign that reminds us that God begins new life and supports growth even against all odds. At a time of year when we are slowly letting go of our grip on summer, trying to ‘keep it all together’ in the spin of a new school year, contending with deeply distressing political headlines, destructive storms, and worried for our children’s lives and choices, this pumpkin vine reminds us: God will find a way where there seems to be none. The Spirit blows new seeds of opportunity where we least expect it and “Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, we can do nothing. (John 15)

May you be inspired to take exit 44 to see this “vine-sign”.  May you trust that God has planted many seeds in you, even if you are unaware of them. And may you stop and take notice of even the smallest of gifts God has blessed you with and find a way to plant the seeds of the gospel.

Planting with you in Christ,

Jen

Mathematical Fraction

Dear Saints,

As I left church on last Sunday, freshly back from vacation, I had three immediate thoughts. “Great to be back”, “What a gift to have a Baptism today” and “Where did the summer go?”. The last thought/lament is likely being echoed among many parents, teachers, administrators, bus drivers and the like as we approach Labor Day and all of us who love summer. Sigh…

Author and entrepreneur, Ken Dychtwald explained the phenomena of “Where did the (fill in the blank here) go?” is in his book “Age Wave” (published 30 years ago). He claims that mathematically as we age, a span of time is shorter in comparison to our life span, so any event or span literally it feels shorter to us because it is a smaller fraction of our lifespan. That’s helpful and I think it’s also a reminder to “live life to its fullest” and …“stay in the moment”.

Now back to my first two thoughts.

The first: is “Being back”. This is a challenge for all of us as we shift from our summer with more relaxed rhythms to the fall drive which seemingly increases with speed: Increased traffic, increased schedules/demands for our time, and likely a decrease in relaxation, quality time spent with family and of course, a daily decrease in sunlight. Sigh

But the second though is what I want to land with: “What a gift to have a Baptism today”. We had a baptism On August 26th. The 2nd of two children. The baby was a prince. His older sister was so sweet and didn’t laugh at me when I spilled the entire pouring pitcher onto the chancel floor before it had even begun. Sigh

My point? Yes, we are starting another fall and with it another church program year. Now we have yet another child to make sure we love, educate and form in faith.

When his parents got back into their car after the service they didn’t say “thank God that’s over”, they said “We needed that”.

As we all shift back into the fall and manage the change in rhythm, may we also remember we’ve added another child to be responsible for. That’s a mathematical fraction we can all praise God about.

Serving with you in Christ,

Jen

Don’t Forget to Listen

Dear Saints,

Summer is a wonderful time to enjoy on all sorts of fun things (and even some home projects) including movies and tv series. One of my favorite shows is Endeavor. It’s a wonderful British murder-mystery (much more mystery than murder). Endeavor is the prequel to the famous older PBS Masterpiece shows: “Inspector Morse” and “Inspector Lewis”. Endeavor is set in the 1960’s but the dialogue is snappier than ‘Morse’ and ‘Lewis’ and because the show is based in the Britain, characters also have a wide swath of accents from around the UK. One must pay attention with a keen ear to not miss any key bits.

Some of my friends have resorted to closed captioning, but I am determined to keep my brain and ears sharp by staying in the saddle without it. But…a week ago, I was home watching Endeavor and I kept having to turn up the sound. Not only was I missing the usual tete a-tetes I could barely hear even larger dialogues! Increasing the volume didn’t seem to help until I turned it up so loud, everyone in the condo complex could hear it!

I was in a double bind. I didn’t want to miss a word, nor use CC (no judgement here, just trying to keep sharp). Now I had my own mystery to solve. And unlike most other network TV, there are no commercials. No time to take a break and think, ponder, solve.

At the risk of losing some dialogue I made a snap judgement to turn the volume waaaaay down, to where it usually is. Could it be that there was so much noise within the condo complex and local air traffic that I was caught in a competition? Possible, but unlikely.

With the sound still very low, I listened intently…and then I heard it, or should I say them; loud and clear. My Summer evening companions: crickets, cicadas and other nighttime chirpers that arrive in late summer; the delicious background noise used in any good summer blockbuster…or murder mystery. As soon as my show was over I went outside, breathed in the beautiful air, watched the moon rise and took in every bit of the night noise. What beautiful music God makes!

Saints, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, don’t forget the most wonderful and perfect sounds made for us by the Creator. Don’t forget to LISTEN to God’s voice in the children AND the crickets, the concerts AND the cicadas, the family AND the frogs, the water AND the wisdom of the One who made all things and is the Lord of all things forever.

Listening with you for God’s voice,

Rev Jen

Christian Community

Dear Saints,

In case you missed it, (as I did) the Scripps National Spelling Bee crowned another champion this year on June 1st. The word that won? Koinonia. Yup, a Greek word from the New testament that means Christian Community. It first appears in Acts 2. Koinonia is laced all throughout the New Testament as a reminder to us of what keeps us together in, through and because of Jesus Christ.

Back in the 1960’s Koinonia Groups (or K Groups) were created as an addition to (and sometimes as an alternative) to weekly worship. The concept was to gather in small groups of no more than 12 (like the disciples) for a time of fellowship, study and prayer. K groups were very formative in my faith development in high school and early adult years and I would travel far and wide to participate weened K Group Retreats and eventually lead them.

We have K Groups in our faith community as well. Our Young Parents group uses this model when we meet, as does the “2nd Sunday” group and that’s how the GROUPERS came to be. The bell and chancel choirs are other forms of K groups although they work so hard and serve and pray together weekly, but only have time for fellowship(party) twice a year! The Deacons also use this model every month at their meetings and Session is also beginning to allow themselves to snack on something yummy, without too much caloric guilt.

Even our July 14th Jackals baseball game is a “Faith and Family” night. This is always a big ‘hit’.  I hope we can get our usual 30 friends and family gathered. Lastly our Summer Picnic will be another wonderful example of Koinonia August 5th. It was such a blast last year we have even bigger plans this year. SAVE THE DATE!

I hope you will all find a way to unplug this summer and enjoys God’s creation, but when you’re in town, plug back in to our Koinonia. It wouldn’t be the same without you.

Communing with you in Christ,

Jen

Watching for Rainbows

Dear Saints,

In the wake of this week’s media outbreaks of racial and personal attacks I am feeling just plain disgusted. I hope I am not alone. While I believe everyone has a right to their opinion, we seem to have lost not only a sense of human decency, we have also clearly lost our way. Sadly, this is not the only week I am deeply disheartened by the barbs, mudslinging and despicable behavior this week felt like a tipping point.

Words are no longer a vehicle to communicate and build up community but a way to wield power over others that I’m sure breaks God’s heart. If it weren’t for the rainbow covenant established by God after the flood, that wiped all but one family, I fear we’d be done for, again. BUT, since God set up the rainbow as God’s reminder to protect us and continue to be our God, then we have a responsibility not to add to the misery, strife, complaining, or giving any of it, anymore ‘airtime’ than is already present.

Winston Churchill said “when you’re going through hell, keep going”. Famous theologian Karl Barth said, “The only way out, is through”. God is not only waiting on the other side of eternity, God is also with us in this world and the mess we’re in. So…what’s our invitation? being part of the misery or sharing the hope in God’s rainbow that the world so desperately needs?

Watching for rainbows with you,

Rev Jen

Spring Cleaning

Dear Saints,

Spring is squarely upon us and I’m sure we’re all breathing a sigh of relief that we are done with threats of snow piling up, day after day. But along with Spring comes the cultural reminder it’s time for spring cleaning!

Some of you may already be in an annual rhythm of swapping out your closets and weeding out your wardrobe each season for outdated fashion or clothes that just don’t fit like they used to.  Still, we like to hold onto our favorites, even of the sleeves are tattered, or the knees have a few holes because, somehow they make us feel more grounded (or perhaps like we’re not aging).

Yet, when we get a few new things to round out our fashion that’s fun too; newness awakens us like the sweet spring air.

This month we will add some newness to two of our favorite services of the year including adding some eye-popping, jaw-dropping and even mouth- watering additions!  The first will be or our annual and beloved Music Sunday, May 5th. This has been a treasured event each year but this year there will be some new and truly amazing additions. I can’t tell you what they are. You’ll just have to come see and hear it for yourself!

Then! We celebrate Pentecost May 20th! As usual we’ll wear red and other colors of fire but this year we’re adding Holy Hot Salsa! Competition in honor of the Holy Spirit’s arrival to form the early church. I’m sure the early church had something like pita chips and harissa, so please make or bring your favorite salsa to coffee hour. Prizes will be awarded!

I encourage you to plan to attend these special services around your spring cleaning, lawn-care and sunny outings. I guarantee you will be enlivened to do your weeding and closet sapping with joy and maybe even a little ‘Salsa’ in your step.

Enjoying the newness of the Spirit with you,

Jen