November 2019 Message
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
— Psalm 136:1
The Thanksgiving holiday is almost here, although we don’t need a special day to thank God for our blessings. We can do that every day, not just on the last Thursday in November!
I don’t know about you, but in the past few years, it has felt to me more and more like Thanksgiving is being lost in the rush to Christmas.
Retailers treat this holiday primarily as the “day before Black Friday” and all the great (or not so great) sales they will be offering. Last year, I noticed that some stores were even starting their Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving Day itself. Their message seems to be “Don’t waste your time giving thanks for your blessings. Go spend your money getting ready for Christmas instead!”
Walmart and Lowe’s and Home Depot already have Christmas decorations for sale, right next to lots of decorations for Halloween and a few decorations for “Fall.” Some radio stations will begin playing Christmas songs the day after Halloween, and Lifetime TV has already started showing its Christmas movies.
This year let’s refuse to be rushed towards Christmas or to be manipulated by the rampant consumer market and commercialization of the holidays. Let’s take time to truly give thanks to the Lord for being so good to us. Let’s take time to count our blessings, and to praise God for God’s faithfulness and love.
We have suffered many losses this year as a congregation. We have also suffered through many issues with our church building that needed to be addressed, some on short notice. We have grieved together, we have laughed together, we have worked together, we have worshipped together, and we have grown together.
We have been richly blessed by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst throughout every challenge and loss. We have been incredibly blessed by the grace of Jesus Christ our Savior, who saves us every day. We have been eternally blessed by the love of God the Father, who created us and claims us as his own.
I am grateful for the ways God has blessed me over the past 11 months, for bringing me here and calling me to serve this congregation. I am blessed with your friendships and prayers, with your witness and service, and with your faith and endurance.
I hope you will take time in the coming weeks, and not just on Thanksgiving Day, to focus on your blessings and to praise God for each one. Let us all give thanks to the Lord, for indeed, God is good!
October 2019 Message
In my office, I have a picture of Jesus with his head thrown back, laughing. He looks happy, and I can just imagine him sharing a joke with his friends. Maybe he liked knock-knock jokes, or perhaps he loved puns. I truly hope he loved puns, particularly the really bad ones, the real groaners (so to speak)!
So many times, we think of Jesus only as serious and stern. We picture him teaching on a hillside or casting out demons or controlling the wind and waves. We imagine him debating with the Pharisees and angrily turning over the tables in the Temple. We envision him weeping in the Garden of Gethsemane and stoically enduring the brutality of Pontius Pilate and his soldiers.
But we don’t often picture Jesus as laughing. We don’t spend much time thinking about him feeling amused and happy, or sitting around telling jokes with his friends. In fact, I’m going to guess that most of us have never even thought about whether he had a good sense of humor – if he liked practical jokes or if he ever got a fit of the giggles.
Maybe we should envision a happy, laughing Jesus more often. Our world is full of suffering and circumstances beyond our control, and it is important for us to connect with Jesus in those moments – to recognize him in the trenches with us, suffering and weeping and struggling right beside us.
But our world is also full of blessings and moments of joy and love. How amazing to know that Jesus is right there with us in our happy moments as well, celebrating our blessings and joining in our laughter and our joy, giggling right along with us.
Sometimes we don’t pay as much attention to those blessed and happy moments as we do to those moments when we are struggling. But maybe we should.
This week, I am going to try and keep that image of “Laughing Jesus” in my mind, to help me be more aware of the moments of blessing in my life, to remind me to recognize Jesus in the laughter and the joy. The next time my father-in-law shares a bad pun on Facebook, I’m going to picture Jesus laughing, and groaning, and shaking his head with a smile in his eyes.
I hope that no matter the circumstances and challenges of life, you too will have an encounter with Jesus when his head is thrown back and he is laughing, even if just for a moment.
September 2019 Message
It’s hard to believe that the summer is drawing to a close, but if I had any doubts, the increased traffic on the roads has been enough to convince me this past week! It seems as if there are at least twice as many cars on the road in the morning. School is definitely back in session!
As students and teachers return to school, I think it is important for us to pray for God’s blessings and guidance for all learners, regardless of their age or grade, and all teachers, regardless of the subject they teach. Hopefully, all of us are life-long learners, students of life and of God’s word. And hopefully, all of us are also teachers, sharing our experiences and discoveries with the people around us.
In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In the spirit of our love for God and our neighbor, I’d like to share with you the prayer I wrote for our students and teachers, and for us as life-long learners. I shared this prayer last Sunday during the time for children, but as many of you were not able to be there, I wanted to share it with the congregation again.
May my prayer join with your prayers for the coming year, seeking God’s love and blessing for all students and life-long learners and for all of the dedicated teachers, leaders, mentors, and coaches who work so hard to make a difference.
“We pray for all children and all teachers and leaders who are starting out a new school year.
We thank you for our young children —for their playfulness, for their curiosity, and for their joyfulness. We pray as they start this new school year, that they will have opportunities to learn new and exciting things and to find strong and true friendships.
We thank you for our young people, even for the ways that they test boundaries and question authority as they continue to develop into the people you have created them to be. Help them to develop and use the gifts you have given them.
We thank you for our young adult students in their last years of high school and in college and graduate school, as they transition from children into adults. Grant them courage and curiosity as they engage in critical learning and discovery about themselves and your world.
We thank you for all those people who are called to teach and lead, coach and mentor students. Grant them your wisdom, your determination, your creativity, and your patience in the coming year. Give them the energy to continue to bring forth the best from their students, and help us all to appreciate their efforts. Give them community and support and joy in their work.
Help us as a congregation and as individuals find ways to support and encourage our children this year, and to show them the love and grace of Christ. Help us to be patient, help us to listen and really hear, help us share your wisdom and your love in all we say and do.
Help us to always be open to learning new things ourselves, so that we may continue to grow in our wisdom and understanding. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.”
August 2019 Message
As the end of July approaches, we find ourselves in the “dog days of summer,” those hot days when even the dogs don’t have the energy to do much more than lie around on the ground, panting from the heat.
Here we are, in the middle of the church year. Pentecost is behind us and Christmas is still a long way off. “Ordinary time” is what the liturgical calendar calls this long stretch between now and Advent.
Whether you think of these days as the “dog days of summer” or as “ordinary time,” this time of year can be challenging for the church. It is easy to grow weary and exhausted – the excitement of the summer holidays has worn off, our daily demands and obligations grow each day, there is little to break our familiar routine, and it’s hot outside! Add on the unusual amount of grief and loss our congregation has experienced in the past eight months, and it is no wonder that we are worn out.
Although written thousands of years ago to the Jewish people in exile, the words of Isaiah 40:28-31 still speak to us today.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
It is good to be reminded that although we are weary and exhausted, God does not faint or grow weary. God knows us, God understands our exhaustion and even our grief. We can trust God to renew us and to lift us up.
Being renewed and lifted up doesn’t always look flashy or exciting, but it is in the common and ordinary that we often experience God most deeply. I experience God’s renewal and encouragement every week in the hugs and smiles you give me, in the prayers and songs we share, and in the play of the light filtering through our stained-glass windows in the sanctuary.
Every person’s experience is different, but as a congregation, we continue to affirm our faith that God is with us and God is for us. May each of us experience God’s loving renewal and strength, lifting us up to continue our journey of faith together!