Which Messiah…?

This weekend we are continuing in what is essentially a two-week mini-series in the gospel lectionary. The question we are looking at is “which messiah are we following?”

You see, both weekends we hear Jesus predict his shocking death to a very astounded and confused set of disciples in the gospel of Mark. They are not really sure what to do with this news that the Christ must suffer and die. That’s a very different definition of Messiah than the one they had always grown up with – so Jesus must just be off his rocker, right?

Ancient gods were known for their strength and power. Their cunning and might. The ways they smashed enemies into bits and lifted the dominant to thrones here on earth. And those who worshipped these gods well, sacrificed to them, followed their rules, and did not anger them were blessed with good fortune. The poor, the sick, the outcast – they were obviously cursed by the gods, too – at least according to the outlook in most ancient cultures.

But not the God of Israel. Never the Great I Am. As much as our God has phenomenal cosmic powers, God chooses a different mode of being. One that focuses on Love, the heart of who God is… a crimson thread you can see throughout the whole of the scriptures if you look. A Love that creates life and justice in its wake. Again, all through the scriptures.

So why would the Messiah, God’s anointed one, be any different?

We humans get so caught up in the ways of this world that we look for the Messiah in all the wrong places. We even look for the wrong Christ, an anointed one who looks like us.

In these texts Jesus asks us, “which Messiah are you following? Are you really sure it’s me?”

Just a few thoughts to ponder as we head into worship together. See you soon!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Twenty Years Later

Today marks the twentieth anniversary of a watershed event in our nation’s history.

Every so often, one seems to appear. December 7, 1941. November 22, 1963. September 11, 2001 – all are dates that live in infamy in our minds. Those of us who were alive for any such event can tell you precisely what we were doing when we heard the news. We can recount the remaining affairs of the day. What happened in the days and weeks that followed. All of those moments that linger in our minds.

September 11th especially recalls to mind the words of everyone’s favorite Presbyterian minister, Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always see people helping.'”

More than anything else that I can remember about those days two decades ago, I remember the remarkable helpers. From the firefighters and police officers, as well as simple neighbors in New York City who helped in the aftermath of the twin towers, or the brave men and women of our military and the first responders at the Pentagon, or those who gave their lives on Flight 93 – there were helpers all around. And that was just the first wave. There were faith leaders in every major city, every town, every village, from all three Abrahamic faiths and every other faith opening up houses of worship to pray. There were counselors and teachers giving space for students and children of all ages to ask the hard questions. To this day, there are still people who continue to help with the perpetual aftermath and lingering effects on those whose families were involved in the immediate crises.

Twenty years later it is remarkable to look back and realize how much the world has changed. We now have an entire generation who has no knowledge of those days or their fallout. My own children have no recollection. Even my older bonus daughters were far too young to remember, being less than six months old at the time. How do we explain such a powerful moment in our common, shared story to them? And after all this time, what is the greatest take away we might hold onto?

For me, at least, I am still holding tight to the image of the way we helped one another. The way we held each other up as we cried our eyes out. Ran towards the trouble to protect our neighbors. Walked with each other through the long, hard road back from such a difficult and shadow-filled place.

As many faith leaders from a variety of traditions have noted long before me, those are the places where God was present in the midst of such a day – all those moments where we saw the very best of God’s people helping one another.

My hope is that it will not take another tragedy of so great a magnitude to see God’s children rise together to help one another again.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Have Courage, Be Kind, Hold Tight

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

I thank God every time I remember you, as the Apostle Paul once wrote. For indeed, you, my beloved congregation are never far from my mind. 

This last year has been a remarkable one for all of us, to be sure; for me, just like the rest of you.

September marks the beginning of anniversary season for me – the months when I remember the deaths of all three of my parents, my mother-in-law, and my husband – all between September 8th and Christmas Eve. This year will be the first anniversary of my beloved husband’s October 14th death. I have been grieving, learning to be a single, full-time mom, and walking with you through an unprecedented time. We have certainly been through the wringer together, haven’t we? And I have been so very grateful for the grace and patience that every single one of you has shown me through this very unusual time, both personally and professionally.

Now, we find ourselves once again facing down another period of uncertainty; all the while desperately wanting everything to get back to normal. In some ways we will be able to. In other ways we may have to wait a while longer. Still in others, we may find that life will be forever altered.

For example, we are finally able to worship again without masks (yay!) However, our children still have not been vaccinated. So we are going to keep them and their teachers masked for Sunday School (as per their parents’ request). And the pandemic has helped to recenter many of our professionals and their workloads. With many businesses now accomplishing their work entirely (or almost entirely) from home and around their workers’ schedules… as parents… as humans in general… this is an unprecedented change as we look to the future. 

What does all this mean?

Well, more than anything, it means that we need to show kindness toward one another. Everyone is going through some sort of battle we do not know about. We need to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

With earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, and a plague in our midst, it is high time we remember that the world is already trembling for most. 

Have courage. Be kind. And hold on tight. We will get there eventually, just not quite yet. But God is with us until we get there and beyond.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Lessons Learned

This weekend we will be spending one last Sunday with the Ten Commandments. Rather than to end with number ten itself, we will look at the full body of the tablets and also look at what Jesus said about the cannon as a whole.

Why?

Well, for quite a few reasons, most of which I will name on Sunday. However, key among them is that like most things, Jesus cared far more about the heart of what they said as a whole, rather than about any one individually. (That’s not to say he didn’t do some very interesting things with some of these mandates on their own, though.)

We need to remember that for Jesus it was always about one key thing: love. Love of God. Love of ourselves. Love of others. If anything breaks that mandate, then something is wrong.

If you think back to the beginning, the commandments themselves were originally written as laws of love by God. However, they were nearly immediately twisted out of joint and that message got lost quite quickly.

Christ wanted to bring us back to the center.

So, before we move into the fall, to see all the fun sayings of Jesus that the Gospel of Mark has to offer us (and oh yeah, some of them are doozies), we are going to take one last look at what we can learn from our #summersermonseries. See you Sunday!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Fall is coming…

This weekend we will have our annual Blessing of the Backpacks, when we give thanks for all of the students, teachers, staff, and administrators in our FPCH family and beyond involved in education within our broader community, and then bless them as they begin the new school year. Because yes, this new school year begins in earnest next week.

However, I know the question everyone on everyone’s mind is what is happening at church this Fall?

Well, earlier this week, our Session met and spent the majority of its meeting discerning the answer to just that question. Five of the seven sitting members of Session, including myself, are parents of children within our Christian Education ministries. So these decisions were made not only as those who have been elected to find God’s path forward together, but also by those who have a very express interest in how we do so in joy and in safety.

It is, therefore, with great elation that I share our program outline for the Fall:

  • Mark your calendars for World Communion Sunday, October 3rd when we begin our Fall Schedule!
  • Sunday School and Worship will both be at 10:00 a.m.
  • Worship will continue as it has been in these recent months, rotating between traditional and contemporary, with no masking requirements.
  • Sunday School will be provided for Preschool – Grade 6, in three classes, and masks will be required for all students and teachers. This is at the request of both the parents and teachers.
  • Nursery Care will be provided for children 2 and under from 9:45 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
  • JAM will be back in November & December for special events.
  • Confirmation Class (Grades 7 & 8) will begin in early November.

Our hope is that this new schedule will encourage our whole FPCH family to return to our campus to be spiritually fed as we continue to see the wonderful future that God has in store for us.

Until October, we will continue in our summer worship schedule with worship at 9:30 a.m. – mainly so we can give the heat a few extra weeks to abate.

We look forward to seeing you this Sunday and in all the months that lay beyond!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Good News

This weekend we will celebrate the Ordination and Installation of our new officers!

This marks a new beginning for us as a church family. And though this fresh start comes every year, much like New Year’s Day in the secular calendar, it still offers us the opportunity to look the future with renewed hope.

Now, you may be wondering, with the world seemingly erupting into chaos around us, is all this exuberant expectation merely a pipe dream?

As a follower of Jesus Christ, I can tell you with absolute and utter assurance it is not. Whatever else may happen, our God is the same as God was yesterday, and God will be the same tomorrow. What is more is that just as God has always been with us, and is still with us, so God goes before us into the future.

I know there are many worrisome and even some very frightening things happening these days. But I also know this to be certainly true: there is nothing in all creation that will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).

Good things are happening in our midst… While many other churches have had to close, we have been open nearly twelve whole months straight now, including through Christmas.

We are already scheduling special events for this coming November and December with community groups and the Presbytery coming to visit, including the Altoona Brass Collective.

And we have two new ruling elders being ordained on Sunday, both of whom have children in our Christian Education programs, and both of whom bring unique professional backgrounds that will add to our Session’s already diverse collection of expertise.

None of us can know precisely what the future will hold. Nevertheless, we can trust that dawn is on the horizon and God goes before us.

We’ll see you in worship!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

A Learning Journey

We are nearing the end of our #summersermonseries, which is difficult to believe. It seems only yesterday we were beginning with the first commandment and now, this weekend, we will be looking at the ninth.

Oh how far we have come on this wilderness journey together. It has truly been a summer of learning!

First, we studied the first four commandments that are meant to grow our relationship with God. We found that they are all deeply connected to one another. Really quite intertwined and overlapping. Truthfully, the first three are simply the same commandment restated in different ways. The fourth, then, is a gift from God meant to give us space to reconnect with God’s creative process.

After learning more about how to cultivate our bond with God, we then turned to the second tablet which covers how we are meant to live with one another. Because from the very beginning of the covenant, God has always known that we need one another to survive and thrive in this world.

What has been interesting to find, however, is that just about every one of these second set of commandments have not meant precisely what we were expecting. A commandment seemingly for children is far more about parents giving them something worth honoring. Then, we found that the greatest murders we commit in this life are the ways we let hatred fester in our hearts. The commandment about disloyalty has far more to do with us taking all of our vows seriously, never entering into them lightly, and remembering that we were made for healthy, loving relationships. Then we found that there are far more ways we can loot someone’s existence than to simply take away their personal property.

This weekend we come to the commandment about lying. Turns out, it’s a doozy of a sort, too. Because lies are everywhere – whether we realize it or not. We are constantly bombarded with information and misinformation. Many of the lies are deceptively disguised. So, we should be on our guard.

But not to worry! We will sort out lying and coveting before we are done. And then we will come back and look at the commandments all together, one last time before we put them away as school starts.

So, now, everyone ready for the final exam?

Just kidding. But I will see you in worship this weekend!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Two Choices

August is upon us. Not really sure how that happened. And yet, the new school year begins in just a few short weeks.

As is always the case, a new year brings excitement and also trepidation. This year more than most as we face yet another strange upturn of the pandemic that has been shadowing our globe these many months. Still, with the hope of greater availability of vaccines also on the horizon, I know many of us are looking toward the coming year with great expectations and enormous joy.

What will it be like, I wonder? What will the future bring, I wonder? (I can hear Julie Andrews singing in my head…)

Here is the funny thing, my friends: even if we were not recovering from this millennium’s first plague, we still would not know. The future is always a mystery. It always holds unfolding transformation that has already begun in our midst, even if we cannot see it yet. And we would still have to walk the path ahead only able to see the next few steps in front of us.

So, we have two choices. 

We can live in fear of what will happen. Always waiting for the next shoe to drop. The floor to fall out. The mountains to quake and the sea to rise. See life as an endless opportunity to be a victim of all the horrors and hardships that will inevitably come.

Or, we can choose to see the wonder of all that lay beyond. See the possibility of adventure in every turn. Realize that yes, trouble will come, but we are not alone. God is already ahead of us and walking with us. And there is much fun to be had along the way.

You all know what kind of year I have been having these last twelve months. And there are many moments when I feel like I am floundering and about to sink below the waves. However, several of you often comment that I still seem to be flourishing in the midst of all of the crazy tumult happening around me. If you ever wonder why, it is because I actively choose, every day, to live in the second option.

Won’t you come and join me?


Blessings, Pastor Janie

Abusing Love

It is a funny thing, when you think about it. Some of the best known commandments are also some of the most badly abused.

Let me explain what I mean…

We all know that the commandment to honor our parents has been taken advantage of by far too many parents who use it as an opportunity to dominate their children, rather than caring for them the way they are supposed to.

The commandment not to murder has been so focused on in this way or that, limiting it to physical bloodshed, that we have completely lost sight of the immense damage we humans have wrought upon one another though hatred and malice, just as Jesus said we would.

And this weekend’s commandment, the one about adultery, has been so often associated with divorce, as a mandate making divorce the “ultimate sin,” that it has done untold amounts of destruction to bodies, relationships, and souls.

First, there is no “ultimate sin.” Period.

Second, there are some very valid reasons for marriages to end and Jesus taught us not to judge. There is always more going on than we understand.

And third, most importantly, there is far more to adultery than simply relating to the need for a marriage to end. We are going to talk about those nuances on Sunday.

What I want us to think about today, however, is something far more insidious than just the breaking of these individual commandments.

It is the ways we so willingly and gladly turn the scriptures into a weapon against one another. To hold them over each other’s heads. To vehemently wield them as a way to crush another’s heart and soul and make ourselves feel better.

Make no mistake: it is not just regular people of faith who do this, but also those in leadership roles. And it is sickening.

My colleague, Amy Butler, once said, “Anytime the Bible is quoted to defend behavior that is not motivated by the law of love, something is wrong.” That goes for anytime we quote the Bible and are not motivated by the law of love, too.

Why? Because the law of love is what Jesus himself laid down. And then gave his life for.

That is the law we follow.

The commandments are meant to follow in love’s wake. Not the other way around.

So, come this weekend as we talk about disloyalty, oath-breaking, and, yes, adultery, when we take on the seventh commandment. This one isn’t just for teenagers. There’s a lesson there for all of us.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Five… Six…

So the #summersermonseries continues: now we really get into the thick of it!

We have managed to wrap our heads around the first table or tablet of the law – those first four commandments that help us to better grow in our relationship with God.

But this past weekend we moved into the second table, which bears six commandments. These all having to do with how we are to relate with one another. And as we learned last weekend, sometimes they need to be turned on their head for us to really understand what they mean.

God began with our beginning. With those who raise us. Reminding us that we are to honor those who do.

However, we must also remember that this was never a blanket carte blanche for parents enjoy a reign of terror over their children. The fifth commandment is and always has been an opportunity for parents to create an environment of mutual love and respect. Teaching children by example to be the loving, kind, honest, healthy, fun, and service-minded adults that God has always intended us to be.

Then, somehow mimicking Genesis, we go directly from the blissful picture of Eden, or us in our parents arms, to what immediately happened next. Anyone remember that part of the story?

Right after our primordial parents got kicked out of the garden, their kids started trying to kill each other. And one managed to do it. His blood cried out to God from the very dust of the ground.

Because if love comes first, life is certainly its sacred counterpart.

So we are going to talk about what murder actually means. What Jesus said it meant – because, as usual, he expanded the definition. And how this commandment helps to determine the way we are meant to live our life.

Then things get really interesting next week… See you in worship!

Blessings, Pastor Janie