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

Summer Sabbath

Greetings from #compassioncampatfpch!!!

VBS is in full swing. In fact, we are down to just two days left, which is so difficult to believe. All week our kids have been learning about compassion and how God gifts it to us so that we might share it with the world (including ourselves).

We have been singing. We have been dancing. We have been doing yoga. We have found out we have an eight-year-old biblical scholar. We have played games. We have laughed until our sides hurt.

What is more, we have been doing mission projects every single day to teach our younglings about the various mission partners that serve our neighbors in our community and around the world. All of the supplies that you brought these past three weeks have been put to good use. And you will get to see them again on Sunday because we are going to be dedicating all of these projects as they go out into the world during worship.

Speaking of worship, we will be continuing in our #summersermonseries with the Fourth Commandment on the Sabbath – learning how it is meant to serve us and not the other way around.

So come to worship on Sunday or join us online. It should be a very fun and full day!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Get Ready

It is often said that the Ten Commandments were given in “two tables,” for can be split into two sets.

This weekend we cross the half-way point in the first set. As we continue on into our exploration of how God would have us better grow our relationships, we will still be looking especially at that all-important relationship with God.

For we are at the Third Commandment – the one about how we are meant to use and not misuse God’s name. We will think again about what that name is. What it means. And what that commandment really means for all of us, because, as usual, it is not precisely what we have always thought.

And as we do that, we will also be gearing up for Vacation Bible School next week!

This year, our younglings will be studying Bible stories about compassion – God’s compassion and our compassion. The ways that we are meant to live out that incredible love that has been given to us by God. The love that will never, ever let us go. We could not be more excited to share these stories and all of our projects, games, dances, music, and more with them in the coming days!

But we still need your help as we prepare!

This Sunday is the final day to bring in items for our mission partners. And this one is a doozy. The first two Sundays, we have asked you to bring in items that will help people in our community. However, this Sunday, we are asking you to bring items that will be sent to the far ends of the earth to help those who have experienced natural disasters as Presbyterians serve them through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. These are our mission arms reaching out around the globe. It is one of the great wonders of our connectional church. What a joy to teach our youngest members about it!

So please be sure to bring some supplies with you (here’s a link to the full list of what we need). And come ready to learn more about how God’s holy name is meant to form our lives, as well as impact our choices on Sunday. See you soon!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Original

So our #summersermonseries has begun! And already, your pastor is learning as much as you are.

As is often the case, whenever I pursue one of these series on a list or document that we all know, something we can say quite easily, inevitably I find that many of the things we are sure of are in fact a bit misunderstood.

The first two of the Ten Commandments are no exception. For quite often we confuse idolatry with having no other god before God, largely thanks to the New Testament writers. Idolatry, in reality, has to do with something a bit different than we might think, as we will learn this weekend.

What I want to draw out from our gleanings last weekend is the importance of remembering that of all the tempting little-g gods we face in our world, the most alluring is ourselves. We quite often place ourselves where God should be in our lives, trying to control everything in our midst.

That is, what I would argue, happened in the Garden of Eden. The first humans put themselves where God should be. Choosing to seek power in the form of knowledge, rather than to live into the depths of the Love of their God. They chose their own rule over God’s. And we have been doing the same ever since.

The problem is that we humans are fallen creatures. We may have been created in love and have the beauty of good within us. Nevertheless, it is in our nature to seek out power and control. We choose them over love. Choose them over God. Choose them over one another. And the world spins madly on.

So, where do we go from here?

Well, first, we must continue to root out all the little-g gods from our lives that we place where God should be and let God’s Love rule. And second, I look forward to seeing you in worship as we learn more about idolatry and how we follow the God who is far greater than any single image can render.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Compassion

The word for the month is Compassion!

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, compassion (noun) is “the feeling or emotion, when a person is moved by the suffering or distress of another, and by the desire to relieve it.” It can also mean “suffering together with another.” In the Greek, it literally says that we feel it in our inward parts (and names them). 

In other words, compassion is a full body experience, meant to draw us out of ourselves and into the life of another in order that we might walk with them through some form of trouble. For remember, we may be in a unique position to help, nevertheless, we are followers of Christ always choosing to serve another child of God, who bears God’s image as much as we do. (Important to remember, lest we forget and turn to unintended haughtiness.)

One of my sons’ favorite movies right now is called Big Hero Six. I highly recommend it. And the reason you likely have never heard of it is that Disney released it at nearly the same time as Frozen. Early on in the story, the main characters are faced with a terrible tragedy – a building is on fire. Inside is the older brother, Tadashi’s favorite professor. Before running off into the flames, he tells his little brother, “Someone has to help.” Now, Tadashi does not make it. However, his words have a profound impact on his little brother and friends, and all of us watching, including my little boys.

The message that they have learned from this remarkable movie is that if you are in a position to do something when something is going wrong or someone is getting hurt – do it. If you are in a place where you can help to gather up supplies and support your fellow humans who are going through tough times – do it. If there is anything happening around you where you can make a difference or help make it better – do it. 

And that is the message that all of our young people are going to be learning at Compassion Camp this June! Yes, our VBS is just around the corner. Its biblical stories will draw out different types of compassion that we humans can and should have for one another (and even for ourselves sometimes). And our young ones will be growing in the love that God has given them, I have no doubt – both at home and especially when we all gather every evening on the lawn.

We do need your help in collecting certain supplies so that we can teach our younglings about some of the amazing ways our congregation spreads compassion out into the world – so be sure to check out our education section below. 

More than anything, though, what I hope all of us will remember, as we move into these next few months that are so often filled with much rest and recreation, is that there are always places and ways we can show compassion to others. There are always ways we can be that someone who helps. We just have to keep our eyes open and look for the opportunities that are right before our eyes. 

It is always the right time to have God’s compassion!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Understanding One Another

This weekend is Pentecost.

During the time of Jesus, Pentecost began as a Jewish festival called Shavuot when our Hebrew brethren remember the gift of the law on Mount Sinai. That was the beginning of the great covenant that would impact the Jewish faith for millennia, even to this very day.

So it should not be surprising that Christ chose to reaffirm that covenant and expand it in the new covenant on the same day.

Most of us learned the story in Sunday School: the disciples were gathered together and tongues of fire descended from heaven and landed on their head so that all around them could understand one another. This new gift allowed the Gospel to not only be preached to one people, but to all peoples – extending God’s covenant to the ends of the earth.

It is the birthday of the church. And it is a time for us to reaffirm our commitment to God’s call for our lives.

An essential truth of Pentecost that is often overlooked is that the gift of language was not in order to use force, but to enlarge understanding.

Much as travel removes prejudice from us, God’s gift of ever-expanding language was meant to create ever-growing opportunities for us to converse with our fellow humans in love. The love that Christ has given to us and commanded of us.

If our aim is love first, then we will begin by opening our ears and eyes and hearts to listen to hear and understand. That is what we are meant to do. Only then will we see the wonderfully and fearfully made children of God in our midst. Truly know them. And see God’s path ahead for us together.

For remember this: the Gospel is Love. No more. No less.

And that is our calling.

Happy Birthday Church! Remember your calling. Remember that the Holy Spirit is always with us. Remember to love first, always, and forever.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Ascension Day

Today is Ascension Day – which is not necessarily a holy day that we celebrate in the Protestant church. Forty days after Easter Sunday, this is the day we remember that Christ “ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of the Father,” as the good old Apostles’ Creed says. Since we don’t usually do much with it, it is not very comfortable for us and does leave us asking, so what now?

Well, the truth is that the Ascension marks the transition from the first forty days of Eastertide to the final ten before the arrival of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. It creates a sort of liminal period, when the work Christ began with his crucifixion and resurrection is begun, but is not truly completed because we have not yet received our full commission with the tongues of flame.

What is interesting about this, however, is that many theologians, especially twentieth-century theologians, would point out that this great in-between is where the church is meant to live all the time. Everyday. All year round. 

The truth is that until Christ returns, God’s work here on earth is not yet complete. We live in the already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God that is tangibly visible in our midst, but only for momentary glimpses. When the full vision comes, we will likely realize how small our views have honestly been.

For many people, living in a permanent liminality or time of change (scary word, I know) is difficult. It can feel as though we are forever out of control. On the other hand, moments stuck in the in-between are also quite exciting. They offer unique opportunities to see anew and chances to live as one might not have before. 

Living each day as though it has the prospect of a million possibilities may just give us the push we need to open our eyes to God’s ferment at work in our midst. 

So, as Christ rises, remember that the Spirit falls that we might rise, too. Rise up into the people of God we are intended to be – living in that already-but-not-yet Kingdom of God and working for it every new day. Until the final new day when Christ returns.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Love Always

Over these last two weeks we have exploring the true meaning of love from the perspective of John’s first letter. You may remember that the letters of John were written by some of the gospel author’s students, intended to be a commentary on the gospel for a new generation. And if John had one theme upon which he waxed poetic, love was it.

This weekend’s lectionary text includes one of those famous verses that we often recite: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:12-13). Though our guest preacher will be exploring a different section of John with you, it seemed important to pause and look at just one more dimension of love from John’s perspective.

Remember that not only is God’s love intended to be an action verb when we put it out into the world, but this author suggests that the main way we grow our relationship with God is by loving others with this same self-giving, self-risking love. Which only adds more emphasis to Jesus’s own statement from the gospel – there is nothing more central to being a follower of Christ than love. Period.

This means that everything we do, say, think, everything about us should be checked through the lens of God’s self-sacrificial love. All of it. Even our beliefs. Even the scriptures. Especially how we interact with others.

When we lose that central focus on God’s love, on how we are meant to relate to every single other human around us, then we have lost the lion’s share of our relationship with God, too. Though God will always seek after us, we will never be able to grow into who God intends us to be until we start by mending our relationships here on earth.

So, at the end of the day, the answer is quite easy: love first. Love radically. Love always.

Blessings, Pastor Janie