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

Life Keeps Moving

Life keeps moving…

If you have ever experienced some sort of major life event, then you know the odd sensation that often occurs the following day when one realizes that while your world has changed forever, the remainder of the world continues to spin madly on as though nothing has happened. Why? Because life always finds a way forward. Life does not stop, even when we feel as though it should.

Life keeps moving…

Even over the last twenty-five months, as many parts of our world, our country, and our community have had to close or drastically alter their plan of action, even when all of us were tucked safely at home – life found a way. Do you remember the people singing from their balconies and open windows? Do you remember the kindness of neighbors ensuring that others had groceries and medicine when it was unsafe for them to go out? Do you remember the ways we bent over backwards to support our neighbors who were in danger of losing their businesses or their housing or needed some other basic need? Life still happened even when the world seemed to stop.

Life keeps moving…

And now we come to a place where we are soooooo close to being able to return to some semblance of our old routine. However there is something in that sentence that should give us pause: the word return. Generations that have gone before us, in scripture and in world history, would remind us that there is no going back. The world truly has changed this time. For this not happen to only one person or one family, but to our whole human family.

So yes, the days are surely coming when we will rip the masks from our faces and embrace all of our neighbors in the joyful relief of safety from this plague. What a blessed day that will be. Yet we should consider that when that day comes it will not be a step into the past, but a bold step into the future. Because…

Life keeps moving…

And here is why: at the very root of our God’s name, Y*HW*H, is the word for life. For existence. For being. It is not just that life moves all around us, but that Life moves. God moves, always working in our midst to bring new things, good things, beautiful things into a world that would otherwise seem drowned in shadows.

Life still finds a way. Life always finds a way forward. Life does not stop. Life keeps moving. And that is our hope no matter what may come.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

What Is Love?

This weekend, we begin a little side-trip into the first letter of John. Of all the epistles (big Greek word for “letter”), John’s letters share perhaps the most direct themes with one of the gospels, in this case the gospel of John, because they were written by the same school of writers. We will be on this little getaway for the next two weeks to see what we can see.

In this first section, we will be looking more closely at what it means to believe in Jesus’s name and to truly love as Christ has loved. Both are topics we have examined slightly before, but they always bear another look.

Especially in our world today, it is worth considering, with great care, how Christ has called us to love as God has loved us. Among the things we will learn this weekend is that loving in this way is always more than words – it is always concrete. Tangible. Active in this life.

We will also be reminded that hatred is never acceptable for those who would follow Christ. In any form. Most especially toward another child of God, any human on this earth who bears God’s own image.

So, as we get ready to worship this weekend, a good place to begin, a question to ask in preparation would be: where are those places within myself that I hold onto hate or where do I give lip-service instead of real love?

Remember, confession is good for the soul and all of us have missed the mark. What is more, only when we have realized our missteps can we begin to do better.

See you soon!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Questions Welcome

This weekend, we will begin our explorations of Jesus’s appearances to his disciples in the forty days between his resurrection and ascension. This Sunday’s is particularly well-known for a character that has been forever displaced by his doubt.

And yet, we are Presbyterians. We are known for our love of asking questions. Of diving deep into the messy, difficult quandaries that leave many of our fellow Christian brethren running scared. We welcome the chance to learn. To grow. To find ourselves forever seeking profound understandings and plumbing the depths because the answers we have found just don’t cut it.

Thomas is, in many ways, our founder. Many have called him the first scientist. The one seeking that first proof. And don’t worry: we may find, when we look more closely at our passage that Jesus is not actually condemning him for his doubts.

Now, some important history for us: there is a passage in one of our confessions, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, that states that “the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.” Allow me to translate: we believe that God alone is the one who governs what we believe. We believe that through the Holy Spirit God guides us to use our reason to grow in our faith and understanding. And, most importantly, we absolutely believe that no one should ever, ever force us to believe a specific set of doctrines or teachings.

In other words, we welcome questions. We don’t want easy answers. And we are here to walk together as we seek the great wonders of God’s own self, God’s work in this world, and who God is calling us to be.

So come this weekend as we begin to unravel some of these questions. And we’ll see what better questions we find next.

Blessings, Pastor Janie