Active Waiting

This weekend, we will be continuing in our #exodusseries with two important moments in the narrative.

Our main emphasis will be diving deep into the parting of the sea as the people fled from Egypt.

However, before we can get there, we will be pausing to recall the final of the ten plagues of Egypt. Even with all of the nuisances and outright terrifying events that have happened during the first nine plagues, Pharaoh will still not let the people go. So arrives the final plague – the death of the firstborn. It is only when his own family is affected that Pharaoh finally gives in.

In this midst of this story, there is the second narrative of how God works to ensure that God’s people will be safe. We see the institution of the Passover festival and meal – a time to remember two things. First, that God protected us. And second, that sometimes God pushes us to get moving.

As the old saying goes, “pray to God and then row your boat ashore.”

This practice is called active waiting. It means that even if things cannot be as they once were, and even if things are not yet back to our new normal, there are still some things we can do to fulfill God’s purposes here and now.

We, my friends, are in a long period of waiting. Of liminality. Of the already but not yet. Many of us feel as though our long night has gone on beyond what we can take and we do not know when the sun will finally rise.

But, as my grandmother used to remind me, it is always darkest just before the dawn.

Dawn will break. That is certain, even if we do not know when.

In the meantime, find every way that you can to display God’s love to all those around you, to work for peace, to bind up the brokenhearted, and seek justice for the oppressed. That is how children of God actively wait.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Where Is God?

This weekend, we are going to dive back into our study of the Exodus. The passage is none other than that famous story of the burning bush that was not consumed.

Among the many things this story does for us is to remind us that God has a tendency to show up in the places we least expect.

Moses was minding his own business and caring for his father-in-law’s flock of sheep. And then… there is a voice calling out to him from a surprising source. In the fires of creation itself.

God is there. God is working. God will not go away.

Right now, our world feels as though it is spinning madly off its axis. Life is topsy turvy. All we want is to get back to normal. To the mundane. To life as it always was.

The truth is, though, that life was never truly what we thought. It was always a bit crazy (if not a lot crazy).

What is more, when everything seems to be spiraling out of control, that is exactly when God shows up.

So where do we look for God right now?

Well, frankly – everywhere.

God is in the hands of healthcare professionals serving our sick neighbors. God is in the compassionate eyes we see over our masks. God is in the feet that are walking to seek life and justice for all people. God is in the kind words of old friends and neighbors reaching out to check on one another. God is in the strong arms of the firefighters and disaster workers around our country, and our globe, trying to protect and help people in the tumult they now face. And God is certainly in the hearts and faces of every person with whom we come into contact (because God made us all).

God is here. God is working. God will not go away.

All we have to do is to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open and we will find the ways that God is constantly and consistently present in the ways we live, move, and have our being.

Whatever the future may hold, God will be with us. And that is good news that we can all hold on to right now.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

At the Heart

This weekend we will be taking a little pause in our new #exodusseries to remember some of Christ’s most important words.

In all three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke), when he is asked what is the greatest of all the commandments, Jesus responds with two: love God and love your neighbor. No, this is not a rhetorical trick. Instead, Christ is pointing us towards a much more important truth.

At the heart of God’s relationship with humanity is this essential understanding: you cannot love God while not loving your neighbors. To put it another way, in loving your neighbors you are loving God. In other words, it is one commandment after all.

Our neighbors are not just the literal ones two doors down. They are our family. They are our friends. Yes, they are those living right next door. But they are also those who are quite different from us.

The short version is that everyone is our neighbor. Every single other human on this planet.

In the same way, the love that Christ speaks of is not the same love that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day or some wishy-washy claim to care when it seems prudent.

Jesus speaks of God’s love.

Love that serves others, even at cost to one’s self. Love that will never intimidate, play mind games, manipulate, or belittle. Love that empowers all who touch it to change the world. Love that will not allow unkind words, shallow thoughts, or hate-filled actions to stand. Love that does all in its power to see God’s purposes fulfilled.

That is what our guest preacher this weekend, Ken Lynch, will be discussing in greater depth with us.

My prayer for all of us over this holiday weekend is that we will be safe, that we will be kind, and that we will love with all that we have and are.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Exodus Reexamined

On Sunday, we will begin a new series on Exodus. It is based in large part on the lectionary readings for the fall. So, for the next seven weeks (after a small break over Labor Day with a guest preacher), we will be studying the story of Moses in great depth.

This weekend, we begin with the very earliest portions of Moses’ story: the enslavement of the Israelite people and slaughter of the Israelite children from chapters one and two. In the midst of this narrative, God’s resistance against those wreaking havoc and destruction arises from the most surprising of corners – the women.

Then again, perhaps it is not surprising at all. There is an oft told tale of the women being the ones that make churches function through their work behind the scenes (at least that was what I noticed down south for the last two decades and the history beyond).

A lesser known tale is that it was women who made the early church possible, as well. Not only did a woman preach the first sermon, as we learn in the gospels, but it was women of wealth from among the Roman and Jewish converts that largely allowed the church to function for the first several decades (and beyond). They were not held to the same standards of being required to worship in public (in either the Roman or Jewish religions) like their husbands or fathers. They were able to work behind the scenes: to provide places for the church to meet and to give the funding that helped the church survive infancy.

In the story of the Exodus, it is Israelite and Egyptian women who stand first against the tyrant ruling Egypt. The great prophet Moses learned to protect God’s people and follow God’s calling from his mother, his adopted mother, his sister. And we learn of God’s work also through the story of the midwives. They all put everything on the line, including their lives, to help one or hundreds of Israelite infants.

There is an old Jewish saying from the Talmud that “whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

If you are ever getting overwhelmed at the enormity of peoples’ needs in this world or what God is asking you to do in serving others – start with one person. God has called us to care for orphans and widows, foreigners and family, the hungry, thirsty, strangers, the naked, sick, imprisoned. And there is much work to be done. But God never said you had do everything all at once. That is why God has tapped all of us to help.

So do what you can, every day, to make someone’s world better. If all of us join in, the entire world will begin to shine with God’s light.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Doxology

When I was a senior in college, my Grandpa passed away right after Easter. It was the first time I had lost anyone close to me in over a decade. And he was the last of the original men who had been there as a major influence in from my earliest years. It was a big deal for me.

The night before I was leaving to come home for the service, I was leading worship (singing) for a college ministry group of which I was a part. Among the songs we sang that night was Blessed Be Your Name. One of its lines struck me near silent in the midst of all I was facing: Blessed be your name when the sun’s shining down on me, when the world’s all that it should be. Blessed be your name. Blessed be your name on the road marked with suffering, though there’s pain in the offering. Blessed be your name.

Based upon countless psalms, the song reminded me that even in the midst of the most difficult of times, we can still give God praise. Not because God has got it all “under control.” Though God could control all things, God has proven that’s not God’s modus operandi. Instead, what God has consistently shown is that God is present, walking with us, though everything in this life.

What is more, remember a few weeks ago, we talked about what God’s name actually is – a word that comes from the Hebrew root for the word life. Meaning that life is meant to be lived, even in the hardest of times.

This weekend we will be studying the piece of the Lord’s Prayer that was not part of Christ’s original. It is the small snippet at the end: for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever. This section is called the doxology (praise) and was added during the Reformation period.

It is important to remember why we say it every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer. And it’s for the very same reason that the song “Blessed Be Your Name” and the psalms repeatedly talk about praising God in the midst of trouble: because God is always with us, working to bring life and to fulfill God’s kingdom at every turn.

As we come to the end of this #summersermonseries, we hope that the lessons we have learned will stick with us as we approach this new school year and all that lies beyond.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Deliver Us

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are…

1 Corinthians 1:27-28

This weekend we will jump into the second to last section of the Lord’s Prayer. It is, in fact, the last section of the scriptural versions of the prayer. However, since the Protestant church uses the doxology at the end, we will take one extra week to discuss it.

This Sunday’s line is “deliver us from evil.” As one of our members wisely reminded me this week, evil is pernicious and insidious. It distorts even our best of intentions – the Reformers would be so proud.

And we all know the road that is paved with good intentions.

Much of this line from the Lord’s Prayer has to do with God delivering us from the evil that can bubble up within ourselves. And among those things that always rises to the surface is the danger of worldly ambition.

The passage above, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, speaks quite eloquently to a cardinal point of God’s purpose in Jesus Christ. You see, while the world was focused on power to dominate and military might, wisdom to subdue and ways to keep the subjugated low – God sent a helpless, little child. A child, born in near poverty levels to a barely wed teenage mother. A child whose family had to run for their lives to a foreign land when those in power threatened violence. A child who became a man, a carpenter and a preacher, who dispensed mercy with reckless abandon and spoke truth to power. Who claimed the poor and oppressed and condemned the rich and the mighty for their callous devotion to the status quo. Who showed us God’s true power: love. Love that chooses to serve. Love that fights for justice. Love that accepts death to display its immensity in the face of the world’s depravity.

Jesus, and God’s purposes throughout the scriptural witness, are a blatant critique on what the world calls power. It is not about all the things we think we know to get ahead – it is about knowing the one thing that matters. It is not about dominating might – it is about lifting up the downtrodden. It is not about those who take positions of authority to wield them – it is about those who have none and have been forgotten finally finding their voice.

That is the power of the cross. That is the God we serve. A God that is truly all-powerful and yet chooses to display and live that power as love, not might. When we get so focused on finding worldly power and keeping it, well, then we’re giving into our darker side and losing track of who God is truly calling us to be.

We are to be servants of the Lamb who told us that when we serve the last and the least, the lost and the obliterated, then we are serving Christ. Though we cannot ever fully be free of the bubbling of evil around us and within, we can always chose to point ourselves in the correct direction. To start moving towards God’s purposes. And that is the choice we have to make every single day.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Giving Up

This weekend we will be studying the line from the Lord’s Prayer about temptation. And though I don’t want to give away any spoilers, I do want to take a moment to focus on a very specific temptation that is quite enticing at the moment.

Our world is fighting a pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in over a hundred years. The infection rate continues to remain high and the death toll is steadily climbing past one hundred and sixty thousand, in our country alone. Our larger community continues to grapple with how to care for one another while still ensuring the the education of our younglings in the coming months. And our Session has felt it prudent to return to on-line worship for the time being.

We do not know what the future holds. That, in itself, is quite scary. Nevertheless, we should not give into the temptation to give up. To think that this storm will never end. That life will always be this volatile and this difficult.

Though it may feel sometimes like the light at the end of the tunnel is a freight train heading our way, the truth is that one day, this all will end. Life will continue. And we will find our way to a new normal.

My main encouragement for all of us is: do not give up. God is still here, always walking with us and working miracles in our midst. What is more, there is a bright future ahead of us that God already has on the radar. It will arrive – even if that day feels like it’s a hundred years away at the moment.

So, the main things to do now is to have courage and be kind to one another. We can and will make it through. Trust God and keep going. See you in worship on-line!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Together Even Apart

We have come to a sort of crossroads for our congregation. We have been open for in-person worship, but felt the need to close again due to our Presbytery’s guidelines. As we do, however, we are continuing to pursue ways to expand our ministry together – even at a distance.

One such plan involves Communion for this coming weekend. Since we are unable to gather in person, we are going to set up an opportunity for you to come and get your Communion supplies before Sunday morning so that we may all partake of the one bread and one cup together.

The Lord’s Supper is an essential and central practice in our relationship with God. It is “food for the journey,” so to speak: giving us strength and reminding us of Christ’s constant presence. And since this current journey we are on is taking many twists and turns, there is no more important time for us to share in Christ’s table. It is meant to be shared together, as one – and this plan will make that a possibility when worship will be held on-line.

On Saturday, August 1, we will have a drive-thru to pick up supplies and instructions from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. in our rear driveway. It will be a one-way road and the only entrance will be from Penn Street. We hope that many of you will take this opportunity to join together in this feast.

If you are unable to come through during that time and need Communion delivered to you, we have two elders who are ready and willing to do so on Friday and Saturday. Their phone numbers are in our mid-week email for your convenience.

Remember, we are the body of Christ on earth – fed from the table and sent into the world to serve. Together.

We look forward to this new and special feast as we continue down this brave new road.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Spins Madly On

One of my favorite songs in college had this line in this chorus: and the world spins madly on.

That is our world right now, isn’t it? The pandemic we have been fighting for months has not only not ebbed, but is now picking up speed again. We’re facing difficult decisions about how to best serve our children in terms of their emotional and physical needs. We’re trying to remember everyone who is being effected and endangered in their places of work. And there are many social justice issues that are in the open and being addressed from every side.

And then you find out that your pastor’s husband has been fighting sepsis for months and was less than 48 hours from dying last week.

Our world is spinning madly, to be sure.

But here is the hope and good news I can offer: God is still here. The Holy Spirit is working among us and through us to see the kingdom thrive. And Christ walks with us as we face these unprecedented challenges – even all at once.

So always remember this: however the world spins, however the floor falls, however the walls come crumbling down – we are not alone. We are loved more than we can imagine. And God will get us through this.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Will-full

I have noticed over the years that the word used to describe children that I despise more than any other is this: willful. It suggests that they are overbearing, when quite often it means that they are not willing to blindly agree with adults. They ask questions. They push limits. They choose to exert their God-given will instead of always following instructions.

This is not to say that children do not need to be taught respect, have limits, or follow directions. However, children also need to be taught how to change the world – and change always requires discomfort, prodding, and pushing the limits that should not be.

Have you ever considered that we humans are actually quite willful towards God? We want what we want. When we want it. To back up what we believe. To keep us comfortable. To protect our rights.

What do all these statements have in common: they are all about us.

In reality, however, God desires us to be will-full – full of God’s will. What is God’s will then?

Scripture has taught us. We just usually don’t want to listen.

God’s will for humanity is that we would care for others as much as for ourselves. It is that we would live into the Love in whose image we were made. It is that we would continue Christ and God’s ministry here on earth – ministering to the sick. Bringing tangible good news to the poor. Teaching children and women to think for themselves and be their own people. Welcoming the stranger and the alien. Empowering the disenfranchised. Speaking hard truths to power. Bolstering the silent. Mending broken hearts and shattered bodies. Declaring the year of jubilee when all debts are forgiven and the world returns to what it was meant to be.

That list keeps going.

We are meant to be full of God’s will. Actively living it in our lives. Seeking to sow the seeds of love that the world so desperately needs.

This is some of what we will talk about this weekend as we continue in our #summersermonseries on the Lord’s Prayer. Hope to see you in person or through our wondrous modern technology!

Blessings, Pastor Janie