Is Our Beginning

Well, Fall is nearly upon us. School is less than two weeks away. And this weekend we will celebrate one of the most important Sundays of the entire church year.

No, this one isn’t on the liturgical calendar (for those who are keeping track at home). The exact date is not precisely set and therefore it moves slightly each year. However, it does have proper liturgical color: red.

This weekend we will ordain and install all of our new Ruling Elders and Deacons who will join our Session and Diaconate. For Presbyterians, Ordination is not a Sacrament, for Jesus did not institute it. Rather, we believe it is a way to bless those we understand that God has specially called and chosen through the voice of the people for a specific purpose.

In the case of the Ruling Elders, it is to join with Ministers of Word and Sacrament (Teaching Elders) in the governance of the church at all levels – most commonly Session. For our Deacons, it is to take part in the ministries of care and compassion of the church as servant leaders have done since the very earliest times of Christ’s body on earth.

The third anniversary of my own Installation as your Pastor was just this past week, marking another milestone in our walk together.

This weekend is a time to celebrate the varied skills and gifts that God has given us in this and and place to serve the world God so loves. It is a joy to behold. Even better, it is just a glimpse of the festive occasion to be had when we pass our 235 anniversary as a congregation next year.

So, join us this weekend as we recommit ourselves to God’s call for all of our lives in this time and in this place.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Fall is on the way!

August is here! Not sure how that happened… It seems like January was just a few days ago. Every time I have to give a date for something, I find myself almost saying March… My brain just can’t seem to believe that the new school year (and program year) are about to begin!

Every new year brings the wonderful sense of anticipation. That desire to see our world come back to life again for the fall season. The marvel of watching our children excitedly delve into new spheres of learning and knowledge. And, of course, the compulsion to create bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils. 

If you cannot tell, this is my favorite time of year. We know that fall breezes, autumn colors, and bonfires are not far behind. And yes, part of it is the fun of the sports and holidays and cooler weather. Yet, there is a large part of me that loves this time of year for another, much more simple reason: I love learning.

Instilled in me from a very young age by my mother, seeking knowledge of everything and anything that I can has always been one of the great loves of my life. It was a great love of hers, as well. And, once I became a Presbyterian as a teenager, I realized that we were not alone in that love. 

For Presbyterians, learning is essential. Teaching the many facets of life including the sciences and math, the dimensions of the family of faith and our holy book, learning more about other people of faith, growing in our understanding of world history (and yes, I do mean the whole world), studying languages and literature, training at the feet of the many great masters of a vast array of fields who have gone before us – these are all part of what makes us better humans and therefore better people of faith. Over these many centuries our mothers and fathers have realized the necessity of education, and excellent education whenever possible.

This is why we will take Sunday, August 21 and spend the day blessing our children, our adults, our families, and our community as we enter into a new school year. We will gather symbols of learning and teaching, of science and literature, of art and music, and all the varied ways we grow in knowledge around and upon our Communion Table that we might celebrate God’s great gift of education even as we pray that God will grant that ever fuller wisdom, energy, imagination, intelligence, and love will be with all who are involved in learning this coming year.

For our adults, I will encourage you with the wisdom that my mother passed on to me: you are never too old to learn something new. Grab a new book. Join one of our classes a bit later this Fall. Or, if you really want to study something fun, do what my mom used to and ask the younglings about what they’re up to. You will not be disappointed.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Deeper Meaning

We are far past our half-way point in our #summersermonseries, my friends. And this weekend, we get to one of the most abused “fruits” of them all: gentleness.

Sometimes translated as meekness, this particular fruit has been used to keep those who have been traditionally subjugated in their “place.” It has been connected to a vision of Jesus that is mild and tame – and in no way in keeping with what he actually said or did.

Now every fruit we have looked at has had a cognate, a word to describe it in Biblical Hebrew. For peace it is shalom. For kindness it is chesed. For faithfulness it is aman. Etc. But there is no word for meekness or gentleness in Biblical Hebrew.

It is only when we look deeper into the meaning of the Greek that we can find any sort of explanation of how God has been moving from the beginning with some form of gentleness – for lest we forget, these fruit are always tied to God’s own character and actions. And our God is anything but meek.

Come to worship this weekend and learn what it means to pursue gentleness in a world that revolves around control.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Faith in the Park

Recently, when I was visiting one of our homebound members, I was reminded of the importance of those basic promises of God.

It is so easy to have a strong faith when we are young and nothing much has happened in our lives. When we go to church a lot and all the world seems to be going our way. How much more difficult it is to keep that faith when everything falls apart.

I have had the unusual opportunity to experience these challenges earlier than most. And there are many times when faith is not an easy walk in the park. Or if it is a park, it’s Jurassic Park and we are definitely not walking.

In those moments when the floor falls out and I feel so alone that even a crowded room seems empty, I hold onto the most basic promises of God. The ones that have been there from the beginning and will be there through to the end.

The first is that God loves us with a steadfast love that is tenaciously faithful beyond our imagining.

The second is that there is no place in all of creation, within the known universe or even beyond it that we can go where God cannot find us or get to us. Nowhere God will not pursue us out of that same love. We are never alone. Even in those moments when Jesus, part of God’s own self, felt alone in this world – he was not alone. We will never be left or forsaken, even in those times when it appears to be just us on our own.

And that gives us the strength and courage to carry on. Even when it feels like we’re done. Even if it just means taking the next breath – we do it. We keep moving until our time on this earthward journey is through. Then we move on to the next great adventure, and maybe then we’ll get to see everything we had to miss.

The writer John once talked about how we love because God first loved us. What we forget is that the same is just as true about faith: we have faith because God first showed faithfulness to us. It is a gift. One that keeps us going when all else seems lost. And that is what we will be talking about this weekend.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Good & Generous

This weekend’s fruit gets us into a bit of a debated translation – ooooo.

Our word for the week is ἀγαθωσύνη. And since I know everyone is up on their Greek alphabet, I’m sure you can read it (hehe). It says, agathosune.

The word is only used four times in the New Testament, all in Paul’s letters. What is more, it is never used in secular Greek. Meaning that Paul himself may have partially developed or created the word – the same way that Cicero was known to do.

Coming from the Greek word agathos, which means both good and generous and is used by Jesus and throughout the Greek world, our fruit is usually translated either goodness or generosity. It can also mean kindness, beneficence, and an uprightness of heart. Meaning that what we are getting at here is a heart matter.

All of the fruit of the Spirit come as gifts from God. They are an outpouring of what God has so generously given to us. In essence, as God’s love is poured into our hearts, there is nowhere else for it to go but back out. For yes, there are wounds and brokenhearted pieces within all of us that need God’s healing touch, to be sure. Nevertheless, God’s love is so overwhelming and all-encompassing that there is more than enough for us to have God’s light continue to work within as well as to shine beyond us.

This is what Paul is getting at with our fruit for this weekend. Goodness is not an end unto itself. It is a heart that gladly shares all it has, overflowing with the love that God has so generously given to us.

What that will that look like for you?

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Kind is better than Nice

This weekend we will be continuing in our #summersermonseries with that often too undervalued Fruit of the Spirit: kindness.

Lots of times in this world we hear parents say to their children who are squabbling, “be nice.” But nice is a placating gesture. It is about being agreeable. Pleasant. Charming. Disarming. It is a momentary, fleeting method of keeping order without ever finding accord.

Kindness, on the other hand, is something else entirely. Both Biblically and within our own language kindness brings with it a broader sense of compassion, selflessness, and generosity. It cares about the whole person with whom one is interacting. It considers far more than merely the moment one is in. Kindness is everything.

It is central to how we live as Christ’s disciples. With courage and kindness we can truly change the world.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Freedom

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. (Galatians 5:13)

One of the most important and quintessential human rights is freedom. The ability to determine one’s own destiny and to have full control over one’s bodily autonomy. These may sound like foregone conclusions, however, we know that they are not since chattel slavery has been a major part of our history.

Earlier in this passage from Galatians, Paul reminds his church to never again submit to the yoke of slavery. This can be interpreted in many different ways, to be sure. Yet, we know that Christ himself would have included literal slavery on the list. As well as any time when a person’s ability to self-determine was taken away. 

This most basic human right – to be free and to be able to have a say in what happens to us – is at the heart of the national holiday we will celebrate this weekend. It is not something that every human within our borders has had throughout our history. Nevertheless it is something that many have fought and bled and died to ensure. Sometimes fighting in battles and sometimes fighting with nonviolence and simply a willingness to stand up and refuse to be moved because we too are full humans, fearfully and wonderfully created by God, and deserving of full rights.

Freedom cost blood and sacrifice – something Christ paid two thousand years ago. Not so that we could lord it over one another and select some as better than others, but in order that we would become just as willing to give of ourselves in sacrificial love until all our fellow humans are free. 

Strive for the freedom that Christ died for – one that is for all of God’s children. The one we are meant to seek every day. And light up the sky with that brilliance and beauty for all the world to see.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Wait for It

This weekend we will be diving into our third fruit of the Spirit: patience.

Now, this is a well-known and often espoused virtue. We all have said it to adults and children alike whenever someone seems to be chomping at the bit. And Lord knows that we live in a culture of instant gratification – where we can have almost any need cared for in a matter of moments.

Learning to wait is a hard task for all of us. A necessary one, too. For there will be times in life when there will be absolutely no other way.

Test results. A response to a difficult question. An answer that may never come.

We all remember what it was like to wait for a time when it was safe to move freely again while scientists and doctors worked franticly on vaccines. Trying to keep our neighbors safe. Trying times to be sure.

Waiting is simply a fact of life. Patience is a necessity.

However, there are times when patience has been abused. When people have been told to wait for things that should have been theirs to begin with: Freedom. Basic human rights. Self-determination. Equality. Equity.

When these most simple facets of life are denied and righteous outrage is met with the response of “have patience,” something is very wrong. And God is not pleased. There are countless stories in the Biblical witness to back this up.

So come to worship this weekend as we look together at what God designed patience for and when God desires that we should no longer have it.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Triune Joy

Back in the day, when I became a solo pastor, my late husband made a suggestion that changed the way I preach forever. He said, why not take your summers and use them to explore all of those lists that everyone thinks they know. Thus far, we have looked at the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments).

This year, we are diving into the Fruit of the Spirit. And when I mentioned this to one of our Elders recently, he surprised himself by immediately shouting out the verse – Galatians 5:22-23. We both laughed out loud.

As the letter reads: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We will begin this summer with joy and go from there, spending most of the next three months.

This weekend is also Trinity Sunday.

The Trinity is by far one of my favorite theological concepts, even while it sends most people running for the hills. It is a holy mystery, I get it. A bit over a lot of heads. But to me, for some reason, it makes perfect sense.

Our God is perfect community. Communion. Relationship. Three persons all with distinct roles. But sharing equality. Power. Eternity. And yet, our God is also the God of the in-between. As one of my colleagues put it recently, of sunrises and sunsets and all those spaces and places that are occupied by creative combinations that are not distinctively one or the other. Our God is a joyful dance always playfully creating. The God of more. Because love will make expansive room to be inclusive every time, just like Jesus did during his lifetime.

So, come to worship this weekend as we celebrate our Triune God and the gift of joy in our lives that no one can take away.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Artwork by Ying Hui Tan, from What Is God Like? by Rachel Held Evans & Matthew Paul Turner

Blazing Fire

Summer is here, with all the heat to prove it! 

And this year we are ushering in the high temperatures with a blazing fire on Pentecost Sunday, June 5th. 

Remember that Pentecost began originally as a Jewish holy day, Shavuot, when the children of Israel would commemorate God’s gift of the law on Mount Sinai. Which is why pilgrims from around the known world were gathered in Jerusalem that day when the Holy Spirit came down from above, appearing as tongues of flaming fire. The fire allowed the people to speak and understand in all the wondrous variety of languages from the earth so that they could hear the good news of God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ. 

Sure, the naysayers thought they were drunk. But for those who saw and believed that day, what a wonder to behold.

That gift is the reason we call it the birthday of the church. It was after Christ had ascended into heaven and that major promise we have been hearing about throughout this past month in Jesus’s final sermon – that the Holy Spirit would indeed arrive – that moment we see the promise getting fulfilled. So now the work truly begins. 

Which also makes it the perfect day for us to celebrate all the wondrous variety of gifts that we have at work within our own church family. That’s right: this year we are making Pentecost a double celebration by having our annual Recognition Sunday (the way we used to). So, if you are a Sunday School teacher, a Choir, Band, or Handbell member, a committee member or chair, an officer, or better yet, a graduating Senior from High School, we look forward to honoring all the amazing ways that God’s fire is shining through your life. 

And for everyone, we are going to take this Pentecost as an opportunity to remember the power that words have. As Albus Dumbledore once said, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” God knows the power of words, too: since all the creative activity God has ever accomplished happened through the eternal Word, who one day became flesh in Jesus. Think of all the incredible things that Word did.

So, this Pentecost, we will be giving you each a flame with a word on it. They will be words to perhaps refresh your spirit. Or maybe to offer a remedy for a healing hurt. Maybe they will be the Holy Spirit’s push that you need to spread your fire into the world. Only God knows which word will be the right one for you. But we encourage you to take one and let it encourage you in the year ahead – for as this school year draws to a close, a new world is opening to us in the summer and everything beyond.

Blessings, Pastor Janie