Sowing Seeds

This week is our Virtual Vacation Bible School here at FPCH. And we have been having so much fun and learning so much. We can’t wait to share some of what we’ve been doing with you all on Sunday.

We’ve been studying the parable of the sower from the gospel of Mark. What we’ve learned is that the seed is God’s love – the living Word of God in Christ. Sometimes God’s love falls on people who give up quickly. Sometimes it comes to those who refuse to pay attention to their roots. Sometimes it is thrown into people whose lives are full of challenges. And still other times it falls into open hearts.

The good news is that God’s love is still there, no matter which kind of soil you may be right now. And God’s love is the sturdy root we all need to get us through this life.

If we can successfully teach our children that God loves them no matter what – our week will have been a success.

So pray for all of us who are taking part this week and pray that the seeds God is planting in our hearts will grow and grow and grow in the future.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Pentecost, Take Two

So this weekend we will be diving back into the spirit of Pentecost (the birth of the church) with a double celebration.

First, we will be ordaining and installing our new officers in worship. It is a key moment every year when we honor the special talents and abilities God has gifted to all of us, even as some are set apart for special service. And the color for ordinations and installations is red – just like Pentecost Sunday.

Second, since we were still meeting digitally over actual Pentecost this year, we will be taking up our annual Pentecost Offering. This is one of the four annual offerings of the Presbyterian Church (USA). It goes to support the extremely important work that our denomination does with youth, young adults, and at-risk children.

As we support our young adult volunteers (missionaries of a sort) and the faith formation of our young people, we also have a chance to choose a charity to which 40% of our offering proceeds will be given. Our Session has decided that this year, that portion will go to Hollidaysburg’s own Tiger Backpack Program – to help children facing food insecurity in our own community.

So, come wearing red and bring your generous spirit as we celebrate all that God is doing among us this Sunday in worship.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Did you know?

Fun fact: there are two different versions of the Lord’s Prayer.

Unlike our creeds and confessions that were based on scripture and written by believers in the centuries following Christ, this prayer that we say every single week (hopefully every single day) is actually a passage of scripture.

In fact, it is two passages of scripture. One in Matthew. One in Luke.

Both times, Jesus is teaching his disciples how to pray. Which means he was teaching his disciples how to live their faith, too.

The two versions of the prayer are quite similar, with obvious overlaps. And yet, they are distinctly different.

Luke’s version is short. Succinct. Keeps focus on only a handful of key elements.

Matthew’s version is closer to the one we are used to. It is more fluid and poetic. And though it is missing the last phrase we say every recitation, the lines still hold the understandings we think we know.

Both passages of scripture have something to teach us. Which is why we are taking time to study both this summer during our sermon series.

We are going line by line to discover what precisely Jesus was trying to teach us when he gave us this prayer.

This weekend we will use the Lucan version of the prayer as we dive deep into the meaning of the second line – hallowed be your name.

We hope to see you, in person or on facebook, as we continue in this journey together.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Game Plan

So we have finally had a chance to come together in worship for the first time in thirteen weeks. This past Sunday saw people returning to our beloved house of worship. Though we sat far apart and did things pretty differently, there were still moments in worship when it felt like any other Sunday.

Why? Because God was there – binding our hearts together.

This summer we are going to be undertaking a special study in worship (in addition to all the precautions). We are going to be looking at the Lord’s Prayer. Line by line.

We are doing this because when we know any set of words so well, we often repeat them easily and forget what we are actually saying. And when it comes to prayer, we should definitely understand the words we speak.

So, whether you join us on Facebook Live (we’re working through the issues) or will be joining us in person, all masked up, we look forward to exploring this central prayer together. There is much to learn (and yes, I will even answer the age old question of debtors, trespasses, or sins).

Come one, come all, and see what insights God will bring to light.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

God in Three Persons

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three people standing near him…

Genesis 18:1-2

This weekend is Trinity Sunday.

Many of you may be thinking, “Um…. ok…. so?”

Well, this is one of those liturgical Sundays that I absolutely love. Especially because, in this case, I get the chance to talk about one of my favorite theological topics: the Trinity.

And that is just what we are going to do on Sunday, as we gather in person for the first time since the beginning of March.

It is fitting that we should regather on Trinity Sunday, because it is the beginning of a new season in the church calendar. This is the longest season in the church year and will last all the way until our New Year’s Eve celebration on Christ the King (close to Thanksgiving). The season we begin on Sunday is the one that celebrates how God turns our ordinary lives into extraordinary signs of God’s gracious presence.

Here we get a chance to get our focus framed again so that we may serve God well.

Honestly, knowing who our God is, in God’s trinitarian form, has many important connections to our own lives and walks of faith. Knowing that our God lives in perfect community gives us wisdom as we walk together. Understanding that our God cares about our relationships gives us guidance of how to care for one another. And realizing that our God made every human in the image of the trinitarian form, well, that puts the whole world into a whole new perspective.

We hope to see those who feel comfortable at worship in person and the rest of you on Facebook live as we share our service together. May peace be with you all.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Fiery Breath

This weekend is Pentecost – the day when we remember and celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to the church. It is a sort of birthday in many ways. And it comes once a year, fifty days after Easter, to remind us of one key question:

Are we ready for what God is asking us to do?

The arrival of the Holy Spirit is not something to be taken lightly. Though we have lived with it all of our lives, the Breath of God never stops moving. Always pushing us. Prodding us. Challenging us. Getting us ready for whatever God is wanting us to do.

There are many things we can say God is asking us to do at this time. To wear masks because we care as much for our neighbors as we do for our own families. To keep our distance as much as possible because God tells us to care about all others and we are smart enough to realize that a pandemic that has killed over 100,000 people in months (more than the number of soldiers we have lost in every foreign war combined since WWII) is nothing to ignore. To visit the sick (or FaceTiming them). To get groceries to the homebound and disenfranchised. To support small businesses and food pantries. To be kind to workers everywhere.

But there are other ways the Spirit is pushing us, too. God’s Breath wants us to fight for all people to keep breathing. To stand against bullies and violence. To speak truth to those in power that racism, sexism, bigotry, white supremacy, and hatred in all its forms are sin and are not in God’s purposes. To work with our brothers and sisters in our own communities and all over the world seeking justice, peace, and hope for all of God’s children.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is definitely pushing us right now. God always keeps pressing until we’re out of our comfort zone. And Jesus always cared about peoples’ lives on this earth, here and now, as much as any afterlife, which means we’re supposed to, too.

So what is God’s Spirit asking you to do this Pentecost week?

Do be careful when you ask that question – God’s answer may not be an easy order to fill. Yet we can always trust in this: God will be with us wherever we go.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

MO

Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land…

Psalm 68:5-6

This passage comes from our psalm lection for this weekend. The full psalm is very, very human in its prayerful requests of God to destroy enemies. Though humans have done this throughout history, Christ has proven to us that is not God’s desire for us.

Interestingly, however, God’s true purposes do sneak into the midst of the author’s writing. These famous phrases above, that pop up repeatedly throughout scripture, make an appearance. In the Hebrew Bible, this is a description often given of who God is: the God of the lost and forgotten, the broken and the unwanted.

Even though God is the Creator of everything and is the God of everyone, our God intentionally chooses to make this God’s central modus operandi. And Jesus proves this point, in spades.

Here is what this repetitive explanation of God’s self teaches us: if we are made in God’s image, then we are meant to champion God’s causes, too.

Caring for the poor. Fighting for the disenfranchised. Even better, empowering those without power to have a voice. Ensuring those ignored by society have what they need. Visiting those in prison and who are sick. Working tirelessly to see that God’s desired vision of life may come true – with medical, educational, economical, and social needs all met.

Christ does not just worry about our spiritual well-being. No, God cares about life in this world, too. And especially ensuring that those without have what they need.

This is our call and our charge: to follow where God and Christ lead. It may not always be easy to live into, but it is meant to be our goal.

Because, as we learn from our Lord, love is always meant to be fleshed out.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Imago Dei

In God we live and move and have our being.

Acts 17:28

This weekend’s lectionary readings includes this verse from the Acts of the Apostles. It comes from a scene where the disciples have discovered a shrine to an “unknown God” and believe that the people there were already worshipping the God of Israel and Christ. In the midst of their explanation comes this very famous verse.

There are few other pieces of scripture that describe our relationship with God so well. That relationship is meant to be all we are, for God is always moving within us.

Because the divine image in which we were created, it should be no surprise that for many in this world, they know they are seeking after God, even if they do not know God’s name. On some level, all of us have likely experienced this sensation because our God is so much bigger than any name we can give.

There is mystery there. Power beyond knowing. Love bigger than any possible understanding. We can never know all of who God is in this life.

Yet, we can feel that God is at work within us. Even if we do not fully comprehend who God is, nor the precise actions God is accomplishing in us, we can sense that there is new life being breathed into our very bones.

A child of God is who we were made to be – fully known by God and fully knowing God.

We are already fully known by God, but God desires us to know who God is, too. That is what we are to seek after: through prayer and meditation, service to our neighbors and families, growing in love. Everything we do can be used to pursue that purpose. And that is the ultimate goal.

It is not an easy one to attain, but as you will hear in our sermon this weekend, we are not alone in our pursuit.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Called

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who call you out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

As we dive into Jesus’ final speech to his disciples in the gospel of John this weekend, we find the lesson paired with this (relatively) famous passage from 1 Peter.

There are a lot of things we can say about what it means to be a follower of God. And this passage focuses on several of them: a called family, a noble ministry, a tribe set apart, God’s named and claimed beloved. These are all accurate descriptors of who Christ’s body on earth is meant to be.

Note that the most important thing about all of these captions is that they are plural.

God has called us together.

Though we may each have unique and essential gifts, though we may all be members of the body – we are meant to do this thing as one people.

This does not mean we have to agree on everything. If we did, it would be rather boring. What’s more, there would be no way to hold one another accountable when we fail to see a part of what God is placing before us.

What this does mean, however, is that our calling, our common purpose to serve God in this life is what binds us. It is more important than any of our differences. It helps us to lift up and celebrate our special gifts, because we are all seeking what God has set before us: a chance to work for the Kingdom.

So, yes, you are special. We are important. No more than anyone else, of course. But we have simply been set apart to live into Christ’s ministry on earth – serving all the world with love.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Life Abundant

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10

This weekend’s lectionary passages include one of Jesus’ “I Am” sayings from the gospel of John. In this case, “I am the gate for the sheep.” He is speaking to his disciples during his ministry. He is trying to help them understand why others may not choose to follow God’s paths.

Then at the end of the passage, Jesus makes the statement above.

Life abundant.

Note that this is not eternal life. No, this is life life. Here and now life. Fullness. Wholeness. Flourishing life.

Right now, many of us feel as though our life has been placed completely on hold. We miss our normal routines, our favorite hangouts, and the many little luxuries we often take for granted. Still others are grappling with the true challenges that have come with this pandemic: economic hardship, mental health issues, domestic violence problems, physical health issues, food and shelter insecurity. Just to name a few.

The truth is that God wants all of God’s children to have not only the resources they require, but also lives that are filled with joy and vibrant experiences.

Jesus’ words to us from this passage are a message of hope we need to hear: there is life to be had.

At the same time, there are three key things we need to remember:

First, we are doing this to fulfill God’s vision of the kingdom of heaven where the weakest are valued as much, if not more, than the strong. (This is quite a contradiction to Darwin.)

Second, even when we cannot have what we want, or worse, what we need, God is still ever-present. God is ready to provide even momentary respite to keep us going when times get tough. A smile. A giggle. A good cry. A few minutes of true rest.

Third, God has always provided life abundant not by riding in on the clouds of heaven, but through us. By the ways we serve one another. Provide for one another. Care for one another.

Even now, you can have life abundant – it just may not look the way you thought.

Blessings, Pastor Janie