Rooted at the Center

When I was younger, my family spent a lot of time near a very large vineyard. There is really nothing quite like the look of the row after row of all of the vines piled up upon one another. They are beautiful. Yet they also hold a much deeper truth.

Vines are ridiculously strong. True, you can get to the fruit, the leaves, and even some twigs quite easily. And yes, branches can be removed when they need to be. But the roots, they go deep. Even more impressively, they can travel. The vine-root for the vineyard I grew up looking at was from Central Europe and dated back hundreds of years, possibly even further.

A vine is one of the images that Jesus uses in the passage we will be considering together this weekend as we continue on in our mini sermon series.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Connected to the deepest taproot of all we hold one another up and are able to bear the fruits that God desires of us. Yet Christ also reminds us that we will be able to tell how our connection to God is doing by that very fruit. And offers a careful nudge to those who may be neglecting the connection.

He then says some of the most important words he ever uttered.

Really, it all comes down to this: how is love growing in our lives?

That is central the central piece of Jesus’s mission just as our passage is the centerpiece of Christ’s final earthly sermon.

We’ll see you Sunday morning!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Still More

Last weekend we began a special sermon series on Jesus’s final sermon in the gospel of John.

We started by remembering that Christ is God’s Word from eternity made flesh, who reveals God’s own self to us. Jesus then flipped the ancient understanding of how we access God on its head – rather than through the law, as Moses had taught, now Christ himself is the way we get to God. The lens through which we see the world. And if we have seen God and have access to God through Jesus, then we are meant to live as Jesus did: in that same mode of radical and reckless love.

This week, we will really get into the thick of it. Jesus turns to how they will survive once he is gone. How they will continue. How they will be guided.

Key piece here: they will not be alone.

Jesus reminds them that he is not leaving them orphaned. He will be with them through God’s Spirit – the One who walks alongside.

In other words, there is still more ahead of them.

Which begs the question: can we trust that there is still more ahead of us?

Blessings, Pastor Janie

New Beginnings

It’s finally spring (or at least we can pray the weather will hold… again). A season of rebirth, we can enjoy the wonders of the sunshine and the great outdoors at long last. 

At church it is Eastertide – those fifty days between Easter morning and Pentecost when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It is the season of rebirth, as it were. Of renewal. Of new beginnings. 

Even as our school year draws to a close, we know that students completing one stage will move on to the next in the Fall. Or, for our graduates, we know that they are entering a completely new stage of life. 

As our song on Easter morning sang, In our end is our beginning…

Entering into spring, and the summer that will come swiftly after, we have the opportunity to look for the ways that God’s new life is emerging all around us. Not only in nature, but also in one another. In ourselves.

Where is God bringing something new? Are you ready to welcome it with open arms?

New life is all around us. It’s there to revel in if you are ready.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Holy Weekend

Holy Week has begun in earnest and we are in the thick of it.

Tonight we will gather as the disciples did two thousand years ago on the last night of Jesus’s earthly life. They did not know it was the last time. But he did and he knew that he must get at least some things through to them in those final hours before everything fell apart.

Tonight we will follow after Supper as Jesus is arrested and tried and lead away. It will not be easy. It will not be fun. Yet it is one of the two most important days of our year. It is a twin of sorts – a necessary piece of the heart of God’s love for us. Arms stretched open wide to show us just how deep that love really goes. Willing to take all that pain, all that torture, all that degradation for us. And we will shroud ourselves in shadows, letting the light diminish until…

Tomorrow we will gather again with our neighbors in Christ at the moment when Jesus was crucified to hear what words he said from the cross. We will listen and sing and hear poetic reflections. It is a pause as we remember when even Creation itself broke open as Christ drew his final breath.

And then we wait.

Yes. There will be a wonderful celebration to come on Sunday, with trumpets and bells, and children, and Communion, and organ, and hymns of praise! It will be a brilliant resurrection day. The other twin – a bright and shinning light in the heart of God’s love for us. A power, Love stronger than death itself.

Still, we must not forget that the weekend is a passage. Meant to be together. A path to walk that we might know God more. And, just as importantly, grow in our family of faith’s bond, as well – as Christ always wanted.

See you soon.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

The Heartbeat

Frederica Matthewes-Green recounts this little morsel in her writings about this time of year: “It’s that time of year again, when school children are coloring pictures of Jesus hanging from a cross, and shop owners fill their windows with gaily colored cutouts of the Flogging at the Pillar. In the malls everyone’s humming along with seasonal hits on the sound system like “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded” (did you hear the Chipmunks’ version?). Car dealers are promoting Great Big Empty-Tomb Size discounts on Toyotas.”

Oh yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Holy Week…

What, that’s not how we do this?

There is something quite ironic about the fact that the most important week in the entire church year is one that has perhaps the least celebration around it in the rest of the world. In fact, it is quite quiet. Holy Week steals into our realities almost as silently as the resurrection did, in the stillness of Easter morning. If we don’t pay attention, we’re going to miss it.

Yet without the events of the week ahead of us, none of us would be here. Yes, physically we might. But the Church wouldn’t be.

Christianity does not exist without the empty tomb. And the empty tomb does not happen without Golgotha. Everything comes down to what happens next.

It will be a big week for us at our particular church, with Sacraments and celebrations, egg hunts and trumpets blaring. There will be candle light and death bells, shadows falling and people shouting.

At the center of everything, though, is a heartbeat. A gentle thump. Thump. The one that breathes life into all of Creation. Thump. Thump. The one that moved as a pillar of fire and cloud in the desert. Thump Thump. The one that washed feet and broke bread and spread his arms. Thump. Thump… Thump… …

The Love of God is the center. Is the heartbeat. Come and find it again.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Our Foundation

This season we have been reading a children’s storybook version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe during Children’s Time in worship. It is one of the most important books that C.S. Lewis ever wrote and in one of the great ironies of his life – he did not originally intend it to be a Christian book. Yet, somehow, thanks perhaps the workings of a Spirit we all know and love, it is the most ingenious explanation of how to understand the meaning of Good Friday that exists.

Allow me to explain. Aslan. That majestic and powerful lion. If you have never quite understood who he was meant to represent, well, let’s see if you can guess in a few minutes. He is the true ruler of Narnia, that mystical land in which the story takes place. It is currently being run by an evil White Witch who has forced the land to live in a permanent state of winter, but never Christmas (can you imagine the horror). 

When the Pevensie children arrive, the Witch attempts to tempt and trick the younger of the two boys into betraying his three other siblings. Fortunately, he fails miserably in his attempt to hand them over and is recovered by Aslan’s forces. However, the Witch, because of her understanding of the law upon which Narnia was founded, believes that all who commit such crimes, breaking their relationships, belong to her. Their blood is her wage by right.

But Aslan steps in. He takes Edmund’s, the young boy’s, place. The Witch rejoices thinking that she has finally won everything because now the true King has died on the very table of the laws upon which Narnia was founded. Yet, when the Witch leaves, the Stone Table itself cracks. Aslan disappears, only to reappear with the dawn alive and explains: when one who is blameless freely gives their life for another, then even death itself shall overturn.

One guess who Aslan is now.

I have been showing my children the movie version of this story (2005) since they were babies on Good Friday, every year, because even if it gets dark at moments, when Aslan comes walking through those sun-drenched stones, my eyes fill with tears – just as they do on Easter morning. And I want my children to understand, more than anything, that God chose the cross, Christ chose the lay down his life, out of love. Love for them. Love for me. Love for all of us.

There is no more important week of the year than Holy Week. We would have no Church, no Christianity, no faith without the empty tomb. And we would have no empty tomb without Golgotha. This is the very foundation of who we are.

We love because he first loved us. Come and remember why, again. 

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Prodigal

Who do we choose to welcome?

That is what our Gospel lesson for this weekend asks. We will be reading one of the most famous and studied parables that Jesus ever tells: the Prodigal Son.

It is a story that many of us have heard before. A well-beloved tale partially because we all know what we think it means.

A father has two sons. The younger one asks for his inheritance early. Takes it to a distant land and spends it frivolously on dissolute living. When he finds himself starving and feeding pigs, he returns home to beg to become a servant in his father’s house. However, when his father sees him coming, he runs to the young man and embraces him. And when the son starts in on his prepared speech, the father stops him, calls in a servant and has his son taken in, cleaned, fed, and throws a party.

Then, when the older brother returns in from a long day of work on the farm, he asks one of the servants what’s happening. Upon learning the truth, he calls to his father, clearly disgruntled. His father’s response is twofold. First, he reminds him that everything he has already belongs to the older son. Then, he says that we need to always rejoice when one who has been lost comes home.

Two things to think about as we head into this weekend.

The first is the definition of prodigal. It means, in essence, “a ridiculous amount; extravagant or lavish.” It does not mean lost, contrary to what we have come to believe. So, see if you can answer this question: who was the true prodigal in this story: the younger son or the father? Why might that be important?

A second thing to consider is that renowned New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine, one of my professors from Vanderbilt, would point out that the object of this parable is to learn how to choose wisely. Due to where it falls in Jesus’s teachings, he is trying to help his disciples learn what it means to follow in God’s footsteps. Meaning that though some of us may have been the younger son at some point in our lives, our place in this parable is as the older son. The one who has had everything. How will we respond as the prodigal father reaches out to this wayward child?

Just a few ponderings as we look together toward another step in our Lenten journey growing closer to Holy Week. See you soon!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Come and Rest

Last weekend was a rather entertaining anomaly in our Lenten season: the beginning of daylight savings time and a terrible snowstorm. I know better than many about the storm, because I literally ended up driving through it. Those who made their way carefully to our Sanctuary on Sunday morning for worship heard of Jesus wishing to draw all to himself as a hen draws her children beneath the cover of her wing. And how he called out those who wanted to kill him when they tried to scare him into line (good times).

This weekend, we will reach almost the mid-point in the season. Once we get past Lent III, we have two Sundays to go and then on the third, Holy Week begins. With this near half-way point, we find a wondrous, comforting passage from the prophet Isaiah that will be our focus:

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat...
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.

I can almost hear the words of that old gospel song, you who are weary come home. It is a welcome and a rest for all who have need. A place to find restoration in the midst of our desert wanderings. Though we still must go to Jerusalem and face Golgotha, this week we find some respite. We find God calling to us with longing just to see us near.

So come to worship. Hear again of Christ’s deep love for us. Find what you need for the journey still ahead.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Be the Light

A year or two ago, a wise bishop from Argentina reminded his listeners that Lent is a time for us to overcome our indifference in concrete ways. Tangible ways. Real ways.

We have waited longer than normal for this particular Lenten season to begin. Yet now that we find ourselves here, we also know that our world is on the brink of something far more daunting than a simple forty days in the wilderness. 

Lent is a time of preparation, true. However that preparation is meant to be active. Intentional. In ways that seek God’s kingdom at work in this world here and now. To be the light as shadows start to fall.

It is becoming more common practice to use a sort of “reverse Advent calendar” during the season of Lent. In other words, to light candles for the Sundays and key days of the season and then extinguish or remove them as we come closer to Holy Week. To remind ourselves that as we draw near to Golgotha, the shadows will appear to win.

Because in our world the shadows often seem to win. 

Lent helps us to acknowledge this reality in our world. The hard parts. The messy bits. So much of what we are watching right now in the news.

It is so important to do this, because life is really, really difficult at times. Bad things happen. We cannot always stop them. 

But just like the events of Good Friday, what we hold onto is the ultimate, undeniable hope that we are not looking at the end of the story.

In worship on Sunday, before our Prayers of the People, I looked around our hallowed hall and reflected aloud that our Sanctuary has seen times like this before. Our church body has seen more still. Our God has walked with our people through those times and God has seen so many more times like now than we can count. What we hold onto is the grace and hope of God’s presence through all of this – the One who has stood the test of time.

And as we hold on, we become that grace and hope for others. 

We are seeing countless stories of people being light for one another right now. They are incredible. And if you wonder where God is in all of this – that is your answer. With those who are bearing true light and love into the shadows that are rising. 

You can do that, too. 

´╗┐So, here are some words from Isaiah 43 to give you courage for our Lenten journey ahead: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

God’s Big Show Sunday

From Episode VI

This weekend is what I lovingly refer to as “Star Wars Sunday”! Just kidding. Though I have been known to consistently make the joke that “Jesus transfigured before Star Wars made it cool” (see the picture for the explanation).

It is, in fact, Transfiguration Sunday. The final Sunday before the season of Lent begins. It is the day we remember that Jesus went up onto a mountain with some of his disciples and was there transformed before them into a figure in all white and they got to see not only him, but also Moses and Elijah. Pretty cool stuff.

And then, the disciples being the disciples, completely misunderstood the point of the exercise. They tried to put Jesus in a box on said mountain and keep him there looking all nice and shiny. Not what God had in mind.

You see, while we are meant to have moments of revelation that remind us of just how incredible our God truly is, they are not meant to hold us forever. Instead, they are meant to inspire us for our daily lives.

As many wise preachers have reminded us, our lives are not meant to be lived on mountaintops.

So, as we prepare our hearts and minds to move into one of the most important seasons of the church year, come to church to see God put on a real show – and find out why even the best in crazy pyrotechnics are not meant to last.

Blessings, Pastor Janie