The Other Lazarus

This weekend we are looking at the story of Lazarus.

No. Not that Lazarus.

This is not Jesus’s best friend. Not the brother of Mary and Martha, who lived in Bethany. Who died in Bethany. Who rose from the grave looking like a mummy coming from the tomb. The friend over whom Jesus wept.

This is a different Lazarus.

This is a poor wretch. A beggar who lives at the gate of a rich man’s estate. He is so poor that there is not even enough fabric on his body to protect him from the local dogs who come and lick the bloody sores on his body. He longed for mere crumbs from his wealthy neighbor’s table, but alas there was no one who would slake his hunger.

On the same night, both Lazarus and the rich man die. Lazarus is carried away by the angels to heaven to rest in Abraham’s arms. The rich man is carried below to the place of eternal torment. And between them a great canyon is set up, but it is one where they can see and communicate with one another.

The rich man then begs Abraham to have the poor wretch Lazarus come and quench his thirst from the fires of Hell – not appreciating the irony. But alas, says the patriarch, it is too late.

The rich man then begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that they might avoid his same fate, in something of a Christmas Carol style scare up. But the wise patriarch says they have their warnings in the scriptures – no one rising from the dead will change their minds. (Per se even the Christ.)

Coming so close to his teaching about the shrewd manager, this parable offers many profound lessons to be sure. Key among them are how well are we paying attention to those around us? Our own neighbors? Our own garden gates?

Something to ponder – see you in worship.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Worldly, Wily, & Wise

This weekend we have a parable that jumps straight into the thick of it. Having finished his triple-threat on recovering the lost and welcoming all those who are unwanted into the heart of God’s most intimate community, Christ moves immediately into a conversation about money.

Yes. That’s right. The dreaded topic none of us want to talk about.

Even better, the Pharisees are still listening. And in the gospels, they are sometimes described as “lovers of money.” Interesting…

This weekend’s parable goes straight at it with the parable of the Shrewd Manager. This man’s about to be fired. So he goes about and forgives a major chunk of the debts owed to his master. In so doing, he earns his soon-to-be-ex-boss’s admiration. And Jesus’s, to boot.

Wait, what?

You read that correctly. Jesus actually applauds the shrewd manager in this parable. Then he goes on to say that if we do not know how to be good stewards of the dishonest wealth, how will we ever handle the heavenly riches? Because no one can serve both money and God.

Anyone else confused? (For reference, I’m raising my hand.)

All joking aside, this weekend’s story is one that requires a lot of unpacking so that we can dispense with our fears that Jesus has truly fallen into the briar patch this time.

What I will say is this: how we think about and use our resources – all of our resources – is going to be pretty central to the discussion. Something to ponder.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Now I’m Found

Our passage this weekend comes from a very famous set of Jesus’s teachings in the gospel of Luke. Before Jesus shares the most famous of the set, usually known as the Prodigal Son, first Jesus tells two other parables of what is lost and what is found. One is about sheep and the other about coins.

In reality, when you think about it, the value of what keeps getting lost continues to go up with each story. We begin with our livestock that gives us sustenance. Then we move to our money that allows us to have shelter, clothing, and most everything else. And finally, the last story is about losing the fruit of our own heart.

One of my favorite teachers at Divinity School, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, would remind us that these parables are not only about God’s consistent choice to leave the 99 to pursue the one who needs the attention most. This is also meant to be a reminder to all of us that it is our job to follow in God’s footsteps. To do the more difficult thing. To make the harder choice. To pursue the path less taken that will lead to those who need the love and care and support that have far too often been denied them by the world.

The outcast. The lost. The oppressed. The sick. The imprisoned. The forgotten. The least. The orphan. The widow. The foreign. The different. Everyone that God has consistently chosen to seek out. Those are our neighbors in these parables. The lost who we rejoice when we find them and offer welcome on their terms.

Speaking of which, this weekend is Sunday School Kick-Off! It will be a joy to hear the voices of our younglings throng the air of our campus once again as they join us in worship and learn more about their faith in class. Remember to reach out to them and ask how their year is going, or how life is. Those generational connections can mean more than you know, even if their world does look quite different from the world that we all grew up in.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Checkup Time

These recent weeks have seen our fourth school year to begin here in Pennsylvania. Just looking back at the pictures of my sons – it is so difficult to believe that they were only two that first summer when we started here so many moons ago. 

And now, here we find ourselves at the beginning of a wonderful new year, which also means yet another great opportunity for all of us to find the ways and places we need to begin again.

I don’t know about you, but when my kids go back to school, part of me wants to take full advantage of the routine and do every single thing I’ve missed doing. From exercise to reading more books, there are countless options that I can add to my own personal list, and I’m quite certain you each have your own set. 

However, what I might suggest instead this year is taking the time to choose only two or three things at most that will be your focus (probably preaching to myself here). And within those, may I highly recommend that all of us are likely in need of a faith checkup.

Please do not panic! This isn’t one of those moments where the church says, “well, if you don’t believe like this then… [insert bad thing here].” Nor is it a time for me to come by and see how much of your Bible you are reading every day, because believe it or not, that’s not the litmus test, either.

Faith is about something much deeper. It’s about our connection to God on that extremely basic, very raw level. The one that holds tight when everything else falls away. That is the connection cable that we need to strengthen. 

We do this in a few important ways. One is to take time to be alone with God. Perhaps for you this may mean pouring your heart out in prayer. For me though, I figure God already knows all that. So, I focus my time around learning to listen. I do my best to meditate either in silence or around a single phrase from Scripture to help still my mind.

Second thing is study. Learn. Pursue knowledge wherever you can. Be it directly related to Scripture or not, I am convinced that all roads lead home. All of our education helps us to better understand ourselves, our world, and the wondrous Love that created it all.

Third, and perhaps the most important: you cannot do this alone. You need a community to love you. To welcome you. To accept you as you are. And to walk with you as you continue in your becoming, so that you can welcome, accept, and walk with others. This is what church is meant to be. It is what it strives to be on its very best days. (And note to the church here: this is our job.)

So, from this always learning cleric who is still finding her way in this life, this is my best wisdom to you: take time. Study hard. Find family.

And if you are ever looking for a family who will love you just as you are – we have a seat just waiting with your name on it.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

What did Jesus do?

This weekend we will be returning to our “regularly scheduled programing” in the midst of the gospel of Luke. Jesus is heading to a special dinner that one of the Pharisees is putting on for him. But are they really ready for everything that entails?

I’m sure the disciples are thinking precisely what modern-day lawyers have been known to say to their clients on occasion, “you talk too much, you worry me to death,” because the moment Jesus walks into the house, he immediately opens his mouth. Not just that, but he offers commentary on the ways everyone’s actions are off the mark. And to top that off, he insults his host and their guests within two paragraphs.

Why?

Well, because the Kingdom of God is not about the way the world works. It does not support a status quo that keeps the powerful on high and the meek down low. God’s Kingdom will not accept when someone pushes an agenda that is starkly against God’s own (which will always stand with the poor, lowly, outcast, and oppressed). And whether religious folk like the Pharisees are ready to see it or not, the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Jesus’s teaching should always turn our presuppositions on their heads. Break us out of our comfort zones. Get us beyond our normal little boxes that we live in and into the wide and wondrous world God has created.

This particular set of parables does just that. Come to worship this weekend and learn more.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Backpacks & Peaches

The time has come: the scent of freshly sharpened pencils fills the air, along with new sneakers and brand new college-ruled notebooks. School starts next week! And with it a whole new year of learning, growing, and a world full of wonderful eye-opening experiences lie in store.

At church this weekend, we will be taking time in worship to both celebrate the incredible gift that education is and to pray for all of those in our community who are connected to our schools at every level. God granted humans with beautiful minds that can explore and discover the vast universe full of incredible things beyond our imagining. And even better, God gave us one another to share in the joy as we experience everything. So much to give thanks for!

Once worship is over in the morning, we hope everyone will come back in the evening as we live into George Banks’s classic words: “It’s time to party!” The Peach Festival returns at 6 o’clock to the Walnut Lawn (or Smith if it rains) with food, games, music, a bouncy castle, and lots and lots of peaches and ice cream!!!

It should be a fabulously fun day for our congregation – we hope you will be able to join us for all the merriment!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

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