Dry Bones

Have you ever been through a time when it felt like all hope was lost?

Your body and mind and even your soul felt beyond exhausted and there was nothing left to give? Your community was done, too. It just seemed that for everything you had been through, there was simply no expectation left?

That is the context for both of our passages this weekend as we enter into our final weekend of Lent before Holy Week. We will be taking a quick peek at the famous story of Lazarus from the gospel of John. However, our main focus will be on this gorgeous passage from Ezekiel 37 which is often called the “Valley of Dry Bones.”

The scene opens on the starkest, driest valley filled with a jumble of bones that are completely clean of decay. They are from lives long-gone. Who remembers these souls when they were alive?

And yet, the hand of the Lord asks the prophet, Can these bones live?

Over the course of the coming verses, this prophet, this son of Adam, becomes a collaborator in the process of resurrection as the bones revive and the spirit of life is breathed into them anew. Because nothing is beyond God’s ability, including the ways we can take part in God’s re-creation of the world.

‘Dem bones do have life left in them because there is no situation beyond hope.

Much to ponder as we head into Holy Week.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Artwork: “Valley of Dry Bones” by the Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity of A Sanctified Art, LLC

Vision Check

Of all my parents, my father, who died when I was only eight, is the one whose faith I knew the least. He was a non-practicing Roman Catholic, like so many others I know, and I cannot remember him speaking of his experience of God even once during my young life.

Yet, my mother tells me that in the years before he died, she would find him sitting at our old computer in the family room of our house (it was an Apple IIgs, for those who can remember that far back), trying to memorize the words to an old beloved hymn. He appeared as weary wanderer in the dry desert, searching for something to quench his thirst.

I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.

Sight is such a fragile thing. Physically there are any number of things that can take it away so easily. We can lose it with time and with age. Or, far worse, we can be born without the basic sense entirely.

And yet, that is not the only sight, now is it?

This weekend, we continue our Lenten journey with a rather famous story of Jesus healing a blind man from the gospel of John. Now, Jesus healed quite a few blind people over the course of the different gospels. However, this one is given a full chapter near the end of Jesus’s life.

It is also connected to one of life’s great questions: do bad things only happen to sinful people?

There is a great debate happening around this healing, about whose sin actually caused the young man’s blindness from birth. Then, once he is healed, the debate expands to include how could anyone who follows God do such a thing in a way that might break one of the great laws.

In reality, while the young man is healed from physical blindness, the real quandary we face in this passage is about the inability we all have to really see in this world.

See God. See as God wants us to. See the reality of what God is doing in our midst.

So come to worship and get a little vision check as we head towards Holy Week.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Wonders of Redeeming Love

Many years ago now, I had a wise friend teach me a lesson about forgiveness. We had gotten in a fight about something. Lord knows what now. But after days of not speaking to one another, I sought this friend out in order that I might apologize – for I was most certainly the main offending party in whatever had happened. 

I’ll never forget what my friend told me that day: you were forgiven even before you asked.

If you ever want to know what God’s forgiveness looks like, well, my friends, that is it.

This season, we are focusing on the idea of The Wonders of Redeeming Love, which comes from so many of our beloved hymns, Lenten and beyond. 

The most obvious is clearly Beneath the Cross of Jesus, where all of our brokenness is laid bare and yet all we ask is for the sunshine of Christ’s face as we look beyond the grave.

Then there is What Wondrous Love is This? when we reflect with haunting melody upon the incredible marvel of a God who would take upon God’s own self all that we have wrought and deserved.

And who could forget When I Survey the Wondrous Cross where love and sorrow meet, love that is amazing and divine, bidding us to die to our hurtful ways and live the life that love truly entails.

Beyond that, there is the old Appalachian hymn, Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy, when we recall that in the arms of our loving Savior there are ten thousand charms.

Or what about that old standard, Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling, which speaks of wonderful love, mercy and pardon for all of us who will just come home.

It is true that all of us have sinned and fallen short. 

More important than anything else we have broken the commandments that Jesus said to hang all the law and prophets on: we have not loved our neighbors and we have not loved ourselves. In so doing we have not loved God as we should. And oh how that brokenness has wrought such a hurting world. Everywhere around us.

Yet the wonder of God’s redeeming love at work, not only during Holy Week, but also during every moment of our lives, is that Jesus still reaches out his arms and says, come home. The forgiveness is already here, waiting. Because love has already Won. It. All. 

We still have a month to go before Holy Week really sets in. Nevertheless, the importance of this message is as essential now as it will be then: the wonders of God’s redeeming love are all around us, because God has already won and continues to do so, every time that love rules the day. 

Blessings,   Pastor Janie

Artwork: “You, Too, Must” by the Rev. Lisle Gwynn Garrity of A Sanctified Art, LLC

Back to the Beginning

Lent is here!

The season of preparation for that most important week in the church’s calendar is upon us.

Last night we began our season with the ancient rite of Ash Wednesday, when we remember the frailty of human life with the dust of old palm fronds placed on our foreheads. At the same time, we hold together the remarkable grace of the God who drew us out of the ground, created us with awe-inspired and wonderful hands, called us good, and made us in God’s own image to love and be loved – for our God makes beautiful things out of dust. And we mark ourselves with the symbol of that same God who took on our image, becoming flesh among us, living a life that displayed what love really looks like, even to the ultimate point of giving everything so that all could find the wholeness we were meant to have.

Oh yes, those ashes hold far more than mere death in them.

This weekend, we take our next step in our Lenten journey by going back to the beginning of the story. All the way to Genesis 3.

That’s right, we are going to be looking at the story of “The Fall.” When our original forebears, Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree and fell from grace.

This is an essential story to our Reformed consciousness. We have held onto the belief in the “total depravity” of the human race with a white-knuckled grip since John Calvin died in 1564.

And yet, how we understand what happened in that story, what that first sin truly was, and how it has shaped humanity ever after may not be as simple as some of our brethren would have you believe.

So come to worship as we walk this Lenten journey together and find out what the wonders of God’s redeeming love truly are.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Break the Box

This weekend, we travel with Jesus up the mountain to witness a miracle. This particular wonder occurs in all three synoptic gospels – that’s Matthew, Mark, and Luke for everyone playing at home – the ones that all sound like each other. And this story is a sort of early vision of what glory is to come.

Taking three of his earliest disciples, Jesus travels up a very high mountain and suddenly he is “transfigured” before them. Changed. Transformed. Metamorphosed. Remade. And then with him we find the two greatest patriarchs from the ancient Hebrew faith: Moses and Elijah. Both were miracle workers and prophets of the highest order. Both came into the world when God’s people needed them most. Both displayed the awesome power of God that could revolutionize the world around them.

And how do the disciples react?

“This is so great! Let us build a sideshow tent and keep you here forever!”

We humans love to keep God in the boxes of our own invention. We have been doing so since the very beginning. In fact, the Second Commandment about graven images has far more to do with us placing limits on who God is and how God interacts with the world (or at least our understanding of it) than any form of artwork.

If we can keep God in one place, at one particular time, or even better, doing the things we want God to do – then God is in our control. Which is far more often what we mean when we say “God is in control” than what we think we are saying.

As Tim Keller himself has said, “If your god never disagrees with you, might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself.”

What Transfiguration Sunday invites us to do is to remember that God is so much bigger than any vision we can possible have or box we can create. Even better, we are called to remember that our God is the Creator of far more than simply what we can record, but also all the great in-betweens. Those liminal spaces like that transfiguration mountain – not just day and night, but also dawn and dusk, which are oh, so much more spectacular.

Just a few things to ponder as we enter into our final Sunday before Lent begins. See you soon!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

A Bit Different

This weekend we come to our final section in our #minisermonseries on the Sermon on the Mount. Though Jesus’s lengthy sermon will continue on for another two chapters in Matthew, we must sadly move on to Transfiguration Sunday and into the season of Lent. But before we do, Jesus has some important teachings for us to consider.

Adding to the expansion he has already done with the Ten Commandments last week, Jesus turns his attention first to the “laws of retribution.”

Many of us have heard the age-old proverb: an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind. Jesus takes this concept to a whole new level. Rather than to respond to violence or transgression with further injury or retribution, Jesus suggests that the Kingdom of God operates on a model that disbands the entire system by refusing to feed into it. That shows strength in the face of domineering bullies by shocking them with the exact opposite response they expect. Putting them off-balance and making them uncomfortable. And, even better, showing them for what they really are to the rest of the world so that the whole system begins to unravel.

Because you see, Jesus continues, what we are called to as his followers is to perfection as God’s children.

Ooof. Well… that seems like more than we can do.

Except, it is not the kind of perfection most of us are thinking about. It is not the must do every single thing right and say all the correct things all the time and never fail to be happy or to keep people comfortable or to maintain the status quo. Although much of the church has tried to make this the kind of perfection churchgoers seek.

Jesus is talking about perfection in fulfilling the one, single commandment that sums up all the rest. Still a difficult task, to be sure. Maybe even harder to fulfill in some ways. Nevertheless, we have an endless store of help in the one giving us this mandate.

Come to church as we enjoy one last Sunday of respite before all the big Sundays begin!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Love is Growing at FPCH

Here we are – already a month into 2023. It is difficult to know where those first weeks have gone, since the whirlwind has moved so quickly. 

Nevertheless, as we approach this next month filled with hearts and also the beginning of that season when we will explore the remarkable depth of God’s love for us, I find myself reflecting more than normal upon what it means to truly be God’s family here on earth.

This past Sunday, I reflected during Joys & Concerns that there are many things weighing heavily upon the hearts and minds of our neighbors within our Hollidaysburg community and our broader national community right now. Difficult things. Battles rage – none of which are new, yet they are painful and can devastate so many. We cannot truly know what our siblings may be going through, which means it is so incredibly important to be as kind and as gracious as we can possibly be.

Many people just need a safe place to decompress. To think. To breathe. To be themselves. 

We are so very blessed that our church family at FPCH has created an environment where that is the case. Our members and friends, young and old alike, are safe to ask any question or to wrestle with the challenges of life among a loving family who will walk with them through whatever is coming. Love grows here. And ALL are truly welcome to see how God is working in our midst.

Having lived through many battles, both within the church and within the world, I personally know that is not always the case. I have seen the hurt and the harm that can be done when we forget that Christ told us the only way people will know we follow him is by the way we love.

This is not the romantic love of cupids, nor even the brotherly love of that team that will be going to the Super Bowl in two weeks. No, this is God’s love. Agape love. It is unconditional. Extravagant. Merciful. Yet seeking equity for those it loves. Willing to give of itself to the utmost so that another can find flourishing in this life. 

That is the love that has been and continues to grow in our midst. 

It is ours to join in the fervent work that God is already stirring up.

Blessings,   Pastor Janie

Strength Through Three Things

This weekend we are continuing with Jesus in our #minisermonseries on the Sermon on the Mount. In one single passage alone we will see three familiar and essential sayings to Jesus’s ministry.

The first has to do with salt – that we are meant to be the salt of the earth. There to provide flavor and liven things up. To create sustainability for the long-haul. To help clean up the messes. But if we lose our saltiness – our connection to our truest self and purpose – Jesus warns there may be a point where we are beyond help.

The second saying has to do with the obvious: no one lights a light-source and hides it. They let it shine. This will be a key focus for our worship this weekend, so I’m not going to focus much on it here, except to say that just as salt has remarkable strength in this world, light has even more. Something to ponder.

The third and final saying is that Jesus has come not to throw out the old laws but to fulfill them. He says that we will have to be better at keeping the commandments than all the big-to-dos in the religion of his day if we want to get into heaven.

But how are we going to do that? Anyone else feel like we’re being set up to fail?

Well, here comes a little pop quiz: on what did Jesus say to hang all the law and the prophets?

If you can answer that, you will know why we have the power to move mountains. To do greater things than we can imagine. That the third strength Jesus refers to this weekend is the one that beats them all. It’s flashes are flashes of fire. A passion and power stronger than death. But often it gets overlooked for sentimentality.

Remember yet?

See you soon!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Not Jacob’s Ladder

This weekend we begin our mini-series on the Sermon on the Mount from the gospel of Matthew. This will take us right up until Transfiguration Sunday and the Season of Lent. Which means for the next four Sundays, we will be looking at some of the most famous things Jesus ever said.

And sadly, we will only be getting into the first chapter of this very long sermon (it’s actually three chapters). But it is so rich and full of wisdom for our faith journeys that there is absolutely no way to dive into the remainder in the time we have.

This weekend we start at the beginning of the sermon: the very famous Beatitudes.

My first summer here, we spent the whole season looking at each entry on the list one by one. Taking time with this well-known and often considered inventory for the faithful.

What most forget, however, is that it is not a checklist. It is more of a ladder.

The early entries are those things that happen most easily or most often in human life and give us insight into the life of faith. Make space for us to enter into our relationship with God without much thought.

But as our journey gets more complex, as life continues to grow more intricate and convoluted, so the rungs on the ladder become more challenging to reach. They take courage and gumption. A willingness to put ourselves out there and to stand with tenacity in a world that may not like what our God has to say. A world that would much prefer the serene simplicity of maintaining the status quo.

But God does like a good shake up.

So come this weekend and learn more about what this ladder of faith really looks like as we begin our look at one of Jesus’s most famous sermons.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Numbers, and Followers, and Fishermen – Oh My!

We are finally in ordinary time.

I remember as a child that always sounded so boring. Why would we want to be there? Nothing ever happens. And perhaps it can be rather dull.

But believe it or not, it is not named for being normal or regular or some other synonym of ordinary, but rather because the weeks are counted with “ordinal numbers” between the “high holy seasons.” Truly, I’m not kidding. The more you know, right?

Well, this year, we are going to be spending this shorter section of “ordinary” time with Jesus as he begins his ministry in the gospel of Matthew.

Following his baptism by John in the Jordan and being tempted in the dessert, Jesus returns to Galilee and starts off by calling his first disciples. And rather than beginning with scholars, or rabbis, or the sons of princes, Jesus chooses ordinary folk: fishermen.

Jesus tells them to follow and he will “make them become fishermen of people” (a more literal translation than we usually see). And while countless sermons have been spent discussing the meaning of this quite fascinating concept of how we fish for humans, and what we really shouldn’t do, there is a far more important word we often gloss over.


There is more to this word than meets the eye. It is not simply about physically trailing after someone like a fascinated puppy. Nor is it about a specific set of beliefs. It is about a way of living that requires a full commitment of everything we have – in this life, not just the next.

Something to ponder as we head to the lakeshore this weekend. See you soon!

Blessings, Pastor Janie