Prepare Our Hearts

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Andy Williams’s timeless words ring through the air this time of year. Repeatedly. Because, ready or not, it is time to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the Christ-child once again.

The church invites us into a different method of preparation, even as we all make ourselves dizzy baking and wrapping and writing and everything else for the rest of the world. We are asked to slow our frenzy in order that we might prepare our hearts – as the classic hymn says, cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. And we do this in two ways.

The first way is to pray. However, not only to pray with our eyes closed and heads cast low. The great mystics would remind us that prayer is meant to be enacted. As our hearts become more aligned with God’s purposes for our lives, our actions will more tangibly reflect God’s work in the world. In other words, as we pray with our words, we should also pray with our actions.

This season, FPCH is offering three key opportunities to do this. First, we are selling poinsettias and a quarter of each plant’s sale will go to support Presbyterian Disaster Relief as they work in communities that are recovering from all the natural disasters this year has seen. The remainder will support our local Warner’s Florist.

Second, on Christmas Eve we will take up the annual Christmas Joy Offering, which goes to support historic Presbyterian Schools of Color and to support the Clergy & Missionary Emergency Relief fund.

The third opportunity is our participation in ARW’s annual Christmas4Kids Program. We began our year adopting the same number of children as last year, which was a higher number than ever before. However, as we have continued on, more and more of you have come forward still wanting to adopt. Several families have taken not only one or two tags, but two or three entire children. In the end, we have adopted a record eighteen children. If that is not prayer enacted to welcome the Christ-child, I am not sure what is.

In addition to preparing our hearts through prayer, enacted and otherwise, we should also prepare our hearts by watching for God’s wonders. Wonders like how many of our members have come forward to adopt children with Christmas gifts, of course. But also those incredible marvels that come directly from God’s own Self – even if they appear through those around us.

Advent and Christmastide are the seasons of miracles. Some are small. Some are awe-inspiringly large. You never know when you will find one. This is the time that is wonder-full. So prepare your hearts. Lift up your heads. Our God is drawing near.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

The Unexpected Season

So the season begins… the crazy, cookie-filled, upside-down, right-side-up, non-stop music, wacky, zany, can’t see straight for all the lights season is upon us. Some have been celebrating since Jack Skellington came down their chimney on Halloween night. Others are still not ready to begin the gauntlet. And the rest of us are probably somewhere in between.

Church offers us a different kind of season compared to the one we see in the world around us. While everyone else devolves into a frantic frenzy, we are invited to stop. To breathe deeply. To listen in silence. To welcome God’s coming presence. Most importantly, we are asked to keep our eyes open for the unexpected in our midst.

You see, when Christ entered the world, it was not as everyone thought God would appear. Who would expect phenomenal cosmic powers to arrive in a helpless baby of little means? What God chooses to do that? What God selects an unwed teenage mother to carry this baby? What about selecting shepherds, the next worst thing to slaves, to be the first to receive the good news so they could visit? Or allowing foreigners of other religions to worship God-made-flesh? Then let the baby and his family have to flee a child-killing tyrant and become a refugee?

The road to Bethlehem is filled with shocking stories. As is the aftermath of God’s arrival in this world. Because God does not act the way we expect – God’s ways are not our ways, nor God’s thoughts our thoughts. God always appears where we least expect, partially because we have keep our eyes so focused on what the world expects God to do.

This Advent, I invite you to enter back into God’s salvation story with new eyes. New ears. A new heart, flung wide open that you might begin to truly understand more of God’s true purposes here on earth. Perhaps then the unexpected will become far more visible and tangible in our midst. And then, well then we can really see where God wishes us to continue the ministry of God-with-us, the Christ-child himself.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Harvest Home

This weekend we will celebrate a combination of two distinctive holidays that we are entwining because of their overlay in our calendar.

The first is Christ the King, which is the New Year’s Eve of the liturgical year. It is the very last Sunday of the church year, when we say goodbye to the old year and prepare to welcome the new next weekend with the beginning of Advent. On this final Sunday of the year, we remember Christ’s final return in glory to judge the living and the dead, quite the contrast to his first arrival as the little child of Bethlehem.

The second holiday we will lift up this weekend is Thanksgiving. This is not a church holiday, but a national one. However, it does have its place in our liturgy, because giving thanks is meant to be at the heart of everything we do. Because God does so much for us – we give thanks. At all times. In all things. Always.

And of all the blessings God lavishes upon us, there is none more essential than our harvest. The food that God provides for us. The hands the farm it. That prepare it. That serve it. All the ways that God is at work in that process. For remember, the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. There is nothing in our lives that does not come from God, a God we know all the better because of God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, our Lord and King.

So my encouragement for all of us is to remember the words of that classic Thanksgiving hymn as we enter into worship this weekend and gather at our tables next week: Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home; all is safely fathered in, ere the winter storms begin. God our Maker doth provide that our wants should be supplied; come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Why FPCH?

I still remember the first time I spoke with the nominating committee here at First Presbyterian of Hollidaysburg. We spoke for longer than any of us had probably planned. And when we did finally hang up the phone, I felt like I had just ended a call with old friends.

You see, that is what initially drew me to this church: a sense of welcome. Of inclusion. Of family.

What continues to give me life in this place is the wondrous variety of people – from many walks of life, many places of birth, and even many different beliefs – who come together to live life in Christ. They use their gifts and skills to create such amazing marvels in our midst: from music to mission to teaching to outreach. And yet, most of the time so many others do not realize the miracles that are happening all around them…

You see, the truth of the matter is that God is moving and breathing life into the body of Christ at First Presbyterian of Hollidaysburg. Just as God has been for all two hundred and thirty-three years of her life.

God does not leave during the hard times. God walks with us. God stays with us. God gets messy with us.

Then God does the most incredible thing of all: God rolls away the stone and brings new life. Again. And again. And again. Resurrection is not just for human bodies. It is also for the body of Christ.

And dawn, well, dawn is already spreading her rosy fingers over this shadowed valley.

See you soon!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Giving Thanks

In the mid-1630s, there lived a man named Martin Rinkart. He was a pastor who had moved to Eilenburg, Saxony right at the beginning of the Thirty Years War. His walled city became a refuge for many people from that conflict, which led to plague and famine over many long years. During the very worst of the pestilence, Rinkart found himself doing as many as fifty funerals in a single day – totaling over 4,000 in the year 1637, which included his own beloved wife. 

In the end, as the dust settled, the smoke cleared, and the sun began to shine on them again, this wise pastor knew that his people would need to heal from that overwhelming and extraordinary time. So he penned these remarkable words: Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices, who wondrousthings has done, in whom the world rejoices; who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

We usually pull this classic hymn out around Thanksgiving, though we often do not discuss its origins. And yet, after the last two years, it is perhaps the most profound and appropriate hymn that we can sing. It is quite easy to give thanks to God when things are going well, even though we usually forget if we’re honest about it. Yet it is even more important for us to give thanks to God when the going gets rough.

Scripture actually instructs us to do this – not because we should revel in pain or because God is trying to hurt us (that would actually be pretty messed up, by the way). No, we are instructed to give thanks to God in all things because we know that God is here, working among us. Because when life gets messy, we remember that ours is a God who intentionally took on flesh to live in the mess with us. And because, at the end of the day, we know that if the storm is still raging around us – then God’s work in our midst is not finished yet.

So do give thanks to God at all times because we are a resurrection people who will continue to rise and rise again from the ashes of whatever craziness the world throws our way. God is here. God is working. And one day, all will be well.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Always Reforming

Happy Trick-or-Treat! Don’t forget that we will be out in front of FPCH on the corner with goodie bags for the kids if you want to come and help or will be in the area. 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. Happy Spooking!

This weekend we are getting to celebrate a couple of major holidays on their actual day. For both Halloween and Reformation Sunday should officially be marked on October 31st. Thanks to classic movies most of us know at least the popular myths surrounding All Hallows Eve. However, the history of the “high holy day” of the Protestant Church Year – that’s extremely tongue-in-cheek since the reformers were very against high holy days – is far more elusive.

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther mailed his ninety-five theses into the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Although legend holds that he nailed them to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, Luther’s actions that day were one of the major watershed moments that fueled the revolution that changed the Christian world as we know it. He was not the first, but he was certainly not the last.

A generation later, a frenchman on the run from King Francis I was given leave to transform the city of Geneva into a new way of life. Ensuring that Communion was available four Sundays out of every month at the four different churches and creating an early form of apprenticeship-welfare program so that all members of the city would find flourishing, John Calvin then spent decades perfecting his theological treatise, The Institutes.

And in the generations upon generations since, we continue to reform the church. One of the key phrases we have inherited from our forebears is ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda, which means “the church Reformed, always reforming.” Christ is not done yet. God’s work among us is not finished. The Reformation that began five hundred years ago is still alive and well when we live into it and feel God’s Spirit breathe new life into us.

So come one, come all to worship this Sunday as we celebrate God’s life alive among us. Not only throughout history, but here and now. And even remembering that its all just a bunch of hocus pocus 😉

Blessings, Pastor Janie

A few announcements…

So, for those who have not heard yet, yes, I did have a rather eventful week last week. I was in a car accident in the midst of the dense fog very early on Thursday morning (a week ago). I unfortunately hit some gravel, ended up off the road, with my car upside down and me hanging like a bat by my seatbelt. Quite remarkably, however, I found myself unscathed other than some bruising from the seatbelt.

My daughter, Taylor, and I want to express our thanks for the outpouring of concern and support as we have dealt with the emotional aftermath – especially since this all occurred on the one year anniversary of my late husband’s death. We are honestly just so very grateful that I emerged largely unscathed and that everyone else in the family was safe.

I also want to say thank you to everyone who participated in our Hymn Sing Sunday last weekend! It was not only fun to make a joyful noise, but so wonderful to learn some of your favorite hymns in the process (we kept a list for later worship planning). Music really is one of God’s greatest gifts to us!

And speaking of music, I want to give a special thank you to our Music Director, Walt Yatta, for not only setting up the special Organ Recital for Josh Kraybill, grandchild of our church, to come home last weekend, but I am also grateful to him for stepping in and watching over the event when I needed to care for my sick sons. Our congregation has always had a great love of good music, but it is even more special when the great musician is a member of the church family. Such a day to celebrate God’s gracious gift to us!

This coming weekend marks the final Sunday of “downtime” before we hit a very long string of “big Sundays” that will last all the way until after the New Year. We will be talking about Jesus healing a blind man and how we overcome our own blind spots. The band is playing and it should be a Sunday of rest for all of us. Come and see where the Spirit is moving.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Music Sunday

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing… (Psalm 100:1-2)

Unlike most people, these were the first two verses of the Psalter that I learned as a child. (Probably because my children’s pastor was also the music pastor.) In Third Grade we memorized Psalm 100 – all four verses. Upon completing that task, we were handed our very first copies of the Bible with our names in them. It was all very exciting.

From the very beginning for me, music has been tied up with my understanding of who God is and most certainly with my worship of God. That same music pastor used to take one Sunday every summer and do a “Hymn Sing,” when the congregation would call out all the songs they had not had a chance to hear lo those many months and we would sing them. From national hymns to Christmas to Thanksgiving to Easter. We did it all. And everyone had a roaring good time.

They say music is a universal language. Perhaps that is why it is so essential to worship (and why we missed it so greatly in the midst of this awful plague). Music speaks to our hearts and, I believe, connects us more fully to God’s own heart as we come into God’s presence to listen for God’s Spirit moving in our midst.

This weekend, we are pulling out all the stops on all the hymns in the book. There will be no sermon, except the joyful noise we make with the words printed in our hymnal.

So come one, come all as we sing for God’s glory and watch in wonder in the steadfast love that surrounds us.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Squeezing Camels

Well, the Fall Program Season has officially begun!

We want to give a great big thank you to everyone who made last weekend’s kick-off such a wonderful success!!!

Now it is on into October, which is our final month with any normality until January. You see, though we have a few big Sundays this month, once we hit November, everything starts getting bigger and keeps on growing until Christmas arrives. Which is perhaps the reason that electric excitement is already buzzing through the air.

However, we do have quite a few things to do in the meantime. For starters, we have a fun imagery story this weekend from Jesus (everyone gather round to start pushing camels through tight spaces) and then we are gearing up for Music Sunday the following week.

So, just for fun, I will give a challenge to all our dedicated readers out there: while it is true I have many favorite hymns, there is one hymn that is my absolute favorite. It is in the Blue Hymnal. If you can correctly guess what it is (first) on Hymn-Sing Sunday, I will guarantee that your favorite Christmas hymn (has to be in the Blue or Purple Presbyterian hymnals) will be included in Lessons & Carols this year on Christmas Eve. Happy Hunting!

And as we continue on, remember the wise words of Francis of Assisi from our sermon last weekend: Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Fall into First

Fall is finally here… well, sort of. 

While we are still waiting for the weather to finally break, the leaves are trying to begin their change and all of you are learning what I have known for most of my adult life: dressing in layers is key. When you live through at least three seasons in one day, adaptability is the name of the game.

That is true in life, too. Whether we are facing a pandemic or not, hurricane season or football season, a new school year or a new career – the future is always a bit uncertain. We can never truly know what is coming. And frankly it would be rather boring if we did.

The world is constantly and consistently changing around us. In ways we have seen and in ways that we have not. Ever evolving. Ever growing. Ever shifting. Ever moving. That is a very good thing, because if something is not moving it is dying. Perhaps very slowly, but stagnation leads down that road nonetheless.

The God of all creation, the one who made the world, whose Spirit breathes all around us, causing all the wonders that we see, the life that is teaming through every fiber of this vast and awesome cosmos, also made us. And made us to move. Made us to shift. To grow. To evolve. To change. Not to sit still. Not to stagnate. Not to die until it is our time. For while death may be a part of life (all things have an end, save God), we are not meant to stay in that end.

We are meant to live. To savor every drop of life. To step into the future with courage, even if fear is coursing through our veins at the same time.

And the greatest assets we can have as we do: adaptability and humor. Being ready for whatever may come with an open mind and heart. And being ready to find a way to see the glint in God’s eye even in the most shadow-filled moments. Those two things will keep you going, even when all seems lost or when the road gets so much longer than you ever imagined.

So, I do not know precisely what the future holds for all of us, but I do know this – God goes with us. Before us and behind us. Above us and below us. Inside us and all around us. God is here. God is present working as a ferment in our church, bringing new life in our midst even now. In our music and worship. In our children and teaching. In our committees and work. In our conversation and prayer. In all that we do – God is here. And we are very much alive.

Whatever this road ahead may bring, we will face it together: with courage, with adaptability, and with humor.

Blessings, Pastor Janie