Dreaming with Isaiah

A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots…

Isaiah 11:1

While the gospel lesson for this weekend would have us examine the wild voice of our favorite PK (priest’s kid), John the Baptist, the prophecy in Isaiah offers us a bit of a different opportunity.

Yes, it is true that we are meant to prepare our hearts during Advent. And to some extent that means focusing in on those things for which we need to repent. However, unlike Lent, Advent offers a different entry point into the lives we are meant to live.

Instead of calling ourselves a “brood of vipers,” which, if we’re honest, is not always too far off the mark, we have a chance during this season to gain a clear vision of the little child from Isaiah’s dream, the Christ-Child in our midst.

Because the truth is this: the Child never left.

He is in the face of every person in our midst who lives in this shadow-filled world. From children to the aged, there are countless Christ-Child’s we can serve this season.

Find one every day. Maybe a few times a day. And seek a way to share the light that God has given you.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

P.S. To prepare for this weekend’s sermon, check out this anthem I’m going to mention – it is an arrangement of our passage from Isaiah.

And so it begins…

Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

Matthew 24:42

This weekend we begin the new church liturgical year with the start of the season of Advent.

Advent is a time meant to watch, to wait, and to prepare:

  • We watch to see the miracles that God is already working in our midst.
  • We wait with great ancipatoon for the return of Emmanuel – God with us.
  • We prepare because we cannot know the time or place of Christ’s return and God does not want us to sit idly by.

In our culture, we are not very good at any of these things. People have been chomping at the bit to begin their decorating for Christmas since fall first began. We also like to see things done quickly, in our own timing, so that we do not have to deal with the anxiety that comes from being in flux.

But the truth is that we are always in a state of constant ambiguity. It is the very nature of life that we will consistently be changing and that everything upon which we have relied might be gone in an instant.

We cannot know what the future holds – and Jesus tells us not to worry quite so much about it. Especially about when history will end.

Instead, we are to get to work for God’s kingdom here and now. To do the tasks accomplished by the grown child of Bethlehem, even as we await his return. To quote one of my favorite musicals, “just to sit still would be a sin.”

There is much to do, and not just in the sense of the holiday season. So let’s get to it.

We look forward to seeing you in church as we actively prepare for the arrival of our coming Savior.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

The Reign of Christ

Happy New Year’s Eve!

No, I haven’t lost my marbles – at least, not yet.

In the church calendar, the last Sunday of the year is Christ the King Sunday (which is always the Sunday right before Advent I). This year we will celebrate this festive time of preparation this coming Sunday, November 24th, in both worship services.

Though it is not time for “New Year’s Resolutions” quite yet, there is something we can do to prepare for the coming season.

It is time to consider how we will live into the season of Advent, which begins in just over a week and a half. We know that the world desires us to focus on presents and parties and the pretense of perfection, but the church is meant to do something different.

If you have ever had a child, you will remember that though there were moments of joy, like baby showers, the vast majority of preparing for your child’s arrival was extremely hard work. It is far from fun and games – especially if you were a woman who suffered from morning sickness (or as I came to call it, all-day sickness). It was a sort of “calm before the storm,” but that does not mean it was full of rest.

Similarly, Advent is a time for us to rethink how we honor Christ in our lives. The King of kings, who we will celebrate this Sunday, is also that little tiny baby who will arrive in four weeks. It brings to mind the ancient song from the book of Philippians:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus: who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a salve, being born in human likeness…

Philippians 2:5-7

Christ’s Reign is about so much more than mere words and thoughts. It is about truth and action. It is about following Christ with our whole lives – walking the path Jesus trod.

What this means is that to truly prepare for the little tiny baby, we should seek to serve him every way we can.

And how do we do this?

… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me… just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

Matthew 25

That is how we keep Christ at the fore this Christmas. We love Christ in the face of everyone we meet. Because that is what our Lord has commanded us to do.

There are a myriad of ways you can fulfill your calling in the coming weeks. And it may seem overwhelming to consider, especially with everything else that will be going on.

My encouragement for all of us is to pick one place to start. One act of kindness. One moment of compassion. One offering of mercy. Then pick another. And another.

It will not be easy, but in the end, if we live into our calling, even more people will share our joy in the arrival of the Child into the Kingdom God is already creating.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Like somethin’ is brewin’ and ’bout to begin…

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth…

Isaiah 65:17

This weekend we move into a section of the lectionary that many preachers might call “baby advent.” (I’m sorry to say that this doesn’t mean we get to start pulling out the Christmas decor – and don’t forget that the twelve days of Christmas do not begin until December 25th.) What pastors are referring to when they talk about the passages for the next two weeks is a change in the tenor of the scriptures.

As we approach the coming new year of the church’s liturgical calendar on Advent I, the creators and collaborators who put together our scripture lessons knew that we might need a little extra time to get ready for what God is starting when we begin again in December.

Though we talk about preparing for the arrival of the Christ-child quite easily, we forget that we are also preparing for Christ’s return. The great appearance on the horizon. The revelation of God’s life among us and the completion of the Spirit’s work.

And what is the Greek word for revelation? Apocalyptos.

Yes, we are literally looking for God’s apocalypse. Which is why it should not surprise us that the scriptures for this weekend, next weekend, and the beginning of Advent deal with God’s imminent arrival at the end of time. Because, in remembering the Christ-child’s coming into this world we also anticipate the completion of the work that child began so many years ago.

So come and hear again how God is stirring a ferment in our world. To shake things up. To turn everything upside down. Until finally, all can be set the way it is intended to be.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

The Three T’s

This weekend is everyone’s favorite Sunday of the year: Stewardship!!!

[Don’t worry – I am well aware that talking about money makes everyone a little uncomfortable.]

The time has come at last for us to look towards 2020 and make a plan for our family of faith. And no, it will not help us to have 2020 in hindsight before doing so.

Stewardship is one of those things we like to forget about the rest of the year. However, doing stewardship well means a whole bunch more than being good financial analysts in the late fall of every calendar.

Did you remember when God created the world in Genesis and gave humans “dominion” over everything? What if I told you that another translation of that word might very well be “stewardship”?

In ancient Israel, when God finally gave in and appointed kings to rule over the people (at their own request), they were not given power to lord it over others. Instead, they were meant to protect and serve those entrusted to their care.

Whether we are talking about all the earth, a group of people, or even a church campus, being a good steward is an essential Christian practice. It is an opportunity to commit our “three T’s” to Christ’s ministry in this time and place at First Presbyterian Church of Hollidaysburg.

What are the “three T’s,” you may ask?

Time. Talent. Treasure.

Though money is an essential portion of our pledging, we should never underestimate the value of our time (our most precious commodity) nor the importance of the talents God has given to us. There are countless ways you can practice good stewardship.

And that is exactly what our leaders are doing. In order to make a proper plan, we must have a better idea of where our congregation is and how committed we are to where God is leading us. Only then will we be able to honor Christ with prayerfully-made decisions.

So, I encourage you to come to worship this weekend. Bring your pledge card. And remember that your money is going to support care for our members, our children, our beautiful, historic campus, and our community.

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:7

Thank you for all you do for FPCH!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

#laterblog – For All the Saints

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers…

Ephesians 1:15-16

My sojourn in Louisiana makes me want to begin by asking, Who dat?

Yesterday, we celebrated our annual remembrance of All Saints in worship. In the Presbyterian tradition, we often celebrate it on the first Sunday in November – though technically the official day is November 1st.

[Never forget that Halloween comes from the name for All Saints day – “All Hallows Eve” – but I digress…]

For our Roman Catholic brethren, All Saints is an opportunity to remember all those members of Christ’s family who have achieved special recognition for miracles and good works.

For us in Protestant circles, we have a little different take on the topic.

Since many of us do not believe in “sainthood” in the traditional sense, we look to a more ancient view. Like our ancient Jewish brethren who began the move toward the “priesthood of all believers” – where everyone is equal before God – we believe that saints are those individuals who are members of Christ’s family.

So the saints are you. And me. And all those who have gone before. And everyone who has yet to arrive.

We are not saints by our own power, but by God’s gracious adoption in God’s legacy. It is not ours by right. It is ours by gift.

On All Saints it is of the utmost importance that we remember that we are no higher, nor lower than any other member of God’s family. We are all equal. We are all important.

The next time we find ourselves thinking otherwise about anyone, draw your memory back to the candles we lit yestermorn and see how, though they may burn differently, all are in essence the same.

You are a beloved part of God’s family. Now go and show that love to all the saints you can find.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Reformed & Always Reforming

Faith is not a distant view, but a warm embrace of Christ.

John Calvin

This weekend we will celebrate Reformation Sunday!

Many of you, particularly those who grew up Catholic or Orthodox, may be saying, “Wait, huh?” And that’s okay.

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses to those in positions of authority within the Church and State in which he lived. The legend is that he nailed them to the doors of Wittenburg Church, as well. Either way, his actions were the key catalyst that turned a small grass-roots movement into a full-blown Reformation of the Church.

It is for this reason that most of us within the Protestant churches remember the incredible works and words of the reformers who came before us on the final Sunday in October.

Remember that these men (and women) were not only in Germany, but also Switzerland, France, Scotland, England, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and so many other places. The key first reformers, named Jan Huss (Czech) & John Wycliffe (England), did their work around a hundred and fifty years before Luther. And to this very day, many would argue that their work continues.

Within the branch of Protestants known as the Reformed faiths – those who are theological descendants of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli (Switzerland) – our battle cry has always been:

Reformed and always reforming, according to the word of God.

Why? Because God’s work within the Church is not yet finished. God’s work within us is not yet complete. And the promise of Christ’s return has yet to be fulfilled.

So come to worship this weekend as we celebrate our ancestors. Come to hear how we honor the history that we have inherited. Come and see how God continues to brew a ferment in our very midst so that we may grow ever more into the image of Jesus Christ.

Come. See. Celebrate.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

#laterblog – Living Into Our Calling

The days are surely coming when… I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.

Jeremiah 31:33

Yesterday we spoke together of what it means to pray with perseverance and hope. It is about listening to God far more than speaking. It is about trusting that God is already present and working in our midst. And, most importantly, it is about living into our calling as children of God – those who answer the prayers of others.

Because prayer, though requiring us to be still at times, should usually push us to act in ways that mirror the God in whose image we are fearfully and wonderfully made. It will help us to fulfill the law of love that has been inscribed on our hearts.

There was something particularly poignant in the joys and concerns we shared before our prayer time this weekend. In one case, we celebrated with great joy that cancer has not spread. In another, we joined a family in sorrow due to the loss of their husband and father. And in still another case, we await with great expectation the newest member of our church family due to be born any day now.

The church is meant to be a place where we gather not only to worship God, but also to live out the daily offerings of our whole lives to God. That means that we walk with one another in joy and in sorrow. We surround one another with love. We comfort and encourage one another as we face the challenges life presents. And we serve one another just as Christ has so graciously served us.

As we continue on into Stewardship season this coming weekend, my encouragement for us all is to recognize the amazing family of faith we already are and then to strive to find ever more ways that we might live into our calling.

Blessings, Pastor Janie


Everyone needs to be valued. Everyone has the potential to give something back.

Diana, Princess of Wales

This weekend, we are going to be moving from Jesus’ teachings to one of his acts of healing. It is the story of the ten lepers who are healed, but only one of them turns back to say thank you. There is a lot to unpack there and we will do so on Sunday.

But among the ideas to be lifted up surrounding this story comes this key understanding: everyone is important.

Not because of their relationship to another person. Not because of how they can help make a profit. And definitely not because they have earned it.

No. Every single other person on this planet is important because God made them. There is an intrinsic value in each life for that reason alone, before anything else adds to it.

Our job, as followers of Christ, is to help everyone feel important. To reach out and thank them for what they do. To build them up when they are down. To offer to walk with them in the valleys. To celebrate with them on the mountaintops.

You are a beloved child of God. You are important.

There are a million and a half ways we can be of service to our fellow human beings. So pick one and start doing it.

Because when someone feels important, that is when they start realizing they can make someone else feel the same. And then… then the world really will begin to transform.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

The Family Table

The church is God saying: ‘I’m throwing a banquet, and all these mismatched, messed-up people are invited. Here, have some wine…

Rachel Held Evans

This weekend is World Communion Sunday. All around the globe Christians will be gathering around Christ’s table this weekend to break bread and share the cup that Jesus himself instituted.

Every time we gather around the table for the Lord’s Supper, we recall the words of scripture that remind us that in the end, people will come from everywhere – north, south, east, and west – to sit together at one table.

Though, in our tradition, Ministers of Word and Sacrament officiate Communion, we should never forget that there is no head of the table except Christ himself. It is Jesus’ own family table. And all of us, even pastors, we are merely guests at a table Christ opened to even the most notorious sinner among his friends.

The even more remarkable thought is to consider all of the different cultures that will be together at table in the end. It will not be all Presbyterians or Baptists or Catholics. Skin colors will display the full range of God’s wondrous variety. And the breads will come from Africa and Asia, America and Australia, Europe and maybe even Antarctica. The effect will be a myriad of colors and smells that awaken the senses to the beauty of God’s incredible and diverse creation.

Though we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper as we traditionally do this weekend, our table will hopefully reflect the much wider worth with whom we are sharing our feast.

May it be a day of celebration. A day to forget those things that divide us. A day to embrace the face of Christ in all of our brothers and sisters around the table – wherever they may be.

Blessings, Pastor Janie