The Next Step & A New Chapter

Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

This weekend we will celebrate the Installation of First Presbyterian Church’s eighteenth pastor. In over two hundred and thirty years of history, there have only been eighteen individuals who have served this congregation as its senior pastor. And as of Sunday, I will join their ranks.

Calling a pastor to stay with you for an extended period is a big deal. Though there are many kinds of pastors who serve, having a pastor installed to work with you in ministry sends a powerful message to the community: we are looking to the future. There is no such thing as a “permanent pastor,” but an installed senior pastor means that we are planning to be here for a while.

One of my favorite preachers once said, “Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” That is what this weekend signifies in our church’s life and history. A new step. A new day. A new chapter.

We have been blessed with a long and storied narrative in this congregation. Though we cannot see where this next chapter will lead us, we know that just as God has been with us from the very beginning, so God is at work among us now, breathing life into these hallowed halls and loving church family.

Every time an officer of the PCUSA is ordained or installed they are asked a series of questions. They are vows, of a sort. And the one above is by far my favorite.

My question for you is will you join me in this new work we are beginning? Will you pray for us? Will you bring the very best of your energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?

Just imagine what wonders God will provide when we do.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Stand Your Ground

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

Something we have spoken of before during our #summersermonseries on the Beatitudes is what Jesus meant when he tells us to turn the other cheek. Though many have abused this passage, he was telling his disciples to nonviolently protest the evil in their midst.

Remember that in the ancient Roman world, everything was about domination. Slaves beat up weaker slaves. Women beat up slaves. Men beat up everyone under them – all the way up the proverbial food chain.

When someone was to be beaten, they would be struck across the right cheek with the back of a right hand. Because that’s how it’s done. And that’s what’s right. It’s what’s proper. So what happens if you then offer your left cheek? It throws your oppressor off-kilter to make a point.

I’ve had people suggest to me that Jesus told us to run away from evil people. However, that’s completely untrue. Paul may have, but Jesus never did.

Instead, Christ taught us to stand up to those who would do evil (including ourselves). To fight back. But to fight back the correct way.

As one of my professors at Divinity School, James Lawson, once said, “Love is our only weapon.” It is not weak. It is not powerless. It is a force stronger than death. It speaks truth in the face of ignorance. It offers God’s justice in the face of retribution. It offers mercy that will shock people right off their thrones.

So, as we prepare to hear the seventh beatitude this weekend, the one about peacemaking, I encourage you to consider the radically different way Christ has called us to view and to approach the world. Never as a doormat. However, always present and ready to turn its mores upside down.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

See Through Light

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart! Naught be all else to me, save that thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night. Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light. (trans. Eleanor Hull)

One of my favorite hymns, of ancient Celtic (Irish) origin, this beautiful song will be part of our worship this weekend in our second service.

It is a classic, for so many reasons, and beloved by traditional and contemporary musicians alike. For its lyrics remind us that of all the things that can light up our lives, it is only God who will be the true Light through which we will find the life that we are meant to have.

One of of the reasons for this selection is that, as part of our series about the beatitudes, we will be talking about “thin places.”

This is another Celtic concept, originally introduced to me by the head of one of our national conference centers. A “thin place” is a location where heaven and earth come so close together that we can see God.

Often this happens in the form of a mountaintop experience. Sometimes it’s when we find comfort in the valleys of life. But always, there is a common thread that we see some small glimpse of the kingdom that illumines our lives and gives our hearts the push forward that we need.

As we move toward the new school year, my Installation, and all the wonders of the year to come, my prayer for us is that FPC will become a “thin place” as we are seek Christ together and that God will give us the push we need to see the future God holds.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Who Is My Neighbor?

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

This weekend we will be continuing in our series on the Beatitudes. As a part of that conversation, we will be considering the story of the “Good Samaritan,” for which the quote above is the introduction.

There is a legend that comes from one of our Presbyterian seminaries that on the day of their final exam the students were told to be at a certain building at a certain time, in a very specific room. Upon their arrival at that place each would find a sign on the door that said that their exam is in a different room on the far side of campus. Desperate to do well on their final and with hardly any time to spare, the students would run off toward their new destination. As they did, all of them passed by a person in the middle of the sidewalk, clearly hurt, unconsciously lying there in need of help. When they arrived at the far building, their professor then lead them in an oral examination on the topic of the Good Samaritan.

For many of us within the Christian tradition, we have heard this story so many times that we forget how controversial it really was. Samaritans were foreigners, in this case residing in Jewish territory, and were considered second-class humans, if not even lower. On some level, we understand that as the two priests pass him on the other side, we are witnessing the religious establishment ignoring those most desperately in need out of fear for protecting their “piety.” And all of this was in response to the lawyer’s question of Jesus, but really “who is my neighbor?”

The question we should ask ourselves is where are the people we pass over? Ignore out of fear? When do we turn our eyes and ears away? Pretend they don’t exist?

It’s important to remember that following Christ was never meant to be comfortable. It’s supposed to push us. Stretch us. Transform us – because only then can we become more like the Triune God in whose image we were made.

Let us not miss Christ’s message from this parable: we will be held accountable for how we treat others. Jesus spends more time on the importance of living out our faith in tangible acts of mercy than almost any topic. Instead of telling us to run from “evildoers,” he consistently points to the ways we must choose to overcome the evil in ourselves, with God’s help of course. It is not ours to choose who is worthy of love; it is our job to simply live out love in as many ways as we can.

I look forward to further conversation with you about this parable and the next beatitude this weekend. And I pray that God will continue to open our eyes and ears to those in desperate need of our help, and that we will finally hear God’s lesson that the relief and help for these people will come through us.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Child of God

Remember, you are a child of God.
And God loves God's children!
How much?
Very much!
Will it stop?
Never!

This week is “Traveling Day Camp” here at FPC and our campus is alive with children laughing, learning, dancing, and growing in their faith.

Our counselors from our Presbytery’s Camp Krislund are doing great, as are our friends from Providence PCUSA and, as always, our amazing leadership team here. And the kids seemed excited to meet their new pastor this week (and her twin sons, who finally showed up this morning).

We’ve covered topics from God’s creation to God’s desire to make us new to our desire to be better. There are countless things these fifty children are learning in the midst of songs, crafts, games, bible studies, and so much more.

Something that every pastor wonders is what is the most essential message we want people to hear and how do we communicate it.

When I arrived here a month and a half ago, we added this line to the charge and benediction at the end of worship: Remember you are a child of God – And God loves God’s children. I cannot take credit for this line, as I picked it up from a colleague during a youth conference at our national PCUSA Conference Center, Montreat. But it has become an essential part of my ministry.

Here’s why: as I told the children this week, a church is a family. And every family has their own special language – key phrases or gestures that are special to them and how they live life together. Whatever else I may ever teach anyone here at FPC, from age 1 to 100, this is the message I want to make sure every single person hears. Learns. Knows, all the way into their bones.

Children, however, need to particularly know how special and important they are, in order that they can be empowered to be the people God intends them to be. So, this morning, we added a few more lines – just for them. (You can check them out above.)

Once you get to know me better you will find that I have one favorite scripture passage that beats out all the rest (though I do have a long list of favorites): I am convinced that… nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). This is the heart of the gospel. This is a message that everyone on this planet needs to hear – that they are loved. Fully. Completely. Just as they are. No matter what.

Our children need this message, but so do all of the “big kids” (i.e. grown-ups), too. So I encourage everyone to learn this benediction well and take it to heart – just as your kids are learning their own chant this week. Once we know that we are loved it is remarkable how everything else about us will fall into place.

Blessings, Pastor Janie