Not the End

Spring is upon us!!!

Part of me is not really certain how that happened. And the weather this week seems to be wavering a bit – meaning that our Easter weekend may very well be a bit chillier than some of our spring outfits would prefer. 

Nevertheless, the world is coming to life all around us as the trees and plants shake off their winter style and prepare to do something new. Even the larger world seems to be coming to life as more and more people are gaining access to vaccinations, moving us closer and closer to business as usual. There is an excitement and anticipation to this time. And in so many ways it is a wonder to behold.

This coming Sunday is Easter Sunday – the Resurrection Day itself. We will shout Alleluia! We will adorn the sanctuary with lilies and brightly colored tulips and flowers. We will have special music and even share the Lord’s Supper together. And as we examine Mark’s resurrection account, we will find some very peculiar notes there, largely because it’s Mark. That should say enough. 

However, here is a central piece of what Easter teaches us, especially when we examine it through this particular gospel’s lens: Easter is not an ending. It is only the beginning. 

We are all living in a brave new world. The truth is that we can never go back to the way things were before the pandemic. Yes, we will one day be able to live without mitigation measures (Alleluia and Amen whenever that day finally arrives). Still, we are all forever changed by what we have experienced together. We cannot go through such a time without transformation. What is more, many of those metamorphoses are for the better. We have learned. We have grown. And there is much we know now that will be helpful wisdom for the future.

All this to say, remember that even when we get to the end of the story, like we will Sunday morning, like we will in several months (God-willing) with mitigation measures being lifted, even at the end – remember that though one thing may be finishing, your story and God’s story is not. Not even close.
The next chapter is only just beginning. Oh what wonders wait for us there…

Blessings, Pastor Janie

At his feet…

This weekend, we come to the crux of the matter. Holy Week begins with a grand parade as we watch our Lord and Savior triumphantly enter into the ancient holy city of his ancestors. Jerusalem. That light on a hill meant to shine for all the world to see.

And as he passes by, carried by a donkey, foretold by the prophets, the people cry “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” They lay down not only palm branches at his feet, but also their coats and cloaks, as so many have done for royalty for thousands of years. They see the heir of David arriving in the holy city and expect that now is the time that the revolution will begin!

But within days, we see the true Light that enlightens all peoples’ hearts cast out of the city and put to death in a way considered cursed by God’s people. God’s salvation is put down. Hard.

And there we stand at his feet, watching the blood flow. All our hopes and dreams go with it.

At his feet. The feet of a king upon his throne – for the cross is Christ’s coronation, even if his disciples and followers do not know it yet.

Remember that there is no empty tomb without first gathering at his feet. And that is what we will do this week.

Through all that we will encounter, remember two things: first, yes, all is done for love of the whole world, including you and me. For this is Love incarnate stretched out to show how far love will go. But second, we are still responsible for what occurs in the ways we treat every fellow human being, every child of God we see – for all bear the face of Christ by his own word.

Meditate on that as we gather at his feet. See what message our crucified Lord has for you this week.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Lifted Up

This weekend we will be entering into the fifth Sunday in the Lenten Season. During this particular lectionary year that means that we will be encountering Jesus saying some very important, and yet deeply troubling things to his disciples in the final week of his life. In this case, we will be in the gospel of John, which always has its own little twist. Nevertheless, the lessons it bears are worth the hearing for all of us.

The question we will examine is sacrifice.

Such a word. So many definitions, from the mundane and simple to the complex and paradoxical. What does it mean? For Christ? For Us? For our relationships with one another?

Jesus speaks about being lifted up. And yes, he is speaking about the cross. Yet, he has spent his life lifting up so many different people. Sometimes from their diseases. Sometimes from death. Sometimes so that the world might know how we might love one another better.

At the heart of the matter for this weekend, and in the Holy Week that will follow, is this: what do we lift up most in our life?

Is it how we love others? Give for others, to others, with others? Willingly bless, even if no one is watching? Lift others up so that they might shine in the sun?

Or do we live for ourselves? Make a show of our piety and sacrifices for other’s “benefit”? Do we turn our faces, eyes, ears, and hearts away from those who are hurting in this world? Do we hide in the shadows, letting only what we want to be seen?

The time is surely coming when we will watch our Lord be lifted up again – something for which we are wholly responsible. And though we are forgiven, even for this, and loved more than we can possibly imagine, Christ still looks at us with this question: what will you do with this life I have bought for you?

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Half-Way There

This week we reach the half-way point through our Lenten journey. And what have we learned?

Generally that everything we thought we knew probably means something a little bit different. Whether it is fasting, taking up our crosses, or WWJD, what we have found together over these recent weeks is that quite often the world has misconstrued these concepts, at least a bit.

So what is the big takeaway?

Well, perhaps this is the best place to start: when all else fails, ask yourself, does this look like what Love would do? Or more simply put, what would Love do?

What the world often gets mixed up is to put anything and everything before Christ’s essential message – love that will give anything and everything for another. Even the scriptures have been known to get that a bit mixed up, which is why everything we do, say, read, and even think should be tested through this one single lens: the love of Christ.

So again, the biggest thing we should learn from this Lenten season, if we remember nothing else, is that if we are ever confused or questioning something in our lives, or if we are unsure what to do next, just ask yourself: What would Love do?

Because, my friends, #LoveforLent is not just about what we can give. It is also about growing deeper into our relationship with our God, who is Love itself. Do that, and you are not only half-way through this season, but you will also be more than half-way onto the road of your walk of faith.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Carry These

It seems nearly impossible to believe, but this month marks the one year anniversary of our world changing forever.

I remember that weekend so clearly. My family was traveling down to Alabama to see my boys’ godfather be ordained as a Presbyterian Minister. On the way south, Brad and I kept them entertained with children’s museums and Bass Pro shop. We were cautious, but things were still open to welcome us. I preached the ordination service on Sunday. Our best friend got ordained. But when we traveled home on Monday – everything had changed. It was as though the world flipped a switch. Nothing was open and our three year old sons had to run around rest stops to get energy out on our long journey home.

All of us have memories of those early days. The uncertainty. The fear. The frustration. And as the weeks turned into months, in many ways, those emotions have only compounded. We have seen the very best of humanity over the last twelve months and certainly some of the very worst.

Nevertheless, as the fog clears, and we slowly begin to make our way toward the new day that is surely coming in the not so distant future, we must not get ahead of ourselves. To be certain, we are making progress. However, we are still not quite out of the woods and some reasonable precautions are necessary to keep our community safe.

And as we keep our patience with the ongoing mitigation efforts, there is another essential task that all of us need to undertake. It is quite simple, but not necessarily easily:

Everyone should seek to consistently carry caring eyes out into the world.

There is so much still going wrong all around us – related to the pandemic and not – and right now, the thing that everyone can do is to display God’s love through their eyes to all who they meet. Yes, there is plenty of other work that needs done as well. But this is an excellent place to begin for every single person – from one to ninety-two.

And as we approach Holy Week at the end of this month, seven days that hold oceans of grief for so many of us, what my years in ministry have taught me is that the most important gift one can receive while in the throes is the eyes of compassion from someone who knows.

So in these final weeks of Lent, build up your skillset in showing kindness, caring, compassion through your eyes. Teach them to speak the words that our ears are sometimes just not ready to hear. And bring them as a special offering when we enter triumphantly into Jerusalem on March 28th – for Holy Week has much in store for all of the followers of Christ. Especially those who will stay close to our Master’s side.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Take Up Your Cross

This weekend we find ourselves looking into a pair of Jesus’ sayings in the gospel of Mark.

The first explains quite openly what is coming during Holy Week. Christ predicts the major events that will occur and his disciples are none too pleased. This was not what they signed up for.

Jesus follows this first saying with one of his most famous: “If any want to be my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.” Not surprisingly, there is a whole lot to unpack in this one. And that is what we will spend most of our time doing together.

At the heart of the matter is this question: what does it really mean to follow Christ? And, are we really ready to do it?

In our world, we often get so caught up on how we can reap the rewards of our work and make our own glory that finding our way onto the path of the crucified God is not an easy task. It was not for the ancients. And it remains an elusive mark for us today. Nevertheless, that is what we are called to do.

So, consider carefully what you are prepared to do to follow our Lord and Savior. It may not be what you expect. But it will always be outside your comfort zone.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Fasting for Lent

Is this the fast that I choose…

How are you preparing your heart this Lenten season?

Every year, we find ourselves once again on this forty-day journey through the wilderness, making our way slowly toward Jerusalem. We know what is coming during Holy Week. We can see Golgotha’s shadow looming on the horizon and feel the tomb’s cold even now in our bones. And so we prepare ourselves.

But how?

There are many traditional ways to do so. However, after a year of loss after loss, somehow giving up yet another thing seems to miss the mark.

What is more, if we study what the scriptures truly say about how God wants us to follow in God’s path, in Christ’s own footsteps – the path generally does not look the way we have often thought.

So, instead of focusing on what you will give up this Lent to prepare, I suggest you choose instead to follow in the true way of Christ, which is to give love for Lent. Every moment. Every chance. Every breath. No matter how small the deed may seem. No matter how large or reckless your opportunity may be. Give love.

For ultimately, that is what the story of Holy Week is all about: a love greater than any the world can comprehend.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Before Star Wars

This weekend is our final Sunday before the beginning of Lent. For those of you who are not as excited about the liturgical calendar as I am, that means that we will be celebrating Transfiguration Sunday.

Remember that story?

Jesus takes a few of his closest disciples up onto the mountaintop. A cloud covers him and suddenly he is resplendent in bright white and conversing with Moses and Elijah – the two greatest prophets of Israel.

So yes, Jesus really did transfigure before Star Wars made it cool.

But the disciples, Simon Peter in particular, do what they do best – they misunderstand what is happening entirely. They assume that all have come to stay in this special state. Then they try to put God in a box, which is never, ever a good idea.

What happens next?

Well, you’ll have to tune in or come join us in worship to find out!

Also up this week is Ash Wednesday and we want to ensure that everyone who wants ashes is able to get them. So please remember that we will have them ready for pick up on (1) Sunday morning after worship, (2) on Wednesday at curbside from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m., and (3) that we are willing to bring them to you if you just let us know you need them.

Be sure to keep an eye out for next week’s article as we discuss what it means to be seeking #loveforlent together.

And have a very Happy Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras in the meantime!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Love for Lent

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…

Did you know that there are actually six different words for “love” in Greek? Rather than to use only one word, like we do, the Greeks use distinctive words to describe every manner of love that exists. From playful love to parental love, brotherly love to self-love, there is a word for that.

Now, interestingly, this famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 – the one that we often hear at weddings – is actually not talking about romantic love. Instead, Paul is addressing the church and the word he uses is agape, which is really is God’s love. It is the love that God has for us. It is the love we are meant to have for everyone else.

This year presents a fascinating paradox for us: we will be celebrating Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday in the same week. Now, in my house, we have been aware of this juxtaposition for weeks because our Mardi Gras decorations are up right alongside our hearts. Yet, perhaps there is something worth exploring here.

Lent, the season of preparation for Easter, is about making our hearts ready again for the greatest message of love that the world has ever known. And though the greeting card and candy companies do seem to have co-opted Valentine’s Day these days, there is no better reflection as we begin this season of devotion than upon the truest meaning of what love really is. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). That self-giving God-love that Paul describes in Corinthians is what we followers of Christ are meant to display every day. In all of our relationships, even our romantic ones.

So my encouragement for you, as we approach the season of Lent this year, is rather than to give something up, focus instead on how you might better give into your calling. Seek some way, big or small, every single day, to display God’s love to those around you. Perhaps your family. Maybe your caregivers. Or even a complete stranger you see crossing the road. Find some way to give God’s love away. Because the more you do, the more you will discover the true secret of it all: God has given you an endless supply.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

“Authority”

This weekend we will be continuing on in the gospel of Mark, following Jesus into his early teaching days in the synagogue. In our encounter on Sunday, which follows directly after last weekend’s call of the disciples, we will see him cast out a demon who knows who he really is. And Jesus rebukes him.

Nevertheless, the thing the people cannot get over is that he is doing everything, teaching and healing, as one with “authority.”

Now, authority is a word that makes us all very nervous, doesn’t it?

When we hear that word, many of us worry that we are going to see someone “Lording it over us,” as some of our Hebrew texts say. However, that is not what Jesus or God has ever been about. It is not about dominance. It is not about earthly power. The authority Jesus wields is about something else entirely.

And what that is is something that you’re going to have to come (or watch) on Sunday to find out…

What I will tell you is this, the way that Jesus wields power is the same way we are intended to. And it is not the way the world tells us to. It requires an entirely new way of seeing things and being in the world.

So, stay warm, be safe, and we’ll see you soon.

Blessings, Pastor Janie