To The Heart

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart…

Acts 2:37

Our lectionary passages for this weekend include this passage from the book of Acts about the early church. In this case, Peter and the eleven are testifying to the people of Israel that Jesus was the Messiah for whom they had been waiting. And it says that the words cut them to their heart.

Have you ever experienced this sensation?

It means knowing in the depths of your soul that something is true. There is no doubt. There might be some trepidation. But you know that everything has changed. And part of you knows that your world has just been set ablaze.

When this happened to you, did you let that sensation wash over you? Or did you quickly snuff it out?

The truth is that all of us who follow God, who follow Jesus, should have an experience like this at least once in our lives.

If you’re anything like me, it has happened repeatedly. Sometimes because I had lost my way. Other times to draw me further into a new direction God was taking me. Always, though, there was a sense of God’s work being alive in my life.

Frederick Buechner once wrote that “your vocation is where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.” While he was speaking of our big vocation, this is also true of things that become our vocation for a time. The things that, though short-lived, can have an incredible impact on our future.

Now is the time for us to find our vocations. To look unabashedly at the world for all the places that there are needs not being met. To see what cuts us to our heart and sets our soul on fire. Then, to go out and do something about it.

That is my hope for you as we continue down this long road ahead.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Hold On

By God’s great mercy, God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…

1 Peter 1:3-4

Karl Marx once suggested that religion “is the opium of the people.” It is a way for those in power to keep those who are powerless under their control. Unfortunately, throughout history, this has often been the case.

This passage, one of our lectionary passages for this weekend, is a passage that was likely used to support such endeavors. For if we keep the humbled masses focused on their afterlives, they will not fight us if their lives in the present are filled with crushing violence. When leaders have used this passage to support such endeavors, they have not only abused it, but also missed its intention.

Peter was writing to early Christians who were facing persecution. They were not long for this world because by proclaiming their faith in Christ, they were putting their lives in mortal danger. They were facing literal trials and suffering that were testing their faith.

And Peter is, first and foremost, a good pastor. He was giving the people the hope that they need to hear right now: that God will provide wondrous joys when they reach the afterlife. That joy cannot be touched or diminished. It is safe. The trouble will end.

One might argue that our current predicament might fit a much lesser version of this mold (since in no way are we facing persecution). Many of us are frustrated. Anxious. Uncertain of the future. When this will end.

We want answers. We want fixes. We want someone to blame and punish so that this will go away. We want our lives to get back to normal.

And we’re used to getting all of that rapidly in our twenty-first-century world.

But nature has given us a test that is defying all of these questions.

There are no clean-cut answers. There is no quick fix. There is no real answer as to who is to blame. And the “normal” we thought we knew is never coming back.

We are in this for the long-haul. It will not be easy. The long-term repercussions of this pandemic are barely visible on the horizon. But still, there is hope.

Many of you know that I have lost a lot of my family during my relatively short life-time. There have been many illnesses and accidents and so many other tragedies. What I have learned from these experiences is this: everything will be okay – we just don’t know precisely what okay will look like.

This is not the end. And even when this disease has run its course and we begin to step back into the sun, that will only be the beginning of a brave new world.

The promises of God are that God is with us through whatever may come and that God will provide new life. Here and now. And especially in the hope of the new day that is coming.

Hold onto that hope, especially when you feel your strength is failing. You can do this. You will see the bright new dawn one day soon. And you are never, ever alone.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

A Time for Washing

Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…

John 13:4-5

On this, the last night of his life, Christ gave us a new commandment: that we love one another as God has loved us.

We call this night Maundy Thursday because the Latin word for commandment is maundatum. (So no, it’s not Monday Thursday, as many of us may have believed.) Our remembrance of Christ’s final hours as a human center entirely around this word spoken to us.

In the gospel of John, where we hear Christ’s final sermon and mandate, we also see a different ritual than the table-centered practice of the Lord’s Supper that we receive in the other three gospels. In John, Jesus does not celebrate Communion, but instead washes his disciples’ feet. An act of service he tells us to imitate.

There is a certain irony apparent to many of us about “washing” right now. Most of our hands are so dry that we can almost hear them. Nevertheless, this may be the year that a washing is precisely what we need.

Jesus lovingly cared for the extremities of his closest friends, showing true compassion with every movement.

So here is my commission to you this day: take time at some point today to share in this ritual of Christ by mindfully washing your hands. Be sure to use hand lotion after the soap and water.

If you can, wash the hands of your family members who are with you. Show the same tenderness that Christ did to those he loved.

If you are on your own in this time of great stress, I encourage you to take part by washing your hands slowly, methodically, and trusting that Christ is present and showing that same compassion to you.

Much of Jesus’ work was about small mercies. Christ will be present with us this night, as he is every night. What better way to remember him during this challenging time than by making holy that which we must do out of necessity.

We also hope you will join us for Maundy Thursday worship at 6:30 p.m. on our church’s FaceBook page or via email.

May you know Christ’s presence as we follow him to Golgotha and all that lies beyond.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Triumph & Tragedy

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”

John 12:12-13

What a welcome!

The beginning of Holy Week is always a joyous occasion as we see the palm branches flying through the air towards Jesus’ feet. We hear words of prophecy being fulfilled and see the frenzy of the crowd as they welcome this descendant of David into the Holy City itself. Jerusalem.

However, the joy is short-lived. In less than five days we will see the euphoria turn to mania as the same crowds that welcome Jesus with open arms then scream “Crucify him!” at the top of their lungs.

Holy Week is always a liminal time for the church of Jesus Christ. It is a very special period when we hold in one place all of our greatest triumph and all of our worst tragedy.

We come, knowing the story well, yet longing to hear the narrative anew. To renew our faith. To revive our purpose.

This year’s Holy Week has an unusually specific sense of liminality to it because we are all living in a holding pattern, seemingly without end. We do not know when life will go back to normal.

Yet, perhaps God is giving us a great gift in allowing Holy Week to fall within these challenging weeks – because its purpose is to help us to stop our normal lives. To listen carefully. And to find hope that will never disappoint us.

So, come to the Holy City with us again this weekend as we enter this most special of weeks in the church calendar. Who knows what we will see. Because when God is at work, you never know from where the miracles will come.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Dry Bones

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to bone… Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy to the breath…”

Ezekiel 37:7, 9

We are nearly to the end of our Lenten journey. And this weekend’s readings take us to a new realm of God’s power to bring new life.

Our lesson from the Hebrew Bible is from the prophet Ezekiel. It is commonly known as the “Vally of Dry Bones.” It is a vision that God granted to the prophet of God’s incredible ability to do miracles.

The prophet is whisked away to see a valley of bones, bodies long since decayed, and at God’s word, spoken through him, the bones begin to reassemble themselves. Then again, at God’s word spoken through him, the breath of life enters them again. The passage ends with a prophecy that God will open up the graves of Israel and will bring the people back to where they belong.

Since you likely have a few minutes, I recommend reading the entire passage.

Here is the promise contained within these old rattling bones: there is nothing that is beyond God’s power to bring life. Out of death. Out of ash and dry bone. Out of even our fallen selves.

God speaks and death itself overturns.

So, no matter where you find yourself this day, remember that God is working in your midst. You are not alone. And you will see God’s miracles, especially when you least expect them.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

king of God’s Heart

The lectionary has given us so many good passages for this coming weekend, that I am taking advantage of both blogs and my sermon to cover three of the four. For more information on Psalm 23, check out!

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these. Are all of your sons here?” And Jesse said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep…”

1 Samuel 16:10-11

Our Old Testament reading for this coming Sunday is something out of a fairy tale.

Though God’s prophet Samuel arrives without a glass slipper, we can still hear the much more familiar (to us) story of Cinderella playing through this scene. It is none of the brothers first shown – it is the one who is living in the next to lowest class of society, the shepherds, who is the chosen one.

Throughout the season of Lent, we have been exploring the ancient forefathers that come throughout the Hebrew texts. By this weekend, week IV, we have come past the patriarchs of Genesis, through Moses, and to the ancient Kings of Israel.

Remember that the people demanded of God a king to lead them on earth. Unfortunately, the first anointed king, Saul, did not live into his calling. Anointed by the prophet Samuel, Saul was too power hungry to follow in God’s ways.

So God choose the least likely suspect to replace him – a shepherd boy. It is always said that David was near to God’s heart. And this is likely why: our God is the great Shepherd. Who better to understand the task of kingship than one who is willing to live among the sheep.

Now, in reality, we all know that David was far from perfect. And yet, he still kept trying. Proving that what God desires from us is not perfection, but our willingness to try and try again to be faithful. We may fail. Yet God rejoices when sinners return to the flock.

Since we all have a bit of extra time on our hands right now, consider re-reading the story of Saul and David in the book of 1 Samuel. It is a lively tale that looks like an ancient soap-opera.

But whatever you do, in word or deed, out in the world or residing in your own living room for the time-being, remember that God has called you to try and follow where God leads. God always leads us to love – whatever that might look like. Even if you fail, try and try again. No matter what, God will always be waiting with open arms to welcome you home.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Proof of Love

God proves God’s love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5-8

Among the readings for this coming Sunday is one that we often use during our Assurance of Pardon in worship.

I am often asked by people what makes Presbyterians unique. Theologically, it may include several things. However, ultimately, it all comes down to one: we emphasize the sovereignty of God.

But we are Presbyterians, which means that though we emphasize the concept, we all debate what it actually means.

The two main camps believe either that God controls everything or that if God is love, then Love will never force its own will. One includes those who lean towards John Calvin’s theology wholeheartedly. The other includes those who look to Karl Barth’s more recent take on Reformed theology.

What they bear in common is that they are always about God acting first. How God is pursuing us. God is redeeming us. God is working in our lives. Even if we do not realize it.

This is really good news, because we all mess up. A lot. We sin. We fall short. We make mistakes. We break relationships and burn bridges.

The beauty of God being sovereign is the promise that God is still actively loving us no matter what. What we do. What anyone can do to us.

Seriously – No. Matter. What.

That does not mean we have a free ticket to do whatever we want. But it is an incredibly important thing to hold on to when the going gets rough.

So always remember this: you are loved more than you can imagine.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Following God

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you…

Genesis 12:1-2

The lectionary has us reading through the key patriarchs of Genesis throughout this Lenten season. Last week it was the first humans. This week, it is the beginning of God’s chosen people.

God calls Abram, later known as Abraham, to leave everything he has ever known behind and go to a distant land. From a historical standpoint, scholars now believe that Abraham was likely a warlord, which would help to explain his willingness to conquer a foreign kingdom. However, the implications of the biblical account for the life of faith are relatively staggering.

Consider this: would you leave all you know behind to follow where God was leading?

Unlike Abram, we do live in the twenty-first century and have the ability to communicate instantaneously with those we have left and even to go back and visit. So many might say, yes, sure. That sounds simple enough. Yet, there is always something challenging about giving up your home to follow God’s invitation.

I am one who followed that call. Over time I have found that God’s invitation in my life is to go where I am lead, and that none of those roads seem to lead back home – no matter how much I sometimes wish they would. I am not alone in this. And there are many people, not just pastors, missionaries, and priests, who feel God’s nudge to a different place that leaves them never quite the same.

Nevertheless, for many people, the request to travel long distances to follow God is not a part of their call. But here is what always is: are you willing to give up every comfort you’ve ever known? To break with your family? To let go life as you know it, in order to follow where God is leading?

Sometimes it is not a physical location so much as a transformational place.

Will you do what God is asking even if the world hates you? Will you speak as a prophet to the world’s powers even if your family disowns you? Will you let loose your resources to seek God’s kingdom in this world even if that means you lose some of your own comfort?

What we do know for certain is this: when God is active in our lives, we can never stay the same.

So where is God calling you to let go and follow?

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Original Sin

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…”

Genesis 3:4-5

This weekend, we will begin Lent with the passages describing “Original Sin” and the temptation of Christ. In a sense, it is the beginning of the story of our redemption, and therefore is a very good place to start.

As we were discussing last night during our JAM program with the younglings, God placed Adam and Eve in the garden. God told them not to eat the fruit of one particular tree and they did anyway. And that fruit, contrary to popular opinion, was most likely a pomegranate. (Apple is an old Latin scholar joke because the word for apple and the word for evil are nearly identical.)

But why would these first humans intentionally disobey the one commandment God gave?

There have been many theories on this subject over the last several millennia, depending on what one wanted to do with the rest of their theology. However, the thing that always comes back to the forefront is that the original sin was, in fact, idolatry. The first humans wanted to be like God. To play God. To put themselves in God’s position.

Idolatry, at its heart, is not about worshipping images. It is about choosing false gods, sometimes including ourselves.

Throughout history, all sin ultimately comes back to this one. There are countless things we place where God should be in our lives – money, power, human idols, popularity, even religion and scripture. Even worse are those moments when we decide we should get to play God with other people’s lives.

As we enter into our Lenten journey, the question we should all be reflecting upon is what idols do we set up in our own lives? What idols do we let the world place at the center of our world-views? Once we identify them, then we can begin the challenging work of removing them.

Blessed Lent as we walk Christ’s wilderness path together!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Before Star Wars…

And he was transfigured before them…

Matthew 17:2

A few years ago, I made a church sign that read, “Jesus transfigured before Star Wars made it cool.”

Interestingly, many of us who love Star Wars likely think of this image every time we hear that Jesus’ visage was changed and on either side of him stood Moses and Elijah:

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

When I shared this story with our youth group this past weekend, one of them suggested, “So Jesus is Yoda?” For which, I am quite certain, all the baby Yoda lovers rejoiced.

Though Star Wars has nothing to do with Christianity, the image is still quite helpful.

The thought of Jesus suddenly changing appearance is a difficult concept for us to grasp. We live in a world that functions on exact figures and the search for fact. The Transfiguration is a mystical experience beyond our ken.

And yet, many of us have had our own mountain-top experiences with God. Usually God did not appear quite like the characters from Episode VI, but we could still feel God speaking and moving us in a particular direction.

Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent. And it was placed there because, as we head into the valley of death over the next seven weeks, we need to remember who Jesus truly is.

Jesus is God’s own self made flesh. Jesus is also fully human. If we lose sight of either of these facts, we have forgotten who it is that we serve: a God who is bigger than any single visage and yet wise enough to become tangibly present. It is Christ’s dual nature that makes him uniquely qualified for all the work that Jesus accomplished in his life and his death.

So what should the transfiguration mean to us?

Well, a good start is to remember that once we understand who Jesus is, then we can begin to understand who we are. What we are to live (and sometimes die) for. How we are to represent our God in this world.

Begin there and see how you are called to resist all powers that would keep this world in darkness. See you in worship!

Blessings, Pastor Janie