Triune Joy

Back in the day, when I became a solo pastor, my late husband made a suggestion that changed the way I preach forever. He said, why not take your summers and use them to explore all of those lists that everyone thinks they know. Thus far, we have looked at the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments).

This year, we are diving into the Fruit of the Spirit. And when I mentioned this to one of our Elders recently, he surprised himself by immediately shouting out the verse – Galatians 5:22-23. We both laughed out loud.

As the letter reads: the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We will begin this summer with joy and go from there, spending most of the next three months.

This weekend is also Trinity Sunday.

The Trinity is by far one of my favorite theological concepts, even while it sends most people running for the hills. It is a holy mystery, I get it. A bit over a lot of heads. But to me, for some reason, it makes perfect sense.

Our God is perfect community. Communion. Relationship. Three persons all with distinct roles. But sharing equality. Power. Eternity. And yet, our God is also the God of the in-between. As one of my colleagues put it recently, of sunrises and sunsets and all those spaces and places that are occupied by creative combinations that are not distinctively one or the other. Our God is a joyful dance always playfully creating. The God of more. Because love will make expansive room to be inclusive every time, just like Jesus did during his lifetime.

So, come to worship this weekend as we celebrate our Triune God and the gift of joy in our lives that no one can take away.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Artwork by Ying Hui Tan, from What Is God Like? by Rachel Held Evans & Matthew Paul Turner

Blazing Fire

Summer is here, with all the heat to prove it! 

And this year we are ushering in the high temperatures with a blazing fire on Pentecost Sunday, June 5th. 

Remember that Pentecost began originally as a Jewish holy day, Shavuot, when the children of Israel would commemorate God’s gift of the law on Mount Sinai. Which is why pilgrims from around the known world were gathered in Jerusalem that day when the Holy Spirit came down from above, appearing as tongues of flaming fire. The fire allowed the people to speak and understand in all the wondrous variety of languages from the earth so that they could hear the good news of God’s love made manifest in Jesus Christ. 

Sure, the naysayers thought they were drunk. But for those who saw and believed that day, what a wonder to behold.

That gift is the reason we call it the birthday of the church. It was after Christ had ascended into heaven and that major promise we have been hearing about throughout this past month in Jesus’s final sermon – that the Holy Spirit would indeed arrive – that moment we see the promise getting fulfilled. So now the work truly begins. 

Which also makes it the perfect day for us to celebrate all the wondrous variety of gifts that we have at work within our own church family. That’s right: this year we are making Pentecost a double celebration by having our annual Recognition Sunday (the way we used to). So, if you are a Sunday School teacher, a Choir, Band, or Handbell member, a committee member or chair, an officer, or better yet, a graduating Senior from High School, we look forward to honoring all the amazing ways that God’s fire is shining through your life. 

And for everyone, we are going to take this Pentecost as an opportunity to remember the power that words have. As Albus Dumbledore once said, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” God knows the power of words, too: since all the creative activity God has ever accomplished happened through the eternal Word, who one day became flesh in Jesus. Think of all the incredible things that Word did.

So, this Pentecost, we will be giving you each a flame with a word on it. They will be words to perhaps refresh your spirit. Or maybe to offer a remedy for a healing hurt. Maybe they will be the Holy Spirit’s push that you need to spread your fire into the world. Only God knows which word will be the right one for you. But we encourage you to take one and let it encourage you in the year ahead – for as this school year draws to a close, a new world is opening to us in the summer and everything beyond.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Abiding Promise – Abiding Presence

This weekend marks the end of our mini-sermon series on the Farewell Discourse and the final Sunday in the Season of Eastertide. It is also the end of May, which means that summer is just around the corner.

In our passage, Jesus is drawing his sermon to a close. Trying to assist his followers in understanding. To get them ready. To help them in these final moments before the storm is about to break.

By contrast, the world around us is in full turmoil. As I remarked to one of our committees last night, I think our entire nation is just exhausted. Overwhelmed. Hurting. Desperately afraid for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Goodness knows wherever we all may fall upon a myriad of issues, our hearts are aching for our children, our teachers, our parents, our school administrators and staffs, and our first responders, among so many more. The sheer enormity of the grief and devastation surrounding the events of the last few days, not to mention the past week and a half are beyond staggering. There is a reason the psalmist wrote of sighs that are too deep for words.

What Christ offered his followers in those final hours before he was taken (gave himself over) was the promise of presence. It is the abiding promise that comes through the entirety of Scripture: God will be with us. Wherever we are. Whatever we are going through. God is there.

No, it is not a magic cure-all or fix-it. Even the Israelites had to walk through the desert to flee from slavery. And there was no way to the empty tomb but through Golgotha. Unfortunately, God doesn’t promise that the bad things won’t happen – it would be awesome if God did. But sadly, that’s a much bigger question for a different day.

What God has always done, however, is to be there with us through whatever comes. Walking right alongside us. Carrying us at times. Probably just holding us through others. God is a shelter from the storm and a promise that the dawn will break again. Even with the work and the hard stuff ahead.

So hold each other close and hold tight.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Yeah… No

There is this common misconception that when we follow Christ, our life is supposed to be 100% hunky dory and easy peasy. That God will make everything smooth sailing from here on out. That if we are doing our faith “right,” we will be living the good life. Right?

Yeah… the Bible never said that.

In fact, we’re coming to a passage this weekend when Jesus is actually going to say the exact opposite of that. In essence, he reminds us that the world will likely hate us, because it hated him first. He uses the word persecution (although we should all remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said about confusing persecution with merely having someone disagree with us – it is a vulgar mistake to make). Jesus even says the world will kick us out of our faith communities for actually daring to really follow him.

Shocking as this might be to some, the seeming faithful have been known to forget to follow God on occasion. In fact, that’s what a major chunk of scripture covers. John the Baptist calls them a “brood of vipers” for a reason. People of faith have often thought they understood what God meant so well that they took their understanding and ran with it. Then they get very upset when someone comes in and upsets the applecart by sharing a fresh understanding – like Jesus did.

And like other prophets have and continue to do in each successive generation. Because the Spirit still speaks. And we are the church always reforming, according to that Living Word, Jesus Christ.

So, come this weekend and hear more about how the Spirit will continue to guide us even when the world throws the book at us. It should be a fascinating subject.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Rooted at the Center

When I was younger, my family spent a lot of time near a very large vineyard. There is really nothing quite like the look of the row after row of all of the vines piled up upon one another. They are beautiful. Yet they also hold a much deeper truth.

Vines are ridiculously strong. True, you can get to the fruit, the leaves, and even some twigs quite easily. And yes, branches can be removed when they need to be. But the roots, they go deep. Even more impressively, they can travel. The vine-root for the vineyard I grew up looking at was from Central Europe and dated back hundreds of years, possibly even further.

A vine is one of the images that Jesus uses in the passage we will be considering together this weekend as we continue on in our mini sermon series.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Connected to the deepest taproot of all we hold one another up and are able to bear the fruits that God desires of us. Yet Christ also reminds us that we will be able to tell how our connection to God is doing by that very fruit. And offers a careful nudge to those who may be neglecting the connection.

He then says some of the most important words he ever uttered.

Really, it all comes down to this: how is love growing in our lives?

That is central the central piece of Jesus’s mission just as our passage is the centerpiece of Christ’s final earthly sermon.

We’ll see you Sunday morning!

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Still More

Last weekend we began a special sermon series on Jesus’s final sermon in the gospel of John.

We started by remembering that Christ is God’s Word from eternity made flesh, who reveals God’s own self to us. Jesus then flipped the ancient understanding of how we access God on its head – rather than through the law, as Moses had taught, now Christ himself is the way we get to God. The lens through which we see the world. And if we have seen God and have access to God through Jesus, then we are meant to live as Jesus did: in that same mode of radical and reckless love.

This week, we will really get into the thick of it. Jesus turns to how they will survive once he is gone. How they will continue. How they will be guided.

Key piece here: they will not be alone.

Jesus reminds them that he is not leaving them orphaned. He will be with them through God’s Spirit – the One who walks alongside.

In other words, there is still more ahead of them.

Which begs the question: can we trust that there is still more ahead of us?

Blessings, Pastor Janie

New Beginnings

It’s finally spring (or at least we can pray the weather will hold… again). A season of rebirth, we can enjoy the wonders of the sunshine and the great outdoors at long last. 

At church it is Eastertide – those fifty days between Easter morning and Pentecost when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It is the season of rebirth, as it were. Of renewal. Of new beginnings. 

Even as our school year draws to a close, we know that students completing one stage will move on to the next in the Fall. Or, for our graduates, we know that they are entering a completely new stage of life. 

As our song on Easter morning sang, In our end is our beginning…

Entering into spring, and the summer that will come swiftly after, we have the opportunity to look for the ways that God’s new life is emerging all around us. Not only in nature, but also in one another. In ourselves.

Where is God bringing something new? Are you ready to welcome it with open arms?

New life is all around us. It’s there to revel in if you are ready.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Holy Weekend

Holy Week has begun in earnest and we are in the thick of it.

Tonight we will gather as the disciples did two thousand years ago on the last night of Jesus’s earthly life. They did not know it was the last time. But he did and he knew that he must get at least some things through to them in those final hours before everything fell apart.

Tonight we will follow after Supper as Jesus is arrested and tried and lead away. It will not be easy. It will not be fun. Yet it is one of the two most important days of our year. It is a twin of sorts – a necessary piece of the heart of God’s love for us. Arms stretched open wide to show us just how deep that love really goes. Willing to take all that pain, all that torture, all that degradation for us. And we will shroud ourselves in shadows, letting the light diminish until…

Tomorrow we will gather again with our neighbors in Christ at the moment when Jesus was crucified to hear what words he said from the cross. We will listen and sing and hear poetic reflections. It is a pause as we remember when even Creation itself broke open as Christ drew his final breath.

And then we wait.

Yes. There will be a wonderful celebration to come on Sunday, with trumpets and bells, and children, and Communion, and organ, and hymns of praise! It will be a brilliant resurrection day. The other twin – a bright and shinning light in the heart of God’s love for us. A power, Love stronger than death itself.

Still, we must not forget that the weekend is a passage. Meant to be together. A path to walk that we might know God more. And, just as importantly, grow in our family of faith’s bond, as well – as Christ always wanted.

See you soon.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

The Heartbeat

Frederica Matthewes-Green recounts this little morsel in her writings about this time of year: “It’s that time of year again, when school children are coloring pictures of Jesus hanging from a cross, and shop owners fill their windows with gaily colored cutouts of the Flogging at the Pillar. In the malls everyone’s humming along with seasonal hits on the sound system like “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded” (did you hear the Chipmunks’ version?). Car dealers are promoting Great Big Empty-Tomb Size discounts on Toyotas.”

Oh yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Holy Week…

What, that’s not how we do this?

There is something quite ironic about the fact that the most important week in the entire church year is one that has perhaps the least celebration around it in the rest of the world. In fact, it is quite quiet. Holy Week steals into our realities almost as silently as the resurrection did, in the stillness of Easter morning. If we don’t pay attention, we’re going to miss it.

Yet without the events of the week ahead of us, none of us would be here. Yes, physically we might. But the Church wouldn’t be.

Christianity does not exist without the empty tomb. And the empty tomb does not happen without Golgotha. Everything comes down to what happens next.

It will be a big week for us at our particular church, with Sacraments and celebrations, egg hunts and trumpets blaring. There will be candle light and death bells, shadows falling and people shouting.

At the center of everything, though, is a heartbeat. A gentle thump. Thump. The one that breathes life into all of Creation. Thump. Thump. The one that moved as a pillar of fire and cloud in the desert. Thump Thump. The one that washed feet and broke bread and spread his arms. Thump. Thump… Thump… …

The Love of God is the center. Is the heartbeat. Come and find it again.

Blessings, Pastor Janie

Our Foundation

This season we have been reading a children’s storybook version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe during Children’s Time in worship. It is one of the most important books that C.S. Lewis ever wrote and in one of the great ironies of his life – he did not originally intend it to be a Christian book. Yet, somehow, thanks perhaps the workings of a Spirit we all know and love, it is the most ingenious explanation of how to understand the meaning of Good Friday that exists.

Allow me to explain. Aslan. That majestic and powerful lion. If you have never quite understood who he was meant to represent, well, let’s see if you can guess in a few minutes. He is the true ruler of Narnia, that mystical land in which the story takes place. It is currently being run by an evil White Witch who has forced the land to live in a permanent state of winter, but never Christmas (can you imagine the horror). 

When the Pevensie children arrive, the Witch attempts to tempt and trick the younger of the two boys into betraying his three other siblings. Fortunately, he fails miserably in his attempt to hand them over and is recovered by Aslan’s forces. However, the Witch, because of her understanding of the law upon which Narnia was founded, believes that all who commit such crimes, breaking their relationships, belong to her. Their blood is her wage by right.

But Aslan steps in. He takes Edmund’s, the young boy’s, place. The Witch rejoices thinking that she has finally won everything because now the true King has died on the very table of the laws upon which Narnia was founded. Yet, when the Witch leaves, the Stone Table itself cracks. Aslan disappears, only to reappear with the dawn alive and explains: when one who is blameless freely gives their life for another, then even death itself shall overturn.

One guess who Aslan is now.

I have been showing my children the movie version of this story (2005) since they were babies on Good Friday, every year, because even if it gets dark at moments, when Aslan comes walking through those sun-drenched stones, my eyes fill with tears – just as they do on Easter morning. And I want my children to understand, more than anything, that God chose the cross, Christ chose the lay down his life, out of love. Love for them. Love for me. Love for all of us.

There is no more important week of the year than Holy Week. We would have no Church, no Christianity, no faith without the empty tomb. And we would have no empty tomb without Golgotha. This is the very foundation of who we are.

We love because he first loved us. Come and remember why, again. 

Blessings, Pastor Janie