May 20112 "Faith Important to Congregation" (First published May, 2012, in the Gloversville Leader-Herald under a different title)
"Faith Important to Congregation"
(First published May, 2012, in the Gloversville Leader-Herald under a different title)
When I was in seminary. I fell in love with Corinthians, and especially with the thirteenth chapter.Since then, my relationship with that particular chapter of that particular book of the Bible has only deepened.It is one of those all-purpose texts, good not only for personal inspiration, but also for both weddings and funerals.The phrase “love never ends” inspires and comforts at both of these events.
While searching my computer for a translation of this text, I also ran into excerpts from the fourteenth chapter of John.Specifically. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.I do not give to you as the world gives.Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”
Why would these appeal to me this day?This is the last column that I will write for the Leader-Herald.First Presbyterian Church of Gloversville will end its service to the community with a celebration of that service on June 3 at 4 PM.I have been helping the members of my congregation to deal with their grief as well as to begin planning their continuing paths as followers of the Way of Jesus Christ.
The members of my congregation need to hear those words.They need to know, that while the life of this church is ending, God’s love for them will never end.They need to know that Christ stands with them in their loss, that what is most important from the time they have spent worshipping God in this space will not be lost. God will be present with them as they seek another place in which to worship.
Many churches are on the edge of closing.But whatever may happen to a particular congregation, the Church of Jesus Christ will continue.Jesus stands in front of all those congregations saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let then be afraid.”
The seeds planted by the service of this congregation in this community will continue to grow. The First Congregational United Church of Christ will be continuing our Food Pantry for us.The people of Gloversville will continue to be fed. As the Presbytery of Albany owns our building, it is working on plans for its continued use in service for the community.Two member churches of Albany Presbytery experienced significant damage over that last two years, with the Mayfield congregation having its church burn due to a fire, and the Schoharie congregation experiencing significant flood damage due to hurricane Irene.They will continue to use many of the items made holy by the worship and service of First Presbyterian Church.
Love never ends – nor will the gift given to this community by this congregation.For now, its dedicated members will be spreading out into the community to bless other congregations.As John stated, “there are many dwelling places,” many places that members of First Presbyterian Church can experience and share the love with which God has blessed them.
This is a beginning as well as an ending.The relationship with First Presbyterian Church is ending; the relationship as a Christian is continuing and beginning anew.Please pray for my congregation as they seek the path God wishes for them to follow as we celebrate the life and service of the First Presbyterian Church of Gloversville.
“Because We Serve a Risen Savior”
It just doesn’t feel like springtime right now. The flowers are starting to paint their rainbow colors upon the landscape, but I don’t quite see them. Yes, I just preached the Easter Sunday sermon, but resurrection isn’t quite what I have in mind. I have started to mourn the loss of this congregation, a group of people I have come to care for.
Part of this comes from the fact that I just spent the morning planning the remaining Sunday services, with built-in sermon themes in case I find myself called away to participate in the search process for my next position. I had to decide just what it was that I NEED to say and what I can entrust to someone else.
I get to deal with anger and the process of seeking your new church. Someone else can do mourning, and perhaps even Pentecost. But how can I think of a new church before I have even left here?
BECAUSE we all serve a risen Savior.
Our lives as those who follow the Way of Jesus Christ will not end when this congregation closes. We will all follow the path we have always followed—the one upon which Christ leads us. But we need to acknowledge and deal with our anger first. All loss comes with some degree of anger whether we want to acknowledge that anger or not. It is only through acknowledging it that we can move on to the next stage of our relationships with God. Anger inand of itself is not a sin, holdingonto it and refusing to deal with it is.
We need to deal with our sadness and take time to mourn. If we don’t, we get mired in depression – which is okay for a week or two, but not for a year or two. After we do this, it will be time to find a new family with whom to worship the Lord our God. It is our relationship with God that is of p r i m a r y i m p o r t a n c e . O u r relationship with that God who travels with us as we journey through this time of loss.
Acknowledge anger and sadness. Let the power of God’s love enter into the process. Accept the healing power of God’s grace. And continue to follow in that path that we have traveled together for this short time.
We all serve a risen Savior.
HE IS RISEN.
Grace and peace,
“God’s Love Never Ends”
The first week of April this year is the strangest week of the year. We start with Palm Sunday when we acknowledge the fickleness of humanity, when we acknowledge how much we really want God to do things OUR way. Then we move through Maundy Thursday when we celebrate the gift of Holy Communion which feeds the spirit of the Body of Christ, as well as our own. Good Friday – what is GOOD about it, except that it had to happen in order for Easter to follow? Finally, Easter Sunday. Although the women at the tomb do not know where the body of Jesus went, we do. We have the Body of Christ with us this day, as the church which surrounds us.
Easter, joy filled, light filled, awesome rejoicing.
He is risen!
I find it stressful to prepare for all these different services at the same time. When I am in the process of preparing the Passion texts for the end of the Maundy Thursday service, how can I also prepare a service that will convey the wonder of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? And all of this while working on the closing service for June 3 when we gather to celebrate the life of the church. But then this underlines for me that we who follow the Way of Jesus Christ are people of the resurrection no matter what we may be going through.
The Church of Jesus Christ does not end when a congregation closes. Although mainline denominations are struggling at this point, the Body of Christ will survive whatever trials await it. The Church of Jesus Christ survived the Reformation, and it will survive whatever challenges it is currently going through as well as whatever challenges it will face in the future. Remember, God rules.
The sermon on March 25 focused on the seed that must die in order to bear fruit and create a harvest. Jesus was speaking of himself when he said this. He must die on the cross so that we might live.
There is life after death. Christ has not only promised us this, but also actively made it happen. We are a resurrection people, we who follow the Way of Jesus Christ. We continue on as part of the Body of Christ no matter where we may be worshipping on June 10. We may take a short time off from attending church services as we mourn, but God will be with us nevertheless. As we find our new church homes, we need to acknowledge God’s love and presence with us. We are being sent out to cross pollinate other churches with the seeds of First Presbyterian Church of Gloversville.
Even our Holy Things will be seeding other congregations as we gift Mayfield and Schoharie Presbyterian Churches with our Holy Things. Although this month is the last month that we will host our Food pantry, that ministry will most probably continue at First Congregational Church. Their Board of Deacons, Trustees and Church Council have approved or supported this continuing ministry. Word is it will be called “First Presbyterian Food Pantry at First Congregational United Church of Christ.” This is a mouthful – but what is most important is that people will be fed.
As my favorite chapter of the Bible states (1 Corinthians 13), “God’s love never ends.”
Grace and peace,
“May God’s Kingdom Come”
Palm Sunday is April Fools Day. I am not really sure what significance this has, other than a date on the calendar. People can be foolish. The story of those who waved the Palm branches at Jesus one day and screamed “crucify him” a few days later smacks of foolishness. The current primary campaigns seem more like a carnival than a serious decision making process. It will only get worse once the Democrats and Republican candidates take aim at each other.
It is any wonder that God sends us into the wilderness of Lent each and every year? Lent is that time in which we examine ourselves and our relationship to the Almighty, and realize that we do not deserve the gifts given to us by God. We are led to acknowledge that we must do more to share the gifts that we have been given and that doing so will increase their presence in our own lives. Finally, we rejoice on the other side of the wilderness with the resurrection of Christ. We may not enjoy this journey, but it changes us when we undertake to do it well, for then we gain a glimpse of the wonder of the resurrection. It is a wondrous miracle, not something to take for granted.
To me, the high point of foolishness is to believe that God is on your side, and to proclaim it. When it was suggested to Abraham Lincoln that God was on the side of the Union, Lincoln said that that was not the case, that his fondest desire was that he was on God’s side. Humanity follows the way of the cross. We do not lead the way. In Lent, we acknowledge that Christ does.
Jesus did not do what the people wanted him to do, to free them from the hated Romans. Instead, he freed them from death, something much harder to do and more permanent – for after the Romans come many more tribes of conquerors. Death only needed to be defeated this once.
During this journey we are called to replace our agenda with God’s will.
For me, the high point of the church year is not Christmas, but rather that journey through Holy Week to Easter. Easter does not come without Good Friday. This is one of the dominant cycles of the life of faith. We travel through darkness and trials; we sometimes get lost; we sometimes lose sight of God’s love and laughter; we come to the brink of giving up. And then the light of Christ breaks through the darkness as we remember the journey of Holy Week.
From the heights of Palm Sunday filled with pageant and acclaim, to Maundy Thursday and the beginning of the loss of faith as Christ is arrested. We hit bottom on Good Friday when all seems lost, and finally we reach the highest point in the relationship of humanity and God on Easter, when the risen Christ greets Mary Magdalene. There is no journey more difficult and rewarding than this one undertaken faithfully.
Going through this cycle every year reminds us that when it occurs in our lives Easter IS coming. The Light of God’s love always defeats the darkness of evil, sin, and death. “God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” God’s love defeats anything and everything that the world can throw at it. God’s love rules.
What are your plans for this Lenten journey? Will you be satisfied emerging on the other side the same person as you are today? Or will you undertake to grow more fully into the person God wants you to be? We cannot imagine what God has in mind for ourselves, our country and the world.
But it is not our job to worry about it. That’s the good thing about being on God’s side rather than claiming God to be on our side. We don’t have to choose our direction or make the huge decisions. That’s God’s job. God has a plan and each of us plays a role in it, no matter how big or how small.
Will you seek to find your role this Lenten cycle, or will you attempt to tell God what to do? What baggage do you need to leave behind? How you answer these questions IS important. God needs people on his side to help build the Kingdom.
May God’s kingdom come.
Grace and peace,
"Recharging the Mainline Churches"
(First published January 14, 2012, in the Gloversville Leader-Herald under a different title)
Mainline churches have been in decline for quite some time. It is as if we have lost our direction and don’t know how to reach our destination. We love Jesus, and rejoice that we are loved in return, but we have lost some of our ability to share that love with others. We respect who the other has been created to be, and don’t want to infringe on their freedom to find their own relationship with God by promoting our message too aggressively.
Mainline churches have lost their meme – in systems language, they’ve lost the idea that got their engines running at 500 horsepower. Each of us have paradigms that we use to explain the world around us, and the memes that influence our lives are the building blocks in the foundation of these paradigms. These memes are guiding principles that get us excited and ready to go.
The meme that the mainline churches have lost is “Christianity as Empire.” This became part of the foundation of the paradigm of Western Christianity when it became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
When the Pilgrims and Puritans arrived in America, they saw the opportunity to create that “New Heaven and New Earth” found in Isaiah. This idea of creating a Christian Empire fueled their missionary efforts as they sent preachers west in the 19th and early 20th centuries. America did not become a Christian empire, but instead recognized the right and responsibility of people to find their own relationship with God.
Christianity as “empire” lost the power to send us out into the streets when respect for other people’s ideas began to be accepted within the mainline churches. Mainline Christians respect not only Jewish people, but Buddhists and Hindus.
When Christianity as “empire” was going strong, the Congregational missionaries in Hawaii helped the U.S. government overthrow the native Hawaiian monarchy. When this meme lost its place of prominence in the mainline tradition, the President of the United Church of Christ issued an apology to the native Hawaiians for the actions of those missionaries.
We no longer want to transform the world into our image, or to rule the world in any way. That’s God’s job. We would rather help those “for whom Christ died” find their own particular path.
The new idea was to respect who the other person was and go from there, to invite the other “for whom Christ died” in a manner that would respect who that person was. Unfortunately, this respect for the other does not inspire us as strongly as did the meme of Christianity as Empire.
How does the church – as the Body of Christ – get the engines running when we no longer perceive ourselves as Christianity as Empire? Can the idea of embodying Christ inspire us enough to get us going?
Or do we need the idea of acting as the Body of Christ and co-creating the world in which welive?
God’s kingdom that we pray for in the Lord's Prayer really IS coming some day – although Christians and Jews have been waiting for thousands of years. Could it be that the church, by allowing God’s love to flow through its heart and into the world at large, is charged with helping God achieve the world’s transformation into that “New Heaven and New Earth”?Could it be that WE are charged with allowing God to work through us to bring about God’s kingdom, effectively making us co-creators?
Perhaps we are those who are called to pound those swords into plowshares. God does have a plan for everybody. And the world DOES become a better place when we listen to the one who created us.
Humanity has a special place within God’s created universe. We have free will as well as great creativity .Visit a cathedral and you can feel the awesome nature of the God worshipped within, this sense of that awesome nature is created by the architecture as well as the sense that God has been worshipped there for centuries. Visit the forest or the seashore and you can sense God there as well. God lives in our hearts, and we are called to share that presence. And when we do, God’s kingdom comes more fully into being.
"God is With Us"
When we were younger, we loved New Year’s Eve. We celebrated with more vigor, looking forward to the time in which our generation would be in charge and we would run things. The view changed as we realized all the responsibility involved in decision making, and the difficulties involved in making the right decision.
Those of us over fifty look upon New Year’s akin to the way we look at our birthdays – NOT ANOTHER ONE . . . Not ANOTHER year in which we make resolutions and don’t have what it takes to keep them; not ANOTHER year in which things don’t turn out according to our dreams; not ANOTHER year of growing older.
Have we forgotten how to dream? Have we forgotten the hope that we celebrated in Advent, the peace of Christ that we have been gifted with? Has joy diminished as we digested out Christmas dinner? Has the love that God showed the world when we were given the presence of Christ in our world grown dim? Have we refused the gifts that God so freely offered with the birth of Christ that we just celebrated?
Okay, so God’s gifts, though freely offered, come with strings. Hope brings the responsibility to keep trying; Peace gives us the space to listen to what God wants of us; Joy kindles the spirit to inspire us; Love brings transformation. When we accept God’s gifts as freely as they were given, God’s kingdom comes more fully into being. And the world changes.
Dream about your relationship with God, dream about it becoming stronger. Our congregation may have voted to close, but our relationship with God is NOT drawing to a close. Every time a Christian enters a time of trial, our faith is challenged, our faith muscles grow stronger as we use them. We may not like it when we need to exercise them, but it IS good for us. We become stronger spiritually – AND God’s kingdom comes more fully into being.
As things wind down, it will be difficult. In this process, we need to connect with God. We need to focus more strongly on our prayer life. A congregation may be closing, but the church of Jesus Christ will continue. So will our individual relationship with God. God’s unconditional love will accompany us on our journey. Reach for it when things seem dark. Light always conquers darkness.
When we find ourselves traveling through dark tunnels, we need to remember the light that we carry with us in our hearts, we need to remember that those who travel with us also have this light.
God is with us. We are never alone.
2010 January-February .
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