"Joy is a Gift from God"
Easter, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, what relevance does this have to today? I mean, yes, we experience the resurrection after we die, but that’s a long time from now, isn’t it?
First, we don’t really now when we are going to die, accidents happen. Isn’t it reassuring to know that the end is NOT a drunk driver running into you while you wait at a stop sign? That the One who loves us the most is just waiting to welcome us when our time has come?
I always feel better when I start out on a trip and have a good idea where I will end up. With the advent of the internet, I usually look up my destination on MapQuest; type in my starting point and my ending point; MapQuest gives me some possible destinations and I choose the one I intend (although why it thought a Presbyterian Church in Amsterdam was related to this one, I don’t know); then I print out the detailed map so that I have landmarks on the way and can know that I am taking the turns that I need to take. Of course, the last time I did this I got lost as I wasn’t paying enough attention to where I was going. MyMapQuest printout helped me get back on track.
Jesus Christ is even more helpful than MapQuest and more reliable. Jesus will NOT tell us to turn into incoming traffic. I actually did have a MapQuest printout with a mistake on it. If we ask, and listen, Jesus gives us the directions that we need. Just as happened with MapQuest, sometimes we don’t pay enough attention to where we are going. And we are always welcomed back with outstretched arms when we have gotten off track.
And heaven rejoices – I really don’t think that MapQuest does. . .
We who follow Christ know where we will end up.
Second, while the full power of the resurrection awaits us when we die, we do get a taste of it in the here and now. That joy that fills our hearts when we are forgiven; that joy that a parent or grandparent feels at the first sight of the new born child; that joy that comes when that child, once lost, returns; that joy that comes with the sunshine that brings us our spring flowers; and that joy that comes when we travel through our own version, personal, of Holy Week, traveling through darkness until the light burst through and embraces us.
Joy and happiness are not the same thing. Happiness is transitory and tends to depend upon worldly things going our way. Joy is a gift from God that can appear in midst of very unhappy times, reminding us that Psalm 126 is true – that those who sow in tears (with the help of God) will reap with cries of joy.
Easter is not just for the end of our lives; it is for the here and now as well. Those of us who have traveled through darkness feel the wonder of returning light more fully and understand better the wonder of that taste of joy that comes with the gift of the resurrection.
For me, this joy is what makes life worth living.
It’s that time of year...that I use my asthma inhaler. I usually only need it on Sunday morning for a couple of weeks while the grass begins to come out. Preaching is an aerobic activity. This reminds me of how essential breath is, something I sometimes take for granted.
It’s that time of year...that the sense of Easter as new life is emphasized by the crocuses, tulips and all the other perennials waking up and painting our landscape. I feel blessed that I live in the northern hemisphere when Easter and spring come together in a celebration of life.
It’s that time of year...that we plan our gardens or put into place the plans we came up with during winter months. Creating beauty takes more than a moment, as does planning how to get the utmost out of a small vegetable garden space. I’m thinking of trying to grow some herbs in containers on the porch. Somehow, gardening works for me as a prayer activity. It makes me reflect on growth and life.
It’s that time of year...that we get so busy that we sometimes forget our spiritual welfare in our seasonal busyness. We don’t have Christmas shopping to do to remind us that a special date is coming; we are not performing any Lenten practices to prepare for a special day. We have spring and the, sometimes, long hot summer, before the Christmas decorations arrive in the stores in September to remind us that a special time is coming, a time that we celebrate God’s love for us. We may find ourselves getting as tired of summer as we do the Christmas hype that comes in the fall.
But how can we get tired of praising God? Offering Thanksgiving? We need to spend as much time preparing our spiritual life as we do planning our gardens. It is easy to take God for granted. God is not like my dog, Spirit, who noses my arm when she wants to go outside, or stares at me until I give her her supper. God is as essential for life as our breathing.
If you are not allergic, take a big breath and take in all the new life that surrounds you this spring. And remember who put it there.
Grace and peace,
It has been interesting leading the comparative translation Psalms these past few weeks. Translations, no matter how objective they try to be, interpret the scripture they are translating through their choice of words and imagery. When we in turn interpret these translations, we come up with a large variety of understandings and concepts. At one point in seminary, I went on a field trip and the 13 people around the table represented 12 different denominations. The two people who were Presbyterians probably did NOT have the same understandings and interpretations of the Bible, either.
If we look to the Bible as the authoritative source for making our decisions as to how we should act, how then are we to interpret this book? What concepts help us to measure the validity of our interpretation of a text? Does seeing the Bible as “the Word of God” mean taking verses out of scripture and dropping them into our lives without judging their content? Should a disobedient or disrespectful adolescent son really be put to death?
Probably not, but how are we to judge the text that tells us this? When I say the Bible is “the Word of God,” I mean the WHOLE book is the Word of God. There is no greater love story than the one told in the Gospels, Christ’s love for us. Valid Biblical interpretation is based upon the foundation of this love story. If an interpretation of a particular verse of scripture leads to hate, that interpretation is not “the Word of God.” I make this judgment due to the number of times we are told to “love your neighbor,” “love your enemy,” and “love God.” We are even told to love ourselves with the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” In the NIV translation of the Bible, love appears 697 times, forgive 116 times and mercy appears 124 times. For me, this controls and informs my Biblical interpretations. God’s love, forgiveness and mercy rule.
I have included some foundational Biblical texts as an insert this month. Which of these resonate with you? Which have comforted you? Challenged you? Each of us has our own “foundational” texts as well. Most of us have been relating to the Bible all of our lives, and we all have texts that have helped form who we are in our life of faith. Each of us has texts that have comforted us as well as texts that have challenged us to become more.
As Christians, we are called into growth through our relationship with this Book. First Act: we love “because he first loved us.” We cannot imitate the love of Christ until we have experienced that love. Second Act: we share what we have been given; there are those people who experience that love through us. This “play” continues throughout our life as we travel through the cycle of comfort and challenge. And each time we do this, our foundation of faith grows stronger.
Grace and peace,
I was asked the other day if I was a Unitarian, as our local Congregational UCC church had a pastor once who was ALMOST Unitarian. I said, “No”; but felt it might be useful for a short explanation of what my understanding of United Church of Christ is. I have also included in this newsletter my Statement of Faith that I had to prepare in order to become a member of the Albany Presbytery, so that you can better understand what I believe.
The ecumenical movement of the first half of the 20th century gave birth to the denomination known as the United Church of Christ. It is composed of four major theological traditions and many other churches who sought out a home under the UCC umbrella, including both Hungarian and Armenian ethnic churches. All the major generic forms of Protestantism are included within the UCC – which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to state what the UCC (as a whole) believes.
We have believers baptism (baptism as a sign of belief only) and infant baptism; communion as a memorial and communion as the Mystical Presence of Christ. Our congregations follow a simple statement of “Jesus is Lord” to memorizing the Heidelberg Catechism; from churches which have no Confirmation classes to those with a two year program.
When my father and step-mother visited the UCC churches that I pastored, my father claimed that the difference in architecture alone would have made him identify them as all different denominations.
In 1924, the Congregational Church joined with the Christian Church, to become the Congregational Christian Churches. The Congregationalists began with the Pilgrims and Puritans and colonized New England (and the UnitarianChurch split off from this branch of the UCC). I believe that the main reason that the Congregationalists became a denomination instead of remaining a loose group of churches was so that they could do ministry together. One church cannot easily support a missionary, several can.
The Christian Church tradition was an American-grown group of churches; some of whom joined with the Congregationalists to become the Congregational Christian Churches and others became the Disciples of Christ. They believed in the union of Christ’s followers, and did not want to limit other people’s freedom of conscience. They saw Christ as the sole head of the church, and the Bible as “a sufficient rule of faith and practice.” This denomination had a holiness flavor such as the Methodists.
The resulting united denomination saw authority as coming from the congregation, with the pastor empowered by that congregation.
In 1934, two denominations whose members came from Germany united: The Reformed Church in the USA and Evangelical Synod of North America. The members of the Reformed Church immigrated in the 1700 and 1800s and spread throughout Pennsylvania. The Evangelical Synod immigrated later on (many settled in the St. Louis area) after the Reformed Church and the LutheranChurch united in Germany—resulting in a church flavor that was Lutheran as well as Reformed. Authority flowed down from the top in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, much as in PCUSA. The pastor embodied Christ.
The seminary from which I graduated, Lancaster Theological Seminary, was from the Reformed tradition of the UCC. You will see more about this in my statement of faith.
Having enjoyed their resulting unions, the Evangelical and Reformed Church joined with the Congregational Christian Church in 1957. The women's groups got together long before that, as they preferred to get mission work done to arguing over exactly how to do things.
This was not a merger (which would have required similar beliefs), but a union in which all the congregations were free to follow their historical tradition and beliefs. When the leadership of the Evangelical and Reformed Church voted in favor of the union, the whole denomination became United Church of Christ. Whereas in the Congregational Christian Church, each congregation was required to vote in order to become members of the United Church of Christ. Some voted “yes,” others voted “No,” and some voted not to vote.
With authority coming from the congregation in the Congregational Christian tradition, and from the top in the Evangelical and Reformed tradition, each setting of the United Church of Christ decides for itself how to do things. When Geoffrey Black, the President of the denomination speaks, he speaks for himself, NOT for the denomination as a whole.
What holds the UCC together as a denomination is primarily a commitment to follow the “way of Jesus Christ”. We also assume that we are NOT supposed to agree with each other, after all, each local church follows the tradition of their original denomination. Our Preamble to our Constitution states that, “it is the responsibility of each generation to make the faith their own.”
Teaching HOW to think with respect to the Bible and theology is more important than teaching exactly WHAT to think. In the Hudson Mohawk Association of 19 churches, in which I hold my standing as a UCC minister, there are all four major strands of UCC as well as an Armenian congregation.
We close all of our press releases with the following:
The United Church o fChrist has more than 5,300 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.
As a denomination, the UCC is committed to following the WAY OF JESUS CHRIST, not to a particular doctrine of belief.
Grace and peace,
~ DewSpirit Publishing ~ DewSpirit@Dewspirit.com ~
Copyright © 2006 - 2013 DewSpirit Publishing. Website design by Hurtdidit, LLC..