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March 2018 Pastor's Pen

In just a few short weeks we will be celebrating Easter.  We will make the journey of Holy Week from Palms to an Upper Room to a Cross, and then to an Empty Tomb.  So often when we leave the church on Friday we do not reflect on the time between that dark night and the bright morning of Easter.  Yet, perhaps God is calling us to pause and reflect in this in-between time.
We know about Good Friday and the cross, about sorrow and death.  All humankind knows about suffering, brutality, and injustice, about tragic endings, about death, all of which are part of the human condition, in our private lives and in the life of the world.  We Christians also know about Easter Sunday and the promise, the hint of resurrection for the rest of us, because Jesus is risen from the dead.
However, our lives are not all about Good Friday or all about Easter Sunday.  We experience suffering and abandonment, exile and loss, and we face death, our own and the deaths of those we love.  We know ourselves as sinners, and our lives as broken.
And we also taste forgiveness, we taste hope, and we taste new life, we catch sight of it here and there, get word of it, listen and wait and hope...we remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return, and yet we know ourselves also as destined for glory...pain and hope, dying and rising again...all humanity waiting, waiting, waiting...and we understand a little more why faith is best described as trust. We live most of our lives in that in-between, Holy Saturday-feeling time, the longest day as it is often referred to.
On that longest day we come face to face with the reality of our powerlessness. We couldn't stop Friday from happening, and there is nothing we can do to make Sunday come any quicker. We must face that emptiness (even if we choose to ignore it with plans for Easter dinners and Easter egg hunts.)
In the emptiness of waiting, we begin to learn something that the gods of this world cannot bear, the knowledge that they do not want us to know: at the very point of our failure and betrayals, when we taste our own impotence and limit, if we are not afraid to live in the absence, we discover God.
The in-between time is God's time. It is the time when we learn to trust Jesus' sacrifice of love which death can neither conquer or understand. In this in-between time we begin to see that it is God who has made death not an instrument to terrorize us into submission, but to call us more intimately to God's side. In the darkness of Holy Saturday we discover the power of our waiting. We come to the end of our way and the beginning of God's way. It is only Christ who can carry us over into Easter morning.
So let us journey, focused not on the end point, but on the journey itself. Allowing God to become present to us in an ever-new and ever-more intimate and personal way; and on that bright Easter morning our cries of “Alleluia! He is Risen!” will rise with even greater passion and joy.
With the Greatest of Hope!


Pastor's Pen April

Happy Easter!! What a wonderful way to begin my note to you. This is a time of celebration, a time when we are reminded of the goodness and graciousness of God, a time when new life is literally making itself known in our yards and gardens. This is a time to celebrate. It is also a time to remember. A time to tell our stories of resurrection and new life.
In recent years, Zion has seen an influx of new members, new faces, new friends. Some are faces that were common in years past, others are new. But, a new community, a new life is springing up in the heart of Steubenville.
Some of our new faces had been told they were going to hell because they were gay. Others have pulled themselves out of the abyss of addiction. Others have gone through other times of trauma and disillusionment. They all should have been in the tomb; indeed, they knew how cold and silent the tomb could be. But they aren’t in the tomb any more. The stone has been rolled away and they've been raised to new life. They know that Jesus rose from the dead because they, too, have risen. Resurrection isn’t an abstract belief to them; they have experienced it. And they know resurrection is going to happen to everyone who walks through the church doors––not just that it was possible, that resurrection was inevitable––because that was their experience of God.
We have come to the church, because it provides something nothing else does - resurrection. We need to be part of a community that proclaims that story every week through its music and words and actions. The church reminds us, on those days when the cold stone of the tomb is close around, that God always, always, always triumphs over death. And the church doesn’t let us get complacent about that Easter triumph; it lets the story of resurrection sink deep into our bones, then it pushes us out the door to share that story with others who are as hurting and lost as we once were. We keep going to church because Christians are at heart a resurrection people, and we want to be one, too.
Whatever brought you to church, whether you are here every Sunday or just every once in a while, your presence brings you into that central story of resurrection. Perhaps at some time in your life you have found yourself in the cold, silent tomb. Maybe you are waiting for the stone to be rolled away and you or someone you love to be raised to new life. Perhaps you have emerged from the tomb and are standing among the graves, eyes watering as you adjust to the sunlight, wondering what happens now that you have received new life. Wherever you are, whatever brought you here, the story of resurrection belongs to you. It is your story, my story, our story of God at work in our lives. It makes us a resurrection people, proclaiming new life to all those who lie in the tombs of this world.
The Lord is risen indeed; we are risen with him. So, whether it’s a regular part of your life or just one day a year, I hope you will join with the church in crying out, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”
With the Greatest of Hope!


March Pastor's Pen

It's the end of the world as we know it. It's a funny little saying that we sometimes hear, but it's a feeling I'm sure the disciples felt in the darkness of Jesus crucifixion and death.
Looking around, it may seem as if the world is rapidly spinning toward destruction. Our population is exploding, our oceans and environment are suffering, our food resources are dwindling, our politicians are fighting, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, students are getting lazier, taxes are growing higher, war is getting pricier, fear is looming larger, and Christian voices of resurrection and new life seem to be going silent....
Why? Why are we so silent? It's likely because of many reasons. But, focusing on issues that don't matter or on our own wants and needs, are tendencies that have grown and grown, transforming what was once vibrant and radical into meaningless drivel. Chocolate bunnies, colored eggs, ham, and a couple of verses of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” now satisfy and fulfill the Easter obligations for many people.
But, Jesus did not rise from the dead and ascend into heaven just so we’d have a reason to take a few days off and eat peeps once a year. The resurrection is one of God’s ways of letting us know that there’s always a better way, a greater way to care, a more satisfying way of loving and living life. It’s not an easy way out, and it’s not to be trivialized.
Jesus empowers all of us with the incredible gifts of forgiveness and creativity. So pray, study, worship, vote, give, volunteer, love, debate, engage, thank, and live . . . into the new creation that you are in Christ, through the power and promise of the resurrection.
With the Greatest of Hope!


March Painting Pictures

The Easter season has begun, or as the season is more technically known, Lent is here. So many thoughts come to mind for me as this special time of the year begins. First off, spring is near and for most of us that will be a positive and refreshing change of pace. Before you know it flowers will be bursting forth, the grass will turn green, and the birds will be chirping their joy. Secondly, Daylight savings time has arrived and that can be a psychological boost as we get more sunshine and less darkness.
     Every special celebration during the year is also a time of memories. I have vivid memories of dyeing eggs with my mother and sister as Easter approached. Remember the old methods? My mom boiled eggs on the stove top and put vinegar and dye tablets in cups. Then I would put a hard-boiled egg on one of those metal egg holders and dip the egg into my favorite color. I always tried to be creative and dip the egg into several colors, which, of course, resulted in a dark brown egg. I did the same thing year after year hoping the results would be different, but they never were. I also have fond memories of an Easter basket filled with candy.  What are your Easter memories?
     Ultimately, however, Easter is all about Jesus. With the Lord as our focus, Easter becomes a Holy day. When our focus is on candy, and bunnies, and all of the secular activities, Easter becomes just another holiday. For the next several weeks we need to turn our attention more closely to the teachings of Jesus. This is a good time to ask ourselves questions about our level of faith. Am I closer to the Lord now then I was last Easter? Are my problems weighing me down and am I willing to let Jesus take greater control in my life? When I feel a moment of joy as a result of a faith experience, do I have the courage to share my feelings with someone else?
     This is the season of Good News. God sent a son named Jesus into the world to give us a light in the darkness. Although Jesus was crucified by people who didn’t understand him, death and sin were vanquished and the love of God triumphed. Jesus was resurrected and as a result we can be forgiven and our lives can be renewed and we have received the promise of eternal life.
     Jesus is alive, yesterday, today and tomorrow! Rejoice and be glad! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!