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
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!
next few Sundays we will be reading from the Sixth Chapter of the Gospel of
John. This is a long passage explaining that Jesus is the “Bread of Life”. This
is a sometimes difficult time for us pastors, because we are asked to preach
multiple sermons on the same subject, there is only so much that can be said.
Perhaps the most important thing that needs to be said is that bread (food in
general) is essential to life. Therefore, when we call Jesus the “Bread of
Life” we are saying that he is in some way essential.
thing about bread is that it is basic, it is physical, bread is down to earth.
It is not just “spiritual”. Jesus has come to us in the flesh, as a real human
being that walked the earth and ate bread himself. He has connected himself to
you and me and all of creation in this way.
something is essential to life, God seems to make a lot of it. For instance, we
need air and water, so God has created more than enough for everyone. We also
need food. (Yes, Jesus said we do not live by bread alone, but we also don’t
live long without it.) In the same way, God has provided more than enough food
for everyone. We need to think about this. None of us would deny allowing
another person to breathe or have a drink of water. Can we let someone go
without food when God has provided it in abundance?
August 1, a group of volunteers from Zion UCC encountered people who often go
without food when we provided a worship service and a meal at the Urban Mission
in downtown Steubenville. According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest
hunger-relief organization, there are nearly 12,000 people in Jefferson County
that are food insecure, meaning that they don’t always know where they will
find their next meal. That's 1 in 5 people! This is not just adults, there are
a large number of children that go to bed hungry every
night, and wake the next morning unsure if they will eat that day.
I hope you
can see that we are not talking about a problem that is far away. This is not a
problem caused by famine, or poor distribution, or corrupt governments. It is
caused by poverty and the cycle of poverty that hunger creates. Think about the
children: poor nutrition causes poor mental development, causes lack of energy
and poor performance at school, which causes poverty level employment. Then the
cycle begins again. We are a people that shares Jesus Christ, the Bread of
Life. We break that bread together at worship. It is essential. It is real. And
sharing our bread, our food with the hungry is not something separate or
different. It is part of that communion with Christ, with creation, with all of
With the Greatest of Hope!
people of Zion! I trust you are enjoying our summer months, even though we
would all like them to be a bit drier.
landmark ruling of the US Supreme Court on same-sex marriage announced last
month, we enter into the celebration and joy that many within the LGBT community
have sought and fought for their whole lives. We must honor the sacrifices and
pain of those who have exposed their private lives to public scrutiny and
criticism. We must also be aware of and sensitive to the pain and turmoil this
will cause for many who have a different understanding of this issue. We must
all be prepared to meet anger with love and hatred with understanding. Please
find time in your day to give thanks to God for the opportunities this decision
presents as well as the wisdom and courage we will need to embrace those who
find this decision troubling. We will still need to work for the acceptance and
belonging that all of us would claim as God’s children.
remember the words in our Open and Affirming statement: At Zion, “We extend
God's Extravagant Welcome to persons of every gender, age, race, nationality,
ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, mental and
physical ability, social and economic status, faith background, political and
theological beliefs, marital standing and family structure.” At Zion, we are a
diverse community of people, young and old, progressive and conservative. We
have found a home here because we have learned that we do not all need to agree
on everything in order to sit with
one another in the pew, lifting our voices and our prayers to God.
In the coming
weeks and months, it is likely that Zion will be asked to host weddings for gay
and lesbian couples. It is my hope and prayer that you will join me in
welcoming those couples, and celebrating with me the love they wish to declare
in our historic and beautiful church. I am not asking you to change your mind
on issues that you may find troubling, what I am asking is that you remember
that Jesus' challenge to us is to seek not to judge one another, to find ways
of including people rather than excluding them, and to love others as we
ourselves would want to be loved.
If you would
like to speak with me about this issue, or any other, please contact me. I want
to hear from you. I desire to know and understand your thoughts and positions
on this issue, as well as many others. I will be more effective in my service
for you if I know you better.
Greatest of Hope!
In the daily
“Still Speaking” UCC devotional that posted the day after Easter, Pastor Emily
Heath reminded us of something vitally important. “If you go in any kind of
store (the day after Easter), you will see that Easter is over. The plastic eggs
will be half-price, and the Easter candy will be on clearance, never to be seen
again until next February. There's just one problem with that: no matter what
the stores are saying, Easter isn't over. While Easter may have been the day of
the empty tomb, the 50 days after are just as much a time of new beginnings. We
have until Pentecost, May 24, to celebrate Easter. And beyond that, we
celebrate the new life that Easter brings.”
we celebrate the re-creation and renewal of all things at Easter, it's about
the transformation of the entire universe, not only the resurrection of Jesus
from the dead, or the opening of heaven's doors to us. When we say “I believe
in the Resurrection” we mean a bodily resurrection where heaven comes to earth
and earth is transformed. And everything we do now to participate in God’s
transformation and renewal of the world will be blessed and magnified at the
time of the Resurrection. What we celebrated on Easter morning is the
foundation for a renewed way of life in and for the world both today and in the
What can we
do? Here are some ideas for wrapping up this season of resurrection and
renewal. Offer forgiveness to someone with whom you have a long-standing
grudge. Let yourself feel forgiveness for an action that you now regret, and
for which you feel remorse. Tread a little more lightly on the earth, use less,
and be more mindful of the impact of your consumption patterns. Share a joyful
moment with a friend, show appreciation for your spouse, let a co-worker know
how much you value their contribution. Offer a prayer for peace, get involved
in political action for change, or just pick up some trash along the roadside.
Tell one of our young people that you’ve noticed their involvement in church
and that you are proud of them. Or send a note to someone whose presence in
church you’ve been missing. If you have been among the missing, realize that
you are missed.
You will be
doing your part in God’s transformation and renewal of the world. And you don’t
need to stop at Pentecost…God plans to keep this project going as long as
Greatest of Hope!
As our family
settles into life here in Ohio, I find that I am keeping my eyes open much more
so than I have in the past. I know that much of that has to do with being in
new surroundings, new neighborhoods, new stores, new streets. I want to be sure
I don't miss anything. In a few years, I'm sure I won't be looking around quite
as intensely as I am now. My awareness of seeing things more intensely now,
makes me wonder what things I missed seeing in the past because I wasn't
looking for them.
We have to develop
the eyes to see certain things. Moses saw a burning bush and turned aside, and
was rewarded with a conversation with God Almighty. But I doubt that the sight
of that bush was all that spectacular, and maybe most people would have walked
right on by…not even curious. Moses always had an eye for the sacred and was
tuned in to the God channel. That’s what made him a good messenger.
Unless you have eyes to see, unless you are
looking for something, it's easy to miss what might be right in front of you. My
guess is, if you don’t know anything about God, if you’re not on the lookout
for God, God would also be easy to miss. In the Easter story, Mary Magdalene
comes to the cemetery garden early in the morning. She meets someone who she
initially supposes to be the gardener. But then the gardener calls her by name.
As one who knew the power of Jesus’ love, had felt his special friendship, Mary
recognizes the risen Jesus. I imagine that others might have passed on by this
“gardener” and never known that the
Risen One, the Son of God, was right there in front of them.
You have to know what you are looking for if you want to
find it. Mary was the first witness to the resurrection because she had the
eyes to see. Her words ring through the ages, “I have seen the Lord.” We should
never let our familiarity with Easter
jade us to the surprise of those words. And we should never stop looking for
the Lord in new and surprising places (like a cemetery.) God always has
something new to show us, which is the power of the resurrection. Tune into the
God channel, keep your eyes peeled, and be on the lookout. Easter is breaking
out all over, with new life everywhere.
Let’s walk with our Easter eyes wide open, and bear
witness to the ways in which we see God. Embrace the new life of Easter. Be a
messenger and tell the Easter story to someone who has not seen the Lord. You
will open up to them a whole new world of new life and possibilities.
Hallelujah! Christ is Risen!
few years ago, it became popular in many churches for people to wear wristbands
with the letters 'WWJD' upon them. The letters stood for “What Would Jesus
Do?”, and were supposed to serve as a reminder to think about our actions and
words before speaking or doing. What would Jesus do in the situation if he was
in our position?
is a time in the church year when we are called to pause and reflect on our
lives. A time to pause and think about the things we have done, and still do.
Lent is when we also think about what Jesus did for us on the cross, and the
things he did amongst us as he walked the earth.
fall, the author Mick Mooney wrote a short piece as a comment on the question,
“What would Jesus do?”
upon a time, a mother made her son a wristband. On it was written: WWJD?
This, of course stood for: "What Would Jesus Do?" She instructed her
son to look at the wristband before making decisions on how to live his
week later she was shocked to see that her son had become friends with
prostitutes, was hanging out with 'sinners' -- even buying people who were
already drunk yet another round of beers!
still, he had walked into their church the previous Sunday and tore down the
book store, overturned the tables and threw the cash register through the
window, he then made a whip and chased the pastor out of the building,
declaring he was turning God's house into a den of thieves.
shocking was what happened when his mother went to picket the local abortion
clinic. To her embarrassment, her son was also there, but he was standing with
the women who just had an abortion,
and yelled at the protesters: "You, who are without sin, throw the first
mother was very distressed, but fortunately she found a solution to this
terrible problem. She made another wristband, this time it
read: WWAPD? This, she explained to her son, stood for: "What
Would A Pharisee Do?" She took the old WWJD? wristband and burned it.
her son has been wearing the new wristband, looking at it to help him make his
decisions, he has become a dedicated tither, a public prayer warrior, an active
condemner of 'sinners,' a passionate defender of the Old Covenant law, and has
a great reputation as a godly young man amongst other religious people.
to say, the mother is very happy now. She only wishes Jesus would take notice
and follow her son's good example.
During this season of Lent, may we think
about who we follow as Messiah and Savior. May we truly think about his words
and actions. Can we be honest enough with ourselves to admit that there are
times when our answer to the question of “What would Jesus do?” is actually a
better answer to the question, “What would you like Jesus to do?”
The journey of Lent is a journey of
discovery and self-discovery; a time when we come to see God in new and deeper
ways. May the God we discover be not of our own creating, but the Creator of
With the Greatest of Hope!
25 more shopping days until Lent! Now that's something you probably have never
heard. You also never hear, “the
commercialization of Lent is just ruining the true meaning of the season for
me” or “I am so tired of people taking the 'Christ' out of Lent!” Or maybe, “I can't wait until Lent – it's my
favorite time of the year.” Church
members never ask the pastor could they please sing the traditional
songs during the season of Lent, neither do they schedule a “hanging of the
greens (the purple?)” in preparation for Lent.
face it, Lent just doesn't get the attention Advent or Easter gets. And yes, I agree that repentance, fasting,
and prayer are not quite the same as caroling, gift giving, drinking eggnog,
new Easter dresses, and Easter egg hunts.
But really, as Christians, Lent should be central to our faith
journey. Perhaps it should be as central
as Christmas. Think about it. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, Lent
points to the resurrection of Christ. In
the big theological scheme of things, which is more important? I have to say, my vote is with Lent.
why don't we give Lent a bigger billing in the life of the church? Maybe it
gets neglected because the mall doesn't pay much attention to it (not a lot of
money to be made on repentance) or maybe because Lent isn't warm and fuzzy (no
Lenten version of Santa) or maybe the fact that it's never been a box office
hit (Bing Crosby crooning about Lent is hard to imagine). But I think Lent, if we give it some time and
attention, could fulfill certain spiritual needs for us and could direct us on
our journey of faith.
spiritual gift that Lent gives us is hope. The word Lent is derived from the Old English
lencten, which means “lengthen.”
It refers to the lengthening of the daylight hours that occurs in the
northern hemisphere as spring approaches.
It is in this period of transition from late winter to early spring that
the season of Lent falls. What is more
hopeful than the coming of spring? The
first sign of the end of winter that always gives me a touch of optimism is the
lengthening of daylight. By Ash
Wednesday it is clear that we have made it through the short dark days and once
again we can go for walks in the evening as the sun sets. The beginning of longer days is the beginning
spiritual gift that Lent gives us is renewed energy. There is a momentum to Lent. Every week of Lent is just a little bit
warmer and nicer than the week before.
It is a season that starts in what is truly winter and ends in the rush
of spring. This connection to “seasons”
mirrors the events of Holy Week. The
dark and dreadful time of the arrest and crucifixion are ended with the glory
and beauty of Easter morning. From
darkness to light. We may begin in the dreary clutches of February, but we end
in the splendor of April.
we recover the deep and powerful meaning of Lent this year at Zion. Perhaps we can make this Lent one we will
never forget – it may even rival Advent!
the Greatest of Hope,
you read this, I am halfway through my first month as your called, settled
pastor at Zion United Church of Christ.
have been beginning to get acclimated to the church and the community. I want
to thank all those who have reached out to me and to my family in the last few
weeks and in the months leading up to my coming to the Ohio Valley. Your loving
and warm welcome has been a great blessing to me and to my entire family.
the weeks ahead I plan on reaching out to the members of Zion, getting to know
you, hearing your stories and dreams.
have heard that there have been many different ways pastors have lead Zion in
the past, so I just want to share a bit about how I operate.
my door is always open. If you have a comment, concern, a worry, a complaint,
please come to me. I want to hear if you think something needs to be addressed.
There are few things I dislike more than hearsay or rumors. Come to me in
person, write a letter and sign it. That way I can personally talk with you,
and personally address your concerns.
am a person that likes to laugh, smile, talk, and have a good time. I want our
church and our worship services to reflect the joy we have come to know as
followers of the Christ. I take my faith seriously, and I take worship
seriously as well; but I try to do it with a twinkle in my eye and skip in my
are all entering together into a time of newness and renewal at Zion, I hope
you will share the happenings here at the church with your friends and family,
with former members and members whose faces we have not seen in a while. A
church grows based on the people who are there reaching out to those who are
are now in the season of Epiphany, the time of the church year when we think
about the encounters we have had with the Holy. I hope and pray that in the
coming days and weeks we will all be able to reflect on the encounters that
have renewed and strengthened our faith, and that we will all have new
encounters that will open our eyes to the wonder and love of God.
With the Greatest of Hope!
A Time To Grow
It is time to
grow. It is time to grow things: corn, beans, vegetables, flowers. It is time
to grow your church. A place to start is with your own spiritual growth. During
the next several months we will be listening to the teachings of Jesus. Well,
at least we will be reading the teachings of Jesus in our weekly readings at
worship in church. Whether or not we are listening is another matter. The
things that he has to teach contribute to our spiritual growth. There is
nothing like them.
Christian “yoga”. That’s right, when Jesus says: “My yoke is easy…” He means
his yoga. It is the same word. His “yoke” is the spiritual discipline that he
asks of you. I suspect that Jesus made some ox yokes as a carpenter. They are
made so that they fit nicely on the shoulders of an ox so it can pull a load
with the greatest ease and the least discomfort. You get an idea what he is
Christ’s yoke upon you, his yoga, is to make a commitment. Commitments are
yokes that make things easier to do. It is our commitments that carry us
through when our feelings are ambivalent. This is why it is better, I think, to
act out of commitment and obligation, rather than out of one’s feelings at the
This is why
you should simply commit yourself to regular worship so you can be exposed to
the teaching of Jesus. If you get wishy-washy about it, you are likely to not
growth, God is really not a good gardener. God does not carefully and
scientifically plant seeds like our farmers do. God scatters seeds everywhere.
It doesn’t matter what kind of soil there is. It can be rocky, weedy,
exhausted, or good (whatever that is). It doesn’t seem to matter to God. God
keeps skipping along sowing the seeds of love wherever God feels like it. God
does the same with the sun and rain that makes things grow. God seems to have
an unshakable commitment to every human being. We should follow God's lead and
be completely wild and far reaching in sharing God’s love.
When you buy
a package of seeds at the store, it often comes with a picture of the plant on
the package. Of course, the seeds don’t look anything like the plant, but somewhere
inside them is a code that soil and sun and showers unlock, causing a plant to
grow and bear fruit or flowers or maybe both. For us, Christ is the picture on
the packet. We are the seeds. We pray that we might grow, as Saint Paul says:
“into the fullness of the stature of Christ.”
With the Greatest of Hope!