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Archive for July 2016

Praying The Lord’s Prayer

In Luke chapter 11, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.’(Luke 11:2-4, NRSV)

This is not exactly the prayer we recite together each week when we gather. The one in our weekly service more reflects Matthew 6:9-14 combined with the way it appears in the Didache.

The sermon title, “An Instruction Manual, Not a Script” alludes to the idea that Jesus was teaching them how to pray, and not providing a script that needs to be repeated verbatim. Not that liturgy and repetition is a bad thing at all — indeed, I’ve been at the bedside of dying saints who haven’t spoken in days, weeks, months, yet when the words of the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed are spoken, their lips begin to move in unison with my words. It’s a beautiful thing — the power of liturgy. It provides peace and order in the midst of confusion; it provides a framework for our belief even in the midst of doubt.

But what we need to be wary of is just saying the Lord’s Prayer rather than praying the Lord’s Prayer. The difference between saying and praying is that we can say things or recite things without engaging our mind or feeling it in our heart. And empty words are useless to Jesus. He calls the priests who pray loudly on the corners, rocking back and forth “hypocrites” — the Greek word used for a stage actor who wore a massive mask, exaggerated costumes, and elevated shoes to make them appear bigger, taller than they were.

So to combat this, he proposes this ground-breaking prayer.

But Pastor Paula — The Lord’s Prayer. . . groundbreaking?

I imagine you’re looking at me with some amount of skepticism, aren’t you?

Because to us, the Lord’s Prayer is anything BUT ground breaking. It is just The Lord’s Prayer — one of the first things any child memorizes through repetition. You probably can’t even remember a time when you didn’t address God as “Our Father.”

Let me shed a little light on this, though. Our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures was Psalm 85. An excerpt:

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,

and put away your indignation towards us.

Will you be angry with us for ever?

Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

Will you not revive us again,

so that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,

and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:4-7)

Do you hear the fear with which our ancestors approached God? They are praying that God’s anger would be calmed; they are praying that they may receive God’s salvation and that God would show God’s steadfast love.

As Christians we recognize that God has shown us steadfast love in Jesus Christ. In Jesus we have received salvation. In Jesus we do not see God’s anger — only God’s grace and mercy in living, breathing, human-form.

So right from the start, when Jesus suggests to his disciples that they approach God in prayer with “Father,” he is breaking ground. He is shattering the people’s view of an angry and distant God, who metes out punishment in the form of infertility and other physical limitations (blindness, deafness, paralysis, etc).

So for the disciples, addressing God as “Father” indicated to them that God was not just distant and powerful and holy. . . God knew and cared for the one praying as if he or she was their beloved child.

Is it possible that we are beloved children of God? Indeed, we think of ourselves that way often without understanding what an amazing concept it is! For the disciples it was a major shift in perception, and it was a game-changer. It has led all of us to understand that we can approach God in prayer wherever, whenever. That is an incredible gift.

The rest of the prayer is pretty ground-breaking as well. We are praying for “God’s Kingdom to come. . .” Friends — this is way different than us praying to God, asking for “things” or favors or whatever it is that catches our fancy at the time. NO — we are to pray for God’s kingdom, which looks a lot different than the world we live in. Jesus taught about the kingdom all the time. He made comparisons like:

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

Again Jesus asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. (Matthew 13:33)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

Are you sure you want to be praying for such radical things? Do you really want to be that tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree? Do you want to be the yeast that leavens the entire sixty pounds of flour? Do you want to give away everything you have so you can enjoy the treasure of the kingdom of heaven?

Maybe if we understood the gravity of the things we are asking for, we would pray for them with a little more care. As we continue to honor these words in our weekly service, let’s promise again to never SAY the Lord’s Prayer again. Let’s vow, together, to PRAY the Lord’s Prayer from this time on and forevermore.

In Christ’s Love,

Rev. Paula

Mission at CEH

Last Sunday we welcomed Rev. Chris Iosso from the PC(USA) Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy to our pulpit. We had good worship, focusing on what it means to be a “Connectional Church” and hearing from Chris about General Assembly. To help celebrate our connectionality, we also featured the Colorado Presbyterian Pilgrimage and the Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center.

Because I didn’t preach last Sunday, I wanted to take the time here in my Midweek Missive to explore something very vital to our Ministry at CEH: Missions! We look at all the mission work we do through the understanding that God calls us to “Risk-Taking Mission and Service.” This is one of the “FIve Practices of Fruitful Congregations” described by Rev. Robert Schnase in his book by the same title.

Mission Team

We have a Missions Team that selects a “Mission of the Month” to focus on each month of the year, and who works hard to organize and manage the funds that come in from the Safeway and City Market member cards. When you use your shopper card and designate CEH as the benefactor (you can do this online or at the store), we receive a portion of your purchase! Each year we receive over $6,000 from these programs, and all that money goes toward our various mission projects.

Our Mission Team also focuses on how to promote our denominational Special Offerings, of which we have four over the course of a year. For example, the Pentecost Offering took place during the month of May, following Pentecost. Through your generous donations, we raised more than $1,000! 60% of that offering went to the PC(USA) fund for youth and children, and 40% stayed right here in Grand County and funded the ACHES and PAINS medical assistance program.

Another example of a Mission of the Month is our July mission — which was collecting money to purchase bee hives through Heifer International. There is still time to donate money to this mission — see the missions table outside of the sanctuary and “Feed the Bee” by stuffing its mouth with your donation. Click HERE to read about Heifer International and why bee hives can be so helpful to families!

PEER Group

This week I want to especially focus on our new mission PEER Group. I’m writing from the perspective of watching PEER Group move from an idea to a vision to a successful mission of CEH, and I’m writing as a Mentor participant who has been blown away by the positive outcomes already!

PEER Group provides life skills classes and mentoring partners for anyone in Grand County who is in need of help. Our informational flier says, “Through a six-week course, you will learn problem-solving & critical-thinking skills, develop financial literacy, and be connected with a group of peers who will walk with you through the whole process. PEER Group continues through a year-long relationship with peer-leaders, who will continue to help you monitor your goals, learn about resources in Grand County, and provide emotional support.”

This Group was envisioned over the period of the last six months or so after a brief discussion with Tracy Lyman, who wondered if there might be any need for a mentoring program in Grand County. He took the idea and ran with it, recruiting nearly fifteen people who wanted to be involved! After vigorous planning and training, we accepted our first three applicants and started classes in April. We have just embarked on Phase Two of the PEER Group program — the year-long mentoring and once a month classes.

I sure wish you could witness the energy and enthusiasm on Monday nights. We didn’t know what to expect as Peer Mentors, and to be honest, most of us were pretty nervous to get started! But even after the first dinner together, we knew it was going to go better than we imagined. Name tags and a silly ice breaker made our first week go well, and by the second week we realized this was going to be amazing — one of our most introverted participants came in with a whole new posture and attitude, willing to make eye contact with the volunteers rather than keeping her gaze on the ground.

Here is a quote from one of our Peer Mentors: “What I have witnessed is the value of Critical Thinking, Setting a Goal and achieving that goal and developing new goals as things progress. The impact was apparent in the person, the highlights of the week, and upon family and friends.”

Indeed, we are so impressed with our participants and their enthusiasm for the process, that each one of us are challenged to meet and set our own goals! I think we can all say that we are learning from our participants and are looking forward to learning even more from them as our next phase begins.

If you are interested in committing to this visionary group, please talk to Alan Sommerfeld, who is heading up the PEER Group this go around. Other volunteers involved in our first class are Bud Crawford, Janet Harrington, Paul Hollruh, Diane Howell, Mark Lund, Gary & Sue Perkins, Karen Sommerfeld and me! I’m loving my time with these wonderful people, and I’m proud to watch our own mentors and volunteers growing as well. Special thanks to Tracy & Barb Lyman, Meryl & Steve Eddy, Sarah Wildermans, Jocille Quick, Judy Schowalter, Marion Barry, and anyone else who has prayed in support of PEER Group, donated money or food, or given time to help us gather our resources.

Please pray to discern whether you may be able to serve as a mentor or volunteer for PEER Group in some capacity. Pray also that we would continue to model the love and concern of Jesus for all, and that we may have wisdom and grace as we mentor our wonderful PEER Group participants over the next 12 months.

We will be starting a new session with some of our returning PEER visionaries (who have been out of the Valley for the summer) either this fall or in January. I hope many of you will be able to join in for our next class of PEER Group!

In Christ’s Love,

Rev. Paula

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

In Luke chapter 11, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray.

He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.’(Luke 11:2-4, NRSV)

This is not exactly the prayer we recite together each week when we gather. The one in our weekly service more reflects Matthew 6:9-14 combined with the way it appears in the Didache.

The sermon title, “An Instruction Manual, Not a Script” alludes to the idea that Jesus was teaching them how to pray, and not providing a script that needs to be repeated verbatim. Not that liturgy and repetition is a bad thing at all — indeed, I’ve been at the bedside of dying saints who haven’t spoken in days, weeks, months, yet when the words of the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed are spoken, their lips begin to move in unison with my words. It’s a beautiful thing — the power of liturgy. It provides peace and order in the midst of confusion; it provides a framework for our belief even in the midst of doubt.

But what we need to be wary of is just saying the Lord’s Prayer rather than praying the Lord’s Prayer. The difference between saying and praying is that we can say things or recite things without engaging our mind or feeling it in our heart. And empty words are useless to Jesus. He calls the priests who pray loudly on the corners, rocking back and forth “hypocrites” — the Greek word used for a stage actor who wore a massive mask, exaggerated costumes, and elevated shoes to make them appear bigger, taller than they were.

So to combat this, he proposes this ground-breaking prayer.

But Pastor Paula — The Lord’s Prayer. . . groundbreaking?

I imagine you’re looking at me with some amount of skepticism, aren’t you?

Because to us, the Lord’s Prayer is anything BUT ground breaking. It is just The Lord’s Prayer — one of the first things any child memorizes through repetition. You probably can’t even remember a time when you didn’t address God as “Our Father.”

Let me shed a little light on this, though. Our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures was Psalm 85. An excerpt:

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,

and put away your indignation towards us.

Will you be angry with us for ever?

Will you prolong your anger to all generations?

Will you not revive us again,

so that your people may rejoice in you?

Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,

and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:4-7)

Do you hear the fear with which our ancestors approached God? They are praying that God’s anger would be calmed; they are praying that they may receive God’s salvation and that God would show God’s steadfast love.

As Christians we recognize that God has shown us steadfast love in Jesus Christ. In Jesus we have received salvation. In Jesus we do not see God’s anger — only God’s grace and mercy in living, breathing, human-form.

So right from the start, when Jesus suggests to his disciples that they approach God in prayer with “Father,” he is breaking ground. He is shattering the people’s view of an angry and distant God, who metes out punishment in the form of infertility and other physical limitations (blindness, deafness, paralysis, etc).

So for the disciples, addressing God as “Father” indicated to them that God was not just distant and powerful and holy. . . God knew and cared for the one praying as if he or she was their beloved child.

Is it possible that we are beloved children of God? Indeed, we think of ourselves that way often without understanding what an amazing concept it is! For the disciples it was a major shift in perception, and it was a game-changer. It has led all of us to understand that we can approach God in prayer wherever, whenever. That is an incredible gift.

The rest of the prayer is pretty ground-breaking as well. We are praying for “God’s Kingdom to come. . .” Friends — this is way different than us praying to God, asking for “things” or favors or whatever it is that catches our fancy at the time. NO — we are to pray for God’s kingdom, which looks a lot different than the world we live in. Jesus taught about the kingdom all the time. He made comparisons like:

Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

Again Jesus asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. (Matthew 13:33)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

Are you sure you want to be praying for such radical things? Do you really want to be that tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree? Do you want to be the yeast that leavens the entire sixty pounds of flour? Do you want to give away everything you have so you can enjoy the treasure of the kingdom of heaven?

Maybe if we understood the gravity of the things we are asking for, we would pray for them with a little more care. As we continue to honor these words in our weekly service, let’s promise again to never SAY the Lord’s Prayer again. Let’s vow, together, to PRAY the Lord’s Prayer from this time on and forevermore.

In Christ’s Love,

Rev. Paula

Psalm 65: Lavish God

Sunday morning we celebrated worship together out at the DeVries’ barn at Wabooson Lodge. What a glorious day; what an amazing way to lift praise to our Creator!

The text for Sunday was Psalm 65, a psalm of praise that Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann calls a Psalm of “Reorientation,” written by the Hebrew poets and song-writers to remind the Jews of the providence and sovereignty of God after something devastating had happened.

We find ourselves in need of “Reorientation” too after reading the daily newspaper or listening to an update on the radio or television. Racial tensions, gender issues, political hot-topics like immigration and scandal. . . all of it can make our heads and hearts spin and our future look bleak. What if we re-oriented ourselves?

The words of Psalm 65 remind us that God is lavish:

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,

O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth

and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;

you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,

the roaring of their waves,

the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

You visit the earth and water it,

you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;

you provide the people with grain,

for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,

settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,

and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;

your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,

the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,

the valleys deck themselves with grain,

they shout and sing together for joy.
(Psalm 65:9-13, NRSV)

James and I just returned from a two week vacation. On our way to visit family, we visited Craters of the Moon National Park, and the last few days were spent at the beautifulYellowstone National Park. Both parks were immaculately maintained and held vast evidence of God’s amazing handiwork and providence. Though the Psalmist imagined something like a puppeteer-God micro-managing every aspect of Creation, the parks we visited reminded me that God is the Ultimate Landscaper and Designer! God set things into motion and created ecosystems that regenerate and grow, even after a massive lava flow or other volcanic activity.

The truth of this is held in the evidence of the beautiful forest regrowth seen across Yellowstone. In 1988, the towering old-growth Lodge Pole Pine forests at Yellowstone were wiped out in a devastating forest fire. At the time, the public was in an outrage, the locals and park-lovers were heart-broken at the “ashes of greatness” as I heard in an educational film at the park.

Also at the time, though, the National Park Service was trying to console the public, reminding them that forest fire is a naturally-occurring phenomena, required at times to revitalize a forest. Though it sounds counter intuitive, forest fire can destroy the sick, old, and disease-ridden trees in a forest and leave behind the opportunity for new life. The Lodgepole Pine is an excellent example of this. The reproduction is pretty complex:
Like all conifers, lodgepole pines have both male and female cones. The male cones produce huge quantities of yellow pollen in June and July. This yellow pollen is often seen in pools of rainwater around the park or at the edges of lakes and ponds.
The lodgepole’s female cone takes two years to mature. In the first summer, the cones look like tiny, ruby-red miniature cones out near the end of the branches. The next year, after fertilization, the cone starts rapidly growing and soon becomes a conspicuous green. The female cones either open at maturity releasing the seeds, or remain closed—a condition called serotiny—until subjected to high heat such as a forest fire. These cones remain closed and hanging on the tree for years until the right conditions allow them to open. Within a short period of time after the tree flashes into flame, the cones open up and release seeds over the blackened area, effectively dispersing seeds after forest fires. Trees without serotinous cones (like Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and Douglas-fir) must rely on wind, animals, or other agents to carry seeds into recently burned areas. (citation here)

Did you read that? The serotinous cones can only release their seeds after the intense heat of a forest fire. And as nature has it, these seeds grow best in slightly acidic soil (the kind that’s left behind after a fire, by the way)!

Another interesting thing is that these serotinous cones can remain perfectly preserved on the forest floor for up to 20 years. The seeds inside are viable, and when the fire sweeps through, a cone that dropped years ago can even release new life.

So even though a forest fire looks to be utterly devastating, it is actually providing a way for new life.

Perhaps this time in our nation is a chance for rebirth. I think it is time for some of the “old growth” (like gender bias, racism, and fear of people who are “different” than we are, government corruption, hate-mongering, and fighting between churches/differing theologies) to burn down and leave room for some new and healthy ideas and leaders.

Perhaps the turmoil and struggle we are seeing and feeling is an opportunity for some of us to begin to release seeds of hope in this parched and devastated time.

May you see your opportunities to release seeds of hope and light, and may we together begin to grow a new, healthy, and hopeful forest!

In Christ’s Love,

Rev. Paula

Psalm 65: Lavish God

Sunday morning we celebrated worship together out at the DeVries’ barn at Wabooson Lodge. What a glorious day; what an amazing way to lift praise to our Creator!

The text for Sunday was Psalm 65, a psalm of praise that Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann calls a Psalm of “Reorientation,” written by the Hebrew poets and song-writers to remind the Jews of the providence and sovereignty of God after something devastating had happened.

We find ourselves in need of “Reorientation” too after reading the daily newspaper or listening to an update on the radio or television. Racial tensions, gender issues, political hot-topics like immigration and scandal. . . all of it can make our heads and hearts spin and our future look bleak. What if we re-oriented ourselves?

The words of Psalm 65 remind us that God is lavish:

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,

O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth

and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;

you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,

the roaring of their waves,

the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.

You visit the earth and water it,

you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;

you provide the people with grain,

for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,

settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,

and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;

your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,

the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,

the valleys deck themselves with grain,

they shout and sing together for joy.
(Psalm 65:9-13, NRSV)

James and I just returned from a two week vacation. On our way to visit family, we visited Craters of the Moon National Park, and the last few days were spent at the beautifulYellowstone National Park. Both parks were immaculately maintained and held vast evidence of God’s amazing handiwork and providence. Though the Psalmist imagined something like a puppeteer-God micro-managing every aspect of Creation, the parks we visited reminded me that God is the Ultimate Landscaper and Designer! God set things into motion and created ecosystems that regenerate and grow, even after a massive lava flow or other volcanic activity.

The truth of this is held in the evidence of the beautiful forest regrowth seen across Yellowstone. In 1988, the towering old-growth Lodge Pole Pine forests at Yellowstone were wiped out in a devastating forest fire. At the time, the public was in an outrage, the locals and park-lovers were heart-broken at the “ashes of greatness” as I heard in an educational film at the park.

Also at the time, though, the National Park Service was trying to console the public, reminding them that forest fire is a naturally-occurring phenomena, required at times to revitalize a forest. Though it sounds counter intuitive, forest fire can destroy the sick, old, and disease-ridden trees in a forest and leave behind the opportunity for new life. The Lodgepole Pine is an excellent example of this. The reproduction is pretty complex:
Like all conifers, lodgepole pines have both male and female cones. The male cones produce huge quantities of yellow pollen in June and July. This yellow pollen is often seen in pools of rainwater around the park or at the edges of lakes and ponds.
The lodgepole’s female cone takes two years to mature. In the first summer, the cones look like tiny, ruby-red miniature cones out near the end of the branches. The next year, after fertilization, the cone starts rapidly growing and soon becomes a conspicuous green. The female cones either open at maturity releasing the seeds, or remain closed—a condition called serotiny—until subjected to high heat such as a forest fire. These cones remain closed and hanging on the tree for years until the right conditions allow them to open. Within a short period of time after the tree flashes into flame, the cones open up and release seeds over the blackened area, effectively dispersing seeds after forest fires. Trees without serotinous cones (like Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and Douglas-fir) must rely on wind, animals, or other agents to carry seeds into recently burned areas. (citation here)

Did you read that? The serotinous cones can only release their seeds after the intense heat of a forest fire. And as nature has it, these seeds grow best in slightly acidic soil (the kind that’s left behind after a fire, by the way)!

Another interesting thing is that these serotinous cones can remain perfectly preserved on the forest floor for up to 20 years. The seeds inside are viable, and when the fire sweeps through, a cone that dropped years ago can even release new life.

So even though a forest fire looks to be utterly devastating, it is actually providing a way for new life.

Perhaps this time in our nation is a chance for rebirth. I think it is time for some of the “old growth” (like gender bias, racism, and fear of people who are “different” than we are, government corruption, hate-mongering, and fighting between churches/differing theologies) to burn down and leave room for some new and healthy ideas and leaders.

Perhaps the turmoil and struggle we are seeing and feeling is an opportunity for some of us to begin to release seeds of hope in this parched and devastated time.

May you see your opportunities to release seeds of hope and light, and may we together begin to grow a new, healthy, and hopeful forest!

In Christ’s Love,

Rev. Paula