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Archive for August 2016

How to be Holy

Sunday’s scriptures taught us big lessons about what makes God happy on the Sabbath. We heard from from Isaiah:

If you remove the yoke from among you,

the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness

and your gloom be like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you continually,

and satisfy your needs in parched places,

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,

like a spring of water,

whose waters never fail. . .

If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,

from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;

if you call the sabbath a delight

and the holy day of the Lord honorable;

if you honor it, not going your own ways,

serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;

then you shall take delight in the Lord,

and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;

I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

(selections from Isaiah 58:9b — 14, emphasis added)

Someone jokingly said after service that I might not want to read that particular scripture on a Bronco’s Sunday. But it really isn’t a joke, is it? We value our Sunday time, and not especially because it is the day we set aside to worship God. We value Sunday time because we (those who attend church) typically have the day off, and there aren’t a lot of things that are expected of us.

I wonder what it would be like if all people really did take delight in the sabbath. I think there would be a whole lot less complaining about things that didn’t matter so much (“service was too long,” “my children just don’t enjoy the service,” “I didn’t like the music,” “the music was too fast/too slow/too loud”). What would it be like if we just really took delight in the Lord?!

Jesus is up against some complainers as well in our scripture reading from Luke:

Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing (Luke 13:10-17).

His point is clear here — rather than being concerned about pointing fingers about what is “right” and what is “wrong” to do on the Sabbath, we need to be more concerned with loving one another. What Jesus did, although “against” sabbath restrictions, was MERCIFUL.

When I was a child growing up in the church, I was reminded time and again that there was proper behavior for church. Jeans were inappropriate, as were t-shirts and tennis shoes. Children were expected to be silent during the service, and at least in my family you had to sit up straight in the pews. These are a little different than the “Sabbath Laws” that the synagogue leader was pointing to, but it’s about the most parallel thing I can come up with in my own life. The parallel is that people were very concerned with “Looking holy” rather than “Being holy.”

Truly being holy seems to be the real key to these sabbath laws, and Jesus recognizes this.

It wasn’t a new concept, because the Isaiah readings were written somewhere around 800 years before Jesus was even born, and in this whole section of Isaiah there is a lot of commentary about God being unhappy with how God’s people were observing the sabbath. God says, in no uncertain terms, that just “Looking holy” is not enough. In fact, “Looking holy” irritates God (Amos 5:21 also says it pretty clearly, “I hate, I detest your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me”).

In the particular reading above (chap 58) there’s a pretty easy list of how to make God happy on the Sabbath:
remove the yoke from among you
stop pointing your fingers at each other
stop speaking evil
offer your food to the hungry
satisfy the needs of the afflicted
don’t trample on the sabbath
don’t pursue your own interests on the sabbath
call the sabbath a delight
don’t go “your own way” on the sabbath
don’t serve your own interest on the sabbath
don’t pursue your own affairs on the sabbath

Well, I guess I wouldn’t call it an “easy” list, but it certainly does help us to see it again is list form. Each of these actions/mindsets have to do with being merciful and looking to the interests of others rather than being solely focused on “self.”

So this big controversy of Jesus healing the woman has to do with being HOLY by being MERCIFUL. Wouldn’t you, Jesus asks, do the same for your pet or your livestock? Why not this woman, who has suffered for so long?

Friends, as we look at how we live our everyday lives, I feel we should be practicing all these actions that are pleasing to God. Let’s not keep them limited to the sabbath (although honestly that would be a pretty great start); let’s practice them every single day.

We could be living in holy times if we kept just those things as our focus.

May you find delight in worshiping the Lord in these ways: by practicing your acts of mercy; and focusing less on trying to “look holy.”

With Hope,

Rev. Paula

Darkness and Light

Darkness

We began our service on Sunday with a time of silence to take notice of the darkness of the day. It was the 15th Anniversary of 9/11, and I invited anyone to come forward and light a candle on our Communion table during the silence. I expected only a few people to come forward, but as I watched the aisles fill with worshipers, I realized I had not put out enough candles. So I went back to my office, grabbed thirty more candles, and placed them beside our improvised candle-holder.

The silence was held much longer than I would have imagined. People were very somber coming forward, remembering where they were that morning, holding the pain very close and acknowledging how things have changed for us.

The candles were seated in a bed of sand in a plastic gardening container, and the light they all produced was pretty spectacular. It reminded me that darkness can sometimes lead to light, and I remembered the way that our nation bonded together during the months directly following 9/11. Somehow neighbors felt closer to each other; faith communities strengthened with people returning to church; and a genuine feeling of deep patriotism rose out of the rubble of the Twin Towers, the crashed remains of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, and the gaping hole left in the Pentagon building.

All those candles burned very hot, and melted quite quickly, leading to the plastic gardening container catching on fire and beginning to melt onto the Communion table. Unfortunately, the table was also covered with a plastic protector, which also caught on fire and began to melt. Luckily, the fire was put out just as quickly, and nobody was hurt.

The fire did leave a small burn on the Communion table though. Perhaps we will leave it as a reminder that none of us are perfect — we all bear scars, and those scars make us who we are. Flawed, scarred, but still able to provide service to our God.

As this week has progressed I have begun to imagine some new meaning from our slight emergency on Sunday morning. I said earlier that the light that arose out of the darkness of 9/11 was a new a deeper intimacy in our country, the incredible growth of faith communities, and a renewed and deeper sense of patriotism. My metaphor is that, like all the candles we lit on Sunday, some of the light from 9/11 seemed to burn out rather quickly as well. Look at our country only 15 years later — neighbors scarcely know or acknowledge each other, nationwide church membership and attendance is returning to the all-time low it was at pre-9/11, and patriotism has become something more divisive than unifying with the ridiculous mess we’ve created in our political arena.

How did that bright light of intimacy and hope burn out so quickly? Granted, it’s been 15 years, but our pain is still so present, how can it be that the light is not? When we let that pain and darkness be felt and remembered, we must also pay tribute to the light, hoping to rekindle it rather than extinguish it.

My charge to you is to rekindle the light that came out of 9/11 without letting it burn out this time. Go out into your neighborhood and meet people; renew your commitment to your faith community; and remember with pride the love and hope that so many heroes exhibited on 9/11, and which so many of our soldiers (more than 14,000 deaths, for details go here ) have given their lives for.


Light

We turned from the darkness of 9/11 to the present and very bright light of our children on Sunday morning. We had so many wonderful visitors on Sunday who had come to have their backpacks blessed. There was palpable energy in the entire church!

The remainder of the service (after the 9/11 Remembrance) was geared toward children, with a Prayer of Confession that involved a white board and drawings of “icky” things that fill up our hearts. It was a neat visual lesson that the waters of baptism wash all that icky stuff away.

Rather than a sermon, we had an extended “Time for Young Disciples” that taught about the “Whole armor of God” as found in Eph 6:10-20. My message to the students gathered is that we spend too much time worrying about what we are wearing to school — about what is on the outside. What we need to be more concerned about is what’s going on inside. Here are the ways I asked the students to get ready for school each day:

The Helmet of Salvation: when you’re brushing your hair, look in the mirror and remember that you are a beloved Child of God.
The Breastplate of Righteousness: when you put on your backpack, remember that you need to protect your heart and keep it clean, and remember that God’s love can help soften the blows of mean words and bullying.
Shoes fit to spread the Gospel of Peace: when you tie your shoes remind yourself that you are going to be a peace maker instead of a trouble maker.
The Sword of Truth: when you are buckling your belt, imagine you are pulling out a sword and say, “I will be truthful!”

These words are not just true for our children, but true for everyone of us. If were as concerned with “wearing” the whole armor of God everyday as we are about the clothes we put on, we would have a much different view of the day!

Following our service there was SO MUCH LIGHT at our first-ever Fall Festival. Many hands worked many hours to bring this celebration to fruition. Special thanks go to Karin & Krista Conrad, Sue Perkins, Tara Walker and family, and Laura Veenstra. We had games, face-painting, cotton-candy, a delicious smorgasbord of brats and picnic food, and an adorable S’mores station! It was a great celebration, and even though some wind blew through and knocked down our tents and bike parade route, there was plenty of fun to be had.

Our facebook page has pictures galore, and we have decided this should be an annual event! We’d love your feedback on the day if you were here, so please consider dropping me a note to let me know what you thought about the Fall Festival, the Blessing of the Backpacks, and anything else that comes to mind.

May you bask in the light of hope that does shine ever so brightly around us, and may it fill your heart with enough warmth that you can spread that to others.

In Christ’s Light,

Rev. Paula

A Motivating Message

OnSunday our sermon was a “dialog sermon” between me and our delegate to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium 2016, Madisen Larison. Madisen will be entering MPHS this fall as a Junior. She was Confirmed in the fall of last year, and has been an active member of the youTHursday youth group since our very first meeting two years ago!

It’s exciting to celebrate the leadership of our youth! I hope you will pray for our youTHursday ministry and even consider giving some time to prepare a dinner for the youth or to share your own gifts by helping us on Thursday nights. If you have visions or ideas, or want to volunteer your skills and talents to work with our youth, please call me at 887-3603 or email pastor@eternalhills.org

In Christ,

Rev. Paula

Go and Show Mercy

Paula
Our scripture readings this morning are not lectionary readings. They are two of the scriptures that over 5,000 Presbyterian youth and adults studied while at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium held every three years at Purdue University in West LaFayette, In.

Madisen
Pastor Paula attended as a small group leader, and I went as a participant with the Denver Presbytery Delegation.

Church of the Eternal Hills provided my registration and travel expenses since I am the first student to attend PYT in as long as anyone can remember.

Thank you for your support!

Paula
The theme for PYT was developed over the past two years with leaders from our own denomination and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church denominational offices.

The Theme, “Go” was meant to help develop in our youth the understanding that they are already filled with promise and amazing gifts and need to “GO” tell everyone about the love of God.

Madisen
I knew the theme was “GO”, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from the whole ordeal. I actually spent a lot of time wondering why I had decided to “GO” in the first place!

I was nervous to be around so many youth who I had never met. Paula was traveling ahead of time for small group training, so I would have to fly with the rest of the people from the Denver Delegation.

I really felt all alone, but when I found my “Backpack Blessing” tag from CEH on the backpack I was packing, I felt a lot better.

Paula
The scriptures selected for Triennium all had something to do with “GO.”

“Go and Tell it” followed the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds on the mountainside, and the youth learned that they need to be telling their stories, and telling others about how God is moving in their life, and the places where they, like the shepherds, “see” the King.

The Psalm reminded us to “Let Go,” and “Let my People GO!”, the story of Moses, called our youth be advocates for justice even in their own school and work settings.

Madisen
The Psalm reading is Psalm 32. This Psalm is attributed to David, after he made some awful mistakes. It is a psalm of repentance, so you hear a lot of things about giving our mistakes to God.

Paula
The Psalmist reminds us with very descriptive language what it is like to carry around the burden of sin:

While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Madisen
And then the Psalmist reminds us of how great it is to give that over to God:

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
You are a hiding-place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

Paula
During small group time on the second day, we taught the youth in our groups about this beautiful psalm. Using different methods, we taught the youth how to pray the psalm, and offered them chances to let go of their own transgressions.

Madisen
We learned how to do a “Doodle Prayer,” which is doodling as you pray, drawing pictures or writing words that come to your mind.

We also wrote our confessions on black paper, with black ink so nobody else could see them. We were, after all, confessing to God. Then, as a reminder to us that God forgives the guilt of our sin, we threw away the papers, and nobody would ever know what we wrote or what we were confessing.

Paula
Watching the youth learn so much through these different styles of prayer, it reminded me that we sometimes limit creative teaching to our work with youth and children. As I watched the youth learn and grow in the short time we were there, I vowed to make our Lenten study full of these unique and multi-sensory prayer methods, as adults will really learn and benefit from them as well.

Madisen
The Psalm continues with this:

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

At worship following our small group, Rev. Dr. Alice Ridgill preached to us about learning from God. She wore a backpack the entire sermon, and reminded us that it is the teacher’s job to present the information — and it is our job to learn! Then she reminded us that God also teaches us the “way we should go.” But it is our responsibility to learn from God!

Paula
Another lesson that really stood out to Madisen was the use of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are all very familiar with this story that Jesus told when a lawyer approached him to ask him what the most important law is. Jesus turned the question around on him and asked him what the scriptures say.

Madisen
The lawyer answered,‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’

Paula
Jesus told him he was correct. But then the lawyer asked:

Madisen
“Who is my neighbor?”

Paula
The lawyer was being a little tricky here. He wanted to see if he could catch Jesus on this fine point. But Jesus instead turned it back around on the lawyer by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Madisen
While we were reading this scripture we talked a lot about stereotypes. A stereotype is a label that people use to define others. In this scripture there are many stereotypes. The people you expected to help the man who was beaten up walked right on by. However the person you least likely expect took the victim to an innkeeper and paid for all of his expenses.

Paula
One of the stereotypes that most people don’t recognize is the use of the Samaritan to be the “Good guy.” For the lawyer who was asking the question, and for most Jews of the day, Samaritans were the “unwanted” children of the Covenant. Due to some theological differences, the Samaritans were considered “dirty” or “impure.”

Maybe the best way we can relate to the response that the Jewish Lawyer might have had would be for us to tell the story about the “Good Nazi” or even the “Good Terrorist.” The response we have inside is shock. How could a Nazi or a Terrorist ever be good?

The difference here is that the Samaritans were not out persecuting people or killing them, they were just really despised by the Jewish community.

Madisen
In our small groups we were challenged to wonder who it is that we despise? Who are the people that we lump by stereotype and do not give a chance to? Jesus’ teaching reminds me that I need to give everyone a chance.

It made me think that I am sometimes the victim of a stereotype. Sometimes people think of me as “just a youth.” Somebody too young to make a difference or lead in any valuable way.

Paula
And that is precisely why it is so important for us to listen to our youth. We can’t just pay lip service to how wonderful it is to have youth in our congregation — we need to respect them as being full of the Spirit of God and ready to lead in the church and in the community.

The stereotype of most youth is that they are self-centered and goofy and only in it for themselves.

But this has rarely been my experience. Of course on the outside you will see and hear goofy and sometimes even offensive things — but when you look and listen on a deeper level, you will hear words of wisdom. You will hear visions of the way things could be.

In my work it is always refreshing that youth “Get” it so much quicker than adults do. For example, at the end of the parable, Jesus asks the lawyer:
‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’

The Lawyer said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
It’s easy for the youth to understand that we are called to go and show others mercy as well. And they don’t just talk about it, or talk about why that might be a challenge, they just GO out there, and try to show others mercy.

So we need to be aware that on a very basic level, the youth can show us better how we need to be. It’s easy for them to see the world the way God envisions it.

We need to be aware that those visions come unhindered from “practicality.” They are still young enough that they don’t stop to see the obstacles and difficulties that come with achieving the vision — they just see the glorious end-product. The truth in this is that their faith is strong enough that when they feel called to something, they are way more likely to “Just do it” than we are. They honestly and sincerely believe the adage that “If God leads you to it, God will lead you through it.”

Madisen
Our final worship was awesome. The preacher that day, the Rev. Dr. Perryn Rice had been a stand-up comedian before becoming a pastor, so he was really fun to listen to. He reminded us that we need to “Get Going!” We need to get out there and GO! We need to use our unique voice and our point of view to teach about God, share what we saw and did at Triennium, and change the world!

Paula
The final message Madisen heard at Triennium was to get out there to share the good news. Go teach and share and use her gifts.

And I would say that is true for every youth here. I want all of you to get out there, share what God is doing in your life, talk about why church is important to you.

But my charge to all the rest of us is much more difficult. Your job, friends, is that when our youth start to talk and share — when they have a vision or feel that God is calling them to some action — we need to LISTEN!

Madisen
Paula, which of the three people, do you think, was a neighbor to the victim of the crime?

Paula
Well, the one who showed the man mercy.

Madisen
Okay — now — Go and do likewise.

Paula
May that be true for all of us. Let us all depart to go and show mercy. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Motivating Message

On Sunday our sermon was a “dialog sermon” between me and our delegate to the Presbyterian Youth Triennium 2016, Madisen Larison. Madisen will be entering MPHS this fall as a Junior. She was Confirmed in the fall of last year, and has been an active member of the youTHursday youth group since our very first meeting two years ago!

It’s exciting to celebrate the leadership of our youth! I hope you will pray for our youTHursday ministry and even consider giving some time to prepare a dinner for the youth or to share your own gifts by helping us on Thursday nights. If you have visions or ideas, or want to volunteer your skills and talents to work with our youth, please call me at 887-3603 or email pastor@eternalhills.org
In Christ,

Rev. Paula

Go and Show Mercy
Paula
Our scripture readings this morning are not lectionary readings. They are two of the scriptures that over 5,000 Presbyterian youth and adults studied while at the Presbyterian Youth Triennium held every three years at Purdue University in West LaFayette, In.

Madisen
Pastor Paula attended as a small group leader, and I went as a participant with the Denver Presbytery Delegation.

Church of the Eternal Hills provided my registration and travel expenses since I am the first student to attend PYT in as long as anyone can remember.

Thank you for your support!

Paula
The theme for PYT was developed over the past two years with leaders from our own denomination and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church denominational offices.

The Theme, “Go” was meant to help develop in our youth the understanding that they are already filled with promise and amazing gifts and need to “GO” tell everyone about the love of God.

Madisen
I knew the theme was “GO”, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from the whole ordeal. I actually spent a lot of time wondering why I had decided to “GO” in the first place!

I was nervous to be around so many youth who I had never met. Paula was traveling ahead of time for small group training, so I would have to fly with the rest of the people from the Denver Delegation.

I really felt all alone, but when I found my “Backpack Blessing” tag from CEH on the backpack I was packing, I felt a lot better.

Paula
The scriptures selected for Triennium all had something to do with “GO.”

“Go and Tell it” followed the story of the angels appearing to the shepherds on the mountainside, and the youth learned that they need to be telling their stories, and telling others about how God is moving in their life, and the places where they, like the shepherds, “see” the King.

The Psalm reminded us to “Let Go,” and “Let my People GO!”, the story of Moses, called our youth be advocates for justice even in their own school and work settings.

Madisen
The Psalm reading is Psalm 32. This Psalm is attributed to David, after he made some awful mistakes. It is a psalm of repentance, so you hear a lot of things about giving our mistakes to God.

Paula
The Psalmist reminds us with very descriptive language what it is like to carry around the burden of sin:

While I kept silence, my body wasted away

through my groaning all day long.

For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;

my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Madisen
And then the Psalmist reminds us of how great it is to give that over to God:

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,

and I did not hide my iniquity;

I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,

and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all who are faithful

offer prayer to you;

at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters

shall not reach them.

You are a hiding-place for me;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

Paula
During small group time on the second day, we taught the youth in our groups about this beautiful psalm. Using different methods, we taught the youth how to pray the psalm, and offered them chances to let go of their own transgressions.

Madisen
We learned how to do a “Doodle Prayer,” which is doodling as you pray, drawing pictures or writing words that come to your mind.

We also wrote our confessions on black paper, with black ink so nobody else could see them. We were, after all, confessing to God. Then, as a reminder to us that God forgives the guilt of our sin, we threw away the papers, and nobody would ever know what we wrote or what we were confessing.

Paula
Watching the youth learn so much through these different styles of prayer, it reminded me that we sometimes limit creative teaching to our work with youth and children. As I watched the youth learn and grow in the short time we were there, I vowed to make our Lenten study full of these unique and multi-sensory prayer methods, as adults will really learn and benefit from them as well.

Madisen
The Psalm continues with this:

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;

I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

At worship following our small group, Rev. Dr. Alice Ridgill preached to us about learning from God. She wore a backpack the entire sermon, and reminded us that it is the teacher’s job to present the information — and it is our job to learn! Then she reminded us that God also teaches us the “way we should go.” But it is our responsibility to learn from God!

Paula
Another lesson that really stood out to Madisen was the use of the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are all very familiar with this story that Jesus told when a lawyer approached him to ask him what the most important law is. Jesus turned the question around on him and asked him what the scriptures say.

Madisen
The lawyer answered,‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’

Paula
Jesus told him he was correct. But then the lawyer asked:

Madisen
“Who is my neighbor?”

Anticipation, NOT Anxiety

[Jesus said:] “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Luke 12:32-40

There’s a reason Jesus is reminding his disciples to not be afraid. They are about to have the rug ripped right out from under them. And for the 1st C Christians who were reading Luke when it was first being circulated, there was a lot of comfort in those words as well. Those followers of Jesus were facing fears of all kinds — persecution, uncertainty about the future, confusion about the “old way” of doing things and this “new way” of doing things. Letter of the law vs. LOVE, etc.

These are words we need to hear as well. “Do not be afraid.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling lots of fear these days. The world is in chaos, our own nation is polemically divided, and there are more words of hate and violence than there are of love and reconciliation.

Whether we face these times with anticipation (Jesus said, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit”) or anxiety depends a lot on what we think we are dressed and ready for. And what we are dressed and ready for really comes down to a question of faith.

Jesus teaches us that it is “your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” So as you face these trying times, are you doing so with the anticipation that God is bringing you something wonderful and good? Or with anxiety that everything you see and hear and experience around you is going to win out in the end? How does your faith guide you to respond?

Our Hebrews passage grants us reason to think about faith a little bit. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. . . By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-2).

What is it that we hope for? One of my favorite writers on faith is Fredrick Buechner. In his book, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, he reminds us “that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth.”

That is what we hope for — the last truth. We hope that God has the last truth. And what is the assurance of what we hope for? According to Hebrews 11, it is faith.

But faith is a difficult concept to define! Ask anyone what faith is, and you will be greeted with silence. It’s one of the only questions I know that is certain to elicit at least a pause. Ask a pastor, and they are likely to quote our Hebrews passage: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” but that doesn’t exactly explain faith.

Theologians and philosophers have tried at great length to explain faith. But Buechner reminds us,”Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises.”

If theology can’t define or explain faith, how on earth are we supposed to “share our faith?!” Friends, faith is something that needs to be lived out and shared experientially.

That’s why the writer of Hebrews continues this passage by telling the stories of the “heroes of our faith” like Abraham and Sarah. And that helps me — I know those stories and I see their faith being lived out in the courageous steps they took and the promises they held onto even though, according to the scripture, they never received the promises themselves (All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16).

We too, are seeking a homeland. That’s the promise we are holding out for: that final truth — the city that God has prepared for us. Buechner describes this beautifully, saying, “Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting” (Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons).

We all have, even in this chaotic world, caught glimpses of this city God has prepared; we have experienced small “foretastes of the Kingdom of God” (we use these words in our liturgy for Communion, calling Lord’s Supper a “foretaste of the Kingdom of God”). You certainly, even if just once in your life, have felt something holy and wonderful — perhaps when you have seen someone being “good” or “pure” down to the very core of their being. Maybe you’ve noted this in a loved one when you realize the sacrifices they have made for you over the years. Maybe it is the safety you’ve felt when you are in a comforting embrace of a loved one (I felt it snuggled up on my grandma’s lap, listening to her heartbeat). Perhaps you’ve teared up once or twice watching a video or “feel-good” news story and you’ve thought, “That’s the way it should be!”

That feeling? Those tears? That melancholy? That’s the homesickness — the longing for God’s Kingdom.

May you, as you try to make it through these turbulent times, continue to hold out for that “last truth.” When you sense the presence of the Kingdom, may you hold onto that, hold tightly, and may it guide you to press on in faith. May you always find yourself anticipating, without anxiety, your own understanding of God’s “final truth.”

In Christ’s Love,

Rev. Paula

Anticipation, NOT Anxiety

[Jesus said:] “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Luke 12:32-40

There’s a reason Jesus is reminding his disciples to not be afraid. They are about to have the rug ripped right out from under them. And for the 1st C Christians who were reading Luke when it was first being circulated, there was a lot of comfort in those words as well. Those followers of Jesus were facing fears of all kinds — persecution, uncertainty about the future, confusion about the “old way” of doing things and this “new way” of doing things. Letter of the law vs. LOVE, etc.

These are words we need to hear as well. “Do not be afraid.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling lots of fear these days. The world is in chaos, our own nation is polemically divided, and there are more words of hate and violence than there are of love and reconciliation.

Whether we face these times with anticipation (Jesus said, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit”) or anxiety depends a lot on what we think we are dressed and ready for. And what we are dressed and ready for really comes down to a question of faith.

Jesus teaches us that it is “your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” So as you face these trying times, are you doing so with the anticipation that God is bringing you something wonderful and good? Or with anxiety that everything you see and hear and experience around you is going to win out in the end? How does your faith guide you to respond?

Our Hebrews passage grants us reason to think about faith a little bit. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. . . By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-2).

What is it that we hope for? One of my favorite writers on faith is Fredrick Buechner. In his book, Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons, he reminds us “that the madness and lostness we see all around us and within us are not the last truth about the world but only the next to the last truth.”

That is what we hope for — the last truth. We hope that God has the last truth. And what is the assurance of what we hope for? According to Hebrews 11, it is faith.

But faith is a difficult concept to define! Ask anyone what faith is, and you will be greeted with silence. It’s one of the only questions I know that is certain to elicit at least a pause. Ask a pastor, and they are likely to quote our Hebrews passage: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” but that doesn’t exactly explain faith.

Theologians and philosophers have tried at great length to explain faith. But Buechner reminds us,”Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises.”

If theology can’t define or explain faith, how on earth are we supposed to “share our faith?!” Friends, faith is something that needs to be lived out and shared experientially.

That’s why the writer of Hebrews continues this passage by telling the stories of the “heroes of our faith” like Abraham and Sarah. And that helps me — I know those stories and I see their faith being lived out in the courageous steps they took and the promises they held onto even though, according to the scripture, they never received the promises themselves (All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:13-16).

We too, are seeking a homeland. That’s the promise we are holding out for: that final truth — the city that God has prepared for us. Buechner describes this beautifully, saying, “Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting” (Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons).

We all have, even in this chaotic world, caught glimpses of this city God has prepared; we have experienced small “foretastes of the Kingdom of God” (we use these words in our liturgy for Communion, calling Lord’s Supper a “foretaste of the Kingdom of God”). You certainly, even if just once in your life, have felt something holy and wonderful — perhaps when you have seen someone being “good” or “pure” down to the very core of their being. Maybe you’ve noted this in a loved one when you realize the sacrifices they have made for you over the years. Maybe it is the safety you’ve felt when you are in a comforting embrace of a loved one (I felt it snuggled up on my grandma’s lap, listening to her heartbeat). Perhaps you’ve teared up once or twice watching a video or “feel-good” news story and you’ve thought, “That’s the way it should be!”

That feeling? Those tears? That melancholy? That’s the homesickness — the longing for God’s Kingdom.

May you, as you try to make it through these turbulent times, continue to hold out for that “last truth.” When you sense the presence of the Kingdom, may you hold onto that, hold tightly, and may it guide you to press on in faith. May you always find yourself anticipating, without anxiety, your own understanding of God’s “final truth.”

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