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Confirmation!

It is my sacred duty as a pastor to assure that our youth are welcomed into the congregation as members and prepared for their faith. In past generations, Confirmation was a time for youth to learn by rote: catechisms, creeds, and other information was force fed so that students could regurgitate these things when called upon. But what rote memorization of facts/theologies/ideas didn’t do was prepare them for their own questions and doubts.

Over the course of many Confirmation classes over the past 15 years or so, what I’ve begun to develop is the process of leading youth into an understanding of God in their own lives and to notice how God is working through and relating to the world even today. We have come to understand God through the Trinity — the revelation of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. The following skit is the “sermon” that this year’s amazing class of disciples wrote to present to their church family in worship for Confirmation Sunday, Feb. 18. They also presented their very own statements of faith to the session when they were approved for baptism and/or membership.

I feel that our newly Confirmed youth know that their faith journey is just that: a journey. A Life-long journey — not an actual destination (or at least not until their lives are completed)! I couldn’t do this by myself; this is thanks to so many who help with our youth.  To Traci Maddox, who served as the Mentor for this class of confirmands; Rochelle Lantermans, Sandra Cormican, Suzie Lovato, Maggie Rainwater, Joe Palmer, and Steve Sears who help with our weekly youth ministries of youTHursday and Tuesday morning breakfasts; the Elders and officers of CEH, and to all of you who welcome them week after week and greet them with open arms and open hearts (and sometimes peppermints): THANK YOU!  You are the hands and feet of Christ, the presence of God in the lives of these young disciples, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the impact you have on their understanding of a loving and grace-filled God. Thanks also to open-hearted saints like Sue Perkins, Stephen Eddy, and James Steinbacher, who have helped many of our young disciples find places to serve on Sunday mornings.

I hope you enjoy this skit, as written by our Confirmation class of 2017/2018: Krista Conrad, Dylan Cormican, Emma Lane, and Emily Lantermans.

 

Identity Crisis

Krista is confused about who she is.  God (Emily), Jesus (Emma), Holy Spirit (Dylan) appear on the scene to reaffirm her identity in and belongingness to the family of God.

Paula: Confirmation is a time where you get to think about who you are and where you belong in the family of God. It’s a time to learn more about our doctrine, your beliefs, and to ask questions. So now I have a question for you, Krista.  Who are you?

Krista: Paula!  That’s the problem.  I’m not even really sure. And I’m definitely not CERTAIN about my faith and beliefs.

Paula: Krista, I know just the person you need to talk with. . . (Paula exits chancel area).

(Emma scoots in on her scooter)

Emma: Hi Krista, Jesus here.

Krista: Wait, like actual Jesus?

Emma: Yes, actual Jesus. You were just talking about me blessing the children. I mean, you read it right from the Bible.

Krista: Woah.

Emma: So I heard you needed some help figuring out who you are.

Krista : I guess. I’m just not exactly sure. I know that I love volleyball, and my family, and my friends.  I know that I am getting confirmed later . . . but that’s about it.

Emma: Are you sure that’s it?

Krista: Well. . . I know that my fave color is glitter.

Emma: No, no not that kind of stuff. What do you know about what you believe?  What do you know about what you want to do with your life?

Krista: No, I don’t know that, why should I?

Emma: Why should you? WHY SHOULD YOU??????? Because someday that might be all you have. If something tough comes along, knowing what you believe in can make a world of difference. So, what do YOU know?

Krista: I know that I believe in you, and your Dad I guess.

Emma: Good, that is a good start. Now, if I make any kind of lasting impression on you today, let it be this: part of you is still a child; part of all of us is a child. We enter the kingdom of God like a child. You still have things to learn, we all do. I think it would be beneficial to speak to a close friend of mine. *clap clap* I’ll see you later.

(The theme to Star Wars plays as Emma exits, and Emily and Dylan ride in on a holy trike )

Krista: What is even happening?  (to congregation) How am I supposed to grow up if I am still seen as a child?

Emily: Hello my child, I have known you for a very long time.

Krista: Wait. . . What? Who the heck are you?

Emily: Oh, ya.  (puts on huge white beard) Does this help?

Krista: Oh, so are you like a knock off kind of God?

Emily: Sigh.  No.  What you are looking at is just the stereotypical image of God.  God isn’t actually a human being — that’s the Jesus part of God.  God is — uh — less of a physical form kinda thing.

Krista: Oh.

Emily: So that’s who I am.  The Creator, the Father, the Mother. You know.  So. . . who are you?

Krista: I’m Krista. I don’t know.

Emily: Krista. You are my beloved child. You are my creation; you are fearfully and wonderfully made. I’ve given you so many wonderful gifts. Do you know any of them?

Krista: Um.  My dog?  My family?

Emily: Those are gifts; but I’m talking about the unique parts of you that make YOU — YOU.

Krista:  So, like, my hair?

Emily: NO, you silly goose. You’d still be YOU without those fabulous highlights.I’m talking about your talents and skills and those special gifts you bring to the world.

Krista: Well sometimes, I feel like I don’t bring anything to the world. Or maybe that other people don’t notice what I try to bring.I mean Jesus says that we are supposed to be like children, right? But sometimes when I come to church people avoid me and act like they don’t know what to say to me because I’m not quite still a child, and I’m not yet an adult.

Emily:  I’m afraid that sometimes adults can be a little intimidated by “TEEN” agers.  You know — the whole tech-savvy, plugged in generation. Sometimes they see you as focused only on your phones or your tablets or computers or apple watches.

Krista: But that’s not me. I don’t focus on that, and right now, I am trying to figure out what I am really like, not just another comment on a screen.

Emily: Exactly. You’re not just a baby; you’re turning into a functioning adult. You are going to need to start figuring this stuff out. I am here to help. Ask me anything.

Krista: Okay: Who Am I? Why Am I Here?

Emily: Krista, you are my child, once again. You are here to help spread my word, and be loved by me, and love others. Even when they look at you like you’re a robot programmed to to say “get out of my room, Mom”

Krista: Okay, I think I’m starting to figure it out. I think I am starting to recognize my purpose in this crazy world.

Emily: Good, I’ve got to go, I have a few small jobs to do, lol. I’m gonna send someone to help you figure out this last bit of the crazy journey. See ya Krista, and may peace be with you.

Krista: WAIT!!! Don’t leave me here alone! ! !

(Emily rides off to the theme from Star Wars, while Dylan creeps up on stage behind Emily. He is wearing a halo and is wrapped in a comforter).

Dylan: You’re never alone Krista, never alone

Krista:  What. . . . is. . . HAPPENING???????

Dylan: You may not know me, but I am always here. I am here for all the trials and tribulations of your life. I will be, and am, here for all of it.

Krista: Really? That’s kinda weird.

Dylan: No, its not. I’m here to comfort you! To let you know that you’re okay. I’m here to help you with your faith journey. To help you continue to figure out who you are with God.

Krista: You mean I don’t have to do this alone?

Dylan: You never have to do anything alone Krista! I’m here, we’re all here (Emily and Emma wave from the back of the sanctuary, and krista sees all of them).

Krista: I think I finally figured it out. I figured out that I can be whoever God created me to be, and God will support me. I can be whatever I want through God when I use the gifts I have been given.  I can be a small child, or a fully functioning teen, whatever. I just have to remember that God is my everything, and I’m never alone!  AMEN!

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Mourn

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace (selections from Ecclesiastes 3:1-12).

Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted.  Matthew 5:4

We broached the painful subject of mourning on Sunday. It wasn’t out of the blue; it’s the last beatitude to examine during the (be)Attitude Change: 2018 series as it leads us right into Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, the 40 days leading up to Easter morning and the empty tomb. Typically, Lent begins with a call to repentance and contemplation. When we talk about “Repentance” remember we are talking about more than just personal confession and turning back to God; we are talking about adapting a completely different mindset. Over the past month we have heard Jesus reminding us time and again to see things from his Kingdom View. In Jesus’ view, the hungry are blessed and filled, the poor are given the Kingdom, the meek will inherit the earth.  Jesus also reminds us that those who are mourning will be comforted.

Sunday we took some time to face the question of mourning head on. Our youth director, Maggie Rainwater, shared with us a series of slides describing the rituals surrounding death from across the globe. There was one consistent theme we heard from culture to culture, and that is each culture acknowledges the pain surrounding the death of a loved one and allows an amount of time wherein it is encouraged and even expected for family and friends to grieve and mourn publicly. Of course the time is different from culture to culture — with some traditions lasting a week, and some lasting several years!

But it occurred to me that even within a loving Christian community such as CEH, we are in a quite a rush to sweep our grief under the carpet. Let’s plan the service, settle the estate, and move on. But that’s not a healthy way to deal with death. Sure there are many details and “business” matters to deal with after a death, but our scriptures reinforce the need to mourn by taking time: time to heal; time to weep; time to mourn. If we don’t stop long enough to feel the immense pain of losing a loved one rather than putting on a brave face and plowing straight ahead, we will not receive the precious comfort promised by Jesus in the beatitudes. Perhaps part of the reason that we rush to celebrate and acknowledge the glory of the Resurrection in a “Death, where is thy sting?” kind of way. But Jesus reminds us of what our Hebrew scriptures have been saying for generations: it is okay to lament and mourn and cry and recognize the huge hole left in our hearts when a loved one dies. And when we let go of hubris and show our hurt to the world, we will be comforted.

Comfort truly flows from a Christian community that is paying attention to the Kingdom view. Remember that Jesus calls us to “Hunger” for righteousness and justice, and that our hunger should be not only for our own reconciliation to God and our own wholeness, but our hunger should be deep as we pay attention to the needs of our brothers and sisters. Part of being attuned to one another’s needs is a willingness to be vulnerable with each other. I get it — grief is difficult.  Without our promise of eternal life and the hope of the resurrection, I would personally sink into an existential despair so deep I couldn’t even see my way out. Grief can be ugly, with lots of sobbing and tears and too many kleenexes. But as we open ourselves to the pain, we do discover something incredible: comfort.

As we move into Lent, I want to invite all of you to take this new mindset — our hopes of living in the Kingdom of God instead of the oppressive Kingdom of the World that we are completely immersed in. To do this, you’ll need to challenge yourself to grow deeper in your faith; to reinforce your relationship with God and to our beloved community. The “Lenten Cup Challenge” is your opportunity to covenant to spend 20 minutes — unplugged from the world and plugged into God — every day. 20 minutes of mindful study and prayer, resting in the presence of God. Pick up your cup on the table outside of the Fellowship Hall and sign up. The cup has a “Practicing Lent” guide with a reading for each Sunday in Lent, as well as a burlap or “sack cloth” scrap for you to touch and hold while you’re praying. At the end of Lent, we’ll collect the scraps and they will be turned into a collage to remind us of our time together in lament, mourning, prayer, and mindfulness.

Choose your own daily devotional or opt for “The Cup of Our Life” by Joyce Rupp, a daily devotional that will teach you new daily spiritual disciplines and help you examine your own “Cup” and what you have in it. There is a public copy of “The Cup of Our Life” in the fireside area next to the office, that you are welcome to use while at church.

I’m excited to see the way we grow as a community who commits to daily study and prayer. I know God will bring us great encouragement and draw us closer into relationship, so that as Easter approaches and we celebrate the glory of the resurrection, we can take our Deep Faith and take it WIDE to spread it around!

In Hope,

Rev. P

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Hungry

Sunday we continued our study on having an attitude change by learning to see things from the perspective of Jesus’ Beatitudes.  This week we focused specifically on hunger.  From Matthew 5:  Blessed are you when you hunger and thirst after righteousness; for you will be filled; and from Mark 6:  Blessed are the hungry, for they shall be filled.

Jesus said we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. But we don’t hunger for much of anything. Sure, we get cravings. And most of the time we can fulfill those cravings in a matter of minutes or hours. I’m not even talking about just physical hunger; I’m talking about the things we crave and seek after in our life.  We are certainly filled.

So since we are filled, do we bless those who are not filled? Those who are hungry or those who live in abject poverty?

On January 20 of 1961, President John F. Kennedy made his inaugural speech, pointing to the “power to abolish all forms of human poverty.” What a promising time!  In the 50 years since, we have not come very far in “abolishing poverty.”  We haven’t even come to a time when everyone who is hungry can be filled. What would it take to feed the world’s hungry or abolish poverty?

The worlds 8 wealthiest men have a combined net worth of $426,000,000,000. 1/7 of the their income ($60,000,000,000) would feed every hungry person in the world! Don’t feel so smug though, $60 billion is also just about 3 billion less than we spend on pet food in the United States annually.  

In a newly published report, Oxfam reported, “Last year saw the biggest increase in billionaires in history, one more every two days. Billionaires saw their wealth increase by $762bn in 12 months. This huge increase could have ended global extreme poverty seven times over. 82% of all wealth created in the last year went to the top 1%, while the bottom 50% saw no increase at all” (citation here; emphasis added).

So when we wonder why the hungry have not yet been filled, we must look to our own inaction. For one thing, it’s pretty overwhelming. The World Food Program states “In a world where we produce enough food to feed everyone, 815 million people – one in nine – still go to bed on an empty stomach each night. Even more – one in three – suffer from some form of malnutrition.” Maybe you, like me, feel like that number is so great I cannot possibly do anything about it.

But I’m reminded that Mother Teresa said “If you can’t feed 100 people, just feed one.” Sage guidance from a woman who spent her life taking care of one person at a time.  She said, “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one.”

But in order to see the hunger of even one person at a time you need to get out of yourself.  This beatitude calls for our mindset to be not so much focused on our own hunger, but to hunger for righteousness.  Righteousness means that your hunger should be deep for every other human at least as much as it is for yourself. That was the crux of Jesus’ teaching. Personal righteousness was important — “keeping oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).  But more to the point, as we also read in James, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:15-16).

We will be blessed when we learn to hunger for our brothers’ and sisters’ needs. We will be blessed when we learn to look beyond our own cravings and desires and begin to tune into our neighbor’s needs. We were blessed this Sunday to have a new friend worship with us who learned about us through our food pantry. He came, he worshiped with us, ate a delicious lunch from our pot-luck smorgasborg, and then even left with a backpack full of nutritious food so he could make it through the week.  It wasn’t him who was as blessed so much as we, the CEH family, was blessed to have him in our midst.

Your (be)Attitude change for this coming week is to open your hearts to the hunger of others around you. May you be blessed in the trying. You are sharing the love of Jesus through God by attending to the hunger of others.   Ghandi suggested, “There are people so hungry in the world, God is only visible to them in a loaf of bread.” So get out there and try and find out what the other’s “Bread” is.

In Hope,

Rev. P

 

 

 

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Poor

As we continue to explore how to change our attitudes as this new year begins, we look to the beatitudes of Jesus from the gospel of Matthew’s lengthy Sermon on the Mount. We’ve already discovered that “Blessed are you” has very different connotations than we may be aware of (read the intro here if you’re behind on your beatitudes) and “Meekness,” although not a popular quality, can teach us how to be obedient to our rock-star teacher, who was self-described as meek  (read about “Meek” by clicking here).

Today we take another look at the beatitudes by reading The Message translation by Eugene Peterson:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

 “You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

 “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

 “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Typically, the translation for “end of your rope” reads “Poor in spirit.”  In the Lukan version of the beatitudes, we read merely “Poor.” But recognizing that a majority of my readers are not economically “Poor” in any sense of the word, I love this translation for “Poor in Spirit”: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.” I love it because those words are absolutely more fitting to our context and actually make a lot of sense. When you’re at the end of your rope (and we all get there sometimes), you recognize your deep and essential need to give God control of your life. It’s unfortunate that we must find ourselves dangling precariously before we turn it all over to God, but it is our human nature to do so.  Peterson says, “With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” If we were to change our attitudes for 2018, we might decide not to wait until that last minute emergency to turn to God.

And what would that look like? We would empty ourselves of everything except God; we would allow the character traits that Jesus expounds upon here to permeate our very lives and begin to be filled with an amazing, fresh perspective! Instead of bemoaning our desperation, we could be praising God for filling our every need and trusting God to provide. We would be less stingy with our own abundance (whether it be food, time, money, etc) and more willing to show generosity to anyone who had a need.

Our (be)Attitude Change for 2018 is really shaping up to be a challenge. My prayer for you is that you will find yourselves rethinking your reactions and interactions with our world; and that in your re-thinking process you can begin to embrace Jesus’ challenging teachings. Don’t be discouraged if your perspective doesn’t change right away. You can always try again tomorrow. And you will find yourself blessed, indeed (even in the failing).

With hope,

Rev. P

(be)Attitude Change 2018: Meek

I read this quote recently while working on a service of baptism:

“When the convert emerges from the water, the world seems changed. The world has not changed, it is always wonderful and horrible, iniquitous and filled with beauty. But now, after baptism, the eyes that see the world have changed” (Liturgy Training Publications).

With wonder, I realized that we who are baptized, or who are believers or even seekers, need to be aware of our own eyes and how we see the world.  The world is not going to change; we must be the ones to change.

So I started working on how best to teach an “Attitude Change” or change of perspective that Jesus and John the baptizer both spoke about when they said, “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Greek word for repent here is “metanoia,” indicating not just a change of direction (the Hebrew word for repent, תְּשׁוּבָה, teshuva, means “turn back” specifically to God, but can also indicate just a change in direction), but a change of one’s entire perspective: heart, mind, eyes, understanding.  Meta — noia is what John and Jesus were calling us to; but how do we change our perspective?

Well, shortly after Jesus calls for a metanoia in Matthew chapter 4, he begins to teach.  Chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew comprise the longest teaching section of Jesus anywhere in the Bible: the Sermon on the Mount, and the sermon on the mount kicks off with a series of perspective-changing imperatives:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

So we are using this series of imperatives to help us change our own attitudes.  These statements can be confusing; we’re taking them one at a time to make them more manageable.

Sunday, Jan. 21, we tackled “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Meek?  Blessed are the meek?  Meekness is not exactly a quality that is honored in our present day.  A current definition for “meek” in Merriam Webster says, “enduring injury with patience and without resentment mild.” That definition backs up what I think most people have in the back of their mind for meek:  “doormat.”

In our entirety of scriptures, only two biblical characters are described as “Meek:” Moses and Jesus. I would never say that either of them served as a “Doormat.” Rather, their leadership was found in the source of their power: God.  We get a better clue as to what Jesus meant by “meek” when we search for other scriptural references using “Meek.” As it turns out, Jesus’ “The meek shall inherit the earth” was a direct quote from Psalm 37.  In Hebrew, the word we have translated as meek means “Humbled.” It carries an even heavier connotation of the humility being by choice — as an animal who chooses to be obedient to his master. A good image for this is a work animal, like an ox, being yoked to a plow or wagon and following the direction of the human.  The ox hasn’t lost any of its power or strength, but all of that power and strength is being submitted to the master.

Our master is Jesus. That might be hard for some to swallow, but it is who we claim to be when we say we are “Christians.”  To be meek then, for us, means to take our best talents and skills and submit them to God’s direction. We don’t lose our selves in the process; rather we use what God has given us (like God gave the ox brute strength), trusting that we will be led.

When we learn to be “Meek,” we are showing our faith and our trust that God will come out on top. We are trusting that we don’t have to fight back or put up defensive protection for ourselves: God will take care of that for us.

With this wonderful understanding of the word, “Meek,” a terrific modern day example of meekness is Martin Luther King, Jr, who advocated for non violent protest against the injustice of Jim Crow, segregation, and other racial injustices. Without fighting back, he was able to lead an entire corps to speak up for equal rights. In his wisdom, he said, “Darkness cannot chase away darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot conquer hate; only love can do that.”

So our (be)Attitude Change for Meekness challenges us to use our strength and power to be light in the darkness, and love in the midst of hate, trusting that is all we are called to do when we submit ourselves to our loving and meek master.

May it be so for all of us as we continue to change our perspective on the world.

With Love,

 

Rev. P

(be)Attitude Change 2018

As we begin a fresh new year on the calendar, we’ll be exploring the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 and Luke 6, remembering that both John the Baptizer and Jesus called us to a radical repentance because the “Kingdom of God is at hand!” The Greek word used here for repentance indicates more than just “turning around” or changing one’s ways: “Metanoia.”

Using the beatitudes as a template for our own attitudes, we can make a plan of action to experience “Metanoia” or a change of perspective/change of heart. The Beatitudes challenge us to seeing the world in a new way because the conditions for which Jesus congratulates his listeners seem to be less than positive or even ideal.

Read through these Beatitudes from Matthew 5:1-12 a:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Now, because we live in an age where our idea of “blessed” has been somewhat neutralized, let me try and recapture what Jesus was really indicating when he said, “Blessed are you. . .”  The Greek word here is “Makarios” and it indicates not just a blessing, but a blessing of divine proportions. If you look through different translations, you’ll see other words such as. “Fortunate, happy, lucky.”  My preferred translation is offered by the Scholar’s Version: “Congratulations!”

Why would Jesus be congratulating this massive group of people who had gathered to hear the long expected Messiah? They were actually the hungry, the poor, the persecuted, the mourners. The last thing they expected to hear from Jesus is that they should celebrate their lot in life. What Jesus was preaching here was his view of the “Kingdom at hand.”  In God’s upside down kingdom, the first come last and the last come first.  Those who are poor should rejoice.  Those who are mourning should recognize their blessings! So those who were gathered were already living in God’s Kingdom.

While it’s hard for us to digest this idea of the Kingdom, just imagine what the First Century listeners were thinking! The more I ponder it, the more I recognize how much better we would be if we realigned our own perspective to fit into that of Jesus’.  The Kingdom of God is certainly different than the world we live in, and that’s why true disciples of Jesus Christ experience such a disconnect when it comes to living out the principles of the Beatitudes.  Poverty, hunger, meekness, and mercy are not exactly “Valuable traits” to possess in the here and now.

When preaching on the Beatitudes, Carolyn Arends suggests the example of Ruby Bridges embodies these teachings. Ruby Bridges was just six years old in 1960 when she became the first black student to attend an all white school in New Orleans. This was a tumultuous time over the idea of “Desegregation” and Ruby ended up attending school all by herself that year. Entering the school and heading home each day she was accompanied by US Marshals, to protect her from the angry parents and community members that shouted obscenities and threw vegetables and trash at her. A child psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Coles, was studying stress in children and decided that there were no children more stressed than little Ruby, whose life was threatened on a daily basis just for going to school. What he discovered though, was that she walked with her head held high and with marked determination she didn’t let any of the insults and threats daunt her. Through interviewing her, he found that she was praying for her persecutors every day.  By name. And her prayer was always the same, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

Click HERE to watch a wonderful interview with Dr. Robert Coles as he remembers his interaction with this Child of the Kingdom, Ruby Bridges.

When we look at the way Ruby was able to live out her faith in the midst of the turmoil of desegregation, what we see is someone living in the Kingdom of God. Living out each of the beatitudes, she was able to change her perspective and show us a modern day example of what it is like to be comfortable in God’s upside down kingdom.

Throughout the rest of January and right up until Lent, we’ll be learning about the traits espoused by Jesus in the Beatitudes and then learn how to live them out in our daily lives. I hope you’ll join us week by week, and if not, catch up with the series right here on our webpage.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula

Brushing Up: Intentional Faith Development

A Note from the Rev.
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Sunday I preached about the importance of being intentional in the development of our faith, and about how that development is never done. As Christians we call death the “Fulfillment of our baptism,” meaning that our work in learning and growing in God is only complete at death.

That might be a grim thought, but as I sit here at [Ferncliff](http://ferncliff.org/) Camp and Conference Center outside of Little Rock, Arkansas, I’m only feeling hope and promise — nothing grim. I am after all, at a continuing education retreat, engaging my mind and heart in Intentional Faith Development.

I’m looking over the mist rising above the quiet lake behind my cabin and I’m struck by how fortuitous it is that my retreat came right after I preached on “Intentional Faith Development” because I have made a deal with myself to be as present as I possibly can: completely focused on developing my own faith, strengthening my relationship with God, and learning more about myself as a pastoral leader. I’m committing to this because all the valuable skills and disciplines I’m learning, and the rest and renewal I’m engaged in will certainly have a wonderful effect on the congregation at CEH. My hope is that will rise off of me in as lovely and inspiring a way as the mist is coming off the lake (now that I’ve written that, it seems a little trite, but it truly is my hope).

Because we do emphasize that our learning is never over, it makes it easier for me to say “I don’t know” when someone asks a difficult question, or to admit that, “I haven’t figured that one out. . . yet.”

Nobody has all the answers. Well, at least nobody human. Jesus, on the other hand, knew the answers to all the questions and was more likely to ask another question in response than to just spoon feed us the answers.

The one thing Jesus did spoon feed us was the command to LOVE. Repeatedly, and without fancy language or any need to second guess what he meant, Jesus taught us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Even as I’m here in Arkansas, my heart keeps turning to you. We have a wonderful faith family at CEH, and I’m ever so grateful for you. I keep hearing nightmarish accounts of congregations who take advantage of their pastor, or who just don’t “mesh” with their pastor, and I am reminded of how my heart is filled with joy just thinking of you. I”m holding all of you in prayer, and I ask that you hold me in your prayers as well. As we finish up with New Beginnings, let’s rejoice that for us it will most certainly be a New Beginning TOGETHER!

Thank you for this opportunity to grow and develop in my own faith. I hope and pray that what I learn and and the self-discoveries I make will enhance God’s work through me at CEH.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula

 


The Congregational Practice of Intentional Faith Development

“Intentional Faith Development refers to all the ministries that help us grow in faith outside of weekly worship, such as bible studies, Sunday School classes, support groups, and prayer teams.  Congregations who practice Intentional Faith Development offer opportunities for people to learn in community for people at all stages of faith.  They offer ministries that help people grow in grace and in the knowledge and love of God.  Intentional refers to deliberate effort, purposeful action, and high priority.” Robert Schnase

The Personal Practice of Intentional Faith Development

“Through the personal practice of Intentional Faith Development, we do the soul work that connects us to others, immerses us in God’s Word, and positions us to grow in grace and mature in Christ. We place ourselves in the most advantageous circumstances to learn and grow in our following of Christ.  We cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our own spiritual maturation.  We learn in community.” Robert Schnase

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deut 6:4-9

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God delivered this message to the Hebrews after God liberated them from the Egyptian oppression and led them into the wilderness. God admonished the people to talk about God and God’s good work in the world in all conversations, heck — write them on your heads and tie them to your forearms. Let everybody know!

We would do so well to make God and our own stories of faith filter into our everyday conversation. Not just what we know about the bible and about God’s Covenants; what we know about God still speaking and moving in our lives.

Intentional Faith Development is an important practice because it reminds us to keep this conversation going. In the children’s message, I compared sharing our faith stories to a relay race of epic proportions. In a relay race, each runner has to hand off the baton to the next runner. The hand-off part is the tricky part. If one runner drops the baton, it’s a mess! If another runner doesn’t let go, it’s impossible! Sharing our faith is a life-long, generation-spanning relay race. Do you have a baton? Have you passed it along to the next generation?

In the church, we are in the business of sharing stories (the hand-off), yet it seems like our personal transformation through faith is not something easy to share.

At CEH we have looked at all the different ages and stages of life, and are working to create a “Cradle to Grave” plan that would encompass a person’s life. We’re finding more and more that for us, inter-generational ministry works best — offering experiences where we can learn from one another and grow together.

We also have age-appropriate and developmentally-appropriate learning opportunities such as Vacation BIble School, youTHursday, adult studies, Confirmation, and preschool chapel. We have even started a group for people who want to actively engage their minds and ask probing questions about God and the church and who we are or who we claim to be as Christians called “Sinners and Skeptics.”

I’m also always happy to provide individualized study plans for those of you on a tight schedule, or for those of you who haven’t found your place to “fit in” yet. I have lots of resources spanning two millennia of Christian writers, as well as some beautiful resources for our Hebrew scriptures. I do caution that learning in a group is the true Presbyterian way — allowing the Holy Spirit to work among a group of believers or seekers together is as important as studying alone,

Please prayerfully consider how you are working to develop your own faith. It requires more than minimal attendance on Sundays, so I pray you will commit to more learning and growth in the coming year.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula

Brushing up on the Five Practices

Presbyterian Church of the Eternal Hills has organized all of our ministries around “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations” by Robert Schnase.  This book was written after Schnase studied congregations that were fruitful (that does NOT mean large or wealthy or with big beautiful facilities; it means producing good fruit for the Kingdom of God), and found that there were five main practices that the congregations engage in. During our stewardship campaign this year we will review each of these Five Practices from a biblical standpoint and then look at how we interpret the practice at Eternal Hills. The end result of this, of course, is to gain more participation throughout our ministries by letting people know how to use their time and talents to further the Kingdom of God at CEH.

Radical Hospitality

“Congregations that practice Radical Hospitality demonstrate an active desire to invite, welcome, receive, and care for those who are strangers so that they find a spiritual home and discover for themselves the unending richness of life in Christ. Radical describes that which is drastically different from ordinary practices, outside the normal, that which exceeds expectations and goes the second mile.” Robert Schnase

At a recent youTHursday chapel time, I asked the youth a question from the New Beginnings study, “What do you have to do to become a member of CEH?”

The youth response?  “Walk in the door!”

Congratulations, friends — your youth group just gave you the perfect definition for Radical Hospitality!  A church that is so welcoming you feel like you belong the moment you walk in the door. Additionally, many of our youth invite their friends regularly, which assures me of their confidence that their friend will feel they belong as soon as they walk in, too.

Hospitality is a basic Biblical concept. Repeatedly in our Hebrew scriptures we hear admonitions to accept the stranger “Because you were once a stranger yourself” Exodus 2:21, 23:9; Deut 10:19 (and a great article here).  Radical means we go above and beyond in our attempts to remove from our church any obstacles that would keep people from coming, staying for worship, and returning in coming weeks.

Our very mission statement — the heart of who we identify ourselves to be in God’s Kingdom — focuses on the welcoming aspects of being the Church of the Eternal Hills:

We are:

A Community of Christian Disciples with Open Minds, Open Hearts, and Open Arms;

On a lifelong journey, seeking to learn;

meeting, accepting and inviting all to share God’s boundless grace;

Seeking to be God’s arms for one another and God’s world.

In all things, giving all honor, praise and glory

to the God who forms us, calls us, and sends us.

Amen.

 

We practice Radical Hospitality and we live it out every day through our mission statement. We interpret Radical Hospitality in the ministries of the church through such ministries as fellowship, pot-lucks, mystery friends, Deacon ministry, prayer shawls, card ministry, greeters and visitor follow-ups.  We also view our webpage and our communications as part of Radical Hospitality as well, working hard to make sure that it is easy to find our location and that people know what is happening at CEH and when it is happening.

When we practice Radical Hospitality in our lives, strangers become neighbors. And Jesus taught that we should extend love and concern to our neighbors. Can you imagine a world where every stranger was viewed as a neighbor? May it become so, and may we use our open arms to begin to welcome the world into relationship with one another.

Passionate Worship

Worship describes those times we gather deliberately seeking to encounter God in Christ. God uses worship to transform lives, heal wounded souls, renew hope, shape decisions, provoke change, inspire compassion, and bind people to one another. The word passionate expresses an intense desire, an ardent spirit, strong feelings, and the sense of heightened importance.  Congregations who practice Passionate Worship offer their utmost and highest; they expect worship to be the most important hour of the week.” Robert Schnase

The picture above, of God reaching towards Adam’s hand, is a great example of our attitude in reaching God. Do you see that in Michelangelo’s picture, every muscle of God’s hand is poised for action — reaching and stretching to make contact with man.  Adam, on the other hand, is merely reaching his arm out. There is no expectation or anticipation in that lazy hand — it’s almost as if to say “I’m interested; I’d like to touch God; but I’m not going to put too much effort into it.”

It may seem harsh to say that Adam’s lazy hand reflects our attitude, but just imagine the many ways God works to get our attention: through stunningly colorful sunrises and sunsets, through the hollow and eerie bugling of the elk echoing across the Rocky Mountain National Park, through the compassion of friends and family extending love and concern for us, through the dirty hand of a homeless person reaching out for some change, through the joyous giggle and even the irritated cry of a baby. And our response to these things and even to scripture and stories of God working in our lives today is nothing short of lackluster.

Worship is our chance to reconnect with God; to stop and return the love that God has given us since the beginning of time. But occasionally when people come to church to worship, they expect to get something out of it for themselves. They want to enjoy worship or be entertained (and I’m not saying we can’t be engaged or entertained, but that should not be our focus); they feel like they are a part of an audience for worship that is being performed by the pastor and the choir, the music leader and liturgist. The great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, reminded humanity that when we worship, God is in the audience, and we are on the stage.

Worship is a huge part of who we are. In Exodus, Moses tells Pharaoh that God has sent him to demand, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so they can worship me.” Every time Moses approaches Pharaoh, it’s the same thing: “God says, let my people go so they can worship me!” Worship is vital for us to live out our identity in God.

Worship is a difficult word to define, but here’s a great synonym: FOCUS. We worship whatever we focus on. If you’re dead set on earning money and making a “good life,” and it becomes your only focus, you are worshiping the money or the earning or spending of it. And yes, even if you’re sitting in the sanctuary on a Sunday morning, dressed in your finest church clothes, yet you are focusing on the list of “Honey-do’s” to be completed before Monday, or the pot-roast that’s home in the slow cooker, you’re worshiping those things instead of God. It’s one hour of the week; coming in the door with the intent to put everything else aside and spend the time just focusing on God is not too much to ask. Yet we rarely make an intentional shift in our thinking and mindset to turn our attention and focus on giving love back to God.

Passionate Worship fails when there are small, irritating things that keep us from focusing on God during worship.  Things like issues with the microphones or sound system, glitches in the slides or bulletin, less-than-stellar music — all of these things pull our focus away from God. We should expect excellence in what our services look like, but we also need to bring our full game and our whole hearts and be present with God and with each other for that one hour. And when we’re completely focused on God, those small things that irritate us or pull us out of worship become less and less distracting.

At CEH there are many people and teams that work together to eliminate those small distractions and add sensory embellishments to help fully immerse worshipers in God: Music team, liturgists, worship arts, altar team, choir, ushers, and Audio/Visual team. There is always a need for more people to help make the workload a bit less for the rest of us. When we come to worship, sharing the load can help our focus to remain on God rather than on the many things we have to do to make the service come off smoothly.

Our whole lives can mirror worship when we allow God to be the focus of everything we say and do. Of course, it would be a huge improvement if we could allow God to be the focus of everything we say and do in just that one hour on Sunday morning, so let’s start there! Bring your “A” game to worship on Sundays and let’s begin to experience Passionate Worship in whole new ways.

 

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula

 

More Than Enough

Welcome to the season of Stewardship!  What was your reaction to that statement? More often than not, people respond negatively to the idea of stewardship.  I’m not sure where this comes from — unless it is residue from well-publicized monetary fraud within churches or by religious leaders. Money that was intended for God’s kingdom became money that was used for personal gain and luxury.

Prudent stewardship is using our resources wisely and remembering from whence our immense blessings flow.When it comes down to it, I guess your personal reaction to stewardship depends on the way you were raised or your previous experience with giving.  It really is a matter of trust, isn’t it?

Eternal Hills has worked very diligently to be good stewards of our resources. Our elders and finance committee plan and budget frugally, and our staff spends only what is needed. We reuse, recycle, repurpose materials every day. Our staff is creative in writing and gathering curriculum and lesson materials rather than purchasing kits or expensive curriculum.

And so for the third year running, we have had money at the end of the fiscal year with which we have been able to begin rebuilding our reserves. We have had MORE THAN ENOUGH.

More Than Enough is our stewardship theme for this year. We are blessed to overflowing in so many aspects of our lives. Rarely do any of us wonder where our next meal will come from, or struggle with filling our gas tank. We throw away excess food on a daily basis, and have so many clothes we have trouble finding drawer and closet space! When we recognize our abundance the next step is to experience gratitude. And gratitude will hopefully lead to generosity.

CEH is asking for your generosity this year as we continue to be prudent in our stewardship. You should have received a letter and pledge form in the mail on Monday. You’ll also see the narrative budget, which tells the story of our congregation and the ways that we experience abundance and generosity through our church family and through the grace of God. Our narrative budget shows our “Dream Budget 2018” which includes about a 10% increase over last year’s budget. Part of this increase is that we are saving up for the new roof and new furnaces that we will certainly need to eventually replace. Some of the increase in our budget reflects a cost of living increase for our staff, as well as raises and increases in spending for some of our ministry practices.

If you have questions about this, please do not hesitate to ask Elder Matt Nixon or myself. Our Treasurer Janis Lund is also an excellent resource for information.

We are asking that you return your pledge form by Nov 12 so that we can proceed with setting our budget for the fiscal year 2018.  I believe that if everyone were to increase their giving by even a small percentage, we would certainly cover the increase in our budget for the coming year.

Early next year then, we will be sending out the pledge forms for your Time and Talent. We’ll be presenting information on these opportunities each week from now through Nov. 12, so please listen with your heart to hear how God might be calling you to serve the kingdom of God at CEH in the coming year.

Peace in Christ,

Rev. Paula

Come to the Table: The Table of Joy

World Communion Sunday

On Sunday, October 1, we celebrated a foretaste of the Kingdom Table as we put into practice all the aspects of that table. Over the past four weeks we learned about God’s table through parable and scripture:

The Kingdom Table: Abraham lived out God’s call to hospitality by setting a scrumptious feast for the three strangers at Mamre; God sets a table for us in the presence of our enemies, a promise we hear about in the 23rd Psalm; many of Jesus’ parables have to do with a dinner; the Kingdom Table has room enough for everyone, and we are all invited.

The Table of Love: God invites all to the table and there is a place for everyone, even the “sinners and the outcasts” that Jesus was accused of breaking bread with.

The Table of Peace: Jesus dined with all sorts of sinners, but proof of how we are called to put aside our differences and feelings at the table is the reminder that Jesus broke bread and shared the cup of forgiveness even with Judas on the night of his betrayal.

The Table of Grace: God’s mercy is way beyond our understanding; we become more like God when we learn to extend mercy without judgement. People think they can “earn” grace, but the truth is to get a place at the table, all we need do is accept God’s invitation.

So — World Communion Sunday we practiced dining at the Kingdom Table, as we had breads from all over the world and wonderful tchotchkes from members’ travels around the globe. For the last half of our worship, the large community of worshipers wandered from table to table, tasting the goodness and abundance of the bread of life. There was laughter, chatter, music, hugs, tears, and a whole lot of goodness and joy.  Thank you to everyone who worked hard to make this a memorable meal: Cathy Lile, Betsy DeVries, Jill Miles, James Steinbacher, Rhenda Beeson, Sue Perkins, Gary Perkins, and Karen Sommerfeld.

We find that at the Table of Joy, we are not only filled with bread and juice — we are filled to overflowing with joy and gratitude. We have received an abundance of blessings at God’s table!