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Sharing the Cup; Telling the Story

The Lenten Cup: Sharing the Cup; Telling the Story

The Gospel of Mark’s account of the resurrection story ends pretty abruptly and surprisingly:

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid (Mark 16:1-8).

 

What is this?

On Sunday, April 1, it seemed like it could have been the most elaborate April Fool’s joke of all time.  At the very least, the ending of Mark comes across today as the original fake news.  Fake because of course the women said something to someone – otherwise we wouldn’t have our story to tell. Our Story with a capital S because it is what gives our life meaning and hope. Our Story: the good news of the empty tomb – is ours to share, like the women inevitably did. And no matter which gospel you read the Story from, in each resurrection account, it is the women who have dutifully headed to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body for proper burial. It is the women who discover the empty tomb.

Why Women?

I felt like I crash landed into Holy Week last week, having just returned from two weeks at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York. Even today my head and heart are still spinning with the stories I heard and the information I gathered. I’m working through it, bit by bit, but one thing stands out to me. Again and again I heard of successful peace-making, reconciling work, and educational efforts accomplished by women in the rural areas around the globe.  In a “He for She” presentation (where male leaders and personalities advocate for women to help empower them), a government leader from Denmark said they have learned to teach the women in the rural villages the skills the rest of the community needs because, “You can give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. You can teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. But if you teach a woman to fish, the whole community will eat.”

So, what now?

If you accepted the “Lenten Cup Challenge” it is my hope that you have deepened your faith through Lent by taking personal time for study and meditation and prayer. And even if you only came to worship and listened to the sermon and scriptures throughout Lent I hope that you did deepen your understanding of who you are and how you need to fill your “Cup.” First, get rid of the yucky stuff you carry with you to make room for the good stuff God wants to add. A full cup cannot receive anything. Second, work on filling your spirit (cup) with good and beautiful things; honorable things; the living word of God and fellowship with your brothers and sisters. That might mean cutting down on the social media or constant news stream on the radio or television, so you can make more time for meaningful, face to face relationships. Don’t you want that cup to be full of good stuff so that when your life gets jostled around, it is the “good stuff” that spills out and not the yucky stuff that spills?

Taking it Wide

Together, moving into the glorious, new life of Eastertide, we will look at what it means to take our DEEP faith WIDE. Taking it WIDE means we are no longer looking only within ourselves and nurturing and growing our own faith, but that we are looking up and outward, and learning to share our cup by telling our story and talking about our faith. It’s daunting – it really is. When I think about the women leaving the tomb and telling no one because they were terrified, I think of the way we clam up or get sweaty and nervous when talking to someone who may or may not believe in the same things we believe in. It’s even a sad truth that people have difficulty talking to their pastor about their own personal faith.

If the message of Easter tells us anything, it is that good news really can’t be suppressed, though. The movement of the body of Christ moved from the empty tomb throughout the world and is still moving and transforming lives. Jesus is still binding up the brokenhearted and freeing the oppressed. Let’s look up and outward, and find out how we can begin to remember the Story, share it, and go WIDE.

Ready to Stretch My Branches With You,

Rev. P

Easter Monday Revelations

The sun burst over the Divide and pierced through the East windows, shining on the butterflies and warming the flowers up to waft the heavenly fragrance of hyacinth through the Sanctuary this morning.

Easter Monday, 2018. Very early this morning I noticed that the sky was clear and we were in for a beautiful sunrise. Since I was already up and about, I headed into CEH because I wanted to watch what I had hoped for yesterday.

The east windows of the sanctuary did not disappoint. The rising sun pierced through the Valley and burst into our sanctuary. What was even more beautiful was the way it illuminated our chancel area (see picture  on bottom right).

It’s quite unlike yesterday. Yesterday, on a grey April 1, Easter came in with more of a diffused glow. The Divide was thick in clouds and the snowfall limited visibility. The entire Valley had a thick covering of fog and really, the view out the East window looked more like a black and white Currier & Ives print than it did a sunrise. There was light, but we couldn’t see the source.

I remembered the words of C.S. Lewis, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  And so, even without seeing the sun, we saw the light — and we gathered tentatively, expectantly, and lifted our voices in song and praise.

Our scripture reading was the Resurrection account from the gospel of John. In this version of the story the women head to the tomb and it’s empty, only the burial cloth is left in the tomb. Jesus was in the garden, but Mary didn’t recognize him (she thought him to be the gardener). But then Jesus said, “Mary” and she knew her teacher.

Rob Bell pointed out that “It is such a letdown to rise from the dead and have your friends not recognize you.”

So at sunrise service I challenged the worshipers to be willing to look at those who have “risen from the dead” and to look at them with “Resurrection Eyes” that expect and believe in transformation; not eyes that expect the same old same old. Because I think all too often we doubt the amazing transforming power of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. I’ve seen it time and time again in my pastoral care: someone bounces back (rises from the dead) from debilitating depression or sobers up (leaves the tomb) from addiction and even their family and friends do not recognize them or the change in their life and will not accept them as a new person.

There are people I know who have been trapped in sin or doubt for years and have been set free by the forgiving and redeeming love of God through Jesus Christ, only to have their family and friends expect failure from them.

Sometimes, even after a holy transformation, we live into what others expect from us. That can be a good thing if people are expecting radical change and helping you to embrace your resurrection; but more often than not it is the expectation of failure and backsliding that people live into. As Bell says, “It’s such a letdown.”

Yes — those lilies are beginning to open their tight buds to trumpet the news of the resurrection to the world.

This morning, in the silence of the sanctuary at sunrise, I noted that our lilies (that had been shut tight yesterday) had begun to open in the sunlight; a poignant reminder that it’s never too late to open our eyes to transformation and change. Let’s expect transformation rather than failure — in ourselves and in those we encounter who have “Risen” from the dead.

Eastertide lasts from yesterday, Resurrection Sunday, through Pentecost. 50 days. In direct contrast to giving up something for the 40 days of Lent, I encourage you to take on something new for the 50 days of Eastertide. What I want you to take on is the expectation of transformation. Watch all around you for marks of God’s transforming power over nature — the budding of the aspen, the early mountain flowers, perennials beginning to sprout after a long winter, snow melting into raging rivers that flow furiously and can transform the landscape by finding new paths down mountainsides.

Because what we see and witness in creation is reflective of our Resurrecting God. We expect creation to break forth in new life; can we begin to expect new life through the transforming power of the resurrection?

I pray we can, and we will, as we live into the promises witnessed so gloriously all around us.

May it be so!

With love,

Rev. P

 

Deep & Wide – Let This Cup Pass From Me

Sunday, March 25 was our last Lenten Sunday, which is celebrated as Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It kicks off our Holy Week, which culminates in the holiest of days, Resurrection Sunday (Easter — it’s really called Resurrection Sunday).

Since I’ve been serving in a pulpit, I have chosen instead to lead the congregation through what has been called Palm/Passion Sunday, as the Passion Narrative has traditionally only been read at Holy Week services and in our over-scheduled, busy culture, not many people make time for Holy Week services.  So even those who come every Sunday of the year would never hear the Passion Narrative if they missed Holy Week.

Our service Sunday began with a short lesson for our children about parades, specifically the ones happening in Jerusalem. Here I quote from some excellent scholarship that explains it much better:

Two processions entered Jerusalem on a spring day in the year 30 … One was a  peasant procession, the other an imperial procession. From the east, Jesus rode a donkey down the Mount of Olives, cheered by his followers. Jesus was from the peasant village of Nazareth, his message was about the kingdom of God, and his followers came from the peasant class …

On the opposite side of the city, from the west, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’s crucifixion.

Pilate’s military procession was a demonstration of both Roman imperial power and Roman imperial theology … it was the standard practice of the Roman governors of Judea to be in Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals … to be in the city in case there was trouble … The mission of the troops with Pilate was to reinforce the Roman garrison permanently stationed in the Fortress Antonia, overlooking the Jewish Temple and its courts …

Imagine the imperial procession’s arrival in the city. A visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: the marching of feet, the creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling of dust. The eyes of the silent onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful. Pilate’s procession displayed not only imperial power, but also Roman imperial theology. According to this theology, the emperor was not simply the ruler of Rome, but the Son of God … For Rome’s Jewish subjects, Pilate’s procession embodied not only a rival social order, but also a rival theology.

We return to the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem … As Mark tells the story in 11:1-11, it is a prearranged ‘counterprocession’ … The meaning of the demonstration is clear, for it uses symbolism from the prophet Zechariah in the Jewish Bible. According to Zechariah, a king would be coming to Jerusalem (Zion), ‘humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (9:9). In Mark, the reference to Zechariah is implicit. Matthew, when he treats Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, makes the connection explicit by quoting the passage: ‘Tell the daughter of Zion: look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (Matt. 21:5, quoting Zech. 9:9). The rest of the Zechariah passage details what kind of king he will be: ‘He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the war-horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations’ (9:10). The king, riding on a donkey, will banish war from the land—no more chariots, war-horses or bows. Commanding peace to the nations, he will be a king of peace.

Jesus’s procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’s procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God. This contrast—between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Cæsar—is central not only to the gospel of Mark, but to the story of Jesus and early Christianity. The confrontation between these two kingdoms continues through the last week of Jesus’s life … Holy Week is the story of this confrontation” (Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem. HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, pp. 2-5).

The whole church proceeded with palms, shouting “Hosanna!” About halfway through the parade I invited a five year old to lead the procession and without hesitation, she stepped right to the front of the line and fearlessly marched onward.

Our attention then turned to a reading of the Passion narrative from Matthew interspersed with sacred hymns of the season. I invited the congregation to participate in the story this year rather than just observe, and challenged each one to consider where they are on the spectrum between “Hosanna” and “Crucify!” All of us want to hurry up and get to the “Alleluia!” but we must take our time through this, stopping to consider where we are along the way towards the cross.

Even as we asked “What Wondrous Love is This?” we paused to think about our Lenten Cup. In our scripture reading, Jesus had just prayed all night long in the garden of Gethsemane:

In his very human prayer he beseeched, “Father, let this cup pass from me.” Jesus knew this cup was a cup of suffering. He had even suggested to the mother of the sons of Zebedee that her sons were not prepared to drink from his cup.

Then in his very Divine prayer acquiesced, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

And of course we know that Jesus, in his Divinity, willingly drank from that cup, sealing our reconciliation with God once and for all.

What is the cup of suffering that has been given to you? Is it something for which you constantly pray, “O Lord, let this cup pass from me?”  Is it physical or mental illness? An ailing family member? Neighbors that you just cannot get along with? A child with whom you constantly disagree? What is in that cup for you?

Because I have good news: no matter what the cup is, or whether you perceive that you can or cannot drink from it, God will be with you. God is with you. So even when we fail as the disciples did (by falling asleep when Jesus merely wanted their prayers and presence; by choosing aggression in the garden when Peter cut off the ear of the centurion; by abandoning Jesus during the trial and crucifixion), God will still be with us. There is no cup too bitter or too full of sorrow that God cannot share with us.

Do you know where you are on that spectrum from Hosanna (“save us”) to Crucify? As we continue to move through Holy Week, please continue to ask yourself that question. Having your palm from Sunday hanging in your home can be a visual cue to be mindful that Holy Week happens perpetually in our faith. We are always a people who shout “Hosanna” in our desperation, or when it is convenient, or part of what the crowd is doing; and constantly poised to be a people who shout “Crucify” when we aren’t willing to risk anything for our faith, or when being a Christian is inconvenient, or when the rest of the crowd is denying Christ as well.

Most congregants chose to leave their palms at church on Sunday. I’ve saved them, as I do each year, because our Palms from Palm Sunday become next year’s ashes for Ash Wednesday. Please drop by the church and pick up a palm to hang in your home somewhere as a reminder of our fickle nature, as a reminder to consider if you’re living in the Hosanna or the Crucify. Then next year on Ash Wednesday you can burn your own palm or bring it to the church to be turned into ashes for our Ash Wednesday service. Here’s an article with other thoughts about what you can do with your palms.

Take comfort, people.

We’ll be taking our faith wide after Easter. . .

In Christ,

 

Rev. P

CSW 62 Harmful Practices

Harmful Practices
Note: Sensitive issues of Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights discussed in this blog post.

The Charter of the United Nations includes among its basic principles the achievement of international cooperation in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion (Art. 1, para. 3). Tradition and religion play into it like this:

Traditional cultural practices reflect values and beliefs held by members of a community for periods often spanning generations. Every social grouping in the world has specific traditional cultural practices and beliefs, some of which are beneficial to all members, while others are harmful to a specific group, such as women. These harmful traditional practices include female genital mutilation (FGM); forced feeding of women; early marriage; the various taboos or practices which prevent women from controlling their own fertility; nutritional taboos and traditional birth practices; son preference and its implications for the status of the girl child; female infanticide; early pregnancy; and dowry price. Despite their harmful nature and their violation of international human rights laws, such practices persist because they are not questioned and takeo n an aura of morality in the eyes of those practising them. (https:/www.un.org/ruleoflaw/files/FactSheet23en.pdf)

Since the very first Commission on the Status of Women, Harmful Practices have been examined under the specific lens of Harmful Practices against women. The two chief practices that I have been learning about and for which we still advocate against are Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Marriage.

Because these harmful practices are based in tradition, culture, and even sometimes religion, they are quite difficult to “Legislate out.” Even when laws and regulations are agreed to at the State level, even when penalties are placed on the perpetrators, these traditions are still being carried out at the family and local level.

For example, on my visit to the Eritrean Ministry I learned that FGM has been outlawed for many years, but devastatingly, over 87% of Eritrean girls are still being cut.

At another event, a female Kenyan government official passionately decried child “Marriage” and said we need to label it as what it really is: child rape and enslavement. She explained that marriage is a consensual agreement, and in child marriage, there is no consent on behalf of the bride. Child “Marriage” leads to early pregnancy in teen years and even in childhood and always results in higher infant mortality rates and death under 5 rates. Girls forced into marriage do not continue their education, and most face devastating health conditions for the remainder of their life because their bodies were not ready for child bearing. One such issue is Obstetric Fistula, which can cause incontinence and is very painful

In an emotional presentation about such harmful practices, I heard from three different countries:

Nepal
Youth Champion Advocate and nurse Smriti Thapa explained how her nursing clients were between 15 and 20 and typically on their 3rd pregnancy. She told about “Kamla”, a 16 year old who suffered the loss of her stillborn baby through a failed home delivery after which she hemorrhaged and in emergency surgery her uterus was removed. She had been forced into a marriage with a 30-year-old. She was the second child wife to this man, who had lost his first young wife to child birth. Ms Thapa explained that these young women have no control over their bodies and no access to contraceptives.

Pakistan
In Pakistan, marriage is glorified by the young girls who look with excitement to the day when they get to wear the beautiful traditional wedding clothes and jewelry. The problem is that these young women’s bodies are not ready for childbearing, and that they do not know Basic Life Skills or understand things like birth spacing and contraception. Pakistan is trying to curb this through innovative sexual education programs and teaching reproductive rights to girls and boys at an early age. It’s a “long game” approaching it this way, but through the education of the youngest generation, Pakistan hopes to change gender norms and challenge tradition. Pakistan is serious about this education: they will be teaching basic life skills and the consequences of early marriage to 4700 schools through training 1000 master teachers in the next 60 days! Bravo, Pakistan.

Zambia
Auxilia Ponga works with faith-based communities to champion women. She is working on improving maternal and child health. Her approach is important to challenging traditional practices as she works with tribal chiefs and religious leaders to teach about the dangers of child marriage. Since focusing on the local, rural areas, the effort has lowered the incidence of child marriage from 42% to 31%. Many times, families feel forced to sell their children into marriage (or trafficking, which is another topic altogether) because they can’t afford the school fees or even afford to feed their children. So Ms. Ponga is working with faith-based organizations to pay school fees, lessening the chance that girls will be married for financial relief. They have raised awareness that Child Marriages are more subject to violence; and have begun teaching life skills and rights. They empower the girls in school through comprehensive education in sexual education. An important lesson learned from Zambia is that boys must be taught this information and these skills as well as girls, as teaching only the girls has not been as effective.

Though learning about harmful practices is devastating, I see hope in the unique approaches these countries and organizations are trying. My delegation, Ecumenical Women, is a coalition of many denominations across the globe who recognize the importance of Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights, and we are unique among the religious organizations as we advocate language for the final statement that will encourage education and empowerment for women and girls in respect to their reproductive rights.

In other panel discussions this week, I have been challenged to begin to consider some of our western practices as harmful as well, as the list of practices has not included some of our long-held rituals of initiation like binge drinking and hazing. I would love to hear what your reactions are to these traditional practices. Please also take a moment to consider what harmful practices your own traditions, cultures, and religions support without giving thought to the long-term consequences.

UN CSW62 – Focus on Girls and Women in Rural Areas

Spending 25 years in ministry and education in rural areas, I have an immense amount of passion for women and girls who grow up in these areas. Growing up in an urban area gives me an even wider perspective on education and opportunities within the rural setting. I didn’t realize how incredibly fortunate I had been to grow up in an urban area until I saw the difference in opportunities for rural students.

What I’ve noticed in our midwestern rural settings are that there is a much heavier emphasis placed on sports than arts, and that the number of extra-curricular groups are diminished in comparison to the urban setting. Diversity is rare, and so there tends to be a narrower perspective as far as the acceptance of alternate views (traditions, religions, etc.). Furthermore, not every student’s particular needs can be met within a social context, and services for special needs are sometimes more difficult to receive.

Of all the places I’ve serve, I see that Grand County fills a lot of gaps for its students to provide access to the arts and a diversity of extra-curricular activities like Brain Bowl and Model UN. Beyond education though, our rural area presents issues in transportation and housing, as well as access to services such as health, mental health, and even things we struggle with daily like cell service and Internet access.

The global rural issues are similar to ours, but magnified by about 1000%. Access to all of the issues listed above is more limited, and it is all compounded by a strong sense of tradition and culture. These traditions and cultures in the rural areas seem dominated by historically patriarchal leadership and a very strong sense of machismo.

What I hear repeatedly in the many panels I have attended is that harmful practices like Child Marriage, Early Pregnancies, Violence against Women, and Female Genital Mutilation are intensified in rural areas, and indigenous women suffer the most of all rural people.

There are many reasons for this. Cultural gender norms and tradition weigh heavily in rural areas, even when the national law has prohibited marriage until 18, and when FGM is declared illegal. Think of it as Colorado’s State’s rights – Colorado has legalized recreational use of marijuana, but it is still illegal federally. Except globally, traditions and religious practices of a culture are nearly impossible to “legislate out.”

Today I visited the Consulate of Eritrea with a mostly Presbyterian delegation representing Ecumenical Women. This is a young country, located in the Horn of Africa, liberated and independently governed only for the past 26 years and signers of the CEDAW since 1996 (Convention to End All Discrimination Against Women). They are fighting hard within their own country to promote equality for women, and have established gender quotas for leadership within the country. FGM and child marriage has been outlawed there, and both are punishable by law, but they are still very prevalent in the rural areas because women and children do not know their rights.

I was so appreciative of the Eritrean Ministry to receive us so wholeheartedly, and to listen with such interest at our platforms. We listened as well, applauding this young country’s efforts to create gender equality. We were welcomed by their entire CSW delegation – five women and one man.

United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW62)

Greetings from the United Nations building on the East side of Manhattan. I’ve been here since Friday, taking in lots of Advocacy Training from my Presbyterian Church (USA) Delegation and enjoying exuberant worship with the Ecumenical Women delegation. The PC delegation is made up of about 20 women of all ages. The larger delegation, the Ecumenical Women, has our global partners as well as our US Lutheran (ELCA), Episcopal, UCC, and United Methodist brothers and sisters (among many many others). What a joy to work with these new friends as we advocate for the rights of women and girls in rural areas. Both the PC(USA) and the Ecumenical Women Council are NGO’s or “Non Governmental Organizations.”  At the UN we have voice, but no vote, so I’ve been learning how to use my voice to influence change.

It has been a whirlwind of activities and meetings since I arrived, but I wanted to start this first post with a very basic primer on the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This year marks the 62nd CSW, and the focus of this Commission is women in rural areas. Directly from the UN CSW Website:

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. A functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), it was established by Council resolution 11(II) of 21 June 1946.

The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The history of advocating for women at the UN is rich. I encourage you to learn more about it by clicking here.

The most important highlights of this history would probably be the “Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women” (CEDAW) in 1963. It was an attempt to state in one document the standards agreed upon concerning women’s rights since the inception of the Commission in 1946. CEDAW was officially adopted by the UN in 1979. The United States remains as one of the very few Member States that has not signed on to CEDAW (shocking and frustrating at the same time).

Conferences in Mexico in 1975, Copenhagen in 1980, and Nairobi in 1985 led to the 4th World Conference in Beijing and the Beijing Platform for action of 1995. My dear friend, Dr. Susanne Jalbert, was a presenter at the Beijing conference and shared her recollections of the event with me. We are so blessed and privileged to have her expertise and passion in our community. This summer, Dr. Jalbert and a group of empowered women kicked off an initiative to develop leadership skills in our very own rural girls through LEAD (Learn, Educate, Achieve, Dare), which was formerly called “Girls Leadership Council of Grand County.” We have two girls from CEH who are participating in this flagship leadership program right now: Krista Conrad and Emily Lantermans.

I’m so grateful to be representing Rural Women here this year. Thank you so much to the great community of CEH and Grand County for helping me make it here this year. I’ll be posting tomorrow about the similarities I have found between our global rural partners and Grand County!

 

Deep and Wide: The Empty Cup

Through this season of Lent we are looking at our faith lives as a cup. Last week we explored the significance of using an ordinary object to help us contemplate our faith. You can read about it by clicking here.

Sunday, March 4, we used the story of the prophet Elijah, exhausted and worn out from his trials with Queen Jezebel and King Ahab (1 Kings 19:1-18).  Poor Elijah was an empty cup. His life was being threatened and he had done everything he felt he could for God. So he curled up under a broom tree in the desert and cried out to God, “I QUIT!”  He basically gave up. “O Lord, take away my life.”  I mean, that’s about as empty as you can get.

The thing is, God wasn’t done with Elijah yet. It seemed like everything was working against him, but GOD was working for him. Elijah slept, and was awakened at intervals by angels who fed him cake baked on hot stones and filled him with water. He was cared for and nurtured and eventually was able to make the 40 day journey to Mt. Horeb, where God spoke to him in sheer silence.

We all feel empty sometimes. In the memoirs published after her death, Mother Teresa divulged that she experienced what St. John of the Cross described centuries ago as “A long, dark night of the soul.” During 20 some years, Mother Teresa could not feel God’s presence in her life. She didn’t lie down under a broom tree though, nor did she throw in the towel. She continued to serve the poorest of the poor and the lepers. She sat next to dying people and held their hands, reminding them of God’s beloved promises. To me, that makes her service all the more powerful. She wasn’t receiving that “holy gratification” of God’s presence and Spirit — but it didn’t keep her from being the very hands and feet of Christ to those who needed her the most.

There is an up side to emptying out, too. When our cups are full, we have little to no room to take in more. But an empty cup is ready to be filled. Think about breathing — you can’t take in the healthy and necessary oxygen until you have exhaled the carbon dioxide in your lungs. So when your cup is filled, especially when it is filled with yucky stuff, you don’t have room for growth.

This Lenten season, as you study and pray and hopefully deepen your faith, consider the yucky stuff in your cup and recognize when it needs to go so you can make room for the good stuff. Or perhaps you feel more like Elijah — you’re empty and burned out — ready to quit. Remember that even when you feel like you’re done, God is close and ready to send angels to nourish you back to health. Take time for yourself; rest, wait on the Lord. It can be our emptiness that opens us to growth and renewal.

With Peace,

Rev. P

Deep and Wide: The Lenten Cup

Sunday was a momentous day for our congregation as we ordained and installed new officers for our church leadership. Mark Lund, Cathy Lile, and Jake Bolen were ordained and installed as deacons; Bob Gaskins and Dylan Cormican were ordained and installed as Elders.

You may be asking what our “Lenten Cup” has to do with Ordination. Well — here’s how I see it.  Sunday I told the stories of several lovely tea cups, coffee mugs, and basic, utilitarian glasses that I had brought from home. By telling the stories of the cups, you all came to understand why each one was special to me. I think the most telling one may have been the coffee cup from my mother’s china set. She was married in 1964, and I recall using that china only one time — for one of my parent’s milestone anniversaries. The cup I shared on Sunday morning still had the German manufacturing sticker on the bottom; my mother had always said she was saving it for something “special.”  Unfortunately, Dad died in 1992 and we never used it after that. Mom died in 2012 and was perhaps still waiting for something special.

“Okay, Paula” you might be thinking. “Enough about the cups — what do they have to do with my faith?”  Just follow me. . . I’m getting there (I promise)!

Cups are essential to our life, as we cannot live without water and fluids. So even if we fashion a cup out of our hands at a crystal-clear mountain stream, we can still see those hands as a cup and they share the same basic characteristics of any cup: they have the capacity to be filled; they have a limit to how much goes in; every one of them is different.

But why cups?  The roots of the Presbyterian denomination are post-reformation Scotland, and we have a strong connection to Celtic Spirituality. One aspect of Celtic spirituality is the understanding that there is no difference between the secular world and the spiritual world — any commonplace or ordinary object can point us to God:

It was a “holy worldliness” to use Bonhoeffer’s phrase where a holistic approach to life was expressed daily in the real incarnational ordinariness of life as it is. There was no false divide between the sacred and secular. Where an integrated life, of body and soul, work and worship, wonder and ordinariness; prayer and life are the norm. A sacramental outlook that because it sees God in everything, encourages a reverence for God’s creation and a respect for the care of his world. An everyday spirituality of ordinariness accessible to all. Never anti –intellectual it was an earthed spirituality that met people where they were. People did not have to climb ecclesiastical walls or learn ‘holy God speak’ to encounter ‘a thin place.’

Esther De Waal puts it well; ‘The Celtic approach to God opens up a world in which nothing is too common to be exalted and nothing is so exalted that it cannot be made common.’ They believed that the presence of God infused daily life and thus transforms it, so that at any moment, any object, any job of work, can become a place for encounter with God. (click here to read more about Celtic Spirituality).

The features of an ordinary cup that teach us so much about our own life and our faith is several fold. Like the stories I told about each cup on our Communion table last week, we each have stories of our own that make us unique, special, and treasured.  Like the cups on the table, we each have the capacity to hold something — good stuff or yucky stuff. And like the cups on the table, we each can be filled with only so much (which makes what we fill our cup with all the more important).

Jesus often used ordinary objects to teach us about life. Whether it was a fig tree, a coin, a sheep, or a cup, the metaphor was rarely lost on Jesus’ first century listeners nor on us.  Consider this teaching of Jesus near the end of his ministry on earth:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” Matthew 23:25-26  

See? Jesus says it like it is. . . the pharisees and lawyers of his day were so wrapped up in “appearing” holy and righteous, that they rarely worked on the inside to become truly clean. I think too often we get pretty wrapped up with our appearance as well.  But there is, of course, hope:

“Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.”   2 Tim. 2:21 CEV

So — that’s what we’re doing. We will first clean the yucky stuff out of our cup and then work on what it is that we put inside. And as a special charge to our newly ordained officers, I reminded them that we have many assorted and unique cups in our church family, and it is their calling to minister to all of them, regardless of what the outside looks like; and encourage them to look compassionately at what is on the inside.

I pray that this Lenten season offers you many opportunities to experience the “Holy” in the “Ordinary” and that you will begin to fill your cup with the good stuff, so that if you ever begin to spill over, it’s only beautiful, loving things that are flowing out rather than the yucky, sinful and selfish things we become so filled with over time.

 

In Christ,

Rev. P

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