Take Time for Lent

Mosaic 2

One of the things that I truly love about Lent is its timing.  Just about the time we begin to return to our usual schedules and activities after Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, Lent appears.  This year, the first Sunday of Lent is Feb. 22nd.  That Sunday around 10:00 a.m. we will begin our Lenten book discussion on the book Mosaic, When God Uses All the Pieces by Shane Stanford.  The books are available now.  In worship  that morning we will accept the gift of ashes – that humble reminder that these bodies are temporal, and that this life is a but a journey.  Afterwards, we will share a potluck lunch and discuss our ideas for outreach this year.

Starting Lent with a discussion about the church’s ministry and outreach makes sense. Lent is not just about giving something up.  That does not have much meaning  unless we take the next step, and that is giving to others.   Lent is really a time of spring cleaning – of giving something away – our time, our hope, our compassion.  A time to recognize that being generous simply means setting aside a little less for ourselves, and giving a  little more to others.  We all have a ministry, and we all have a dream about a better world.  Let’s begin the journey.  How do you feel called to serve? How can we be of help?   We look forward to your presence and to hearing your hope-filled ideas.

Blessings,

Rev. Sue Ann

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Presence

“Instead you must recognize the Presence in one rock, one flower, one lizard, one tree, and then from loving the concrete thing, you build up to loving everything, and everything in between.”
Richard Rohr

Lately I have been grateful that photographing flowers helps me to hear the birds sing.
"Instead you must recognize the Presence in one rock, one flower, one lizard, one tree, and then from loving the concrete thing, you build up to loving everything, and everything in between." - Richard Rohr  
Lately I have been grateful that photographing flowers helps me to hear the birds sing.
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Gathered

Leaves

 Much of the biblical narrative is a cry from exile, and a joyous return from exile.  The tale begins in Genesis, with a swift and indignant boot out of the garden.  The story continues across deserts, over lakes and across oceans. The story continues through dysfunctional families, confusion, trials, deaths, and rebirth.  It is the story of  our restless, often rambunctious and rebellious humanity that God never gives up on.

We of New Community of Faith have grown weary of exile, and we give thanks for this community where all people can come in.  Here, we share our faith, our fears, our food.  Here, like any organic, growing thing, we expand, contract, and expand again.  In short, we breathe a collective breath, and  our lives are intertwined.

On January 25, we will be gathering from east, west, north, and south for the great tradition of the annual meeting.  The meeting will start with the offering of a cup of coffee or tea as we greet those we see several times a month, and those we see less often. If there are guests, they will be assured there is room for them, and plenty of food to go around. The meeting will then continue with our 11:15 worship and communion.   We will then continue our worship with the sharing of a meal.  Right now we may be creating reports, but on that Sunday what we will be sharing are our stories.  Stories of the challenges  and joys of this past year, and our hopes for the future.   We will be sharing our prayers for those who can no longer worship with us, and our prayers for those who are still finding their way to us.  We will pray for the refugees yearning for home.

Such meetings help us to avoid getting lost in the past, or to become overly anxious about the future.  Such meetings help us to remember that Christ can be found anytime people come together, anytime people are willing to risk being in relationship with a fellow human on the road.  We do not wait for Christ, but rather Christ waits for us.

Let us not keep Christ waiting any longer; let us be gathered in.

I will gather them from the ends of the world,

With the blind and the lame in their midst,

The mothers and those with child;

They shall return as an immense throng.

They departed in tears,

But I will console and guide them;

I will lead them to brooks of water,

On a level road, so that none shall stumble. 

Jeremiah 31:8-9

 

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Sunday, January 4

Finishing up the soup for tomorrow’s lunch:  turkey and rice with lots of vegetables. I think the only thing missing is, yes, you guessed it:  you.  Worship begins at 11:15.

Scripture Reading:  Luke 2: 41-52.  A very young Jesus asks the question:  “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

We are led to ask, where do people find us?  The true us.  Our hearts.

Come when you can; stay as long as you want.  The table is eclectic, but it is always set.   Come, join the feast.

Rev. Sue Ann

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A New Year’s Blessing

Happy New Year 2015

I woke early on January 1 only to discover that an old friend has returned:  sciatica.  No, at first I did not greet it warmly.  However, as I began my stretches, I realized that in some ways sciatica is indeed a friend.  It reminds me that I have been sitting on the couch too much; not stretching enough, and probably not paying attention to what I am eating.  Really, a pretty good friend that helps keep me in balance and gives me the feedback that I need.   

 
May whatever you face today and every day thereafter, please remember that God is always with you.  None of us, no matter what, are ever out of the loop in God.  Therefore, we are always home. Home where we belong. Home with one another. Let us be at peace. 
 
Happy New Year.        
Rev. Sue Ann
    
 
You, LORD, are my portion, my cup; 
you control my destiny. 
The property lines have fallen 
beautifully for me; 
yes, I have a lovely home.  
 Psalm 16:5-6     
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Naming Christmas

Christmas II

 

There is at least one Facebook conversation going on about what was it like to learn that Santa was not exactly a real person.  I do not have strong emotional memories about that bit of enlightenment that came to me via a grade school classmate.  I think that was partly due to the fact that my mother loved Christmas and everything about it, down to the last little bit of tinsel.  She would never let Christmas be anything less than a time of wonder and joy.

The memory that was sparked for me, however, was when I learned that my maternal grandmother’s name was not Wowa, as I had called her all my young life, but rather it was the very dignified name of Ora.  My cousin, always the bastion of common sense (which meant he was perpetually a source of irritation for me) was the one who informed me of my error.   We happened to be at her house, so we marched into the kitchen. This time, I knew my cousin was the one that was wrong. I even had cards and notes from her signed Wowa.  My grandmother simply responded that I was welcomed to continue to call her Wowa, but yes, her “real” name was Ora. However, by the time this conversation happened, I was old enough to actually pronounce her name correctly so there was no going back. I suspect we both lost a tiny bit that day.

 
 I seldom wish people “Happy Holidays!” The trend started for me  one year when I walked into a tea shop a day or two before Christmas.   I overheard the owner wearily, but in a beautiful English accent, tell another customer that he simply could not abide one more person wishing him a happy holiday.   “It’s Christmas,” he moaned.  As I paid for my tea, I boldly wished him a merry Christmas.  We smiled at one another, and I think we both reclaimed a lost part of ourselves in that moment.      
  
So, dear friends, I do indeed wish you all a merry Christmas.  I know that not all are of the Christian faith, so please do not take this greeting as some nefarious move on my part.  I am simply wishing you much love and light.  I also pray that you always know that you are deeply and permanently connected to something more than your credit card.     
 
By the way, my grandmother’s full name was Ora Naomi, a name she did not particularly care for, but as I learned to let go of Wowa, I came to love her name.  Her sister’s name was Augusta Pearl, but as soon as she was old enough to do so, she had it legally changed to Virginia lest anyone dare to call her Gussie Pearl again.  My great uncle Sherod was blessed to have Semper Fidelis  as part of his name. I regret that I never talked to my great grandmother, known to us all as Gran, to find out how she came up with such large names for her tiny babies.   Perhaps like Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, or Simeon and Anna who recognized the baby Jesus as someone who would change the world, she held each child and simply knew they were more.   May such knowledge be yours this Christmas, and always.    
  
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, 
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
for the forgiveness of their sins. 
By the tender mercy of our God, 
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness 
and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
 
Luke 1:76-79  
 
May the world know the blessings of peace at Christmas, and always.    
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Joy

 

Joy

 

This Sunday,  many Christians will be lighting the Advent candle of joy.  Joy is beyond the celebration after a temporary gain.  Joy runs deeper than that.  It is surrendering to letting love bloom, even against the backdrop of apparent barreness, darkness, and chill.
It is trusting that God is always with us, whatever we must go through.  If you are thinking that sounds very difficult, well, know you are not alone in that feeling.  That is the beauty of community.  Reklindling the light is seldom a solitary effort.   Together, we learn to accept God’s love for all as our own.

No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree, so will the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.   Isaiah 65:22

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Called To Serve

The following post is from a post made in March, 2014. As New Community of Faith is collecting donations now for the Christmas fund, I wanted to post here.  My gratitude to all who contribute, and who serve.  Please note this fund is not just for clergy, but for all church employees who are facing financial difficulties.  Thank you for your contributions.

Rev. Sue Ann

“Pastor Benjamin, you are looking well today!”  I said this with some relief, as last month he was looking quite the opposite. The physical and mental illness that I had witnessed that day had taken an unusual toll on me, so seeing him in such good spirits was encouraging.

  
“Yes, m’am.  This is my brother!”  The reason for Pastor Benjamin’s upswing was sitting right next to him.  His brother has now moved into the community and both seemed very happy with the arrangement.   Pastor Benjamin then told me his wife had died about a year ago, and that he has no interest in living alone.  I was reminded yet again that even in a beautifully appointed assisted living community that offers a full slate of daily activities, loneliness can be assuaged only by relationships – the give and take of knowing and being known, and of being accepted just as we are.  This is one of the core values of SpiritCare, and one that is embraced for all who serve the ministry.  What continues to touch me is that most of the ministry, like all faith communities, is made up by volunteers, some who have served for almost as long as the ministry has been in existence – close to three decades now.        
 
Over the course of my time with SpiritCare, I have served two other pastors and I thought of them yesterday.  There was Pastor Carl, whose Alzheimer’s advanced fairly quickly. However, I was able to enjoy his presence in worship for a few months before his passing.  He had a fine singing voice and one day I was especially grateful for his presence. “Pastor Carl, I am so glad you are here today.  Our pianist is sick and I need your help!”  He replied that he would be happy to serve.  He sang with much spirit that day.   The last time I saw him he was quite unwell, but he extended his hand and said, “Thank you for calling me pastor.”  Pastor Ralph was very ill when I met him, but he was blessed to live in a community where one of the activity assistants attended his church.  She always tenderly spoke of him as “our pastor,” and I believe she seldom saw his illness, but rather the man that she deeply respected.  What a blessing for them both.  
     
Yesterday, as I was leaving the home, I heard Pastor Benjamin say, “There goes a soldier for the Lord!”  I had to smile.  I do not think of my ministry in such terms, but I deeply appreciated his acknowledgement. The United Church of Christ has a what is now called, “The Christmas Fund,”* but it used to be referred to as the fund for “Veterans of the Cross.”  While I think I understand the name change, I miss the former name.   Maybe we should think of all of those who are in their retirement or post-retirement years as veterans.  Whether people have dedicated their lives to serving the church, the nation, the hospital, the school, or the family, most have probably given much, and sacrificed more than we know.  
 
Thank you, Pastor Benjamin.  It is a blessing to serve. 
  
 
As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
1 Peter 4:10
 
*The Christmas Fund works to bring some financial assistance to ministers and other church employees who do not have adequate pension funds or who may be facing a serious financial calamity.  Today, many pastors and ministers are serving in part-time positions, so I believe this fund will be needed even more in the next few decades. Most denominations probably have something similar.  Please give.   New Community of Faith, along with UCC churches across the nation, are collecting donations now. 
      
    
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Refreshment

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. I do not have special Advent candles, but as I put fresh tapers on the mantel, I think of the powerful,wonderful words: hope, peace, joy, and love.  
 
Tyler and I have just returned from spending some time in the home of long-time friends who live out of state.  Over the course of the past few days, we lingered at their table daily. Every morning I drank tea from this teapot, and every day my appreciation of friendship and beauty grew.  Today I think that unless we really make time for (in other words, befriend)  hope, peace, joy, and love, they will remain only words.  Like the people we meet, if we do not spend time with them, they will not become a part of who we are.  They will not become our friends.  We will not be able to rest in their presence.      
 
Throughout December, we of New Community of Faith will be reading and discussing Walter Brueggemann’s  Sabbath As Resistance, Saying No to the Culture of Now.  All are welcome to join us. It is my hope that each of us can take to heart the idea that Advent is Sabbath, and that we can nurture the practice of pausing and giving our hearts and minds time to rest and reconnect, even in a society that continually stirs everyone with ongoing prompts of needing to be more and to own more.  This engine drives particularly hard in December.  However, an Advent Sabbath can surely help us remember that we are more than consumers, and that Christmas is something so vast that we can never simply achieve it.  We can’t work for it; we can’t buy it.  However, we can rest in it because it is already here, waiting for us.  
         
    
Thus the Sabbath command of Exodus 20:11 recalls that God rested on the seventh day of creation, an allusion to Genesis 2:1-4. That divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear (a) that YHWH is not a workaholic, (b) that YHWH is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and (c) that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work.  This performance and exhibit of divine rest thus characterize the God of creation, creation itself, and the creatures made in the image of the resting God…That divine rest on the seventh day, moreover, is recalled in the commandment of Exodus 31:12-17, wherein God is “refreshed” on the seventh day (Brueggemann, p. 6).  
   
  
Advent
My thanks to my friend who shared the gift of her beautiful teapot, and her time. Both refresh me still.    
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Re-Membering To Give Thanks

Autumn Pumpkin

Bidden or not bidden, God is present – Carl Jung

Every year, someone will inevitably tell me that he or she likes Thanksgiving because, “It is not a religious holiday. We just get together, eat a good meal, and maybe watch some games.” Such statements always make me smile.   These are rituals, rooted in gratitude, with the table at the center. In other words, religion.   Maybe it is time to elevate our thinking about the day, and the meal.

At the communion table that is Thanksgiving, we remember that we are more alike than different, and that this commonality is worth celebrating.  Often, we are reminded of our brokenness, but we can also experience God re-membering us in some very surprising ways.  We learn to accept that we are loved just the way we are, and so are the people who sometimes irritate us beyond belief.

This year, let’s have the courage to intentionally host the Christ among us. Let us set a table where no one is turned away, and where everyone has a place, regardless of their beliefs, their lifestyles, or whom they love.   If it seems that everyone is out of town but you, go serve dinner at a local church or homeless shelter.  Spend time with a lonely elder.  These Thanksgiving tables may not look like something that is going to be showcased in a cooking magazine, but God’s love will be shining in you, front and center, right where it should be.

That is good religion, and will make for a mighty fine meal.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Rev. Sue Ann

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