Building the Road Together

This blog post is not my own reflections on scripture or life, but rather an opportunity for me to share something I read recently that I would really like to share with you all. Much of what follows is an excerpt from a book I have been reading entitled, Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World by Kelley Nikondeha.  In her book Kelley describes her experiences as both a person who was adopted and a mother of two adopted children and how those experiences have brought to life many biblical and theological truths for her.  She also writes about her husband, Claude’s work in Burundi as he strives for reconciliation among the tribes there.  The following is a story about Claude’s work that she writes about in this book. 

“One June morning Claude stood among thirty Batwa families on the edge of a pristine plot. For landless people, this was like crossing into the Promised Land. But they had taken only a few steps into their new home when angry neighbors met them, vowing to run them out. The hostility was tribal, the Hutu and Tutsi neighbors saying that the Batwa would poison the land. 

The thirty Batwa families were determined to “embarrass the neighbors with their love,” as the Burundian adage says. When the Hutus falsely accused them of stealing cabbages, the families gave them twice as many cabbages in return. When the Tutsis stole their carrots out of the ground days before harvest, the families didn't seek revenge but gave them potatoes, too … Our Batwa families had a prime location: land right on the main road with easy access to the elementary school, local market, and the little health clinic run by the Catholic nuns. For their Hutu and Tutsi neighbors, the most direct route to these resources was a rutted footpath along the Batwa property line. The neighbors tried to avoid touching the Batwa land, which wasn't easy, given the logistics of the area. The Batwa noticed how hard the coming and going was for their neighbors…the Batwa leaders asked if they could gift the land on the periphery of their property line to the large community for the creation of a public road for their neighbors. This project would involve the Batwa ceding about 10% of their land for the welfare of their enemies. Their only stipulation? That their neighbors had to build to road with them. Over the next six months, Hutu, Tutsi, and Batwa neighbors worked together every Saturday morning to build a car-worthy road right to their doorstep. At first, the mornings were quiet. The neighbors needed the road but begrudged the givers and tried to keep to themselves. But over time the animosity began to unravel. The men came with their told and their sense of humor, they began laughing and working in mixed groups. Working together, they became friends. And when the road was finally done six months later, they walked it together in peace.”

            I was just so struck by this display of forgiveness and love, which follows so closely with how Christ calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies and how John the Baptist called people who have two coats to give one away.  I hope this story is as encouraging and challenging for you as it was for me when I read it this week. 

Communion in Converse

This past Sunday I got a lot of compliments on my shoes, which you can see pictured above.  On Sunday, May 5 TMPC participated in the Spring Edition of The Church has Left the Building where we focus on being the church through our actions of serving others in our community. Because I was going to be participating in one of the projects following the worship service (and because I wear a robe in worship so may wardrobe underneath doesn't matter so much) I chose to come to worship in jeans, a t-shirt, and my bright red converse sneakers. The converse, of course, were on full display during worship as I stood on the raised chancel singing hymns, reading scripture, and presiding at the Lord’s Table for Communion. 

            When I was growing up my mother always had us dress up to attend church, which typically meant a nice dress and stockings. It was just one more way to separate Sundays from every other day of the week – a way to show reverence and keep the Sabbath.  I still feel this way about worship on Sunday although as I have grown older I know it does not matter one bit what you wear to worship God – it only matters that you are taking the time to come and worship at all. 

            But wearing my jeans and sneakers during a regular morning worship service is a great reminder that our faith is not meant to be something that is neat, pretty, and well put-together. Our faith is meant to be lived out in the world, which might mean you need a durable pair of shoes that can accommodate service for others.  

            In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul encourages the people to put on the Armor of God

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
— Ephesians 6:13-17 (NRSV)

But today I encourage you to take up the wardrobe of service – work gloves and bright orange vests, old t-shirts and well worn sneakers, tool belts and dust masks (and yes bright red converse too) so that we can live out our faith and serve our neighbors in need. 

Twice Chosen by God

This past Sunday our choir sang one of my favorite Lenten anthems – Lamb of God by Twila Paris. I have sung this myself in a few choirs over the years and heard it in worship many times and every time I hear it I am wrapped up in the beautiful imagery that is found in the lyrics of this piece. The lyrics describe the beautiful and painful sacrifice of Christ, which was made on our behalf and the amazing love and grace, we receive through Christ. 

            Now, I know that some of the imagery of this anthem may not seem beautiful on the surface. In fact, there are moments that seem gruesome and outright disgusting. Yet, those moments are why I love this piece, because it is the meaning behind the words that are so rich and deep. In particular, the chorus or refrain of the song goes like this, “Oh Lamb of God, Sweet lamb of God. I love the Holy Lamb of God. Oh wash me in His precious Blood. My Jesus Christ the Lamb of God.” 
(If you want to hear the song performed here is a link to another church’s choir singing this anthem)

            Being washed in Jesus’ blood does not sound at all like a nice relaxing bubble bath – it sounds weird and the visual is horrifying. But a long time ago I learned just how precious this idea is. The idea of being washed in the blood of the lamb actually has its roots in farming – sheep farming to be exact.  Tragically, there are times when a mother will die during childbirth or shortly after leaving behind an orphaned lamb.  This orphan now needs a new mother, but another sheep might be reluctant to adopt a child that is not hers.  In some cases, the orphaned lamb is washed in the blood and birthing fluids from the adoptive mother so that the lamb smells like her own. When we are washed (mercifully we are metaphorically washed) in the blood of Christ we are being claimed as God’s beloved child. We are being grafted to our heavenly Father and adopted as a child of God. Just like Jesus is the Son of God so we are made daughters and sons of God.  

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
— Psalm 139:13-16 (NRSV)

Now, God created you and me and called us good.  When we are washed in the blood of the lamb we become twice chosen by God. As we make this journey into Holy Week and follow the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, we share in the scared journey that brought us into right relationship with God and which reclaimed us as one of God’s own beloved children. Washed in the sacrifice of Christ’ blood we are made new and we are claimed and we are known. 

 

What are you giving up?

What are you giving up for Lent? In his sermon on Sunday Pastor Jim mentioned that many people give something up for the 40 days of Lent – chocolate, take-out, smoking, etc.  The idea of giving something up for Lent is modeled on an ancient practice that included fasting and prayer that helped the devout focus on their spiritual journey through the spiritual discipline of fasting. 

            Now, I’ve never given up something for Lent. I grew up in a New Jersey beach town where about half the population was Italian Catholic. So many of my Catholic friends would have to give up something for Lent and they would whine about it for the whole 40 days.  However, my home church never emphasized this practice so as I child I thought it was just one more thing my Catholic friends did but that we as Presbyterians didn't do. As I got older I realized that isn’t true, anyone can take up this practice of fasting at any time as a spiritual discipline. 

            At our Ash Wednesday service my friend Leah Miller who is the pastor at the Anchor Presbyterian Church asked a different question for this Lenten season – Why don’t we give up something that we don’t want to pick up again when Lent is over? This sounded to me like a good idea and as I thought about it more I realized I have been trying to do this for a long time. For most of my spiritual journey I have been trying to give up worrying. Each year I get a little bit better at worrying less, but I have a feeling this will be a life-long spiritual practice for me. Along this journey I have held the passage from Matthew 6:25-34 close. 

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
— Matthew 6:25-34 (NRSV)

As you enter into your Lenten journey I don’t know if you are giving something up or taking something on, but I pray that in all things your eyes might be set on the cross and your focus might be on Christ and his love and sacrifice for us. 

Dependency

In my sermon this past Sunday I made a confession to the congregation -  I am completely dependent on my cell phone.  This is probably not a surprise coming from a millennial, but it is true.  I’ve had a cell phone since I was in the 8thgrade and I’ve had a smart phone since college. And these days my phone is my calendar, my camera, my GPS, my alarm clock, my address book, my library, my flashlight, my newspaper, and countless other things.  There have been very few times in my life that I have left the house without my phone. In fact, I could probably count those times on one hand. And every time I realize I don’t have my phone on me a sudden and complete sense of panic washes over me. My mind races with so many ‘what ifs’ – What if my car breaks down? What if I get lost? What if I get in an accident? What if PJ or Annalise need me? What if? – What if? – What if?

 

You see, when I have my phone I feel safe, connected, informed, competent, in control.  Without it – well I am just the opposite. Now dependency on our cell phones is not uncommon these days, but it does beg the question – are we as dependent on God as we are on our cell phones? Do we check in with God as many times as we check our phones each day? Are we as worried about God’s presence in our lives as much as we are worried about where our phone is? The answer is - probably not.  And yet, whether we realize it or not we are totally and completely dependent on God for everything.  My challenge to you today is to remember your dependency on God and live into that. 

Caring Kids

When Paul was traveling all over preaching the Gospel and teaching people about being a disciple of Jesus Christ, he recruited helpers who would continue his work. One of those helpers was Timothy who was on the younger side when it came to being an apostle. But Paul did not want to let Timothy think for one second that he was not up for the task simply because he was young. Paul said,  “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

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Young believes, far from being the future of the church, are very much a living and active part of the church at every age and stage of their lives. One example of this that I have seen blossom is in our Caring Kids ministry. Every other month we get together with children and youth to have dinner, play games, and do a service project together. We have made blankets for kids in need, built a garden in the courtyard, and made gifts for teenagers at The Village. At our latest Caring Kid event we made a huge batch of vegetable soup to donate to Aid for Friends. Aid For Friends is one of the largest and most established home delivered meals program in Pennsylvania, serving 300,000 free dinner meals, 58,000 soups and 42,000 breakfast bags to an aggregate 1,700 home- bound persons each year. We also provide nearly 100,000 hours of friendly visiting annually. We have served more than 16,000,000 meals to 15,000 individual homebound persons over the past 43 years.

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Our children and youth made a healthy meal to share with our neighbors in need and by doing so very much answered Jesus’ call to feed the hungry and care for the sick. My prayer is that they know just how important they are in the life of the church and that they are not merely disciples in training, but full followers of Christ is all that they do. 

Daily Bread

My mom had a favorite book she liked to read to us when we were little, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It’s a fun and silly story that follows a little boy who generously gives a mouse a cookie but then a snowball of events happen. The mouse needs milk for his cookie, but he doesn't want a milk mustache so the boy gives the mouse a straw.  Of course the mouse then needs a mirror to check his face which leads the mouse to remember he needs a hair cut so he needs scissors and so on and so on. It reminded my mom of her work at the church.  She was always moving from one thing to the next so quickly that sometimes one task spilled into the next and at the end of the day her to do list grew exponentially and nothing seemed to have moved off the list.

When God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God instructed Moses to lead them to the Promised Land through the wilderness.  The people, however, did not like the wilderness. They were hungry and tired and mumbled and grumbled all day to Moses and Aaron. So the Lord provided the people with manna from heaven. Each day, manna would be scatted on the ground and the people were instructed to take what they needed for the day. But of course, they took more than they needed and learned their lesson the hard way as they endured the smell from the rotten manna. But we find that giving manna to the Israelites was like giving a cookie to that mouse. Biblical scholar, Michael Walzer, writes, “The miracle of the manna follows, and God, were He not omniscient, might plausibly have assumed that the people would henceforth be content. He had brought them out of bondage, opened the sea for them, destroyed Pharaoh’s army, and sustained them in the wilderness – and that should have been enough. But it wasn't enough: manna in the wilderness bred nostalgia for meat in the house of bondage.” You see the people liked the manna but then they remembered the meat and fish they would eat in Egypt and they longed for that food and wondered if they should have stayed as slaves in Egypt because at least they were fed well.

Sometimes we are not so different from the Israelites. God gives us blessings and we are appreciative for a while but then we begin to grumble and we forget the blessing God had given and we want more and more demanding from God our every need and even some of our wants. In the kitchen of Thompson Church there is the sign pictured above, “Give us this day our daily bread”.  This is a reminder that God provides what we need and that we should keep our eyes open each day to witness to and give thanks for our daily bread from heaven. 

In the In-between

A little over a month ago Rev. Ruth Santana-Grace, the Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of Philadelphia, was our guest preacher on Sunday morning. Ruth spoke about a time of transition in the lives of the Israelites as they left Egypt behind and headed to the Promised Land. The trouble was they found themselves in this in-between time in the wilderness, which was uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and uncertain. As more and more time passed in the wilderness they grew more and more anxious about what was next, where they were headed, and how long it would take them to get there. Ruth warned that these feelings would creep into our own minds as our congregation headed into a time of transition in leadership and that we too would feel anxious and uncertain about what the future would hold.

I know that some of you are feeling in the dark about where we are on our transitional journey so I wanted to write a post that would help shed some light on our path and help put minds at ease.

First, where are we? In March an Interim Search Committee was formed and is led by our chair of the Personnel Committee – Tom Barford. Tom and his team worked quickly and carefully to draft a job description for the Interim Pastor position and after receiving the proper approvals posted the job description. Through a process of discernment and interviews they found a front-runner for the position. At this point we are in the final stages of the process when the Presbytery does their part of the work. Once we receive final approvals we will be able to share more information with the congregation soon about an interim pastor.

Even before an interim pastor joins us it is helpful to understand what this person is called to do. On the PC(USA) website they provide this information…

Like all pastors, Interim/Transitional Pastors offer to the congregations they serve:

Worship leadership and preaching
Pastoral care
Work with the session to provide for the life and ministry of the congregation
Administrative work including supervision of other staff persons
Staff support for programs and committees of the congregation

In addition, an Interim/Transitional Pastor leads a congregation during the transition time after an installed pastor has departed, helping the congregation prepare to welcome the leadership of a new installed pastor. Interim/Transitional Pastors understand the dynamics of a congregation in transition, including feelings of grief, loss, and, sometimes, relief or anger.

Interim/Transitional pastors will help the session provide for continuity of essential programs, and may assist the session in assessing needs for changes in programs and ministries of the congregation.

Some Interim/Transitional pastors have special skills and experience that can help a congregation recover from a time of conflict or after the disclosure of clergy sexual misconduct or other trauma.

Essentially, the interim pastor stands with us in a time that is in-between. Their role is to help continue the work and ministry of the church while also helping to move us forward.  An interim pastor typically serves a congregation for about a year while we undergo a search process for our next called pastor. This search is done by a special committee known as the Pastoral Nominating Committee (PNC).

I am all too aware that these times of transition can seem overwhelming, but I want you to remember two things. First, God is with us. Yes, we are in a time of transition. Yes, we had a beloved pastor with us for 22 years and now he is serving somewhere else. But friends, turn to your scripture and you will see time and time again God doing amazing things in times of transition; Moses to Joshua, David to Solomon, Elijah to Elisha, Jesus to the disciples. God is present and the Spirit will guide us as it has always led the people of God. And second, this church, Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church, has stood for over 200 years as a faithful witness to God in the mission field of Bucks County. This is not the first time of transition this church has faced and it will not be the last. 

I will leave you with this piece of scripture. In the beginning of the book of Joshua the Lord is speaking to Joshua as he is about to take over the role of leader, which was previously held by Moses. The Lord says to Joshua, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

To Everything There is a Season

On Saturday, May 12, I attended the Commencement Ceremony for Westminster Choir College. PJ, my husband, was graduating with his Masters Degree in Music Education. It was a lovely ceremony with a lot of beautiful music sung by choirs of students and alumni as well as passionate speakers who spoke about the bright future the graduates had ahead of them. And then came the familiar and daunting part of the ceremony – the reading of the names of all the graduates. One by one for several minutes a professor slowly read the name of each graduate as they stepped forward to receive their diploma. I’m sure you have all been to a ceremony like this sometime in your life or even last weekend. There is a buzz of excitement in the space, parents hold back tears, and there are always the families who cheer after their child’s name is called. It is an exciting day and it's a big moment in the lives of those who graduate. It’s a moment that is meant to be celebrated and I was happy to be a part of it!

 

Now fast forward just 3 days, Tuesday, May 15.  I am in the midst of the reunion at Princeton Theological Seminary, which was a wonderful event with beautiful music and worship as well. One of the worship services on the schedule was a Service of Remembrance. Each year at the reunion they hold this service to honor all the alumni who had died the year before. As we entered Miller Chapel for worship we were handed a lit votive candle and were instructed to take our seats in silence. During worship there came a time to remember those we lost. As musicians played softly in the background a professor read each name on the list of those who had past. We were instructed to come forward as the names were being read and place our lit candles on the table in the front of the chapel. As they began reading the names I was transported back to the commencement I attended not three days ago. The two were so similar in structure and so unbelievably different in tone it was a little jarring to me. The juxtaposition of these two moments where names are being read aloud – one celebrating an achievement and one honoring the dead – it was fascinating.

 

All this reminded me of a scripture passage. Scripture is so incredibly helpful. There are passages that are so well known they become almost cliché but then in a moment like this an old passage comes to mind and takes on a completely new meaning.

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 plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NRSV)

The Gift of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the person in the Trinity that is the hardest to explain. We understand who God is – God created the heavens and the earth, God led the people out of slavery and into the Promised Land, and God sent the Son, Jesus, into the world. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity has four Gospels describing his life, ministry, death and resurrection and so we know Jesus very well. But the Spirit is elusive almost by design. The Spirit is always there - hovering over the waters, flying like a dove, dwelling in our hearts but seems to work best in the background.

 

There is a moment in the book of Acts where the Spirit is front and center – Pentecost. In the second chapter of Acts we hear about the moment when the Spirit is given as a gift to the disciples. Jesus promised that he would send a helper to his followers.  Jesus said, “‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (John 14:15-17) The Greek word for the Spirit here is parakletos, which means comforter, counselor, or advocate.

 

And so in Acts 2 the Spirit arrives with violent winds and tongues of fire! “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:1-4)

 

            This Sunday is the day we remember this moment of Pentecost. We sing hymns and songs about the Spirit, we pray asking for the Spirit’s help and guidance, and some people like to wear red this Sunday to symbolize the tongues of flame.  These are all wonderful ways to worship and celebrate Pentecost , however, remember that this is not just a historical event we are marking, but that we too receive this gift of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is promised to us as well and we have the Spirit dwelling inside us, guiding our ways, and inspiring our work and mission. So when you think about Pentecost you can imagine a flame hovering over your own head, wind whipping around you, and being filled with new power and gifts.

“The church becomes irrelevant when it becomes purely a human creation. We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God.”
— Francis Chan

Trust and Trustworthiness

There is something about going back to your alma mater for a reunion that is both exciting and a little surreal. On May 14-15, I attended the reunion for Princeton Theological Seminary. For me, it has been 5 years since I graduated. Sometimes that seems like a lifetime ago since so much has changed in my life over the last five years. Yet, in other ways it doesn’t feel very long at all. There was a mixture of both those feelings as I made my way across campus and sat down in the familiar pews for opening worship in the chapel.  The chapel was always a place of comfort and rejuvenation and that all came rushing back as we worshiped together in one loud voice. However, as I climbed the stairs of Stuart Hall to sit in the large lecture room I felt the distinct feelings of anxiety and dread that we associated with exams taken in that places. One thing did change – the food! They really feed the alumni well at these events!

It was a wonderful time to reunite with old classmates and catch up on their lives and ministries as well as meeting other alum who have attended PTS though the decades. One of the more interesting points of the event was the keynote speaker Dr. Miroslav Volf a professor from Yale Divinity School. He gave a lecture entitled – Trust and Trustworthiness. He focused on the theological understanding of trust and trustworthiness but he began with newborns as an example of complete and total trust. A newborn is dependent in every way on his or her caregiver. Their psychological, physical, and social developments are rooted in relationship they have with their caregiver. Studies show that the absence of trust can actually stunt a child’s growth. Because of this we know that trust is central to us as human beings. It’s foundations are formed in us as children and we continue to need trust and trustworthiness as we grow and mature into adults. Dr. Volf says,

A person who does not trust at all would strike us as inhuman. We are fragile, temporal, and dependent beings and so we must trust others in order to be able to live and to flourish.
— Dr. Miroslav Volf

Of course this is easier said than done because we know from scripture that all have fallen short and sinned so trust is far too often broken in our relationships with each other. And so if we are in search of someone or something in which to put our trust and we know that even our best relationships, like those with our families or spouses, can fall short of this need. So where do we turn? Well Dr. Volf says, 

For Christians the ideal case of a trustworthy person is God: omni-competent and all-loving and utterly stable in character. All trust and trustworthiness is bound up with God. God is the creator and sustainer of the world, the one who guides history and promises the world’s salvation and fulfilment. This is who God claims to be – faithful to God’s divine character and faithful to the world.
— Dr. Miroslav Volf

Some of you might have a strong and sure understanding of God’s trustworthiness. You are able to see the many blessings that God has showered upon you and you can see God’s hand in the world as clearly as you can see and feel your own hand. Others of you might be struggling to see God as trustworthy. You look around and see your community overrun with opioids, shootings in schools, natural disasters, or war and you think to yourself, “Is this God’s plan?” In good times and in bad we are called to put our trust in God completely and totally. The example of this way of living out our lives and relationship with God is of course Jesus. Jesus, God’s only son, had complete trust in God and spent much of his life showing and telling others about God’s trustworthiness. And so we too are called to follow Christ and put our faith and our trust in God. Now, I know this is not always easy. In those times, remember that Jesus too had moments when he cried out to God. So I encourage you to use Jesus’ own words, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39). 

Let There Be Light

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
— Genesis 1:1-5 (NRSV)

“Let there be light!” These are the very first words that God speaks into the void and the first step in creation.  Light, therefore, is foundational to the rest of creation and of course we know that to be true. But light is also closely associated with God and with God’s work in the world.  Throughout scripture the image of light is used in so many ways. 

Psalm 119:105 – “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Isaiah 9:2 – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined

John 8:12 – “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

 

This week we had workers come to the church to install new light posts all around the building. I was speaking with George and he told me about a picture that is hanging in the hallway by the kitchen that clearly shows one of the old light posts with firemen fighting a blazing fire roaring behind it. This was the fire that happened at the church in 1966 – so these lights have been around a good long time.

 

A light post might pale in comparison to the light that first shone in creation or the light of the world that is Jesus Christ. But I want you to try something this week. When you see light in your homes, work, or schools or on the roads or in front of the church let that be a reminder of the first light that God called good and the light that we have because of Jesus Christ. 

Saved People Serve People

I stumbled upon this image online somewhere. I was struck by the simplicity and power of the words that were pictured here on the wall. I thought it was a really interesting idea and beautifully done. I searched and searched for the church where this image was taken and could not find the source. I did find that this image was a part of an advertisement geared toward churches to help with their interior designs.  So it makes perfect sense that this image drew me in – that was exactly the idea. 

Even if this is an advertisement, I really like the sentiment here. All the phrases on the wall say the following…

We Believe: Found People Find People
We Believe: Saved People Serve People
We Believe: Growing People Change
We Believe: You Can’t Do Life Alone
We Believe: You Can’t Outgive God

Individually they all say something powerful, but together what they are trying to communicate is that because we have encountered Christ we have been changed and we have been called to action.

All Christians are called to follow Christ and live by his example. One of the ways we are doing that here at Thompson is by participating in The Church has Left the Building.  We follow Christ out of the Sanctuary and into the world by serving our community, country and the world. We are coming up on our Spring Edition of the Church has Left the Building and I hope that you are able to participate. If you have not done so already follow this link and sign up today! 

You don't want to upset Jesus!

We had a large funeral at the church Thursday morning with a reception that followed in Fellowship Hall. It was a beautiful reception full of food and family. Folks sat around tables sharing stories about the deceased and catching up with each other. As the reception was breaking up the grandkids took to running amuck up and down the hall laughing and playing as the grown-ups talked and said their good-byes. I was working in my office and could hear the patter of their little feet and their voices ringing out as they played whatever game they had invented to pass the time. All of a sudden I overheard a well meaning mother come after them and say, "Guys, guys we are in church show a little respect. Keep your voices down. You don't want to upset Jesus." 

Now, I know she meant well and was trying to corral these kids, but honestly I cannot think of anything that would make Jesus happier than kids running around his house. We read in the Gospel of Matthew about a moment when parents wanted to bring their children to see Jesus. Just like this well meaning mother, the disciples tell the parents that Jesus cannot see the children. Then we read this,  

“But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
— Matthew 10:14-15

I pray that you are able to receive the kingdom of God like a child. Amen. 

Reluctant Prophet

When I was younger and heard the story of Jonah in Sunday school, I thought it was funny. This guy was trying to run away from God and got eaten by a whale - that is a good story! Later in life when I was wrestling with my call to ministry the story of Jonah resurfaced for me in a new way. Here was this man called by God to do this work in Nineveh and Jonah didn't want anything to do with it. He tried desperately to get away from God's call only to find that there is no running from God and what God wants you to do. I felt a lot like Jonah. I too wanted to run away from God as I thought about going to seminary to become a pastor. As you can tell this worked out about as well for me as it did for Jonah. 

I was re-reading the book of Jonah this week preparing for this week's sermon in our minor prophets series and a new portion of Jonah resonated with me - the end. This is the part of the story of Jonah that few people remember. We all know that Jonah was called by God to go to the city of Nineveh and then Jonah refused and instead boarded a ship to Tarshish. While on that ship a storm rage against him and the people aboard. In an effort to calm the storm the men throw Jonah overboard to ease God's wrath. And it works! The storm stops, but while Jonah is floating in the water he is quickly swallowed up by a big fish. He spends three days in the belly of that fish praying to God and asking for forgiveness. He promises that if God would release him from the fish he would go to Nineveh. The fish spits him out three days later and he begins his journey to Nineveh to tell the people there that they have sinned and need to repent and turn back to God. 

But here's the part of the story that I find intriguing this week. Sure, Jonah goes and he tells the Ninevites all that God tells him to and the people actually listen! They repent and they are forgiven. Jonah should be thrilled! He obeyed God's Word, preached God's message, and the people heard him - isn't that the hope and prayer of every prophet? Well, it was not Jonah's hope. You see, Jonah did not think the people of Nineveh deserved to be forgiven.  He thought the people deserved to die - to be blotted out from the earth by God for all of their sin and wrongdoing. 

There are times that all of us feel like Jonah whether we want to admit it or not. We know that God offers unconditional love and undeserved mercy to all. We understand this about God because it's what we have been taught all of our lives and pastors preach about it every single Sunday. But, when we are faced with the Ninevites in our lives - those who are consumed by evil and darkness - we believe that they do not deserve love and forgiveness. We, like Jonah, want God to bring down harsh and immediate justice. Except, we don't really want justice. What we want is revenge. But God calls us, like he called Jonah, to preach God's love and forgiveness even when we might not feel much like loving or forgiving. 

 

Independence Day

All children enjoy summer vacation. What is there not to like? Summer meant no school, fun camps, and vacations with the family. Growing up in Toms River, NJ just a 15 minute drive to the beach (30 when the tourists were in town) we loved summer vacation. Each summer, my grandfather’s house would resemble something like Grand Central Station. His house was the place where the entire family would congregate. Grandpa’s house wasn't huge, just a simple ranch with three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a basement with some rooms used for guests. Since he also had a pool many summer weekends meant that all those rooms would be full of aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.  And when I say full – I mean it. My grandfather had 6 kids and each of them got married and had children of their own. 24 grandchildren in all and before he died we added a few great grandchildren to the mix as well. Fourth of July weekend was always a time when family from all over would come and be together. We would go to the beach, swim in the pool, eat burgers and hot dogs, and drive over to the river to watch the fireworks.

 

This weekend you might be traveling to the beach or headed to a barbeque. You might have big plans to stay up and watch the fireworks or get up early to attend a parade. Whatever your plans may be I urge you to take a moment or two to thank God for the many blessings that surround you. We live in a wonderful nation. No, it is not perfect and it never will be. But that does not mean that we should not be grateful to God all the same.

 

Here is a portion of beautiful prayer I came across this week offered by Chief of Navy Chaplains, Rear Admiral Mark L.Tidd at the 220th General Assembly in 2015.

Everlasting God of righteousness and grace, as our nation celebrates this Independence Day, remind us of our complete dependence upon you. We look to you for your wisdom and mercy as important issues are discussed. On this day, we ask you to keep this nation, and all nations, under your care, that we may be peoples who are at peace, and who are a blessing to others in this earth. Grant our nation's leaders wisdom, that there would be times of peace and justice in our land and in our world.

On this day, we lift up to you all who serve in our Armed Forces, who serve as the centurion did as ones who are under authority—brave men and women who risk their lives for their country. Remind us of those who are far from home and loved ones, who on this day sail or fly or walk in harm’s way, and keep them always close to you. Where there is combat, grant them compassion for their enemies, and keep them brave in the face of evil. Hold in your loving hands the families of those who are far away. Grant them comfort in their anxieties. And comfort those who grieve, because they have received the dreaded message that their loved one has died. Strengthen those who carry the wounds of war, visible and invisible, and be to them a sure presence….

And on this day keep all of us grounded not in our strength but in yours, ever relying upon the promise that “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength ... They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

All of this we pray in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

For the full prayer click on this link.

https://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/7/4/prayer-independence-day/

When A Song Transports You

When I was in college my grandmother passed away. Both of my parents were the younger children of older parents and so I never knew two of my grandparents and felt like I lost my other grandparents too early. Gissy was my father’s mother and she was a character. She always dressed in these brightly colored tracksuits with matching Keds. Her closet was FULL of Keds in every color – some she had dyed herself to match a particular outfit. Her arms would rattle and clang as her many bracelets and bangles would swing around as she spoke. And she would never be seen in public without lipstick on her lips. Her outward appearance reflected her inner joy. Gissy was so full of life and love. She adored spending time with family and friends and was always ready for a good party.

When she got sick and was dying in the hospital it was hard for me to see that light slowly dim and her eyes reflect fear and sorrow instead of the love and warmth I had associated with my Gissy’s eyes. As the family was planning her funeral service, I was upset that they had chosen all hymns that I considered sad and funereal. These hymns didn't represent Gissy’s joy and light, so I offered to sing and roped my sister and cousin into helping me. We sang For the Beauty of the Earth arranged by John Rutter. (Here is a version of the song sung by a youth choir)

There have been a few times since that funeral service that this song has been sung by a choir for Sunday morning worship. This past Sunday was one of those times and I was immediately transported back to my grandmother’s funeral. I was hit with a mix of emotions that had nothing to do with the worship service I was sitting in and everything to do with my grief and joy in remembering Gissy.

Music is powerful. I am sure that you, like me, have songs or hymns that can transport you through time. They can remind you of times of grief like funeral services or times of joy like your first dance. They can bring you back to the first concert you ever attended or those late nights singing lullabies to your crying baby.  Whenever you hear music in church, on the radio, or in the store, you never know what journey down memory lane you are in store for and that is very exciting. 

New Year, New You

How many of you have a New Year’s resolution? In 2017, are you planning to quit a bad habit? Maybe you are adding something to your routine like exercise, organization, or a different diet. Some people find a great deal of hope in their New Year’s resolutions. They like having clear goals to work toward and a thought-out plan in front of them. For others is seems like making a New Year’s resolution is an exercise in futility as year after year they fail to reach their goals. This can be so disappointing and frustrating. It can lead to those people not just giving up on their plan for the year, but quitting the whole resolution process forever! 

As for me – I am no good at New Year’s resolutions. There have been times in my life that I have had a goal in front of me like getting in shape, journaling more, trying to eat healthier. I always start out with enthusiasm and excitement, but somewhere along the way I lose momentum. 

This can be as true for a diet as it is for our spiritual life. We might start off the New Year with the goals of getting to church more, reading scripture daily, getting back into the habit of prayer, but somewhere along the way life interrupts our plans and we stumble. The good news is that God is there through it all. He is there when we have renewed our focus on him and his Word and he is there when our daily devotion slips further and further down the to-do list.  If you want to keep your faith at the top of your list this year, here are some passages that might help you along your way! 

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
— Revelation 21:5 (NRSV)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
— Psalm 51:10-12 (NRSV)
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
— 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NRSV)

 

The Day After

About a week before the election a colleague in ministry from another local Presbyterian church reached out to pastors in the area with an idea. She wanted to collaborate on a letter that would be published in a local paper the day after the election. This was to be a letter from members of the clergy that would preach hope and peace regardless of the election results. I wanted to share this letter with you all because I believe it holds an important message. 

If you are discouraged or upset by the results of this election, I encourage you to strive to love your neighbors and lift up your hearts in prayer. If you are encouraged and happy with the results of the election, I encourage you to strive to love your neighbors and lift up your hearts in prayer. Remember that each and every person you meet is a child of God first and foremost. That label and identity comes before all others and we are called to love all of God's children. 

On November 9th, we awake to the results of an election that has bitterly divided our nation. It is tempting to proclaim winners and losers and to treat this election cycle like a sporting match where one party has emerged victorious at the expense of the other.
But to do so would be a grave mistake. In the aftermath of such an election season we will all need to work diligently to repair the damage done. Those who founded this country believed that there is more that unites us than there is that divides us. The candidates who celebrate victory on election night must rise in the morning prepared to govern for the good of all people, including those who voted against them. To forget this is to forget the history of this great nation, to forget the ideals and the hope of government of the people, by the people, for the people.
We are leaders of faith communities that, for centuries, have had many disagreements. And yet, we believe that what is more important than those things that divide us are those things that bring us together. In that spirit, our prayer for our community and for our nation is that we might set aside the rancor and bitterness of the campaign season in order to remember that we are Americans together. Together, we pray for the wisdom to remember the challenge of Isaiah: that our life together depends upon our ability to turn the swords and spears of hostility and division into the plowshares and pruning hooks of peace and unity.
May God be with us all, and the wisdom of the Divine guide those who lead the people, this day and every day. Amen.

Rev. Bruce Ballantine Morrisville Presbyterian Church
Rev. Wendy Bellis Morrisville United Methodist Church
Rev. Kyle Benoit Greater Grace Community Church
Rev. Josh Blakesley Warminster United Church of Christ
Rabbi Anna Boswell-Levy Congregation Kol Emet
Rev. Catherine Bowers St. Andrews United Methodist Church
Rev. Luky Cotto Casa del Pueblo Latino Ministry of Lehman Memorial UMC
Rev. Dr. Nancy Dilliplane Trinity Buckingham Episcopal Church
Rev. Chris Edwards Northampton Presbyterian Church
Rev. Susan Fall Forest Grove Presbyterian Church
Rev. Laura Ferguson Newtown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Joshua D. Gill Doylestown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Bailey Heckman Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church
Rev. Debbie Heffernan Morrisville Presbyterian Church
Rev. Doug Hoglund Woodside Presbyterian Church
Mary Dyer Hubbard Pastoral Counselor
Rev. Lynn Hade Church of the Advent
Rev. Keith Ingram Bucks County Seventh Day Adventist Church
Rev. Stacey Jones-Anderson First United Methodist Church Bristol
Rev. Catherine D. Kerr Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Rev. Nathan Krause Redeemer Lutheran Church
Rev. Bill Lentz Lehman Memorial United Methodist Church
Rev. Nancy Ludwig Lehman Memorial United Methodist Church
Rev. Joe Martin Fallsington United Methodist Church
Rev. Sam Massengill Newtown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. Kari McClellan First Presbyterian of Levittown
Rev. Mary McCullough Trinity Episcopal Church Ambler
Rev. Leah Miller Anchor Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dorry Newcomer Newtown United Methodist Church
Rev. Jake Presley Bux-Mont Baptist Church
Rev. Eric Reimer St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Keith Roberts Doylestown Presbyterian Church
Rev. Michael Ruk, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, New Hope
Rev. Janet L. Saddel St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Warrington
Rev. Michael Saunders Crossway Community Church
Chaplain Susan Sciarratta Counselor, Insight Christian Counseling
Rev. Barbara Seekford Chalfont United Methodist Church
Rev. Stuart H. Spencer Thompson Memorial Presbyterian Church
Rev. Doug Stratton Hatboro Baptist Church
Rev. Mark Studer Neshaminy-Warwick Presbyterian Church
Rev. Jim Sutton New Britain Baptist Church
Rev. Bill Teague Langhorne Presbyterian Church
Rev. Lorelei K. Toombs Willow Grove United Methodist Church
Rev. Sarah Weisiger Ivyland Presbyterian Church
Rev. John Willingham Doylestown Presbyterian Church

Ever Hopeful

There are about three reasons why I load my dog into the car to go somewhere.  Bella, my 7-year-old runt of a St. Bernard is terrible around other dogs so we don’t spend a lot of time going to dog parks or for long walks on forest trails. No, Bella’s car rides only happen if she needs to go to the groomer, the vet, or the dog sitter’s house. These are not everyday occurrences and yet, whenever we walk past my car she is ever hopeful that I will turn to open the door and let her hop in for a ride.

Sometimes this can try my patience, but the other day when she walked over to the car door and sat perfectly still hoping her good behavior would make me open the door, I was reminded of a sermon I heard in seminary about Zechariah.

Zechariah was a priest in the temple of the Lord. He came from a long line of priests and it was their duty to make sure the proper rituals and prayers were said in the temple.  One day, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense. This was a once in a lifetime experience for a priest; some priests wait their entire careers to enter the sanctuary and are never chosen. The sanctuary was where the very presence of the Lord resided. It was a very special place that is set aside and holy. When it was Zechariah’s time to enter the sanctuary, he did everything he had trained to do, but then something he had not expected happened...

   Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord,
standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.
But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah

(Luke 1:11-13)

The professor who was preaching on this text paused at this point and pointed out how odd this was. Zechariah’s life had been leading up to this moment and yet he was surprised. He was in the most holy of places where the presence of God dwelled and yet when an angel appeared he was terrified!

Far too often we fall into the same trap as Zechariah. We know the rituals. We take part in the traditions.  We sing hymns, say prays and claim to worship God is his house, the church, each Sunday, but how many of us expect anything to actually happen. As we begin our worship we call on the Holy Spirit to come as we worship, but do we really expect a mighty wind to tear through the sanctuary?

What would our worship look like if we expected God to show up? What would it look like if we entered our worship or our time of pray with the sense of hope and expectation that my dog continues to have when she walks by my car?