Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A MId-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

This is the season in which we celebrate the Good News given to us by a child. What a delight it was, then, to see the story of Jesus’ birth enacted by the children of our church last Sunday! There were Joseph and Mary, looking particularly cute and a little bit ornery. There were the angels, some more angelic than others. Shepherds and animals gathered ‘round the manger. Wise Men worked to follow the star and hold onto their crowns. The Drummer Boy drummed enthusiastically. All conveyed without a doubt that we have received the best gift ever in the Christ Child!

Thank you to all the teachers to worked so hard to make the Christmas program happen; to parents and grandparents for the effort that it takes to get children to Sunday school, worship and practices; to all the musicians who shared their gift of music; and to the people of our congregation who offered support and encouragement to our youngest church family members by the gift of your presence.

The word manger comes from a French word that means to eat. It is something to ponder that the baby Jesus was laid in a feeding trough and 2000 years later, sharing the bread and cup, his body and blood, is a sacrament of the church. Holy Communion reminds us that every meal is sacred; that eating together and giving thanks together creates union with one another, and for those with eyes to see, with God. The Senior High Youth fed us well after our worship service! Thank you to the youth and the leaders for the opportunity to commune with one another over delicious food!

Our third graders received Bibles during worship Sunday. As I watched them with their parents standing behind them, I was deeply aware of the sacred stories they held in their hands. These are the stories that help us see God and help us see who we humans are. These are the stories of human failure and God’s forgiveness; the stories of hope and promise; the stories of Jesus birth and life and death and resurrection; the stories of the church and the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism. These are the stories that shape us and form us into the people God has created us to be. And sometimes, because of these stories, we have beautiful children’s Christmas programs and delicious meals. Sometimes, because of these stories, parents beam with pride and grandparents’ eyes sparkle with tears.

There is hope. There is promise. There is Good News indeed.

On the journey with you,
Carol



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

I’m looking rather Frankensteinish this week. The hazard of being Norwegian combined with a history of walking beans and detasseling landed me in the doctor’s office. I walked out with three punch biopsies and an excision on my face. It truly only hurts when I laugh.

But it was a little more painful in the procedure room. As the doctor numbed me up, I thought of how grateful I am for doctors and nurses. I am so thankful that I have access to good health care.

I also thought about the discomfort, particularly the injection in my nose that made my eyes water. And I thought about how God’s sanctifying, healing grace works.

I don’t think that God sends bad things to teach us lessons. God didn’t decide I should have skin lesions. I did, however, spend a lot of time in the sun without sunscreen in my younger years and I do happen to have fair skin. Sometimes we deal with issues that are the consequences of choices we’ve made. Other times we deal with issues that have nothing to do with choices we’ve made. Those are the facts of life.

When life happens, God is with us in our struggles. God joins us in our suffering. God doesn’t just leave us there, though. God’s sanctifying grace grows us. God heals us. Or, you could say, God saves us. (The meaning of the word salvation is healing.) The reason that I was thinking about God’s sanctifying grace during my procedure is that I find God’s sanctifying grace to be painful. Sometimes you just can’t get better without a little pain.

It is God’s grace that reveals to me when I am being petty and immature and compulsive. It is God’s grace that pushes me to forgive. It is God’s grace that prods me to stop my victim mentality. I have never found that process of truth-telling pleasant.  It is God’s grace that draws me toward spiritual maturity. It is healing, but it hurts. The kind of healing I’m talking about requires a great deal of emotional energy some days.

The season of Advent is a time of preparing our hearts and minds for the coming of the Christ Child. As we hear in our scripture readings each week, preparation involves confession and repentance. Confession is facing the truth about ourselves. Repentance is changing directions. God’s sanctifying, healing grace make both confession and repentance possible.

My best advice? Make time for the work of Advent. My next best advice? Wear sunscreen.

On the journey with you,

Carol

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Midweek Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Not too long ago, I had an unexpected conversation with a stranger at the Jordan Creek Mall. He was obviously well-educated and professional; a lawyer. When he found out that I was a “pastor-type” (his words), he had a lot of questions. Questions about why God “takes” people and why God would allow human suffering. Questions about what religion and what denomination have the Truth. Questions about money and politics in the church.

I’ve thought a lot about the conversation since. I told him that what I loved about seminary is that I learned that the best and brightest minds down through the centuries were asking similar questions; that there isn’t any question we can ask that someone else hasn’t already been wrestling with. I told him that his questions were part of faith (even though he rejects the church) and that the questions are what moves us deeper in our faith. I told him that I recognize that the Church is indeed sinful (after all, it’s made up of all us sinful folks!) – and that I’m convinced that I can do more to change it from the inside than the outside. I told him that I am a follower of the Way of Jesus because for me it is the path toward living into my full potential and has the potential to heal the world – not because everyone has to be Christian but because those of us who are Christian actually live our faith.

What I didn’t say to him is this: You will not grow in your faith by staying away from church. You will never discover the deep, rich and broad faith that is ours by rejecting one perspective but refusing to explore other perspectives. 

It is Advent season! Four weeks of preparation and waiting for the coming of the Christ Child! Somehow it seems appropriate that we should begin the church year with waiting. Much of the spiritual journey seems to be about waiting: waiting for answers to questions, waiting for next steps, waiting for clarity. “What will God do next?” we ask ourselves. And then we wait. We don’t wait passively; we wait actively.

Which means that when we are at a place in our lives when we have more questions than answers, we continue to gather for worship. We continue to grow in small groups and in our own study of scripture and reading. We continue to go forth in mission and ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. As we do, we watch. We stay alert. We wait, trusting that in God’s time and in surprising ways, new insights and understandings are revealed and we see the Light.

On the journey with you,
Carol


A MId-Week Message from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This weekend is the second weekend in Advent.  The Gospel reading is from St. Mark and the lection begins at the first verse of Mark’s gospel:  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Mark’s gospel about Jesus begins with Jesus fully grown and narrates the good news of Jesus
 Life and ministry.  Mark connects us immediately with the great hopes of Israel as Mark names Jesus “the anointed one” (Messiah) and gives Jesus the same title “Son of God” that the Emperor claimed.  Mark also tells us that two of the great prophets of the Hebrew Bible, Malachi and Isaiah, called out to the people of their time for confession and repentance as now Mark tells us of John the Baptist, another great voice of the Hebrew prophets.  Mark then shows us the connection of John the Baptist with Elijah, as Mark describes the raiment/clothes of the Baptist.
In Mark’s gospel there is no birth story or manger story.  No shepherds or angels or wise men.  There is only the lone prophet who cries out for the people to be prepared for the way of the Lord.  Six verses later Jesus appears, John baptizes him and then John exits the scene.  We don’t hear of him again until chapter 6 when King Herod kills him.  John’s way of preparation is to exhort the people to be baptized as a sign of their confession and repentance of sins.  And they come as they hear the voice of God which has appeared in the wilderness after so long an absence.  They confess their sins of ignoring God, worshipping idols, taking advantage of the vulnerable, and disregarding God’s covenant.  They are then baptized in the River Jordan as a seal of their turning from their sins.
The messenger has arrived and says that another “one who is more powerful than I is coming after me,” and that he, John, is not worthy to even touch his sandals.  Here we stand at Advent, waiting for Christmas, waiting busily, planning to accomplish all we need to accomplish.  About half way through “our way,” many of us think that all this preparation can be tedious and tiring.  I’ve known people to be eager for Christmas to be over.

 So many voices telling us what Christmas is and how we must prepare, get ready, and finish up.  Sometimes there is the small voice that asks about the original meaning of Christmas and calls out of the cultural wilderness to people to slow down, breathe, and look around.  Sort of like a kinder, gentler John the Baptist.  That voice is hard to hear amidst al the racket of the season, no matter what form it takes.  But for we who strive to follow Jesus, it is very important to notice the voice, hear the word, prepare the way and then, and only then, journey to Bethlehem.
                                                           Pastor Jeff Blackman


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A MId-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
We will be observing and celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend.  In a very real way it is appropriate that we do so on the last weekend of this Christian year’s calendar.  Next weekend begins Advent.  So, on this Thanksgiving weekend’s celebration the readings from scripture are all about gratitude.  From the perspective of faith, this grateful demeanor is due to the abundant love and care we receive from God.
The first reading is from Deuteronomy (8:7-18) and the passage describes a land comparable to Eden where there is great fertility and natural wealth.  Moses is telling them that God is bringing them into this promised land in which great joys and security will be theirs—the natural consequences of God’s abiding love and concern.  But then Moses warns them of a great human failing:  ingratitude.  Moses says “don’t become arrogant” when everything is going your way.  He goes on to say, “Don’t think to yourself, my own strength and abilities have produced all this prosperity for me.”  Moses says, “Remember the Lord your God!  He’s the one who gives you the strength to be prosperous in order to establish the covenant…” (v. 18).  Remember to be grateful to God.
The Gospel reading for the weekend is from Luke and it is the story of the 10 lepers who Jesus cleansed.  Only one of those 10 returned to Jesus to offer gratitude to God.  Jesus seems to suggest that in faith we are healed.  I wonder if the healing for many of us today might be the healing of gratitude.  Like Moses said, it is so easy to think that all our accomplishments are due to our own brilliance and talent and hard work or I’m the only one to whom I need to offer gratitude.  For people of faith, we are aware that the very gift of life itself is from God and, to a great extent, our life circumstances are random.  We trust that God brings to all of us human potential and the “promised land” of possibilities that we did not personally create.  This is the idea that our faithfulness and effort is so important but, like those addressed by Moses, we owe gratitude to God.  Indeed, we owe our very life to God, the Creator of life itself.  Truly, we are grateful for the chance at life.  Thank you, O Lord!
                                                         Pastor Jeff Blackman


A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,
 
Last weekend, as we explored the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), I shared with you that we are all “one-talent people” (in the words of William Sloane Coffin). We all are frightened, concerned that we won’t have enough and concerned that we aren’t enough compared to all the folks that we think have more talents than we do. We are great at thinking of worse-case scenarios and why we don’t dare risk what we have. So we bury our talent. We hide our light under a bushel. I’m a one talent person as well. My greatest fear? The fear of failure; of being seen as incompetent.

The Good News is that Jesus calls one-talent people. Just look at the first disciples. Perhaps it is so that when we refuse to let fear run our lives and refuse to bury our talent, it is clear who gets the glory and the credit – not us! Our extravagantly generous God who enables, who empowers, who is trustworthy, is the One who gets the glory!

As people filed out of church Sunday morning, one woman spoke such encouraging words to me: “You are such a good extemporaneous speaker! You must have done a lot of that in high school!”

I laughed in delight. Her words were so kind and she was absolutely wrong. I have always avoided public speaking at all costs. In high school, I had one line in one play and I was so frightened that I botched it completely. If you would have told me even 25 years ago that I would be speaking publically on a regular basis about – of all things, God and faith – I would have been paralyzed with fear. After all, public speaking is an ideal way to prove my incompetence!

During my sermon, I told you that I tell the staff on a regular basis that it is ok to fail; that if we don’t risk and even fail, we will never discover the best ministry and mission for First United Methodist Church in Iowa Falls in the 21st century. Besides, failure is never a failure if you learn from it. Of course, I’m talking to myself when I say that.

As I pondered the words spoken to me after worship, it occurred to me that it is necessary to risk in order to discover the hidden potential that God has placed within each one of us. If we never get out of our comfort zone, if we never move beyond our fear, so much of who we are created to be will never be discovered. To be frank, I am so far out of my comfort zone when it comes to public speaking and writing that I ALWAYS know who gets the credit. Not me.

A one-talent person has been extravagantly gifted. (One talent in the parable was worth $600,000.) How will you use your time, your talent, your treasure? Your love? Your very life? How will you let your light shine? When you overcome your fear with faith, who knows what you will discover!

On the journey with you,

Carol  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

We are coming to the end of the Christian year. The last Sunday of the Christian year is November 23. On that day, we will celebrate Thanksgiving and the end of the pledge drive. The last Sunday in the Christian year has an official name, however. It is called Christ the King Sunday.

During the month of November and into the first two weeks of December, we will hear a lot of scripture lectionary readings about the end times. Typically, we think of the end times as the big ka-blooie, the second coming of Christ and the destruction of the world. These understandings come from a certain interpretation of Revelation that I believe is a misrepresentation of both that book and the over-arching themes of the entire Old and New Testaments. God loves the world (Jn 3:16) and God promises not to ever destroy the world again, setting a rainbow in the sky as a reminder. If the world is destroyed, the odds are that it will be at the hands of human beings.

When Jesus is talking about the end times, he means the end of the way that we humans rule, with greed and destruction and violence. The end times are the beginning of God’s rule or, to put it another way, the fulfillment of God’s vision for creation. If you want to know what that looks like, look at Jesus. God’s rule, God’s reign, or God’s kingdom are all about compassion, justice, forgiveness, and non-violence. The law of God’s kingdom is love and the common good.

And it begins now. This is what Mike Graves writes in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4: “Modern Christianity is so often preoccupied with heaven-to-come that it is of little earthly good. In their book Saving Paradise, coauthors Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker trace how over time Christianity came to focus on a distant afterlife, whereas the early church, following the biblical witness, stressed life here and now. They note, for example, how the three different uses of ‘eternal life’ in John’s Gospel all relate to ‘how life is lived on earth’ (91).”

Obviously, the fulfillment of God’s vision isn’t here yet. But we catch glimpses of God’s kingdom whenever we worship together, whenever we grow together in small groups and whenever we engage in mission and ministry. God’s kingdom breaks in when the hungry are fed, and the thirsty are given water and the sick and imprisoned are visited and the naked are clothed (Matt. 25). Every single time we overcome our fears and our tendency to focus on ourselves and on what benefits us, we pick up our cross to follow Jesus, the King of our lives; a King who shows us what kingdom living looks like, here and now, today. That is cause for celebration!

On the journey with you,

Carol