Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A MId-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

In this Easter season, we hear stories about Jesus’ resurrection. Over and over, he surprises his followers with his unexpected appearances. In the midst of their fears, he offers peace and reassurance. Over and over, Jesus shows up and gives the gift of his presence. Immanuel, God with us.

In many of the stories, disciples see and touch Jesus’ hands and feet. (See John 20:19-31 and Luke 24:36b-48). What the gospel writers make clear is that the resurrected Christ still has scars.

Life holds much pain and suffering. Jesus’ death on the cross tells us that God is with us when we are going through difficult, painful times. In the darkness of those days, the resurrection is evidence that God is at work to bring healing and new life. In the wonder of our wounds, Jesus finds us. Often we think of healing as being made as good as new. No more pain. No more struggle. No more scars, whether physical or emotional or spiritual.

These stories remind me that even in our resurrection (at least in this life), we still have scars. Our scars may be reminders that the pain never completely goes away and that our spiritual task is to manage the memories. Our scars are our badges of courage. Often our scars are evidence of our own healing, but also evidence of the ways we bring healing to others who are going through what we have been through in the past. There is something sacramental about scars: an outward and visible sign that, by the grace of God, we have endured, survived and even thrived. Our scars, like Jesus’ scars, are a sign of the resurrection.

Native Americans believe that if you show up in heaven with no scars, God sends you back. Scars are part of life. The resurrection of Jesus Christ tells us that the past does not define the present. Our scars tell the world we’ve engaged in battle and came through on the other side – by the grace of God and the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

On the Easter journey with you,


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Home Touch by Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
As the Easter season (also called the Great 50 Days) continues, the resurrection of Jesus continues to be explored.  This week the Gospel reading comes from St. Luke and there are echoes of last week’s reading from St. John.  The scene is one of the gathered disciples very anxious about reports of various people seeing Jesus alive after his death.  Without exception, no one seems to accept witnesses who report what they have seen, i.e. that Jesus is alive.
So, Jesus appears in the midst of these anxious disciples and offers experience of his corporeality by showing wounds, having them touch him, and by eating in the presence.  Only then do the disciples recognize Jesus and are calmed.  Jesus speaks with them and sends them into the world as witnesses.
It is interesting to me that the disciples had to see and experience Jesus in order to accept his presence, however different it must have been.  Yet they now are directed to be witnesses to the very thing that they could not accept by witness.  It is not that I question the incredulity about Jesus’ appearances.  Dead people do not come back to life.  Yet, Jesus’ resurrection is the center of the Christian faith.  I also found it interesting that Luke made great effort to recall that Jesus demonstrated that he was not a ghost or image of a person, a spirit.  Great effort was made to affirm the flesh nature of Jesus.  Obviously many thought that the ghost of Jesus was what they experienced, but the scriptural witness demonstrates otherwise.  Resurrection of body is what is witnessed to the disciples.
This mystery of resurrection has many dimensions.  For many Christians it’s all about heaven and afterlife.  Jesus’ resurrection “proves” it.  For other Christians, all of Christianity is about this life now, not primarily the life to be.  So the resurrection is often down-played because of the same incredulity that the disciples had.  Christians seem to get in to tussles over the literal nature of resurrection.  I wonder if those who tussle with it could agree on the meanings of the resurrection—hope.  The resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of the scriptural record of God working to align creation with God’s own will, what is referred to as the Kingdom of God (among other names).  The hope is that the world and ourselves can indeed be transformed by God’s power for life, healing, and wholeness as God sees it.  God has always been working for this harmony starting with Genesis.  In our Christian faith, it has been fulfilled in Jesus.  Fear is removed.  Hope has been restored.  Transformation can begin.  He is risen and we are being transformed in order to transform the world.

Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Easter season can also be called The Great 50 Days.  The reason for this is that from Easter day to the day of Pentecost there are 50 days.  These are the days that the Church sets aside to ponder the teachings of Jesus in addition to contemplating the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus.
First a word about “mystery.”  Our secular experience with the word ‘mystery’ has often been connected to crime via TV or to a puzzle of some sort whose solution seems hidden.  This kind of mystery is one that is set about to solve, to answer, to figure out.  This is our normal use and understanding of the word mystery.  When the word mystery is used in a religious or faith context, mystery means something quite different.  It is not an easy word to explain because it contains unknowing within it.  James White has written that, “mystery…is God’s self-disclosure of that which passes human understanding” (p. 21 Christian Worship).  The idea is that God and many of the things of God are not a riddle to be solved but an experience to be accepted or lived in to.  There is no answer to the Who or What is God? Question.  There is only a shared sense of beyondness as when Moses asked God’s name and God reportedly said “I AM.”  That is the mystery of God and, yet, God’s “reality” is affirmed and experienced.
It is in the perspective that the mystery of the resurrection is offered.  We cannot prove based on imperative evidence the resurrection.  Yet, like God, there are aspects of God’s reality everywhere.  So it is with resurrection, with new life, with new creations.  One of the characteristics of the religious perspective is imagination.  Without imagination, there is not vision of depth.  So, for the Great 50 Days, we will spend our time with the mystery of the resurrection of Jesus.  We will read ancient stories, hear witnesses, use our tradition and imagination to hear and perceive this issue of resurrection and God’s desire.
Ultimately, the things of God are able to be received, not necessarily understood, by faith.  The gift of faith is the foundation for receiving.  To have faith is to have trust.  To have faith in God, in Jesus’ resurrection, even in the Church itself, is to have trust that God is with us, new life comes, and eternity starts with trust.                   
                                                  Pastor Jeff Blackman

A MId-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,Happy Easter! The season of Lent, that time of walking with Jesus to the foot of the cross, is transformed into the celebration of his resurrection life! This is the major holiday of the church and is so big that we party for six weeks! So let me say it again. Happy Easter!

Resurrection life begins here and now. Let me tell you some of the ways that I’ve seen Easter evidence recently:

On Maundy Thursday, the evening was warm and the windows of the church were open as we began the beautiful cantata. The haunting music of the prelude filled the sanctuary. Then it was time for me to stand up to the pulpit and give the greeting. In the silence, between and prelude and the speaking, I heard a cardinal’s call through the open window, its music marking the drama of the night. Cardinals are always, for me, a reminder of God’s presence. I felt that presence acutely as the service unfolded.

Esther Nachazel’s funeral service was Holy Saturday. There was profound power as we entered the sanctuary singing “The Old Rugged Cross”. We came to the end of the hymn with her casket now at the front of the sanctuary. Those old, familiar words took on whole new meaning for me. At the end of the service celebrating this life of this remarkable woman, the congregation sang “How Great Thou Art”, a testimony of courage and hope and resurrection life. But there was another Easter gift to come.

Esther was laid to rest in the Alden cemetery. There by her grave, there were tears but there was also laughter as people recalled precious memories of Esther. Laughter in a cemetery is always a sign of the resurrection! After my part was over, I stood under a nearby tree and watched her beloved family interact. It was a beautiful spring day. The sky was blue, the grass was turning green, the sun was bright and warm. The children, dressed in their church finery and holding roses from the casket spray of flowers, were running and laughing and playing between the gravestones in a kaleidoscope of color. What a picture of resurrection life!

Signs of new life are everywhere: our son Peter’s engagement to Lisa on Saturday night. The retirement of Ken and Gladyce, a new beginning stretching ahead of them. The 70th anniversary of surviving bullet wounds to the back for Bob Duffy, a World War II veteran. Beautiful babies and children and pregnant moms at our Easter worship services. Soaring music and joyful shouts. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

No matter who you are, no matter the circumstances of your life, God is at work by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ to bring you a new beginning. That gift of new life is so pervasive that resurrection is written into creation itself. Do you see the Easter evidence all around you? Watch closely. It is there.

On the Easter journey with you,


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A MId-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lenten journey has come now to an end.  We have arrived in Jerusalem and have entered the very center of the reasons for Jesus’ criticisms and objections.  Jesus now brings to bear all his strength and focus on God’s vision of the Kingdom.  But, of course, he is arrested, tried, convicted, tortured and executed.  That brings us to this weekend—Easter weekend.  All four Gospels in the New Testament report what happened after Jesus was crucified.  The report we will hear this weekend will be St. Mark’s report.
It is important to note that all four of the Gospels report the events after Jesus’ crucifixion a little differently, at a different angle as it were.  Matthew’s report carries much joy; Luke’s seems more focused on disbelief; John’s gospel seems to reflect confusion and disbelief.  Mark’s report uses words like “alarm,” “terror,” “dread,” and “afraid” in the verses that will be read this weekend.  Biblical scholars and other people of faith have noted more than one “ending” to Mark’s gospel.  There seems to be general agreement that verses 1-8 of chapter 16 were likely the original conclusion of Mark’s story.  For many people this is a most unsatisfactory conclusion.  At some time more concluding verses were added—verses 9-20.  This weekend’s reading concludes with verse 8.
With this conclusion, we are told that the women who came to the tomb found it absent of Jesus’ corpus.  Instead they saw a young man and, upon hearing his message, fled in fear and terror.  And so the Gospel ends in fearful disciples and in silence.  We who claim Christ as Lord and Savior know quite well that not only does the story not end, it goes on for 2000 years!  Indeed, as you read this, it is still growing and going in God’s world.  The Easter season lasts 50 days every year and the Church takes n the task of proclaiming the resurrection truth.  We seek to offer the joy of new life; to dispel the fear those first disciples felt in Mark’s Gospel.  We strive particularly to counter the disbelief and confusion found in Luke’s and John’s stories.  We will spend the next 50 days focused on those things that are wrapped up in this amazing, life-giving mystery of God called the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
It is not our need to explain this mystery.  We are called to proclaim it and witness to it.  The struggles with proclamation and witness those first heralds encountered, we still encounter.  Yet we are unfailing in our task an can only trust God to give the gift of faith. 
Blessed Easter!

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Someone said to me this morning at the Dale Howard Family Activity Center, “How’s your Super Bowl week going?” It made me laugh. This is indeed Super Bowl week in the church. Or Super Soul week, as the case may be.

This is Holy Week, the week that we focus on the final events of Jesus’ life. These events become for us a template, a guide, a model for walking through our own suffering. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus, our hero, who shows us the Way and is with us each step of the Way.

One of the most poignant moments in scripture is Jesus’ betrayal by his friend Judas. Judas walks up to Jesus and betrays him in the most intimate way possible – with a kiss. Anyone who has ever been betrayed by a friend, by someone they love, can feel that punch to the gut. Betrayal is painful and shattering. Betrayal by someone you have trusted is devastating.

So what can we learn from the Way of Jesus? Jesus doesn’t say or act like betrayal is acceptable. In fact, he speaks honestly to Judas. “Betrayal with a kiss? Seriously?!?” (My paraphrase from Luke 22:48). To speak our truth in love is essential.

The Way of Jesus in response to betrayal, however, does not include violence. One of Jesus’ followers drew a sword and cut off the ear of the slave of the high priest. “Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51). Speaking the truth in love is not violent or insulting or vindictive. It is not plotting revenge or engaging in physical violence. The Prince of Peace does not respond to betrayal with violence. Nor do his followers.

Jesus has taught his followers to love enemies and pray for those who persecute. From the cross, Jesus shows us how that is done. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:32). He never says what they are doing is okay. He asks for forgiveness for them, releasing them from the punishment they deserve and releasing himself from all desire for vengeance. Sometimes, when I have been deeply hurt by the betrayal of others, it comforts me that Jesus says, “Father, forgive,” rather than “I forgive.” I may not be yet able to forgive another, but I can indeed pray for God to forgive them. Not for them. For me, and the healing of my soul.

This is Super Soul week. Walk with Jesus to the cross. Learn from his Way. And trust that, in ways that you can’t anticipate, God has something wonderfully unexpected in store for you.

On the journey with you,

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

I have been pondering the wisdom of Joan Chittister in her new book The Way of the Cross. Chittister, a Roman Catholic nun, says that the events of the last days of Jesus are our guide, our model, our example for dealing with the difficulties and challenges of life. Jesus, in his suffering, shows us how we can, by the grace of God, lose everything and still win by virtue of going on.

For example, when Jesus is condemned, according to Chittister, he shows us the way of faith in the face of loneliness and abandonment. Everyone will, at some point in time, experience accusation; times when it is difficult to share openly with family; times when people we love don’t understand us. Jesus shows us what it is in those situations to carry our cross (i.e. continue to live our faith through our prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness) and keep picking ourselves up, again and again and again. Jesus shows us how to keep going on.

Lent is a season of truth-telling about ourselves, about our relationship with God and our relationship with others. Truth-telling is difficult, painful work. As Jesus enters Jerusalem, he knows full well that he is moving toward pain, suffering and death. Yet instead of running away, he continues to move toward the pain. This is the Way of Jesus.

Sometimes we move toward the pain by having difficult but necessary conversations with other people. Sometimes we move toward the pain by getting the counseling we have needed for a long time. Sometimes we move toward the pain by turning away from old patterns that are damaging ourselves and others. (Those old patterns might look like gossip or addictions or overwork or anger issues or spending too much money. You get the idea…) The Way of Jesus is the exact opposite of sweeping issues and problems under the carpet. The Way of Jesus is honest and vulnerable. It takes a great deal of courage. So much courage that we can’t do it on our own.

In the most recent issue of Christian Century magazine, David Keck shares an image that I find strengthening and comforting. He says that several years ago, he was in a cathedral in Manila. There he saw a life-sized crucifix. It was a painted wooden image between 200 and 300 years old that shows Jesus hanging limply from the cross, nearing the end of life. He is clearly suffering.

Keck says that everywhere on the wood, the paint is old and cracked – except the knees. There was no paint there, which made him wonder if maybe the statue had been damaged in some way. Then he saw a simply dressed Filipina woman approach the crucifix and reverently, tenderly put her hand on Jesus’ knee while she bowed her head and stood silently. Then she left.

The Way of Jesus is a promise that even in the darkest days of our lives, God is at work to bring newness and life in ways that surprise us. But in the midst of those dark days, when we are hurting mightily, we bow our heads in silence. We reach out and tenderly put our hand on Jesus’ knee.

On the Lenten journey with you,