Monday, August 29, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Boy, did we have fun Sunday! Eleven young people were confirmed surrounded by a church filled with people. Talk about the great cloud of witnesses! If you haven’t seen the many pictures on Facebook, check them out. It was a rocking good time!

There are many reasons and many people who made that worship service so special. Neveah, in her first public solo, hit the ball out of the park. Jim’s music was, as always, inspirational. The worship leaders and the balcony magicians shared their gifts beautifully. Our youth and children always bring joy to our hearts. I love seeing families coming together in shared support for the confirmands.

But I think that one of the main reasons that it felt like such a filled-to-overflowing day is that the sanctuary was full. Each of us carries within us a spark of the divine. When all those sparks come together in worship, we have a Holy Spirit fire! Conversely, when people are gone for whatever reason, the worship service is just a little bit dimmer and a little less lively. Your presence makes a difference.

I don’t say that to instill guilt. We all need to be gone from time to time, including pastors. (Said the woman who will be gone next weekend to her son’s wedding…) If you are not in worship because you are sick or out of town, heal, come home, and then come back as quickly as possible. We need you. We need your piece of the Spirit!

The summer with all its activities is drawing to an end. Life is getting back to a more structured rhythm. Wednesday community meals start up September 7. The 11:00 Sunday service will start again September 11. Sunday school for children will begin September 18. I invite you to commit yourself to getting back to worship on a regular basis.

And if you are looking for a way to jump start your spiritual life, sign up in the Garden Room for the prayer vigil September 10 and 11. You will have time alone with God in the sanctuary to reconnect and renew that relationship. There will be guidelines for prayer available. That would be a great time to prayerfully consider where you are in your journey of faith and what next step God is asking you to take. What better time and what better place could there be to recommit yourself to God?

Because your presence makes a difference and we need you as much as you need us.

On the journey with you,

Carol

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

 Last Sunday afternoon, I witnessed the ordination of Rev. Melissa Sternhagen at Iowa Falls First United Church of Christ. It was a joyful celebration. One of the highlights of my career was the gift of being part of the laying on of hands for Melissa as she was ordained. What a joy to share the journey of faith with brothers and sisters in Christ in all the surprising directions that journey takes! Truly, as the liturgy that Melissa wrote proclaimed, we are the one Body of Christ!

 The preacher of the day was Rev. Carol Shanks from Eden Theological Seminary. Carol preached from Luke 14: 1, 7-14, the lectionary text for next Sunday. In it, we learn from Jesus what hospitality and humility look like for those of us who wish to follow his Way. The story is set in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees. Carol gave us a picture of what Jesus might have said if he were teaching in the 21st century about hospitality and humility. To paraphrase Carol: Go to the home of someone you don’t know; someone who has a sign in their front yard for the candidate that you would never support. Ring the doorbell and when they answer, invite them to come to church with you. Welcome them warmly, sit with them, introduce them to your friends. After church, invite them to your home for Sunday dinner. Give them the best seat at the head of the table and the biggest servings. Include them in the table conversation. After dinner, offer them your favorite recliner for a nap. This, Carol said, is the kind of hospitality and humility that Jesus was talking about. 

I should note that as Carol spoke, the congregation (including me) alternated between laughing and groaning. This business of being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t easy. It pushes us out of our comfort zones. It propels us toward people we consider different and even repulsive. Yet when we practice humility and hospitality, relationships are mended. The excluded are included. Divisions end. Humility and hospitality are evidence of God’s kingdom vision, God’s peace, God’s shalom, making our unity in Christ possible. 

Jeff and I talked later that in the laying on of hands for Melissa’s ordination, there was, for us, a sense of Elijah passing the mantle to Elisha. This is the vision and work that Melissa is ordained to. It is the vision and the work that we are all ordained to in the waters of our baptism. We are water-washed and Spirit-born, the only possible way that we can fully embrace Jesus’ Way.

 So who will you invite to church this week?

 On the challenging but exhilarating journey with you,

Carol



A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

 Last Sunday afternoon, I witnessed the ordination of Rev. Melissa Sternhagen at Iowa Falls First United Church of Christ. It was a joyful celebration. One of the highlights of my career was the gift of being part of the laying on of hands for Melissa as she was ordained. What a joy to share the journey of faith with brothers and sisters in Christ in all the surprising directions that journey takes! Truly, as the liturgy that Melissa wrote proclaimed, we are the one Body of Christ!

 The preacher of the day was Rev. Carol Shanks from Eden Theological Seminary. Carol preached from Luke 14: 1, 7-14, the lectionary text for next Sunday. In it, we learn from Jesus what hospitality and humility look like for those of us who wish to follow his Way. The story is set in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees. Carol gave us a picture of what Jesus might have said if he were teaching in the 21st century about hospitality and humility. To paraphrase Carol: Go to the home of someone you don’t know; someone who has a sign in their front yard for the candidate that you would never support. Ring the doorbell and when they answer, invite them to come to church with you. Welcome them warmly, sit with them, introduce them to your friends. After church, invite them to your home for Sunday dinner. Give them the best seat at the head of the table and the biggest servings. Include them in the table conversation. After dinner, offer them your favorite recliner for a nap. This, Carol said, is the kind of hospitality and humility that Jesus was talking about. 

I should note that as Carol spoke, the congregation (including me) alternated between laughing and groaning. This business of being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t easy. It pushes us out of our comfort zones. It propels us toward people we consider different and even repulsive. Yet when we practice humility and hospitality, relationships are mended. The excluded are included. Divisions end. Humility and hospitality are evidence of God’s kingdom vision, God’s peace, God’s shalom, making our unity in Christ possible. 

Jeff and I talked later that in the laying on of hands for Melissa’s ordination, there was, for us, a sense of Elijah passing the mantle to Elisha. This is the vision and work that Melissa is ordained to. It is the vision and the work that we are all ordained to in the waters of our baptism. We are water-washed and Spirit-born, the only possible way that we can fully embrace Jesus’ Way.

 So who will you invite to church this week?

 On the challenging but exhilarating journey with you,

Carol



A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
What is it like to live in God’s presence?  Perhaps the picture that comes to mind is sitting on a cloud playing a harp with a blissful smile perpetually on your face.  I remember seeing pictures like this in my past and they were presented both as a serious picture of the good afterlife—heaven—with God or as a negative caricature of the same.  If one were to look at this weekend’s scripture from the Greek (New) Testament, a very different picture would emerge (Hebrews 13:1-8, 15 and Luke 14:1, 7-14).
Jesus seems, in the Gospel of St. Luke, to be much more concerned about “thy will e done on earth as it is in heaven” than concern only about heaven.  So, once again, in Luke’s Gospel we read of another Sabbath incident—one that is connected to a meal, to table fellowship.  Jesus uses the table fellowship as both literal acts and as metaphorical picture.  Jesus says to his wealthy host that he needs to invite “the poor, crippled, lame, and blind” to his dinners.  In the literal aspect of this Sabbath teaching, Jesus does, in fact, eat with the above mentioned persons, persons who were called collectively “sinners.”  From the metaphorical perspective Jesus used “table fellowship” as a picture of the kingdom of God.  In this fellowship all people, but especially the marginalized and even sinners, are not only invited but welcomed graciously.  A little bit earlier in the reading Jesus offers us some wisdom regarding hospitality and humility, two virtues very much a part of Kingdom values.
What does it look like to live in God’s presence?  It looks, from Jesus’ perspective, like a great feast of life where everyone is welcome and people treat each other with respect and humility.  Healing transpires and blessings abound because of God’s grace to all.  This picture was one of any Jesus described in his parabolic teachings.  And it all happened one Sabbath at a meal.

                                                                                                  Pastor Jeff Blackman

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

As you may be aware, the ministry of providing funeral meals is changing. A new way of caring for those who grieve is coming!

A group of approximately 20 women along with Jeff and me met to discuss how we will continue to offer funeral meals in our church in light of fewer people who are able and relatively frequent funerals. The following was determined:
A standard meal of sandwiches, chips, cookies or bars and drinks. Salads, if the family desires, are purchased. The family pays for food that is purchased with the option of a gift to the general fund of $50-200.  
Development of four “service teams” consisting of both women and men to respond to needs within our church, including funeral meals. Each team will have a leader: Linda Scallon, Char Wilkie, Dorothy Davenport or Sandy Johnson. (A co-leader is an option, including the possibility of a younger person who can be mentored by the leader.)
Each team will be responsible for responding to needs for three months per year. Information and sign-up for teams will be available in the Garden Room and through the newsletter and Common Grounds, as well as the website.
We will update information on funeral meals and other aspects of providing funerals at our church. That updated information will be sent to the local funeral homes.

Of course, there are some who are unable to be on a service team at this time due to health issues or caring for loved ones or the circumstances of life. That is understandable. If you are unable, please let us know.

If you are ready, willing and able and have not yet signed up, now’s your chance!

Thank you for your faithful service.

On the journey with you,
Carol

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Judeo-Christianity Is Different by Stephanie Cramer

Judeo-Christianity Is Different
           
            Judeo-Christianity is probably a more accurate term than just Christianity as our Christian beliefs simply cannot be separated from their roots in Judaism, more specifically in the small tribe known as the Israelites. The Bible is filled with Old Testament story after story of the Israelites and all of these stories carry through to New Testament teachings, still impacting Christians today. In fact, the Old Testament changed more than just a small tribe; it’s influence on the world’s view of God, of time, and of relationship goes far beyond impacting only Jews and Christians.  For a deeper understanding of this world-changing influence read Thomas Cahill’s book The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels. For today’s focus I would like to highlight three conceptual differences Judeo-Christianity offers us: time, a loving God, and a divine-human relationship. The Judeo-Christian view of time, God’s character and divine-human relationship differ so much from the other world religions that is important to understand the impact these differences have had on shaping our Western worldview.

            One of the concepts that the Israelites changed for themselves (and us today) is the view of time; past, present and future. In pre-Old Testament times the world looked at time as cyclical, having no beginning, no end and no real progress. Time was repeated over and over and nothing new really happened. There was no reason to grow in knowledge or to change the way things were because you were simply living out a life that would be repeated again and again through various people. This way of looking at time in repetitive cycles still dominates in most Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, the entire goal in Hinduism and Buddhism is to escape the cyclical wheel of life and be absorbed into nothingness (that’s a simplified way to describe the goal of these religions, but it works for this discussion). There is no real future in Hinduism and Buddhism and there was no real future in the ancient Near East. This kept people from really bettering their life, challenging the often-smothering domination of those in power. Then we learn of Moses. Wow! Moses challenged the great god-king of Egypt – the Pharaoh, and led the Israelites forward to a better future. Among other important aspects of the Exodus is the understanding of time, of future, of things to come that bring hope. God showed the Israelites that time matters: they were chosen in the past through the lineage of Abraham, they will be given their proper place on earth in the future land of Canaan, and the choices they make and the actions they take now matters! We take this understanding for granted today, but in the time of Moses it was truly unheard. There was no need for hope when all that will be already has been and always will be, the cyclical view of time. Judeo-Christianity is different; we have hope in our future. Hope is seriously lacking in many cyclical worldviews today because nothing changes, or so it might seem. Look to India where there is a small grassroots challenge to the long-practiced caste system of life. Whichever caste (or social status) you were born into is the caste you will die within and there is no reason to try to change that…but some are trying. This was one of the great emphasis of both Mahatma Gandhi in the 20th Century and Mata Amritanandamayi, the “hugging saint” today. Aren’t we blessed to not be stuck in a cyclical view of time where nothing really matters, there is no reason to change, and there is nothing to look forward to?

The Judeo-Christian Bible is also filled with written records of how God encounters us, His people, wherever we are and the ways in which we change because of our encounter with the Divine. The Judeo-Christian God is very different from the god(s) of other religions. The Israelites were the first group of people to understand that God chose them to be something important, more than just other humans on earth. God chose them to be an example to future generations. For whatever reason, God started small, with just one childless person – Abraham; and slowly increased to one unimportant tribe – the Israelites; then slowly increase to a more diverse group – the disciples; and finally to the entire world. This does not mean that God could not have been interacting with all the other people of the world at the same time, it just means that Abraham said yes to God’s command to leave his homeland and his cyclical view of life which started the slow change that would eventually bring us to where we are today…still changing and still progressing forward.

Many say the people of the Bible are no different than Greco-Roman gods and goddesses, no different than the many gods of other religions, no different than any other human-created myth. Some say that Jesus was just a man. Yet when you study the Bible more deeply you come to understand that the encounters of God with people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Paul, and so on, are very different than any other “divine” story we have. The difference in Judeo-Christian emphasis is that God is relational with His creation. God chooses to have relationships built on love with His creation. Most gods of non-Christian cultures are capricious, fickle, angry. They must be appeased in order to invoke their help in daily living and the way to appease them is through offerings and sacrifices. In other words, they must be bribed and the better the bribe the more likely they will help you. If there is a creator-god in other religions he is distant and completely unreachable or uninterested in us. Approximately 98% of world cultures have a creation story, but only the Israelites had a Creator who came close enough to speak with Moses on Mount Sinai, who allowed Abraham to argue for the people of Sodom, who changed Paul so drastically. Only Judeo-Christianity recognizes God on earth through the person of Jesus, God-incarnate, God-with-us. This is huge! God chose to dwell among His creation in human form and left us with the instructions to call him Abba, Father. God still dwells among us, inside us and all around us if we will just take the time to really look and listen. Not just Judeo-Christians, but all of creation is to be shown the difference in a relational God. This is our Great Commission: to share the gospel, the good news that there is hope and that there is a different way to look at the past and the future. That each and every one of us on earth matters. Our purpose in life is not just to be absorbed into nothingness.

            Judeo-Christianity teaches us so much more than just an understanding of time, personal encounters with the Divine, and a God-initiated relationship with creation. Perhaps humans may never be finished learning from God and learning about God. As you progress through your personal life-story toward your personal future self, remember that Judeo-Christianity is very unique in a world where most everyone is searching for the same things: happiness, purpose and understanding. Be careful not to lump all religions in the same category as they are not all saying the same thing. Be careful not to pin science against Christianity as often they are saying the same thing, just with different terms. And most of all, be careful not to forget that you are just as much a child of God as anyone in the Bible.

With love and respect for all who question,


Stephanie Cramer  

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
This weekend’s Gospel reading is again from St. Luke.  The passage is chapter 12:32-40.  Verses 32-34 continue last week’s concern about having riches toward God.  Jesus tells us once again to “not be afraid” and that God desires us to have the Kingdom of God.  As Jesus said earlier to Martha, we need to get rid of those things which distract us from the riches of God’s realm.
Jesus advises his “little flock” to sell their possessions and give to the poor.  We know that possessing can easily distract us from the virtues of God’s realm.  Possessions can easily possess us if we are unaware.  Possessions require attention, time, and resources if they are to maintain their value and use.  So, when Jesus says “sell,” perhaps he is also saying don’t be distracted from what is truly valuable.
In the second part of this weekend’s passage, Jesus is advising us to be ready, awake, prepared for the return of the Master.  Clearly, if we are messing with our possessions that possess us, we cannot be ready.  So, what are we to be ready for when the Master returns?  A blessing!  As Jesus says, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds alert when he comes,” for the Master will invite them to his own feast and He will even serve them.
To me the implication is that if we are so distracted with the many, many distractions of our daily living, we will miss the “Master” when he shows up as we will be focused on ourselves and we will miss His blessing us.  What better reason to be ready, awake, and prepared!?!

                                                                                            Pastor Jeff Blackman