Archive for Pastor’s Weekly Message

Holy, Weedy Ground – That’s Us

Sometimes we are truly not our best selves, and we know it.  But Jesus points out that good, strong plants and tenacious weeds do come up in the same field.  God’s holy territory is not a place – it is in us.  We are complicated creatures.  We need to be diligent, prayerful and compassionate in calling out our own weeds, as well as acknowledging all the fruitful things we are able to do to bring forth the reign of God.

As imperfect individuals, and an imperfect group, we can be quite blind to our shortcomings.  God’s love for us, though, is unconditional, and in a community that is “powered” by God’s love we can listen to one another, truly hear, and learn how to be better and braver.  One thing we will do at our August 19 retreat is remind ourselves that we are powered and led by God’s love.  We will remind ourselves of our core values – those strong plants to nurture – and note if there are weeds we need to attend to.  And we’ll rejoice that God is still speaking among us ….

Peace and grace to you,
Pastor Carol

Garden Work

Maybe it is enough to say this week that I commend to you again Jesus’ parable of the sower in Matthew 13.  The gift of God’s Creation is more than simply the planet Earth committed to our care – though that is increasingly vital.  Creation includes all of our creativity – to be the best we can be with our gifts (our “seeds”) to bring about the reign of God, the reign of radical love, peace, and justice in these times.  That is Creation.  It requires hard work.  It requires knowing our seeds.  It requires knowing both God and ourselves as sowers.  It means knowing our soil and nurturing it.

This garden tending – with ourselves as individuals and as a church – is also daring work!  When soil is depleted or rocky, when the regular sowers are tired, when the soil is not known or goes untended, then not much, if anything is going to grow.  And the whole growth process involves a huge measure of trust – that beauty will emerge from the dirt.  God knows that.  Keep digging!

Pastor Carol

Making Music with Our Lives

Wow!  We sang 21 songs in worship on Sunday – and still had time for deep prayers, scripture, offerings, and reflection.  Our annual hymn sing reminded us that singing is a particular way of expressing feelings, or making a statement, that goes beyond the recitation of words.  We sing in joy, and in lament.  When we sing, we feel the breath of life in our bodies in a different way.  St. Augustine of the 5th century reportedly said that “one who sings, prays twice.”   Animals sing, too – whales, dolphins, birds, bats, to name a few – and they have special purposes.  Our purpose was to share spiritual connection with God and with one another, and to make a special kind of music in God’s realm with the way we live our lives.

We sang from different eras and musical styles, in a cycle with scripture readings.  In our songs, we literally prayed for an hour, in joy and wonder.  Our souls were fed in all that music, hearing one another’s voices.  Thanks be to God! (and oh yes – those musical vibrations are good for your body!)

Pastor Carol

Island United Church Goes to General Synod

There are nearly 3000 people at the UCC’s 31st General Synod in Baltimore – a combination of a huge family reunion, the most inspirational worship ever, business to satisfy the hardiest of committee and resolution geeks (with a great electronic voting system), and incredible encouragement to get out in the world and bring our gifts as individuals and churches to create justice.  About everything I see cries out to be brought back to IUC, so you can bet you will be on the receiving end of some spiritual juice in weeks and months to come.  There is an exhibit hall filled with more books, resources, clergy stoles, and church “stuff” than one’s credit card can stand.  The high points today were our recognition(!) as a 5-for-5 church, and the overwhelming and excited election of Rev. Traci Blackmon as the new Executive Minister for Justice & Witness Ministries.  You can learn more about this amazing woman here and here.

Thank you so much for the gift of some time to drink all this in for you.  I’ll be back mid-week. In the meantime, the best I can do for now is to share a few photos.  There is ever-so-much more on the UCC website, including this afternoon’s beautiful worship service for which I was privileged to sing in the massed choir with about 120 folks from all over the country.

Missing you, praying for and with you, and being refueled!!

Pastor Carol

Shirts

Though I am on vacation, I want to share a moving moment of ministry with you.  After worshipping at Peoples UCC in Washington, D.C., an historically African-American congregation, my Episcopalian friends and I joined Presbyterian friends to help install and reflect on this display of T-shirts.  There is one T-shirt (over 200 total) for every person killed by gun violence in the Washington area, and surrounding Maryland and Virginia in 2016.  The display travels from church to church and volunteers who care about ending gun violence as an act of social justice help with the mounting of the T-shirts which bear the names of the lost.  Please pray for them, for those lost everywhere to this senselessness, and for the strength to do justice in their names.

Pastor Carol

 

Learning About Hospitality

It’s been said that welcome is what we do at the front door.  Hospitality is what we extend when someone is inside our home, our space, our heart.  The real intent of hospitality is not just a great meal – it is to establish a sense of comfort, safety and security.  The hospitable place is where you can breathe, be yourself, and be accepted in whatever condition you arrived today – in body and spirit.  That is a great gift in a world that feels increasingly untrustworthy in so many ways.  We are threatened by assaults on our spirits as well as our bodies.  We are all fragile and it is easy to forget that.
The Greek word in scripture for “hospitality” is philoxenos – a combination of (brotherly, familial) “love” and “stranger.”  True hospitality is to love the stranger, the immigrant, the “other” as you would love your own sibling.  The hallmark of a Jesus follower is a radical love for immigrants – after the manner of brothers and sisters.  This means we don’t withhold from immigrants (legal or undocumented); we don’t allow them to go homeless or hungry; to be frightened or threatened; we refuse to call them names and we practice extending ourselves to build relationship with them, to bring them safety and security.  These are the things the Bible means when it calls us to hospitality – familial love for strangers and immigrants.  Are we actually doing these things, or are we simply having friends over for dinner and calling ourselves good?

Pastor Carol

Creation, Re-Creation & Co-Creation

Paul did a wonderful job reading the creation story from Genesis last Sunday.  As he said, “This is poetry!”  And I shared a tale about God teaching humankind what it means to be partners.  When the angels ask God if Creation is “all done,” God replies, “I don’t know.  Go ask my partners.”  That means us.

We are partners with one another and with God.  Theologian Matthew Fox coined the term “co-creators,” engaged in work that is not yet finished.  We may argue about how it all began, but it continues endlessly and we are a part of it.  The story says God is depends on us, just as surely as we depend on God.  We may disagree with one another along the way about the “how” certain things should get done – large or small.  We may squabble – a lot – as a nation, a community, a congregation.  But we are still always partners.  We can’t disagree on the “why;” that is that we are called by God, by our very creation, with the divine image imprinted on us, to create a better world, to lift up, to heal brokenness.  The same idea is echoed in the words of the Great Commission attributed to Jesus (Mt 28:16-20).  When Jesus is leaving forever, he does the last thing he can possibly do.  He makes his friends partners in his work of sharing God’s unconditional love and grace.  Be my partners, he says, and I will be with you always.  The truth is, throughout the gospels, Jesus is making partners.  Then in the last scene, of the last act, he does it again, once and for all.  Deep peace be with you, partners.

Pastor Carol

Remembering

In memory (or remembrance) of her (Mark 14:9)… To know how precious memory is, look no further than the reality of forgetting. There is a natural loss of memory as we age. We may all fret at not being able to recall a name or place. But some of that loss is painfully accelerated by dementias, even unto death, where the brain simply forgets how to “be.” This is individual forgetting which we may know in ourselves, in others, or someday will know. Then there is the forgetting of the world, of society, of culture. We want to forget things simply too awful to remember, that we don’t want to face, or try to fix, but thank God, there are voices to keep them alive. Or sometimes our corporate consciousness is just too overloaded to remember things beyond our individual needs.

When we remember, we make meaning of something or someone now in the past. We may not make the same meaning every time. We may make new associations. In fact Jesus encourages this. Whenever the good news is shared, he says, let it not be in old ways where we also learned of God’s love, or in even Jesus’ own way. Let it be shared in honor, in memory, of a nameless woman. Let it be shared in honor of your own experience. Remember and make the association between God’s love and the socially low. To remember is to reconnect and reshape. “Members” are parts of something. When something is dis-membered, it is taken apart, maybe destroyed. When something is re-membered, it is put back together. That is the power of remembrance in the celebration and sharing of communion. As a Body of Christ, we are re-gathered, re-assembled, re-membered. Let us remember that remembering itself is an act of justice for those who would be forgotten. Remembering is God’s work in us.
 

What Do You Worship?

Take a moment to ask yourself – what do I revere?  To what am I devoted?  And then think about your motivation for those things.  Even those who would say, “My only devotion is to God,” might ask about motivation.  Is it because you have been taught that you must please God in order to save your soul?  Or is it a free expression of gratitude for the blessings you know in your life and those yet to be discovered; for holy presence in times of trouble?  Look at the objects of your worship – your “worth-ship” – and ask if God is there, in some measure, large or small.  We have lots of unknown gods in our lives and it helps to take regular time to think about where we place our emotional and spiritual energy.  The contemplative monk Thomas Merton wrote a wonderful prayer which goes like this:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Merton displays remarkable humility and surrender here.  Despite our need to know God – our need to know everything – there is an admission here that God and God’s ways are unknowable.                                                                                      Pastor Carol

Are the things you worship of human creation?.

What to Do with Stones

There are some terrible stories in scripture and in our history about people executed by being stoned to death.  We know that stones can be destructive of life and property.  But a stone is also strong, foundational and beautiful – we were reminded of the image of Christ as cornerstone of our faith, and the foundation stones of the church – faith, hope, love, mercy.  Stones have been used not only for weapons, but to build walls and houses, make tools, mark sacred spaces, and pave roads.  Sometimes special people become the “rock” of our existence, the stones of a family, or of a church.   Whether creating a structure, or relationships, not all stones fit together perfectly.  Irregularities have to find ways to balance together, to contribute to the whole.  We are all called to be living stones in the house of the Divine.  In our unevenness, we are used by the Holy Spirit to rest with one another.  Each of us has rough edges.  We are part of an edifice only God can imagine, and mortar together with grace.  So we have work to do – stone mason work – in order to be a strong and faithful house.  Holy stone mason work is truth-telling, laughing, weeping, and working together.  Holy stone mason work also means allowing ourselves be shaped and changed.  We can bring change in the world, if we step back and allow God’s work to be done in and through each of us.  What a wonderful house of lovely stones will emerge.

Deep peace be with you,
Pastor Carol