Archive for Pastor’s Weekly Message

Overflowing with Gratitude

What a joy it was to celebrate with Rev. Diane Weible, our Conference Minister!  As someone remarked to me before going home, “She is a really special person.”  Yes, she is.  She gave us a remarkable message about what it truly means to live with gratitude, understanding that everything originates in God, and is of God.  “Things” and money are not ours simply to accumulate, count, and then decide when there is enough to share or give back.  We are to live in full-blown gratitude all the time for the life and community God has given us.  That is God’s joy as well as our own.

And for a small church, we DO live fully in gratitude. Our communion table was covered with food donations for First Step for Families.  In the last 6 weeks we have given with big, extravagant hearts to two hurricane relief efforts, and the wine country wildfire relief.  This kind of giving comes from us because it is a true joy to pour into the world all that God has entrusted to us to take care of.  We shared a bountiful lunch and great conversation with Rev. Diane.  Thank you, Diane, for the gift of your presence.  May we all take the message of joyful gratitude into our hearts and homes and have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Blessings —    Pastor Carol

Being Smart and Wise

We find life wisdom in the oddest places sometimes – in cartoons, greeting cards, in old school notebooks, in Shakespeare, in scripture.  When we discover a special understanding that changes us, it stays with us deep inside – like God stays with us.  Wisdom (chockmah in Hebrew; sophia in Greek) is a feminine noun – a distinction we don’t have in English.  Wisdom was understood as a feminine aspect of God who is without gender, beyond gender.  Wisdom is often thought to dwell in the heart, and the intellect, in the head.  Are these stereotypically female and male understandings?  What does it mean to be smart, sharp, canny?  What does it mean to be wise, deep, profound?  We need both in our personal lives and in our community life together.  Neither one is “male” or “female.”

Many men lead with their hearts and their instincts.  Many women have powerful, insightful intellects.  Power and objectivity are not limited to men.  Warmth, concern and empathy are not limited to women.  We cannot survive in this world, nor thrive in our search for the realm of God, without both to make us whole persons and whole communities.  Jesus was known as a sage, the Wisdom of God, a man of the heart.  Use your mind and follow your heart.   Blessings —

Pastor Carol    

http://www.waterperrygardens.co.uk/

Holy Work

On the sabbath day, ironically, we talked about work, and finding the spirituality, the presence or purpose of God, in each thing that we do.  There is a difference between a job and a vocation, a calling.  God placed a calling upon Jesus’ life, and God places a calling on each of us – a calling to be recognized and appreciated for what it is.  It is a calling to make right use of our gifts to make the world a better place.

In the letter to the Thessalonians, Paul tells how hard he has worked at another job in order not to burden the people with his upkeep. He wants them to appreciate this. It actually sounds a little self-aggrandizing and pious in this context, but it does point out that his very ordinary work as a tentmaker had holy purpose – to empower him on the journey of spreading the gospel.

I shared a story.  Recently, I met Luis, a brilliant, young immigration attorney, working hard for those facing possible family separation by deportation, and especially for Dreamers, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients brought here as children. Luis himself is here by virtue of DACA. He is undocumented. He put himself through UC Berkeley, and law school, with no financial aid, for he was not eligible. Among the many things he did was work as a dishwasher. He said he was the best, most focused dishwasher possible because he viewed his task as foundational to the function of the restaurant. Without clean plates, there would be no meals to be served to people. And in truth, his dishwashing was foundational to his vocation – to serve those families in need of his legal help today. Holy work. God in the dirty dishes.

Our work is foundational to the work of God in the world.  Find the joy and thanksgiving in your work.  Blessings —

                                                   Pastor Carol

                  

Saints Alive

                                      -Everyday Saints, Katie Hall
We had a beautiful ofrenda (altar) for All Saints’ / Dia de los Muertos.  We had Rowe’s tasty Mexican pan dulce and chocolate skulls.  The saints were dancing!  Most importantly, we got to reflect on the true nature of being a saint, and who the saints have been in our own lives.
 
                            –Dancing Saints, St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal, SF
We also recognized Martin Luther on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation – though he was far from saintly in the classic sense.  But we also know there are Buddhist, Muslim and Jewish saints, as well as saints of no religious tradition at all.  What is a saint but one who touches and changes another’s life,  sharing their gifts, and living fully with integrity?  Not someone who is perfect, pious or a miracle-worker, but who lives authentically as God created them, not more-than or less-than.
Saints are friends of God, and as we sang, “God helping, I hope to be one, too.”   In gratitude for you —
                                                   Pastor Carol


 –Ofrenda, photo by Lee Lamkin

The Joy of Paying

 Mixing secular and spiritual questions or principles can be a sure way to confusion, because they just aren’t in the same realm. Jesus’ opponents try to trap him with a question about the legitimacy of paying tax to the Roman occupiers. (Mt 22:15-22) And Jesus in his finest fashion gives an enigmatic non-answer, “Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” OK, great. We can compute taxes, pay them and be done with it. But what do we owe to God? The psalms say – everything, all the glory, all the praise and honor.  Incalculable.  Jesus gave his life, and we are called to give ours, too.  We are accountable to God and to one another because we live in covenant community.

Our country is supposed to work the same way but we know it doesn’t always. It is complicated by privilege and power. The injustices of race, gender, immigration status, accessibility to health care and education are disproportionately visited upon the poor who do not have that power or privilege.  And we also have the privilege of blindness. God asks that we remove the blinders, connect with our brothers and sisters and act on their behalf with courage, kindness and respect without regard for the cost to ourselves. That’s what we owe God. It’s hard. We literally owe our lives. Sacrificing life is not always dying painfully on a cross.  Other things are our “life.”  We can sacrifice time, pleasure, resources, status and reputation for the lifting up of others. That is what Jesus modeled. That was what God asked of him and what he knew he owed.

A helping hand, a look of compassion are the works we owe God – they change things. No act of kindness is unimportant. What we owe God is beyond calculation. We will spend our lives living out what we owe, sometimes well, sometimes fumbling and poorly. Or in our self-centeredness, we just may just forget altogether. But that is our call, to live out what we owe to God, in the manner of Jesus. Pay it forward. Pay what you owe.

In gratitude for you —  Pastor Carol

Focus on God

In these dizzying, confusing, upsetting times, it is important to keep our focus; our focus on what Paul writes to the Philippians: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable … if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil 4:8)  In other words, focus on God; on The Good.  When we are overloaded with things that distress us, and make us anxious, it is easy to lose the capacity to set priorities, to panic for fear we will make a poor decision, to become paralyzed with fear or sadness.  Reach out for solidity, the God who covenants always to be with us.

I used the metaphor of dancers learning to “spot” through their many leaps and revolutions, catching the same steady point with their eyes over and over again so they keep their balance.  Find your steady point, or as one of our songs says, “God, the still point of the circle.”  Take time – even a few minutes daily – for quiet, for a spiritual practice, for time without electronics.

May the God of steadiness be with us all in difficult times.

Pastor Carol

Tired

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of lighting candles; tired of praying into the darkness, even though I’m certain a compassionate God is present.  The tide of misfortune and evil that seems to have overtaken us is exhausting.  People are scared of war, they are hurt, devastated, stripped of the bare necessities of life we take for granted and – in the last 10 days – simply slaughtered, their lives cut down.  What are we to do?  It’s fair to be angry; there is plenty to be angry about and to protest.  Oh yes, I am also tired of being told that protest is too political, rather than an act of faith.

It is our responsibility, as followers of Jesus, to turn anger into loving and strong protest for change; demanding that those we put in authority live up to promises to care for and protect our communities – all communities; communities of color, of sexual diversity, communities affected by natural disaster and gun violence.  Be angry, but don’t rant or amplify the sin.  Turn your anger into love.  Then, maybe together, we can combat the terrible fatigue.  Yes, I’m tired of lighting candles, but I will keep doing it.  And pray that you will, too.

In peace and hope,
Pastor Carol

Yummy Bread

We delved into World Communion Sunday, and what it means to be the Body of Christ.  That brought out a few good bread memories among us!  Bread is a common staple food, in its many forms.  It feeds our bodies.  And when John the gospel writer had Jesus say, “I am the bread of life,” it meant Jesus was the bread to feed our spirits.  When we offer bread to another (or an apple, or a Clif bar), we are saying, “I want you to live.”  It is important to me that you survive.

Yet before dough is bread, it must be kneaded, and rise.  God kneads us over a lifetime, working intention and holy love into us, the way a baker works bread.  And like muscles kneaded in massage, sometimes the holy work hurts.  We are pushed to look at ourselves and our world and see things we would rather not.  But we in the Body of Christ change and grow strong like the dough with working yeast and gluten when we place ourselves in God’s care.  Then we must be left alone, in a quiet warm place to rise – a warm place filled with love, prayers and caring.

(Then we shared the wonderful breads that Rowe brought – challah, tortillas, and naan!  Yum!)

Yours in peace and hope,
Pastor Carol

Digging Deep, Doing Our Business

The last few days were highlighted by our Saturday afternoon retreat, Sunday worship and congregational meeting.  When I talk about “doing our business” I mean our spiritual business, not strictly financial or logistical.  We prayed and listened to one another.  We opened our hearts.  We talked about core values and what mission means.  We developed some questions to be answered, which were shared at the congregational meeting as goals for the coming year.  We have plenty of notes to put out in the next week – please be a little patient!

In the meantime, two valuable documents tie us together.  Thanks to our secretary Maritza Jackson, the new church directory, and the beautifully assembled annual report are available in hard copy at church if you did not already receive one.  Approved minutes from our last congregational meeting in June are available here.   Thank you to Brian Ring for joining the Pastoral Relations Committee, and to Huijun Ring for working with the Communications Team.  Thank you to Moderator Alexis Lewis for shepherding a great meeting.  We also got to give a fine round of applause to the buildings and grounds folks, especially Ed Grohe and Paul Bade, for the installation of our projection system.

Yours in peace and hope,
Pastor Carol

Not According to Rules

It does not take too many deep dives into scripture – especially into the parables of Jesus – to discover that the operating principle of God is the development of right and loving relationship.  That is what is modeled for us; that is what we are called to do.  In our First World way, we are proud of being a society of laws, and our human instinct is to crave order.  But there is a magnificent disorderliness in the realm of God we are charged to bring about.  We scratch our heads and say, “I don’t get it.”  In the parables, it seems that everything from massive debts to piddly misdemeanors is set aside in the name of deeper and stronger connection with one another, and with God.  Sometimes living by legalisms and doing justice are simply not the same thing.  The forgiveness, compassion, redemption and healing we are offered by grace, and in a grace-filled community, defy logic.  Please don’t fret trying to decode this.  Receive it with joy.

You are loved and valued just the way you are, beyond rules, categories, or definitions.

Pastor Carol