Category Archives: Pastor’s Page

Pastor’s Page – July 2016

I write this newsletter article in the beginning of June before our church ‘summer break’ on the brink of several momentous events. I am on my way (June 10-11) to my 40th reunion at Hood College; the class of 1976. It is unbelievable that the time has gone so quickly! In many ways that was a very different time; Scott keeps teasing me that we will reconstitute our ‘streaking’ through the campus (a trend we do well to put ‘behind’ us) and not so daring on an all woman’s campus, with only one male day student leading our ‘pack’- except this time we’ll all be walking instead of running around the quad! Now the college is co-ed with many new buildings and sports center with actual teams. Two of my children are Hood grads also. 1976 was our nation’s Bicentennial year- when great celebrations also took place at Valley Forge, near where we lived, where I celebrated with my mother- now deceased for 37 years. This June 11 my father will be gone for twelve years, and my brother for one this August. Scott posted a throw-back Thursday picture of me, my Dad and brother at my ordination, 36 years ago June 21 on the steps of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church. The generations go on with the years, as part of this weekend celebration will be a ‘sprinkle’ for my third grandchild due the end of June, and our first grandson. All of these milestones we want to hold in place; to remember ‘the way we were’ and to keep them, though they disappear.

How can we hold these moments in life when everything around us is constantly changing? How can I keep you from growing up? How can I keep you in the same city, the same state? How can I keep you from dying? We will do anything to hold and keep these moments. And though we try, we can’t. Like impetuous Peter on the mountaintop trying to preserve Jesus’ moment of transfiguration, and stop the inevitable march to Jerusalem and death, we try to hold on by building ‘permanent’ structures. We build monuments, we write speeches and sermons and books. We go to class reunions and celebrate anniversaries and birthdays. We put stones in graveyards and keep our children’s report cards and pictures in boxes to try to hold time still. But none of it works. None of it, finally, can keep the lasting in the fleeting moment. The only way to keep the precious memory is for grace to give us the faith that we all are being kept eternally in the heart of God. The moment is eternal because God is eternal. Jesus knew there was no need to build booths to prove he was with those he loved. The moment had already been kept. Forever.

“How do we get that kind of faith? We don’t. It gets us” writes Robert Hudnut in his book Practical Grace. Only grace can bring it. In the depth of our despair over keeping the lasting in the fleeting, we find ourselves with the faith that the only way the moment can be kept is for God to keep it, because God keeps us. God is the only permanence in our impermanent world. As T.S. Eliot describes; God is the still point in the turning world. Our longing to keep the moment is our longing for God. And by God’s grace we are re-membered.

– Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message – June 2016

Summertime- and the living is easy’- so goes the song from Porgy and Bess. Indeed, summer is a time to spend with family, to rest and renew. It is not, however, a time to vacation from church. Indeed, with work and family schedules eased a bit, it may be a time to renew our commitment to church- and to take part in our VBS that will be 5 weeks of summer Sundays, including an opportunity to have a sharing time with other parents about how to raise our children to have faith in these difficult and chaotic times we live in!

An online post stuck a nerve when it stated the necessity of church attendance for our growth as believers in Christ. It is surprising how many Christians struggle with the idea of church attendance. We are at a crossroads in our nation on the importance of going to church, and having faith. According to research, church attendance has remained virtually the same percent of our national population for the past 70 years. However, this still means there are a HUGE number of American Christians who are not active in a local church- in tens of millions!

Of course this isn’t a new problem. Since the beginning of Christianity, the early leaders had to challenge this mindset, urging believers “Do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encourage one another- and all the more as you see the Day of the Lord approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) A popular Christian social media catch-phrase is, “You don’t go to church, you ARE the church!” While this may be true, it pits ‘being the church’ and ‘going to church’ against each other. If we truly are the church, the body of Christ together, then we will surely get together with other believers regularly. We cannot ‘be’ the church if we don’t ‘go’ to church. No one can be a Christian alone. It is where ‘two or three are gathered together’ that Christ is in our midst.

The ‘church’ never connotes a single individual, lone ranger Christian, just going about Christian duties and never gathering together to worship with other believers. The ‘church’ by its very nature means multiple believers. (Matthew 18:20) This is both the Biblical and historical pattern set forth for us by the first followers of Jesus. They would get together weekly to worship God together, and at times even daily (Acts 2:1-4). They would also share community together in each other’s homes. Paul and the other Apostles’ letters were actually sent to these church communities that gathered in various cities to be read aloud together. Church means getting together with other believers to worship Jesus Christ, and hear the scriptures together, and to encourage one another in the faith.

Craig Groeschel shared; “To worship God together and be committed to worship together, to hear God’s word together, is to be the church. Do not reduce church to listening to a podcast. It is so much more than that. It’s community. It’s worshiping with others, praying for others, hurting with others, celebrating with one another, service others, being involved with others. Don’t let excuses stand in the way of what you know God is calling you to do!

– Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message – May 2016

The season of Eastertide is often known as ‘The Great Fifty Days.’ Like the forty days of Lent between Ash Wednesday through Easter (minus Sundays which are ‘Mini-Easters’, remembering the first day of the week and the empty tomb), there are another forty days after the resurrection when Jesus made appearances to his disciples before his Ascension back to God, where- as the Apostle’s Creed reminds us- Jesus is ‘seated on the right hand of the Father, whence he shall come to judge the quick (living) and the dead”. It was ten days after the disciples saw Jesus being taken up into the sky, that they were again in the upper room, perhaps wondering where do we go from here? Suddenly there was the sound of a mighty wind (imagine a tornado hitting your house which some describe like the sound of a train coming directly through!) and tongues of flame descended on each one, with the result that everyone spoke in different languages, but all understood one another. This was the Spirit empowering disciples to ‘go into all the world’, preaching and teaching, baptizing and making disciples. Thus Pentecost (50 days after Easter) is the great fifty days that changed the world!

Have we lost that Pentecost Spirit in our churches today? Past Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Elder Joan Gray believes the church has become more like a large ocean liner that is difficult to turn, and must continually be nudged and guided by tug boats to get out of the harbor; or we may be like row boats where each person is putting all their strength into the oars, but may not be going in the same direction as others- thus the church keeps going in circles! She suggests a new image for the 21st century church; that of a sail boat that must put up its sails to catch the changing winds of the Holy Spirit in order to move at all. Otherwise, we are stationary in the water. We can work as hard as we can but unless we are willing to ‘catch the spirit’ of God that will direct our efforts, we may not be going in the right direction. After all, it was the Holy Spirit that changed frightened disciples hiding out in fear to a band of faithful men and women who were united in proclaiming the gospel and doing great works for God! Who knows where the winds of Spirit will take us? We do know that when we put up our sails, and catch God’s holy wind, nothing will be able to stop us!

-Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message – April 2016

‘Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  If we have died with Christ we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again. The death he died he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.’

Can you tell the Apostle Paul was first a lawyer?  Here in Romans 6:3-11 he makes his case, his argument, for the importance Easter has made in the lives of people of faith- like you, like me.  In another epistle (letter), he makes it even more clear; ‘If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is in vain.  But In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead; the first fruits of those who are dead.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ have all been made alive.’ (2 Cor. 15)

Paul knew just as we do, that believing this is true is perhaps the easy part.  Living that faith is a whole lot harder.  If there were more people who believed in their hearts, not just in their head then there certainly would be standing room only in all of our churches.  The problem is, many of us really don’t see anything wrong with our ‘old’ life; why should it be crucified with Christ?  I’m not so bad, after all, and a lot better than most!  I’m not sure I want a ‘new life’ if it means I’m going to have to change my priorities and lifestyle in the one I’m living now.  This may not be the best, but it’s pretty good; at least it is all that I know.  The unknown fills me with fear.

The prophet Elijah asks the Israelites of old (and us today) ‘how long will you go limping with two different opinions?’ (1 Kings 18:21)  Bonhoeffer (German pastor who was martyred for his plot to kill Hitler in 1945) believed cheap grace is the enemy of our Church.  Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal repentance.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ living and incarnate. Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a person will gladly go and sell all he has.  It is the pearl of great price which the merchant will sell all her goods to buy.  Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for and the door at which we must knock.   What we are talking about in dying to the old self and asking Christ to make us a new creation, is the surrender of one’s life to Jesus Christ.  C.S. Lewis wrote Christ says ‘give me all’.  I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work; I want You.  I have not come to reform your natural self, but to kill it,.  No half measures are any good.  I don’t want to cut off a branchy here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree.  Hand over the whole natural self; I will give you a new self instead.  In fact, I will give you Myself; my own will shall become yours.

Easter is not just a day, but an entire church season (fifty days leading up to Pentecost).  But even more, Easter is a new way of living.  Would anything about your life change were you to become more sharply focused on God’s ownership of every aspect of your life (the Bible told me so!).  Would your words be different?  …Would your relationships change at all? And what about your use of time and money?  Would you be more or less focused on buying and consuming and accumulating? And what about your body: would the way you treat it with food and alcohol and exercise be the same or different?  If Easter changes everything, as Paul claims, how are we living a new life in Christ rather than the old sinful one? As part of our Mary’s Group exercise during Lent, reading about fasting as a discipline, Donna Dickenson invited us to ‘fast’- refrain- from certain things to be more aware of how our habits exclude or encourage spiritual disciplines.  Each of us picked from a basket; I got ‘television.’ While I never used to watch much TV I’ve recently fallen into the habit of some regular shows- spending sometimes four hours a night. How could I go ‘cold turkey’ with none?

I decided to ‘fast’ from television for holy week, figuring I could do anything for seven days. Lo and behold; now I had time to read something inspirational; Scott and I spent more time talking; with daylight saving time, Beau (our springer spaniel) enjoyed evening walks and ball play.  I got back to writing my evening journal of blessings (3 things I was grateful for each day); prayer was more than a perfunctory time before bed, but an active listening too.  We really do have to die to some things so that something new can take its place. This could be the start of a new life.  Whatever it is that is keeping you from walking the walk with Jesus, consider this Easter season a time to take a chance- to make a change- one small step at a time.  You may find a new life! If you are looking to make a new start and learn more about Jesus’ life and lessons try these!

Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message – March 2016

The calendar turns, and we are deep in the heart of Lent- actually one of my ‘favorite’ seasons of the church year. Advent, also a season of purple repentance and royal passion, is so tied up in December frenzy, and what is now such a commercialized Christmas, we seem to run with secular trappings without time or energy to focus on what greater significance we are called to ponder as Christians. No matter how many bumper stickers urge us to ‘keep Christ in Christmas’- the celebration of Jesus’ birth came centuries later and was tied to winter pagan solstice celebrations, symbolized with light returning to the earth blanketed in darkness. In actuality, historians believe Jesus was probably born in springtime. His birth has significance only because of his life, death, and resurrection, historically documented and pivotal to faith. Lent has been preserved as a uniquely Christian time of remembrance of the importance of this man who changed the world, and continues to change all who believe in Him.

Dorothy Sayers writes that to make the Easter story into something that neither startles, shocks, terrifies, nor excites is ‘to crucify the Son of God afresh.” How many of us continue to be amazed by this story; to embrace the pain and promise? How many of us give Christ’s death and resurrection any more attention than the weather- other than perhaps on Easter day as a place to go before brunch? To observe Lent is to strike at the root of such complacency. Lent- which literally means ‘springtime’ is a time of preparation; a time to return to the desert where Jesus spent forty days getting ready for his ministry. He allowed himself to be tested. If we are serious about following Jesus, we will do the same. Lent is associated with penitence, fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. It is a time for ‘giving things up’ balanced by ‘giving to’ those in need. Rather than simply a season to dwell on depressing mid-winter thoughts of grudging abstinence Lent is an opportunity- in the ‘springtime’ of the church year- to come out of sin’s darkness, repentant, and empowered to begin again as ‘new creations’ in Christ. One author describes Lent as a season to be surprised by joy as we empty ourselves of daily distractions (mindless TV, endless shopping, and all those 7 deadening sins; pride, greed, gluttony, anger, apathy, lust, envy) to focus on our heart’s deepest longing to be united with Christ.

Spiritual masters often refer to a kind of ‘dread’- the nagging sense that we have missed something important; left something undone, or somehow been untrue to ourselves, to others, to God. Lent is a good time to confront the source of those feelings. It is a time to look into the mirror and ask God to show us what we really look like with all our faults and failings, hopes and hurts. In this holy season we recognize all the countless little ways we continue to nail Christ to that cross by denying we ever knew him in the courtyard of public opinion. And it is a time for joy because we know that however far we fall short of reflecting the image of Christ rather than our own desires and needs, Christ died for you- and me. Christ overcame all sin. He continues to free us from ourselves. His empty tomb turns our attention away from all that is wrong with us and the world, and spurs us to experience the abundant life Christ promises.

-Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message – February 2016

February may be the shortest month of the year with only 28 days- but here in NEPA in ‘the bleak midwinter’ it sure seems like the l-o-n-g-e-s-t month of all! And THIS year it has an extra ‘leap’ day extending us to 29. I miss my twenty years in New York State that would always schedule a week off from school at that time (cut down on snow days perhaps- at least in Syracuse!). Like this year we were usually in the midst of lent- that cheery church season. But it did encourage us to get out to recreate in the snow by sledding and cross country skiing.

We do have a love theme to February’s otherwise dreary days thanks to Valentine’s Day. So perhaps focusing on love, THE central foundation of scripture, will brighten up our attitudes. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another Jesus tells disciples (John 13:34) Presbyterian pastor and author Robert Hudnut tells us how to love freely- as God loves us.

The best gift we can give is to love without strings. It is to love other people just as they are. “I know we’ve been going through a lot” a man said to his wife. “I know our lifestyles are different. But I just wanted to tell you I support you in what you feel you have to do to be you”. He was loving her freely, without reservation, just as she was. It was the presence of Christ in my friend’s life that was freeing him to free his wife. Because God loved him feely in the gift of Christ’s love, acceptance, and forgiveness, he could love her freely too.

Remarkably when we love another freely, we find that it frees the other to love us in return. That does not always happen, of course, and loving freely makes us vulnerable. The father of the prodigal son must have been hurting as he watched his son leave the family farm. God was hurting as the only Son, Jesus, was dying on the cross for our sins. It is when we are loved freely, as God loves us freely, that we are given the power to be the persons we were meant to be. Our parents, our children, our friends, our spouses, when they are loving us freely, they are loving us as God loves us. Then, when we fail, we have courage to accept our failings, confess our faults, and seek restoration. “I have sinned” the prodigal son said. He could not say, “You caused me to sin by letting me go!”

Of course, when we love freely, the other person may not freely love us back. The other person may even use our vulnerability. That is the risk we take in loving freely. That is why Jesus was thought of as Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53- the passage often read on Good Friday). Love suffers for the other, or it is not love. But the risk of loving freely is a better risk to take than loving with strings. Because, when I LOVE you with an agenda, I am not freeing you to be you. Loving you feely means I am giving up my need to run your life, which is the very thing that frees you to run your own life most effectively (a lesson, as a parent, I find myself learning over and over again!) When we love freely, it has to be God’s grace. It can’t be us, because we don’t love freely- not without help. And that help is grace. May we love freely- as God loves us!

-Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message- October

Fall always sneaks up on me, especially when September is beautifully warm and I’m not ready for summer to end.  But pumpkins have appeared on every doorstep, the leaves are beginning to change into an array of colorful display, squirrels are bagging nuts for winter, the corn stalks are dry in the fields, the harvest is being gathered and we know the seasons are changing.  It is a process we cannot stop, even if we would like to, nor should we.  Every season has its gifts to share with those who are open to new discoveries and opportunities.  After all- fall brings us Halloween and Thanksgiving as chances to gather in with loved ones and celebrate the season.

Seasons come and go in our church life as well.  Change is usually slower because we try to stop time or turn back the clock to some well-remembered hey-day in the past, but even the church that is ‘the rock of ages’ must change and adapt to new circumstances or face the barren landscape of winter after the last colored leaf has fallen.  Some are forecasting ‘the death of the church’ or at least the decline of denominations with empty pews and austerity budgets.  Those loses are the ‘chaff’ Jesus warns us that blows away in the wind- those for whom church was a convenience or a status symbol or entertainment have no doubt found other pursuits.  Church may no longer be the social center it was in the fifties and sixties, but that reality has been long the case and still we are here- because the church has never belonged to us.  It is God’s creation as the continuing body of Christ on earth.  Our faith is being tested in the crucible of Christ’s sacrifice and service.  I see God challenging the church and its members to a deeper level of commitment.  When we are most faithful to that calling rather than dwelling on the minutia of ‘running the organization,’ we find these are exciting times to dream and do perhaps in some new and creative ways.

Throughout this year our program planning mission team, charged with strategic planning for the long range future of our church, has been hard at work listening to the members and friends of our congregation.  We have now had two worship opportunities to discuss in small groups where the energy lies for mission among our members.  We are finding there is most commitment and desire to experience hands-on ministry opportunities and short term efforts to be serving in our community.  Though we have less available time to give- with many families stretched by two working parents sandwiched between caring for elderly family members while still raising children at home- there is still a yearning to be part of a community that cares for one another and reaches beyond our small sphere by what we can do together.  This is why the church will never die- though we will certainly have to change many of our structures and priorities.  Those still center on meaningful, engaging worship, discipleship where we learn and grown together, fellowship networks for support and care, and mission opportunities to serve that are hands on, local, immediate, and short term.  We want to know and see that our giving of our time and resources is really making a difference.  We’ll keep you posted!

Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message- September

You can take the student out of the school, but you can’t take the school out of the student! Each September I get a sense of excited anticipation- another ‘program’ year begun! What will it bring? What new discoveries will we find? What new developments? One of my favorite all time (oldies) movies “You’ve Got Mail’ expresses the feeling well. What message will arrive today? And as Tom Hanks writes to Meg Ryan about fall in New York, he says he would give her ‘bouquets of sharpened pencils.’ Now, that is poetry! Who can forget that smell- letting us know some new great potential was in store- sharpen your pencils- get ready to get down to work on another year of discovery and learning.
We’ll be doing just that on our “kick-off” Sunday this September 13th. So sharpen your pencils and come to worship ready to work on the next part of our “buzz group” discovery of what programs and ministries will begin at COCU this fall, and what new ways will they be accomplished. No, we have not forgotten the feedback from our ‘conversations’ way back in March. Program planning has studied those comments, along with the Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threat brainstorming done by our council. There were six areas of work and witness that emerged from that input: Worship, Mission, Communication, Administration, Christian Formation, and Fellowship. It was also firmly believed that any changes in our program and/or structure must come from the congregation and not from one single group- a committee or the council. It is up to our membership and friends who will be the volunteers giving your time and talents who will accomplish our work together. So we are planning to ‘take it to the pews’ again for your active participation and ‘buy in’ with your enthusiasm for what you would like to see happen (and thus your support and commitment of the same). No longer able, or willing to be the church of our past, we trust and pray that our witness for Christ will continue to inspire faith and dedication of our very active membership in the present. It’s up to you! What an exciting and open time for us as a congregation as we take the next stops this September to determine who and how Church of Christ Uniting will continue to be Christ’s body in this place and for this time. Bouquets of sharpened pencils indeed!
I hope you read the Alive Now bi-monthly magazine available for thought and prayer as I do. September/October theme is Stability- but that doesn’t mean staying in place- none of us can do that since change is an integral part of our lives as people come and go. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes of stability’s Wisdom, which insists that spiritual growth depends on human beings rooting ourselves in a place on earth with other creatures. For me, and for those of you reading this page I assume that includes being an active participant in Church of Christ Uniting. We are rooted not in a building but by people, ‘the communion of saints’ who are with us on this journey of life and faith. And again, writing on the spiritual practice of stability which is part of the Benedictine vows, he writes: The practice of stability is the means by which God’s house becomes our home. Your house is not a home unless you are there with those you love and cherish and support- and neither is our church home. So sharpen those pencils this September as you return ready to be a full participant with your church family in the ministry of Christ we share together. See U in CH_RCH.

Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message- August

Here in mid-July as I write once again for the Courier, I find myself resisting this ritual. Just one month off? That must mean summer is almost over as we anticipate September kick-off of another program year!  I’m not ready for the easier summer schedule to end; the time spent with family and friends at a distance to be over. In summer there are few meetings, more visits. Also less people in church as you all change your habits for vacations too.  Here is some wisdom from Robert Hudnut’s book Practical Grace, finding God in the everyday on “How Ritual Works”:

They (Mary and Joseph) found him (Jesus at 12 years of age) in the temple        Luke 2: 46

His parents did not realize that the boy Jesus had stayed behind in Jerusalem at the time of the Passover.  When they returned to look for him,” they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” We need our rituals, such as going to the temple, to keep us in touch with the transcendent in life and to be fully alive.  The word ritual has the same root as harmony, reason, arithmetic.  Things are in harmony when we admit the transcendent.  We have a reason for being.  Events begin to add up to something.

Worship is one of life’s rituals.  Once a week we are reminded that things fit together because of grace.  Without grace, the disparate strands of life can pull apart. Prayer is a ritual.  A friend of mine had a tough problem.  We talked about the ritual of prayer.  He was moved to pray as never before.  “I prayed not knowing what I was praying for,” he said, “but I came out of it with a sense of peace.  My only problem is that I made a lot of promises to God that I don’t know how I’ll keep” he laughed.  Reading the Bible is a ritual.  We find ourselves pulling the Bible off the shelf, perhaps not knowing why.  “There is more in this book that finds me than any other” Lincoln said, as he sought strength for the trials of being President during the civil war.  We are surprised at the insights as various thoughts, feelings, and images make their impact on us.  AA is a ritual.  We meet with our small group every week, sometimes every day.  It is the power of the small group, discovered by first century Christians as koinonia, that kept the church growing even in times of difficulty and persecution.  ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” Paul wrote in Galatians (6.2).

It is rituals like these that fit the sacred and secular together.  When we find ourselves doing them it is grace, the ‘higher power’ harmonizing, making life rational, getting things to add up.

No matter what the season, it is the ritual of our lives together that give life meaning and hold us together, especially during challenging times.  Let us then not cease the rituals of our faith- worship, prayer, fellowship and study groups, in and out of season, for they give us our identity as children of God and support and encourage us through all of life’s challenges!

I do look forward to seeing all of us return to church refreshed and renewed from all of our comings and goings.   As much as many of us enjoy time away on vacation, most of us also look forward to coming home and getting back into our fixed routines and familiar rituals.  Don’t forget to include your participation at COCU as one of those traditions you plan to renew! Thank you, Lord, for moving me to perform my daily and weekly rituals.  Amen.

Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message- May

The day of Easter has come and gone, but we are still very much in the season of Easter-tide.  That’s right – another 40 days in the Bible, like the 40 days of rain that Noah rode out in the ark, the forty days and nights that Moses spent on the mountain transcribing God’s commandments, the forty days and nights Jesus spent in the wilderness, the forty days of Lent (not counting Sundays) and now again FORTY DAYS when the resurrected Jesus made earthly appearances to his disciples- turning a confused, doubting group of people into a power that changed the world after forty days Jesus ‘ascended’ to the Father and was ‘seen’ no more; after fifty days, when the disciples were again ‘all gathered into one place’ to celebrate the Jewish harvest festival of Shauvot, they received the gift of Holy Spirit that we know as Pentecost – this year on May 24.

Why is this important, other than being able to answer Jeopardy trivia questions? Because this is the time and season that the Christian church (universal) was born.  Limiting resurrection to a miraculous event that happened to Jesus long ago or something that will also be the fate of true believers in some distant future has ceased to have meaning or relevance for many rational and faithful Christians today.  But as a metaphor for new life – a symbol of the call to renewal – resurrection can still have an appeal and a purpose for followers of Jesus – a summons to practice resurrection here and now.  As long as Easter is about what Jesus did 2,000 years ago, we can insulate ourselves from the possibility that we might have to experience pain, risk, and death in order to accomplish something that can be achieved by getting out of our comfort zones.  The temptation is to make Easter about something spectacular that happened long ago and far away to someone else – and not about US-HERE-TODAY- NOW.

The mystic Thomas Merton wrote: ‘A true encounter with Christ liberates something in us, a power we did not know we had, a hope, a capacity for life, a resilience, an ability to bounce back when we thought we were completely defeated, a capacity to grow and change, a power of creative transformation.” The Merton Journal

And that’s what resurrection is all about.  Not a nebulous reconstitution of matter off in some vague, unknowable, distant future, but a challenge to make a decision.  Will the followers of Jesus let the powers of death, fear, and the status quo warp the world with violence, injustice, and greed?  Or will the resurrection inspire a new generation to stand up here and now to embrace a promise of new life that looks completely different from what anyone might expect? The ideas of resurrection and Easter are not about ‘ancient history’ or a future promise of eternal life, but about TODAY.  The mystery of life through which each of us was created – being in the same Spirit that was in Jesus that brought new life wherever he went.  That same Spirit can redeem life, can infuse hope, and can move people and circumstances from what would otherwise be ‘as good as dead’ toward new life.  WE ARE RESURRECTION PEOPLE!

WORSHIP IN MAY- YOU won’t want to miss it!
Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message- April

So what is Easter all about? Sure, it is a festival of springtime, after a long, cold, dark, and snow-filled winter. We are glad to see earth and green grass again- so we celebrate and fill the sanctuary with bright flowers to bring all the colors of creation indoors that scent the air with sweet perfume. Is it just a chance to buy a new dress or shirt- to look a little better in front of neighbors as we ‘put on our best?’ New clothes are meant to symbolize the new life that we find- freed from our slavery to sin and the law in our hard won and dearly bought salvation through Christ’s death on the cross. That terrible Friday is ‘good’ because it has done for us what we, through the law which we could not keep, were unable to do for ourselves. And so, with that new dress or shirt, think of ‘putting on Christ’ and adopting the new life of love and forgiveness we receive as adopted sons and daughters of God!

Christianity reinterprets the ‘pagan’ symbols that represent new life: rabbits for their proliferation and abundant reproductive capacity, as those who are ‘in Christ’ share the gospel and followers grow in faith and numbers. What do rabbits have to do with eggs and chicks? Nothing. But chicks come from eggs- and eggs were again the symbol of that new life we receive in Christ. The empty shell is similar to the empty tomb. And what could be cuter than a bright yellow chick chipping out of that shell with its beak and coming out into the world? Another popular symbol for Easter is the butterfly that bursts out of the cocoon (tomb) to spread its beautiful new wings and fly, released from its life as a simple worm that is earthbound. Transformation occurs in that new life found by those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection.

As Thomas Merton writes in Seasons of CelebrationLent has summoned us to change our hearts, to effect in ourselves the Christian metanoia (transformation). But at the same time Lent has reminded us all too clearly of our own powerlessness to change our lives in any way. Lent in the liturgical year plays the role of the Law, the teaching, that convinces us of sin and inflicts upon us the crushing evidence of our own mortality; ashes to ashes, dust to dust; from the earth we came and to earth we will return. But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ. Now we find in ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it. Now we no longer strive to be good because we have to, because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please Christ who has given all His love to us! Now our life is full of meaning and purpose. In other words, it is not dutiful observance that keeps us from sin, but something far greater; it is love. And this love is not something which we develop by our own powers alone. It is a sublime gift of the divine mercy, and the fact that we live in the realization of this mercy and this gift is the greatest source of growth for our love and holiness. This gift, this mercy, this unbounded love of God for us has been lavished upon us as a result of Christ’s victory. To taste this love is to share in His victory. To realize our freedom, to exult in our liberation from death, from sin and from the Law, is to sing the Alleluia which glorifies God in this world and in the world to come. This joy in God, this freedom which raises us in faith and in hope, is the power of Easter.

Easter is more than a day. It is liberation to a way of new life in faith with joy, freedom and hope. It is the ultimate irony that the ‘crowds of Easter’ so quickly disperse, as quickly as those who followed Jesus desert the foot of his cross. Let the moving message of our faith be a spring-time in your soul that causes you to continue in praise and worship, giving glory to God for this marvelous work of salvation, so that our lives may be a continuous Alleluia!                             

Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message- March

Lord, who throughout these forty days for us did fast and pray; teach us with you to mourn our sins and close by you to stay.   And through these days of penitence, and through this Passion tide; yes evermore, in life and death, O Lord with us abide.

March is the month of Lent as we journey with Jesus toward the cross.  This season of the church year, 40 days and nights, is defined by the color purple that reminds us of somber penitence as well as the passion of Jesus as he suffered and died for us.  I can hear some of you saying- or at least thinking – that is too depressing to contemplate.  Here we already are in the ‘dead’ of winter, and you want to take us down further by asking us to reflect on, and repent of, our sins and shortcomings?  Those Lenten hymns in the minor key are depressing.  Give us upbeat hope!

And yes, that will come in April with spring showers and flowers.  As Psalm 30 reminds us, weeping may come for the night, but joy comes with the morning.  That is then – this is now!  Let us not rush too quickly past the somber season of Lent, but ponder its lessons and purpose.  First it recognizes that our lives are seldom all ‘hearts and flowers’ of February valentines.  In each life there are seasons of grief and loss, struggle and pain as well as mountaintop times.  There is meaning in the valley, if we are bold enough to linger long enough to learn its lessons.  It teaches us to look deeper, within and without, for meaning and purpose in our lives.  It invites us to be honest in our assessment of our relationship to God and to others; what is going well, and what needs to be re-evaluated, assessed, or renewed.  Second, Lent is a good time for that kind of spiritual inventory.  This is a time for the kind of prayer that lays who we are before God- with all our questions, skepticism, disappointment, failures, and even depression – and to look to Jesus help enabling us to be the person we are called and meant to be.

The prophet Joel sets the tone of our internal inventory when he writes, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.” It may include such Lenten disciplines or practices, such as fasting, with weeping and with mourning, of where we are falling short, and places we can and should make a change.  Such examination also enables us to free up room for what Joel calls, rending our hearts – to make more space for the things of God.  Hearts here refers to the part of us that responds to God; the part where true change takes place- not the surface mental assessment, but a deeper repentance and returning to the source of life and love and all true relationships.  God is not like an angry parent just waiting to trip us up and scold us for doing wrong.  The goal of repentance is restoration.  Joel continues to encourage – God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.  Like the prodigal father, full of love for his wayward child, God is waiting on the road for us with open arms, longing to welcome us home once more.  This is our Lenten journey!

Only after observing a ‘Holy Lent’- these forty days (not counting Sundays, that are mini-Easters of praise and worship) set apart from false optimism – and given over to honest assessment, repentance, and renewal through worship, prayer, study, and perhaps ‘fasting’ from mindless entertainment (too much TV?) or spurious, false piety of a surface faith- may we arrive at that true Easter joy described by David’s Psalm:

You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message- February 2015

The unexamined life is not worth living, according to French philosopher Blaise Pascal.  We must agree – at least those of us who try to set New Year’s resolutions, and then try to keep them longer than a few weeks (now in February, how is that going for us?!) Students graduating from high school, or college, look back at the good and challenging times before preparing to start some new career or set a new direction.  A mid-life crisis is nothing more than feeling as if time is passing by.  We wonder if we’ve done all we dreamed of doing.  We may decide to make a ‘correction’ in our life journey (divorce, new job/career, family).  At the close of our life, or perhaps when an illness forces the issue of our mortality, we examine the impact we made with family or friends or career.  We learn from looking at the past, its ups and downs, and try to put that knowledge to good use in our present or as we prepare for an uncertain future.

Rarely do we take time to examine what went well or didn’t in our church program year.  Why is it we think the church will never change – and therefore never needs examination?  We may write mission statements, or revise them through the years – but seldom do they change the ways we function, how we allocate our funds, or the programs we plan.  Since Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow (Hebrews 4), then the body of Christ, the church, ought to always stay the same too, right?  Unfortunately, those churches that never change or take time to examine what is going well and what needs improvement, usually end up closing their doors.

COCU had the Alban Institute conduct a study twelve years ago, implementing some recommendations (for more small groups) and not others (too administratively heavy for our current size).  We have ‘tweaked’ our committee structure and participation requirements since then, and simplified a mission statement, yet haven’t had real, transformative change.  Program Planning has decided our congregation could benefit from a ‘self- study.’  We are not hiring an external organization for this process; nor is our goal to write one more mission statement, or change a few committee-task force- ministry team names.  We would like to hear from the congregation, from the ‘grass roots’ as it were, where we are on the mark in meeting the needs of our members and community, what could be improved, or even what new direction may emerge for the years to come.  If the last great change was our merger 43 years ago now in 1972, perhaps it is time to assess what the future may hold in store!  We are asking you, voluntarily, to ‘sign-up’ to be part of a small group to talk about these things.  In the weeks ahead there will be opportunities at different times-some ‘home’ meetings, some at church in groups of 8-10 (the council began this in January) to give your feedback.  This information will be collated by the committee and assessed with council and also presented to the congregation.  THIS IS AN IMPORTANT OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD!  We need the broadest participation possible – our goal is 100-125 people.  Together let’s work to ‘go boldly where no church has gone before.

Pastor Carol 

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Pastor’s Message- December 2014

“If we live, we live unto the Lord; and, if we die, we die unto the Lord.  Whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.”  Romans 14:  7-8

I have preached this passage from Romans at funerals, of course, and taught the theology of trust in God’s provident grace.  But deep in my heart I know I haven’t lived what I professed to believe.  Do any of us?  Our money tells us ‘in God we trust’ but most of us anxiously scan the stock market reports for its ups and downs and worry about our bank books lasting as long as our long list of needs and wants.  We profess that we are children of God, beloved and precious, but secretly believe we are judged on our works and our worth is dependent on others’ shifting opinion of our performance or ‘likability’.  We talk of God’s grace, the unmerited gift of acceptance and forgiveness, but we run harder and faster and work longer to buy things for ourselves and loved ones that will ‘buy’ our acceptance in the marketplaces of life.  That little recognized ‘last’ Sunday in the church calendar year called ‘Christ the King’, which most of us celebrate as Thanksgiving Sunday, declares that Jesus alone is Lord of all, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; who has brought life and immortality to light.  So whether we live or die, work longer or harder, have ‘success’ by the world’s measures- a meaningful job, a happy well-adjusted family, sustainable income, caring friends, earthly security- in our heart of hearts we believe all this is up to us.  We must keep all those plates spinning at once- until like Humpty Dumpty, “it all falls down and couldn’t be put back together again.”

Under the category of pastors are people too, 2014 has been quite a year for the ‘Floomers.’  We accomplished a 25-year dream of building a retirement home on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, only to have a minor ground floor flood one month after moving in, and a major fire destroy the back of the home two months in.  We had two judicial court cases, one divorce, two unplanned pregnancies, one marriage, at least one emotional meltdown, a life and job threatening medical diagnosis, one birth, three moves, lots of counseling and family dramas.  Sound familiar?  I know many of you have similar plates to balance in your own lives.  And when it all comes tumbling down in the same year, stress levels go through the roof.  Why?  Because we believe it is all on our shoulders.  It is our responsibility to put Humpty Dumpty back on the wall so everyone can see and believe there are no ‘cracks’ in our image.  I’m glad to close the door on this particular calendar year!  But I have also learned a great deal about what psychologists call a ‘non-anxious’ presence, and theologians call ‘the peace that passes our understanding’.  When we finally realize we can’t ‘keep it all together’ no matter how hard we try, we open our lives to that grace, to the Lord of all, in ways we haven’t before.  Prayer takes the place of worry.  Deep breaths take the place of clenched fists and stomachs.  It really is not all about us- nor dependent on human efforts alone.  Letting go and letting God puts life back into perspective.  In life, in death, we belong to the Lord.

For God so loved the world…that a baby was born in a stable; God moved into our neighborhood, Jesus shouldered and shares the burdens, the ups and downs of our lives so we don’t have to carry them all alone.  In our beginning, and in our ending, there is God- and if and when we put our trust and faith in God’s provident grace, it truly is somehow enough.  This difficult year taught me I am accepted and loved for who I am, as I am, God’s beautiful unique creation that God called ‘good’; not as someone else thinks I should be (even, or especially not, my perfectionist, critical self!)  I am God’s child, and God’s child has come into my life not only as my judge but as my redeemer.  That is the beauty and the meaning of our journey in this Advent season.  God is Emmanuel, with us- when we are precariously balanced on top of that wall, and even more so when we lie in pieces at the bottom after we ‘all fall down’.

“What then shall we say to this?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with Him?  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  No, in all these things I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Roman 8:  31-39

May you know this truth in your inward being during this Advent journey.  It is our Way, our Life, and our Peace.

Pastor Carol

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Pastor’s Message- November 2014

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.  (Romans 12:2)  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  (Deuteronomy 6:5)

This final ‘truth’ describing our reformed faith is one of the most important; we bring all that we are to our relationship with God, including our hearts and our minds.  Ours is not ‘blind’ acceptance but a reasoned and thoughtful faith that continues to grow in our understanding of God and the world.  Often the gospel requires that we call into question beliefs at which we have already arrived; the acceptance of slavery, women as second class citizens and church participants, the prejudice against homosexuals are just some examples.  The gospel may also lead to a rending of the heart, because it summons us to reexamine some of our strongly held opinions in an effort to open ourselves to God’s Holy Spirit.  Our understanding of God is always finite and too small to comprehend the height, depth, and breadth of all that God is doing in our world.  We are a community of pilgrims who have not yet arrived, but who are constantly on the way to the ‘city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.’ (Hebrews 11:10)

Thus the gospel call us to repentance- turning from ourselves to God; turning from our self-destructive and idolatrous ways to the abundant life promised in Jesus Christ; turning from our easy answers and feel good solutions to the costly grace of Jesus who alone is Lord.  Repentance and belief in the good- news requires constant death of the old self and resurrection to new life.  Repentance is an ongoing experience that continually opens us to the transforming power of Jesus our Christ.  Through our redemption in Christ, the renewal of our minds is now possible.  Repentance is indeed a radical rethinking of everything before the face of Jesus Christ.  Yet how often do congregations and Christians take it upon themselves to become centers for the radical rethinking of their relationship with money, status, privilege, family heritage and values, sex and marriage and children, ambition and success, by bringing it all under the scrutiny of God’s living Word?  Too often we separate faith from practice; personal belief from political and social justice.   It is a false distinction!  God wants ALL of us.

A telling story from scripture tells us of the rich younger ruler who comes to Jesus asking, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus replies that he must follow the commandments to love God and neighbor.  Ever humble, the man replies, “You’re right, and I have kept them all!  In fact, I’ve lived an exemplary life from my youth.  I have faithfully kept the law of God; I don’t lie, I don’t steal, I don’t cheat, and I never take the Lord’s name in vain.  But I’m still empty on the inside.  Tell me what to do.”  And Jesus said- because he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, not just the law; “There is one thing causing your spiritual emptiness.  You love your possessions and your money more than you love God.  Go and sell of your stocks; find some people who suffering inequity in life, and make their life better by giving what you have away.  Once you’ve done that, your hands may be empty but your heart will be full; then come back and follow me.”  Nothing from the past can remain at the center of his life except the desire for faith and obedience.  So the ruler went away sorrowful because he loved God in part, but himself more.

The transformation of the human mind and its renewal through assimilation to the mind of Christ , is something that has to go on throughout our whole life.  It is a never ending discipleship in repentant rethinking as we take up the cross and follow Christ.  May it be so for you and for me!

Pastor Carol

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