Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 31

I am sitting in a Panera Bread restaurant sipping a cup of coffee on this rainy morning and my soul is a frantic mess. My mind is racing. . . My heart is beating a bit faster than normal. The quiet music playing over my earbuds that is intended to both block out Panera’s music and still my heart is not working. So that I don’t jinx or spoil the events of today that brought me to this restaurant, I will keep the reason for this ‘mobile pastoral thought’ a secret—for now. (Let me just say that it is a good reason, don’t worry). 

But as I drink my vanilla cold brew coffee, I must confess Easter-centric feelings bubbling up in me as I wait that I want you to think about this rainy, cool morning. 

Let me say that I do not feel especially overjoyed or excited today. I do love a rainy day. I find that rainy days are some of the best days to read and write that God offers me. But the events of today are overshadowing that choice and so writing is harder. . .  I also cannot say that I am feeling dread or the heavy weight of life pressing down upon me as some might feel during Holy Week or another dark time in their spiritual lives. My mood is light and I am full of this Easter feeling.  

Today I am feeling anticipation. 

It is an interesting feeling or emotion to experience if we are honest. Something is happening around me and my emotions are a mixture of many feelings and choices—all of them are trying to distract me from the things in my day that are necessary and that I must attend to. Yet all of these emotions center on, or gather around, feelings of anticipation. And this is also an Easter feeling to express today, and one to wonder with you about.

Tomorrow the sad, heavy feelings and choices of Holy Week will come to the forefront. The story will progress as it does each year. Tomorrow we will gather for the Seder meal at church. We will have communion together in the sanctuary. As we partake of the elements we will remember that Jesus is going to die soon for us. He will choose this. We will extinguish the candles that we normally might light during Advent. It will become dark in our the church—symbolically. But in the midst of that we cannot forget the anticipation that Easter is coming. 

The resurrection is going to happen again very soon. The miracle of Jesus’ return will transform the sad, dark, mourning church into a new, vibrant, joyful place. And we anticipate this happening.

And so I wonder today, on this rainy day, how are you feeling, and how are you expressing the feelings of anticipation? 

Something wonderful is about to happen for the church. What is that calling you to do or become? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 30

Who doing the work for Christ that is meant for you? 

In Matthew 27 we read these words: 

"When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.” (NRSV)

By itself asking for Jesus’ body so that he might burry it seems like a sacrificial act of discipleship for Joseph. Remember this man, this Jesus of Nazareth, was just crucified based on accusations of sedition and blasphemy against God and society. Both the Roman leaders and the Hebrew authorities wanted to silence him for their own reasons. He was a threat to the status quo. The gathered crowd bayed for his blood when days earlier they celebrated his entrance into Jerusalem by laying their cloaks and palms down before the colt on which he rode. 

Into this space, Joseph of Arimathea serves God in an unexpected way. Joseph would have been a wealthy man in society—how else would he have afforded a familial burial tomb in a lush garden? From tradition we also know that Joseph was a Pharisees; a teacher of the law. Probably he was standing near the cross of Jesus when he gave up his spirit and may have been present at Jesus’ show trial witnessing the suffering of the Messiah. Like his friend Nicodemus, Joseph risked a great deal in following the teachings of Jesus. Social pressures and expectation that comes as a religious leader in that time was great. Yet, Joseph does something extraordinary. . . something that someone was supposed to do and we cannot forget this lesson. 

In the book, Power and Passion: Six Characters in Search of Resurrection, Samuel Wells writes these words: 

"He [Joseph] becomes the disciple who takes the place of Peter, James, and the rest. John the Baptist’s disciples were on hand to take his body away, but Jesus’ body requires a new figure, emerging from the shadows. In burying Jesus, Joseph does what the rich young man in Matthew 19:22 fails to do: he puts his life at risk and gives to the poor."

As I read those words I have to say that I had not thought of the story from this angle. . . He takes the place of Peter. Think of that for just a moment. Joseph does what Peter, the Rock upon which the church would be built, was called to do. The burial of Jesus was Peter and the disciple’s task, and yet, they ran from it. They hid in fear behind a locked door. The pressure of following Jesus drove them away—all except John the Beloved who is entrusted the care of Jesus’ mother at the time of his death. The cherished followers of Jesus were not on hand to care for their teacher one last time. . . Joseph does the work of a disciple. I don't suspect that when Jesus was arrested Joseph thought he would be needed in this way by God. But he was. And so are we.

Who is doing the work for Christ that is meant for you? 

This was necessary work. Sure it would be painful. There would be tears as the prayers were said and the body was wrapped and anointed with spices. However, it would also be a final act of caring. There is always another aspect of service and caring that calls to us because God needs your hands. I hope that when the chance is presented before you to become a minister of care in your community that you will remember this story, and as you remember it, you notice how you ability to care is needed.  

Rev. Derek

Monday, March 29, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 29

As we begin Holy Week, I want to share with you the words of Jeremiah 11:18-19. While you may not be familiar with the citation directly, I know that the words of the text will speak to your heart. And so let us being Holy Week by remembering who Jesus is and how he defines his relationship to us. 

18It was the LORD who made it known to me, and I knew; 

          then you showed me their evil deeds. 
19  But I was like a gentle lamb 
          led to the slaughter. 
     And I did not know it was against me 
          that they devised schemes, saying, 
     “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, 
          let us cut him off from the land of the living, 
          so that his name will no longer be remembered!” 

The “gentle lamb led to the slaughter,” is an image we associate with Jesus. The Hebrew word for “gentle” or “docile,” as it is translated, carries a connotation of friendship not subservience. Not only is the Lamb mentioned in this verse not aggressive toward those around it, but that same Lamb is a friend to the people who live in proximity to it. They share a common purpose and mission because they are in relational union. A similar modern day image that Jeremiah’s language might support is one a friendly or tame pet living among a family for a long period of time. 

The gentle Lamb that Jeremiah writes about was well aware of the sins and choices of those around him. The Lord made this information known to him, and yet, that same Lamb was willing to persist. He was willing to be led to slaughter while knowing that the lives of the people whom he loves and serves are sinful. There is indeed an element of surprise in Jeremiah’s words: “I did not know it was against me.” 

Yet, the Lamb persists. 

Those who lead the Lamb in our text to its death think that his name will be remembered no longer, but God has the last laugh. Death cannot swallow up what God has began! Death will not have the final word.

As you begin Holy Week, consider your relationship to the Gentle Lamb. Notice the work that he has continued in your life even when your sin could drive him away. . .

Rev. Derek

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 25

As our Lenten season ends this weekend, I want to share with you the words of Jewish philosopher Saadia Gaon that are found in the beginning of a book that I am currently reading. His words address the truth that God exceeds our mind's ability to fully speak about God. We can know or comprehend all of the aspects of God’s nature and personhood. We marvel at how God, who is greater and more caring than we can imagine, would willingly come to earth and suffer as Jesus did for us.

God’s will can also be a mystery that we are living and working at understanding. . . God far exceeds our ability to reason or rationalize. Gaon wrote: 

"Were we, in our effort to give an account of God, to make use only of expressions that are literally true, it would be necessary for us to desist from speaking of Him as one that hears and sees and pities and will to the point where there would be nothing left for us to affirm expect the fact of His existence."

So much of our devotional life is dedicated to understanding, even in a small sense, the nature of God. We want to understand who God is and why God acts in the manner in which He does. Countless hours have been spent trying to figure out how God chooses to move in our lives. But there is just some information that we are not able to fully assimilate into our minds correctly or clearly. Yet we still try. . . 

Throughout Lent this year I have tried to make some sense of the sacrifice of Jesus—besides just saying that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I cannot fully grasp the nature of God being willing to come down from the heavenly kingdom and suffer for us. My only recourse is to fall back onto the fact that God loves me, loves us, so much that He will willingly do this for us. 

I have wondered about how he felt as the days grow closer to Good Friday. . . 

I wondered what he thought about when Jesus and His Heavenly Father were together communing in worship while he was on earth. . .  

We know that the disciples did not see the pain in Jesus’ eyes each day of Holy Week. I wonder what anguish was on his face in those days? 

There is a lot to consider and reflect upon. And so I hope that as Lent ends, you will let the mystery of God’s choice and God’s presence wash over you. He willingly did this. . . What does that make you want to say or how does that call you to live? 

Rev. Derek 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 23

When was the last time that you heard someone talk about ’timing’ to you? Maybe they said something like, “now just isn’t the right time” or were more positive by saying, “time flies when you’re having fun.” While these two statements are different in their meaning they both carry with them a sense of time and speed. Life has an aggressive pace that we are beholden to. 

Add to that idea issues and considerations of “God’s timing,” and the complexity of time, speed, and God’s will becomes an expectational-mixture that we can find hard to handle. You might just become bogged down in wondering if God hears you or is attentive to your needs. 

After all, since ’time flies’ in our lives, that concept must also relate to God. He must be a prisoner of timing issues as well. Therefore the logic follows that God must not be paying close enough attention to your daily struggle in Lent because God is too busy being productive to notice you. Again, ’now is not the right time.’

But this is wrong thing to focus upon in Lent. 

I wonder what might happen in your day if you stopped being worried about timing issues and instead focused on the fact that God hears you? These issues do not melt away suddenly because we remember that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Instead, as we notice these thoughts and feelings taking root in our minds, we can deliberately give them over to God and allow God the space the continually mold and shape us.

As an Irish proverb reminds us, “God made time, but man made haste.”

We are the ones who worry and fret about the time not being right. God does not operate like this. 

So as the days of Lent come to their end, I hope that you will remember that God is not beholden to our formulas or our ideals. God does not respond as we do to presenting issues of our day. Rather God is with us in a more personal, more deliberate way. As such, God is never in too much of a hurry to spend some time listening to your heart and caring for your needs. 

Rev. Derek

Monday, March 22, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 22

Today I had another wonderful opportunity to read a bible story to the children at CNS. For five classes we sat together for an ‘Easter’ story. For everyone was excited to see the Easter bunny’s work and be with their families, but not one of them was familiar with this part of the story—or at least they didn’t think they were. Today’s story was about Joseph of Arimathea and talked about his role in Jesus’ death. . .

As you know Joseph is the person who provided the tomb of Jesus following his death on the cross. We know that it was Joseph who asked Pilate for the body of Jesus so that he could perform the Jewish rites of purification and burial before the Sabbath began. Tradition tells us that Joseph and Nicodemus undertook this work as part of their on-going relationship with Jesus. They, like we, believed that he was the Messiah. So this became their final act of caring for Jesus. 

Of course the story has a happy ending. . . But what I want to share with you is how the children at CNS responded to the story. 

They sat curious as I showed them a picture of a man carving out a cave (tomb) as was tradition. They wondered who he was. They wondered why was he spending his time in a cave carving it out. When I showed the picture of Joseph and his friends watching Jesus die on the cross, the children became quieter and a bit sadder. This is story that they knew. The children commented on a tear that fell from the eye of a character who they said looked sad. The usually curious children and passionate children sat still as the great stone was rolled across the opening of the tomb and as Pilate posted guards. 

And of course they were happy because three days later Jesus left that cave for us! 

But it was how they listened that I am sharing with you. They heard a familiar story of Jesus’ death and resurrection through new ears. They knew the story I am sure. After I was done they said as much. If I asked them to talk about how Jesus died I believe that they could get the essential parts of the story clearly articulated. But when I said, “Who was Joseph of Arimathea?” They did not know. 

I wonder what might happen in your life when you stop to listen to God’s story, from someone who you least expect? I wonder what revelation God might be providing for you if you, like the children of CNS, listen with new ears? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 18

In 2011 the University of Miami conducted a research study that I found fascinating and wanted to share with you. The implications of this study are diverse and offer the church an opportunity for ministry—if we are willing to move toward it. Published in The Journal of Behavior Medicine, this study assessed the relationship between [the] View of God and changes in cellular structure by medical patients. The section of the study and report that caught my eye said this: 

"Among patients better immune functioning is found among those who have an image of God that is more compassionate and loving than those who have images of God as more judgmental and punitive. . . Changes in God image changes [cells] in randomized trials."  

This study poses a tremendous challenge and opportunity to us as the church if we stop and think about it. 

If it is true that our relationship with God impacts our health and our body’s ability to heal and be restored, then it stands to reason that the church can and should work to help people of our community enrich and develop their personal relationships with God. While we are not called to just ‘wish’ away the suffering of people and encourage them to on a smile and believe in God, we can effect a change in their lives by giving them room and grace. . . We can provide a safe emotional space for one another—without judgment or ridicule. We can help people learn to address how they imagine God being with them in a more helpful way. Again, we do not look down upon their pain or just ignore it, instead when room is created for the other person, ministry opportunities are also created. 

As I read this study I being to think wonder if the church is being invited into the healing work of God in the lives of their community. I wonder what our community would look like if we suspended judgment and helped one another find God positively? 

As you continue through the rest of this week, and in Lent, take some time to notice how other people express their image of God. When you find someone who sees God only as angry and judgmental, don't necessarily chastise them. Instead, press in. . . Linger with them. . . As you linger you might just challenge their image of God? Who knows you might just become an agent of healing as well. . . 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 17

Lauren Winner’s book Still: Notes on a Mid-Life Crisis has been a helpful book for me at various points in my Christian walk. The rawness of her words, while challenging at times, calls each reader to press into God a little bit more. While I do not consider myself to be going through a mid-life faith crisis as Winner was in this book, I do believe that her words are helpful for the church at large. They are especially helpful to us a we continue to journey through Lent. 

Therefore, I commend this book to you for in it you will find that Winner takes the reader on a journey from despair to hope; from suffering to peace. In that way, every Christian, regardless of their level of faith, will find her words speaking to your very soul—pressing in on a place that you may not have felt that God could touch or know about.

She ends one of her chapters with these words: 

"The story ends with Luke’s telling us that Jesus often withdrew to a lonely place to pray. A little like escaping to the quiet of a museum, I think. What can it mean for a place to be lonely? A place lonely like Jesus? Lonely like me? Maybe I can make my loneliness into an invitation—to Jesus—that he might withdraw with me and pray."

Even moments, or seasons, where despair seems to live and flourish in us can become opportunities to invite God to dwell closely with us. Invitations to extend to God when we need God to abide closely. . . deeply. . . personally. I don’t know many Christians who actively admit to themselves or each other that they are lonely or suffering, but we do not have to. Notice how Lauren’s words associate Jesus with us. Notice how it is not we who come to Jesus in desperation but as we read those words it feels like Jesus is taking us by the hand. 

He is walking with us toward a sacred space where we can pray—together. He will pray for us in John’s gospel But as I reflect longer on Lauren’s words they indicate to me that in our moment of suffering and pain, Jesus will pray with us. His hand holding ours. His voice calling out to God in heaven to dwell with us. His words calling the Holy Spirit down to care for both our soul and our body. 

This is a wonderfully needed bit of good news in Lent. This can be the time when the church feels itself separated or isolated from each other. But as we dwell with Lauren’s words, we learn that Jesus is close at hand. He is identifying with our suffering because he too suffered in a similar way.

I wonder how Lauren’s words might speak to the pain that you feel today? How might her words remind you that Jesus is close at hand when you need him the most? 

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 16

As governors open up their states for travel and commerce, and as covid vaccines become more accessible and administered, life is finding its equilibrium. We are not ‘going back to the way that things were’ before covid, as much as our spirit of adaptation has become so normal that we don’t notice the shift taking place around us daily. But the shift is still happening, and it will continue to happen as our churches welcome more worshippers back into their midst. We will be called to continue to adapt throughout the rest of this year as seek to live faithfully. 

Things are still changing in an incremental way all around us. At a federal level, at a state level, and at a local level, life is moving. Life is not as static as we might hope that it will be after covid-19. No longer are we are concerned as much about ’shelter in place’ orders. Instead we focus and we speak about contract tracing. We debate and research which covid vaccine we feel the most comfortable receiving when our time comes. Most of us have ceased debating the merits of mask wearing in public places in favor of other considerations. Those conversations have been replaced by concerns and questions about RNA sequencing and vaccine effectiveness numbers. We have wondered about a great many things. . . Again the conversation is still on-going; we just speak about different topics. 

This presents a challenge to us as the church. We are called to practice ‘being with;’ called to practice a ministry of presence and listening—that much remains a constant. Into this mixture and these thoughts I want to share with you the words of Baylor professor, and writer, Alan Jacobs.

In his book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, he writes these words to us that I think are applicable to our thoughts and discussions about covid-19, about vaccines and masks.

All of us at various times in our lives believe true things for poor reasons, and false things for good reasons, and that whatever we think we know, whether we’re right or wrong, arises from our interactions with other human beings."  

Today I picked up a salad from a local restaurant. While I waited my turn in line, I witness a woman enter the building without a mask on. When the manager handed her a mask and asked her to put it on she responded by saying, “I’m not wearing that thing” and dropped the mask on the counter defiantly. Her hand rested in her belly and the child obviously growing inside. Then she continued her transaction. She collected her food, and left. 

Whether right or wrong, whether we agree with her sentiment or not, we as the church are called to minister to people who feel themselves polarized and boxed off. We are called to interact with people who we may not agree with—people whose choices do not mirror ours. We are called to pay attention to them and as we notice them, we trust that God will open up a way for us to practice our faith publicly. We don’t have to agree with their choices but we are also not allowed to just ignore them because they are not making a choice we support directly.

The target is once again moving. . . We are once again being asked to serve people who we may not agree with as the church. Like Jacobs says, we are called to be present in the lives of people who, from our perspective, are making the wrong decision and pounding their chest because of it. How we interact with them says a great deal about us and our level of Christian maturity and faith. 

I wonder what instances or moments Jacob’s words call you to pay attention to today?

Rev. Derek   

Monday, March 15, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 15

During worship on Sunday I posed a question to the young people of our church. The general question that I shared was adapted from our Sunday morning book study that takes place before worship. I shortened the question from the book down a bit for the young people, but I want to share the full version with you today. Pastor Rusty George asked this question of his readers in his book Being Together

"How can we become kind or good or loving if we aren’t around others to be kind, good, and loving toward? How can we demonstrate kindness, gentleness, and self-control if we don’t have other people challenging and testing our commitment to display these qualities?"

As I said Sunday, and reiterate now, the struggle that this question asks is real. Often the chance to apply the answer to this question comes when we least expect it. Let me explain:

After church on Sunday Jennifer and I decided to order take out from Panera Bread. So, I opened app on my iPhone and the three of us choose what we wanted for lunch. Soup. Sandwiches. Mac N Cheese in a bread bowl. We ordered our lunch and I left the house to pick it up. Walking across the parking lot, I was warmed by the sunny afternoon. Traffic was heavy on the way over, but that did not bother me much. This was a good day for sure. As I picked up the bag of food and held it both hands for security’s sake, I walked toward the door. 

As I got to the door my chance came! 

The woman in front of me walked out carrying her lunch. I was walking behind her when another woman attempted to pushed past us both. Yes, she actually lowered her shoulder and attempted to push us. Her husband stood outside the door realizing that his wife was being a rude while he was being patient. It was a shock to see someone acting like this. Now in that instance what was I going to do. Was I going to say, ‘oh excuse me,’ and back up? Would I ignore her rudeness and go about my day? Although she was rude, would my mind gravitate toward a posture of sadness—something in her life was pressing upon her to such a degree that she made a rude choice? 

Nope. . . I was annoyed. Very annoyed in this moment. As she bumped into me, I gave no ground. I arrived at the door first and therefore common etiquette says that I should go through the door. So I did. My irrigation was compounded because of social distancing guidelines that have been with us for over a year. Why be this aggressive when walking into a restaurant? 

I made it one to the curb when the conviction of the Holy Spirit fell upon me and Rusty’s words came back into my mind. 

Yes, that woman was rude. Yes, it bothered me. Yes she gave little if any thought to the people around her. Yes she should have remained a bit more separated from us socially. Perhaps I was justified in my feelings, but I had the chance to be good, kind, and loving to someone and when the moment came, I choose none of those options. I made it to the truck unsure if my agitation was because of this woman’s choice or my response. . . 

I wonder how you respond when these moments happen in your day? We all have the chance to be good, kind, and loving? But will we? When the moment comes, and it will come today, how might you respond? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 9

As Jennifer backed out of the driveway today just before 7am, I was busy preparing for something that I missed. . . It had been too long since I was able to do this, I felt a sense of anticipation growing in me. Quietly, I changed my clothes and finished my first cup of coffee. Then I headed downstairs to Emma’s room. Silently I crept into her room where Luna was sleeping. By now, Luna heard me coming and was sitting up with her ears at attention wondering what I wanted. As far as she knew, we were just going to out. As I reached for her crate door, she ‘yelped’ in relief. She had been in there all night and was ready to be out. 

Then it happened. . . Running up the stairs, Luna saw that I had her leash sitting on the small bench next to the front door. That only meant one thing! Luna is a very perceptive dog. She began to cry a lot louder and almost hop around the foyer trying to get the leash onto her. We were finally going to walk again! It had been so long!  

I snapped the leash into place on her harness, adjusted my black hat, and we walked out into the blue morning of Cranberry to enjoy the morning. . . 

For the next three and a half miles, we walked our normal route. 

She ran around the church twice to get all her nervous energy out. She pulled me as hard as I would let her. After two laps, we made the natural left turn that she longed for and headed down Plains Church Road. . . We turned right onto Hope Road as we always do. . . Then we walked into the community of Forest Edge. We walked a wooded-trail that sits behind one of the development’s first cul-de-sac. I saw that new stones were painted and placed on the pathway as guides. It has been a long time since we were able to walk like this. The snow, ice, and cold made walking unsafe for us.

But it seems that winter is over (Don’t say that too loud. . .).

On the entire walk Luna was so happy to be back to our old routine. She ran around me at times and lingered at the same trees, the same sign posts and mailboxes. Because it was early in the morning, the traffic was very light so she had more room to briskly walk on the road if she wanted—which she did. After a little over an hour of walking we returned home. . . One more lap around the church to ‘cool down’ and then it was breakfast time for us both. I didn’t even have to remind her that she is to ’sit’ in the entry way until I get her leash off. She was tired and I was thirsty.  

One of the things that Lent affords us, because of its length in time, is the ability to return to practices that we might have forsaken long ago. We practiced these disciplines before, but perhaps they have been forsaken now. The simplicity of Lent affords us the opportunity to re-engage with God and to press into God’s presence a bit more. We can return to those disciplines that blessed us before.  

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun in her book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform us, defines this practice in the following way:

To uncomplicated and untangle my life so I can focus on what really matters.”

That is exactly what was happening as Luna and I walked this morning. Our walk was uncomplicated and untangled and that made it a blessing. When I was cold, I put the hood of my sweatshirt up to keep my ears warm. When my right arm got tired of holding the leash, l used my left. When I thought of something that I wanted to talk to God about, I talked to God about it. As silence crept in, I allowed Luna’s breathing to be all that I heard as we walked (besides listening for traffic). It was a simple and uncomplicated practice and it brought us both a sense of joy and peace. 

Step after step we walked together, and step by step I focused on what really mattered in that moment. . . walking. I wonder how God might be asking you to practice this simplicity today? 

Rev. Derek

Monday, March 8, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 8

What happens when you come down from the spiritual mountain? 

How do you re-enter life, community, work? 

This is a question that I have sat with all morning. The question was with me as I checked email today, and as read my devotions. It followed me into the sanctuary as I did other work around the church today. . . Often the question is not easy to resolve or address, and that can only make it more challenging the next time the experience happens. How can I focus on anything new when my attention is drawn back to the thing that I just experienced?

As you know, JonMark was home for the last week. Because of covid exposure issues at Edinboro, the campus stopped all in-person activities for 10 days. The ROTC stopped meeting for PT each morning at 5am. The dinning services only served ‘grab-n-go’ meals for the week so that the students would not linger anywhere on campus publicly. So, with that in mind, JonMark made the decision to come home and be with us. 

The food is better at home. The bed is softer. . . And let’s be honest, his dog and girlfriend are here too. 

It was a great week. He asked if he could cook for us several times. He made chicken parmesan and Baja tacos with me. Together he and Autumn made us a chicken curry with zucchini noodles instead of rice which was delicious. Plus, because he worked at Starbucks, he has some ‘insider’ tricks to make a great cup of coffee with our coffee maker. He helped Emma with some chemistry and math homework without being nagged at. 

To top it off, JonMark even did some home repair work with me to fix a couple little things that I had not gotten to. . . yet. 

Seeing him sitting with his family in church was a blessing as well. Watching him read the Word of God with Jennifer and follow along in the liturgy at church is a source of blessing to me. I know his faith is strong and will be with him long after he leaves our home. 

Then he left. . . He went back last night. In the blink of an eye our home became so quiet. The silence was deafening! At 10:30pm he messaged me and said that he made it home safely. So, just like that, our life returned to normal. I closed the shades in his window and wait until he is home again. Luna’s eyes are sad as she looks for him around the house. She slept with us for a little while instead of her crate. Jennifer and I miss him—and we miss his cooking. Although Emma says that she does not miss him, I can see that she does.  

So back to my question, how then do we re-engage our days when the joy of the mountaintop has passed? (Because you and I both know that this joy will pass.)

How do we move from moments where the “Alleluias" of our Christian faith are loud and triumphant and into the Monday’s?

One way, I think is to just acknowledge that what has just passed was indeed wonderful and a blessing. We did have a great week with JonMark and we also knew that it would pass sooner that we wanted. But also while recognizing that what has finished was joyful, do not forget that God is with you. God is paying attention to you and your feelings. God knows that the struggles that are part of your day are real. Do not neglect to take that struggle back to God as you leave the mountaintop and re-enter the normal parts of your day. 

I think of a prayer that can be helpful in this work. The prayer goes like this: 

"God of compassion and mercy, 
If I love thee for hope of heaven, 
Then deny me heaven;
If I love thee for fear of hell, 
Then give me hell:
But if I love thee for thyself alone,
Then give me thyself alone.” 

God is accessible to us. The mountaintop experience does end, but the person and presence of God does not end. And so, we actually never do leave the God behind. Instead we take God with us as we re-engage our day. I wonder how this prayer might take shape and be helpful in your day as you encounter the people of your community? 

Rev. Derek

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 4

This afternoon I had the opportunity to work with a family. We met under less than ideal conditions. Without going into detail I will only say that they are suffering and I was called in to help. As a pastor this is a call that comes from time to time. The entire encounter went smoothly. As a matter of fact, it went exactly how I imagined that it would go as I entered their presence. I have walked down this pathway before with other families and am sure that I will be asked to do so with other families in the future. 

The rhythms of the meeting are the same. and the conversations feel very familiar. 

They said what I expected them to say, and I said what they expected me to say. Back and forth this dance went for entirety of my time with this family.  

Toward the end of my time with them, I began to speak with a new individual who I did not have the opportunity to speak with until that moment. Before today we had not met. I introduced myself. She introduced herself. Then, as often happens, we began some small talk. We talked about her family, her children, and her work. . . 

I listened. . . She spoke. . . I commented slightly on the subject matter. From time to time I would ask a question about something that I did not understand fully, and she would elaborate in detail. Throughout our time together, I said very little that I bet you would not have said if you were in my position. This encounter was a blessing and I was happy to be called in.  

I listened. . . And gave her room to speak. 

As I left the appointment I was reminded of the words of John of the Cross. He once wrote: 

"It is great wisdom to know how to be silent and to look at neither the remarks, nor the deeds, or the lives of others." 

Like I said, you have had this encounter also. You may not meet the individual in a setting that you would define or label as “sacred,” but that does not necessarily matter. God is there. You are there. And that person, the one who has the great need, is also there. What would it look like, or how might the meeting take shape, if you followed John’s "words of wisdom?” I wonder what would happen if you just listened? 

I have watched you do it before in the life of this church. . . I wonder what will happen if you do it out in the community? 

Rev. Derek

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 3

It was very quiet this morning around the house today. 

Although we needed to begin our day at 5am because of Jennifer’s work schedule, there was little stress floating around the house at that hour. Bianca gently snored at the foot of our bed as Jennifer got ready for her day quietly. I ‘stumbled’ around the kitchen looking for a cup of coffee. All was still. . . JonMark, home for a week from Edinboro, secretly asked if he could take Jennifer to work this morning. I was happy to offer him more time with his mother. So, my morning was even more free and quiet than normal. Now, I like taking Jennifer to work on days when she begins at 7am, but I also know that soon JonMark will be leaving ’the nest.’ So, any excuse for him and his mother to spend time together like this is worth it. 

While he was gone, and while the rest of the dogs still slept, I noticed how quiet, how peaceful, it was in the house. Not even the heater was rumbling. . . God’s peace was resting on our home to such a degree that I did not even contemplate falling back to sleep. I just sat there, sipping my coffee, breathing deeply. . .  

In those moments, I was reminded of the words of Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. In his book, Living Toward a Vision, he writes: 

Shalom is a persistent vision of joy, well-being, harmony, and prosperity, many dimensions and subtle nuances: love, loyalty, grace, salvation, justice, blessing, righteousness. [Shalom is] the freight of a dream of God that resists all our tendencies to division, hostility, fear, drivenness, and misery.

I enjoy that thought. Shalom as a vision of togetherness, of grace and blessing, a vision of resisting division and misery, speaks to my soul. Far too many people would rather slam down their pen, or type aggressively on the keyboard, rather than breath in God’s Shalom. For some, being angry is more readily accessible than being peaceful and celebrating how God is with us in that stillness.

Lent is our time of reflection and introspection. It is the silent time in the church calendar where we contemplate sin and confess it to God. But I wonder what would it look like if the Body of Christ entered into God’s Shalom as Brueggemann suggests? What would happen to the church universal if we lived with this ‘persistent vision of joy’ surrounding us, wrapping us up, caring for us? How might we, when those people who do not embrace God’s Shalom enter our lives, how might we live faithfully minister to them in a world that focuses so much of its time on being right and on judgment? 

I sipped my coffee for a while before starting my morning. I resolved nothing. I had no great ideas to fix the world and/or the people that I might meet today who are not practicing God’s Shalom. Instead, I let God’s joy wash over me as the sun came in through the front window. . . And I gave God thanks for today.

Rev. Derek

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 2

Over the weekend Jennifer and I went grocery shopping for the first time since JonMark left for college. . . back in January (it was shocking that it took so long for us to need to shop again). We stopped at a pair of grocery stores to complete our list before heading home. On the way, since it was raining, I called Emma and asked her to come out help us carry in the bags. Outside of my truck windows it was lightly raining and we did not want to carry everything in ourselves in the rain. Emma responded that she’d be watching for us and we were all set. 

Because our last stop was at Target to pick up one single item, Jennifer drove so that she could let me off on the curb at the store. THe morning was going smoothly. The list was complete; the purchases made. I was especially excited because JonMark was coming home to surprise Jennifer for the week (she didn’t know). We pulled into the driveway. Emma jogged out to the truck. . . then things went wrong for me.

As I “shimmied” along my truck trying not to step in the wet grass in case it was slippery, I lost track of where my feet were landing on the driveway. On the final step before getting behind my truck, my foot hit a large pile of mud and sunk down a solid inch into the squishy mud. I hopped out as fast as I could hoping not to lose my shoe in the mess. But it was covered in chocolate-colored mud. I said to no in particular, “well this is going to complicate things isn’t it.” How am I going to take groceries into the house when I cannot walk into the house because of a very muddy shoe?!? 

Not to worry. . . we got it done. But my shoe was still muddy. 

When we were done, I slipped off my shoes in the foyer and helped put the groceries away. I thought that I would give my shoe a couple days to dry and then the mud would flake off. In the interim my shoe choices were a bit limited. 

I could wear my blue Nepal-shoes. They have a hole in the side which can be a problem but they are still comfortable. Plus they remind me of Ilam. . . I could wear my old gray running shoes . . . But those are very broken down by the miles of running and walking with Luna so they are not very comfortable. Flip flops or sandals are not the best choice during this time of the year either. 

I rotated shoes for a couple of days but none of them were as comfortable as the running shoes with the mud on them that sit in the foyer.

This morning, as I looked for shoes to wear, I remembered the shoes in the foyer. I put them back on, stomped my feet on the sidewalk outside of the manse, and headed over to the office. I found it interesting that as I walked my feet felt really good. The arches in these shoes are still strong. The shoes hold my feet so well each step still has a lot of spring to it. I did not realize how much I missed the normal experiences of my day. . .  It might have just been simple shoe choice, but it helped shape my morning positively.

And so today I wondered, what spiritual practice have you put aside recently? What thing kept you soul alive and moving forward, but through an accidental choice or moment, you left it sit in the foyer of your life? There it remained forgotten and unused. . . It was helpful before, but now something caused you to leave it sit. There it sat for a time completely neglected. I wonder what will happen when you remember it and apply it back into your life? 

Richard Foster reminds us that: 

Our problem is that we assume prayer [or other spiritual disciplines] are something to master the way we master algebra or auto-mechanics.” 

Maybe just putting re-embracing something, like a shoe with dry mud on it, could be all that is needed to help us move forward as Christians and as the church?

Rev. Derek

Monday, March 1, 2021

Pastoral Thought--March 1

As we continue in our Lenten reflection I wonder, what are not good at? 

Let me tell you a little story. . . Jennifer and I recently bid farewell to our microwave. It was a nice unit that we bought from Costco. It served us well. . . or should I say that it 'kinda’ served us well. The dumb thing died after about 6 months of usage which I know is atypical of microwaves. As I read on-line, microwaves should live for years if properly cared for. Ours didn’t make it! The glass plate inside would spin; the time would count down. But it no longer heated up our food. As I am not an appliance technician (that was not a class that I could take at Seminary), I had no idea what to do to fix it. 

The only things that I know to do for a microwave, I did. 

It was clean inside. We wiped it out consistently so there is absolutely no food buildup in the microwave—on the walls or roof. I know that excessive ‘food participles’ left behind in a microwave can cause a unit to break down quicker. So we always keep it wiped out. Both of us make sure to cover any food that we reheat so that nothing ‘pops’ and sprays around the unit.

The second thing that I knew to do was keep the counter around the microwave clear. Proper airflow is important with a microwave. It needs room to circulate the air so that it does not overheat and burn up or burn out. I did that too. It had plenty of room and a dedicated power plug as well. 

Yet even though I completed both tasks to be best of my ability, the microwave died.

Now for some more backstory (I bet when you opened this email you didn’t think we’d we talking in depth about microwaves) . . . Jennifer and I have had a bad track record with microwaves over the years. We can’t seem to keep them functioning well. I don’t think that it is overuse, just bad luck. As I have outlined, we take care of them and yet I keep having to pitch them. It would appear that we are just not good at keeping them working. 

So what should I do? 

Stop buying microwaves or using them? Swear them off as a tool that I am obviously unable to use so they are unwelcome in my life? Chastise anyone I see buying one at Costco or Wal-Mart because they are irritating little machines that don’t work for us? Condemn the entire microwave industry and work to eradicate them from existence?  I could just the anti-microwave lobby. . . 

Perhaps, the answer is, I go out and buy a new unit because it is a handy appliance to have. I can take care of it the best that I can and recognize that some more attention to detail is necessary to keep it alive. Perhaps I live more gently and when I use it I seek to be kind and not overwork it. . . Am I still taking about microwaves or about our Christian faith practices in Lent? 

The traditional response to not being great a praying, or serving, or sharing our faith can be to over-reach and over-react. Perhaps we all have that little quirk in our lives that we are just not the best at handling. Perhaps grace is needed; perhaps attention is a good place to start. As you continue in Lent, what are you not good at as a Christian? Maybe there is an opportunity there to be a bit gentle with yourself and continue to work at being the Christian God calls you to be. . .

Rev. Derek

I Wonder--November 29

I wonder if you would pray with me for someone you have not met?  Today I had my yearly physical with my doctor and it went very well. Heart...