Looking Backward and Forward

Greetings CCOV Family,

I have to say that these winter months are my favorite times of the year at CCOV!  Our seasonal members return, energy builds during worship, and our annual meeting gives us an opportunity to look back over the past year and forward to the year before us.  Looking backward and forward during the month of January is a fairly traditional practice.  Janus, the god of ancient Roman religion and myth with which the month of January is associated, has two faces—one to look backward and one to look forward.  While I certainly don’t believe in him, I appreciate the poetic symbolism of Janus’ association with beginnings, gates, time, doorways, and transition at this time of year.

 As I look back over 2016, I can say that I feel good about the successful year of transition just behind us.  Some of our former members have returned, our budget is stable, and we are hopeful that we can continue to be a beacon of hope in our community.  In many ways, we reinvented ourselves in 2016.  We went to a different meeting format through the summer with Bible study, fellowship breakfasts, and mission planning.  We explored and decided upon mission projects that a congregation of our size and age can accomplish.  I solicited congregational input for our worship format and made the suggested changes to the bulletin with good effect.  Responding to preaching requests, I took us through Philippians in the spring and Romans in the fall, as well as addressed particular topics you have always wanted to hear about.  Our music program continues to be spectacular.  What’s more, it seems that we have a better sense of who we are as a congregation:  We are not so much a community of activists as we are caregivers: we care for our community through our mission projects and we care for one another. 

Looking forward to 2017, we have much hope!  We have hope of growing in our faith, adding new members, accomplishing our mission goals, and making the needed repairs to our buildings.  Of course, hope only becomes reality when we pledge our commitment, presence, service, and money.  I have faith that all of us will continue to step up and move CCOV UCC well into the future!

Blessings,

Rev. Sandi        

   

Odds and Ends

Dear CCOV Family,

Happy New Year to all of you!  Clint and I came back refreshed after a truly educational, eye-opening cruise to Mexico and Central and South America.  In Peru we were struck by the poverty and rambling shanty towns: humble homes behind gates, iron bars, concertina wire, and even electric fences.  We always hear how good we have it in this country (especially in our part of Scottsdale), but the reality of poverty in so many corners of the world truly hits home when you see it stretching on endlessly with your own eyes. Some parts of Mexico, Peru, and Nicaragua that we saw were especially poor.  Helping the poor is a consistent theme in scripture, and we will have many new and on-going opportunities to do so as a church in 2017, so stay tuned.   

It was good to return just in time for our annual Christmas Eve service featuring lessons and carols and the lovely music of our own Larry Loeber and visiting soloist, Jen Newman.  The sanctuary looked stunning with all of its Christmas decorations.  Unfortunately, what goes up must also come down.  I hope some of you can stay after church on January 8th and start taking down the decorations and/or stop by during the week (after 1/8) to complete the task.  Speaking of Sunday, January 8th, our conference minister, Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons, will be preaching and leading an Epiphany-themed worship.  Clint and I are flying to Pennsylvania for the weekend to celebrate his dad’s surprise 75th birthday, but after that, I’ll be in the pulpit more consistently! 

I look forward to a great year with you all at CCOV, fulfilling our mission of “sharing Jesus’ message of love, hope, peace, and joy with all persons.”  As always, please let me know if you are need of support, prayer, etc.  You are all very dear to me. 

Blessings,

Rev. Sandi

Seasonal Associations

I keep wondering what Christmas preparations will look like in Mexico and Central and South America.  Weather and seasons, it seems, are so tied in to our celebration of holidays.  Do they send Currier and Ives Christmas cards in Peru, I wonder?  As I pack my suitcase for our trip, I question if I should take my snowflake pin and matching earrings that I like to wear this time of year—or will they be out of place as I cross the Equator?  I started thinking about seasonal associations with religious holidays a few years ago when a seminary friend asked how differently Easter would be celebrated in southern parts of the world, where it was fall in March or April.  The Easter season in the Southern Hemisphere would not support the association we Northern Hemisphere folk make with resurrection, renewal, and new life—you know, with all those eggs and crocuses and baby bunnies.  And so I am curious to note the differences in Christmas preparation traditions as we sail far to the south, all the way to Chile, where it will be summer.

I remind myself that Easter or Christmas associations tied in with the natural order are not the matters of real significance.  What’s important to reflect on this time of year is that the Word became Flesh:  God became one of us.  We need no association with snowflakes, cold weather, Currier and Ives, parties, sleds or sleighs (as much as I like all of these things).  In fact, the coming of the babe in a manger wasn’t dependent on any season.  He came, rather, in the “fullness of time.”

As I meet other Christians in Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Peru, and Chile, I will ask about and observe their traditions.  I will remember first, however, what truly unites us all: the greatest story ever told.  You know—the story of a God who came to earth, showed us what God is like, performed miracles, died for sin, and then rose three days later.  I invite you to prepare your hearts during the rest of Advent, this season of reflection, and contemplate how Jesus came in all humility to serve and suffer so that we might truly live.  I’ll see you Christmas Eve!

Rev. Sandi

Putting on the Purple

It’s as if we’ve barely wiped the Halloween makeup off our faces, and now it’s time to pick out our Christmas trees!  The Thanksgiving turkey is taking up room in the refrigerator, and already Advent is upon us!  Advent, derived from the Latin adventus, means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent is the beginning of the liturgical church year for most churches in the Western tradition. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve.  Advent’s liturgical color is purple, a color associated with royalty and power.  In ancient times purple was the most costly dye.  Jesus came to be the royal king of the universe, and that is why you will see a rich purple cloth on communion tables and ministers wearing purple, liturgical stoles.  Advent is a season that I love, not just because of the joyous expectation of preparation for Christmas, but also for the deep spiritual significance of waiting for the light to flood the dark—God’s miraculous “in-breaking” into this world.  I look forward to celebrating the first Sunday in Advent with you, and my sermon will focus on hope even in the face of negativity.  Rev. Len Silvester will celebrate the next three Sundays of Advent with you, as Clint and I are going on a long-planned trip to Central and South America!  Advent will be a meaningful time at CCOV and sure to enrich your spiritual journey.  See you on Sunday and then again on Christmas Eve!

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Sandi    

After the Election

Our Sunday morning journey through Romans finds us aptly at Romans 13:1-7, a scripture in which the Apostle Paul addresses Christians and the state.  His message is that we must respect it!  I will talk about the entire context of the passage in church on Sunday and hope you will find insight and encouragement.  However you are feeling regarding the outcome of this election, and I know that our opinions are varied at CCOV UCC, I want to remind you that we are not defined by the outcome of this election—but by the God whom we follow.  God’s reign is the only one that is ultimate and eternal.  We are called to live in unity in a governed community, to appreciate the good that we have, and to be agents of change when we see oppression around us.

Rev. Sandi

 

Connecting to the Conference

Since I have been a member at CCOV, a few of us each year have attended the Annual Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ.  I have watched those attending with me get very excited about the work our sister churches are doing in their respective communities.  We exchange all kinds of great ideas, experience worship in a large-scale setting, sample a great assortment of music, hear what is working well in various places, and learn more about our wonderful God!  We come back ignited and enthusiastically share with our congregation what we’ve gleaned.  The next annual conference is May 6-7, 2017 at First Congregational Church in Albuquerque, NM.  I am hoping that more than just a few of us will attend.
I would love for more of you to be involved in the general life of the conference, and I am highlighting a link right here that is always provided at the bottom of this newsletter, so that you can see what is available to you-everything from a lay academy, to special speakers at area churches, concerts, ways to give following a disaster, and so on.  Please visit http://www.swcucc.org/!  You can also check in with Janet Fotheringham, who has been on a special team that helps us stay connected to the conference.  I look forward to seeing you on Sunday when we will continue walking the Romans Road together!
Rev. Sandi

 

Continuing Down the Roman’s Road

As I move us through the Book of Romans on Sunday mornings, you will continue to hear how we can participate in God’s distributive justice for the just transformation of the world.  We’ve talked about how grace, gifts, and liberation in the biblical canon have never been ends in and of themselves.  We are freed ourselves to free others, just like the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt to be God’s people, who would be a light to the nations.  Each day is a new chance to participate in God’s plan and be a light for others.

Since the mission of our church is to share Jesus’ message of love, hope, peace, and joy with all persons, I encourage you to participate in the distribution of your resources to alleviate suffering around the globe, especially in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, which has left a trail of devastation and flooding chaos in Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, and the US.  Thirty-four people have died in the US and over a thousand in the Caribbean.  You can pray, using the prayers at this link: Prayers Following Disasters, and you can give in a variety of ways, including through our denomination.

Please visit the following links for more information:  OGHS UCC International Emergency Fund and OGHS UCC Emergency USA. If you prefer to mail in your donation, here is the address:

One Great Hour of Sharing (UCC)

Memo: Hurricane Matthew

Financial Services Office

700 Prospect Ave. E. Cleveland, OH 44115

I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday!

Rev. Sandi

Walking the Roman Road Together

Responding to a request from several church council members, I have embarked upon a preaching journey through Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.  I will walk us through the most thematic passages of the letter and end the series the week before Advent starts.  In case you missed the first week of the series (September 25), here is a bit of background on Romans:

  • The letter was written between 54 and 58 AD and is authentically Pauline.
  • The letter is written to a church that Paul did not found but wants to visit.  He likely wants this church’s support for future missionary activities to the west.
  • Romans is the longest of the Pauline epistles and was written at the height of his career.  It expresses the richness of Paul’s experience of Christ through the full maturity of his thought.  Interestingly, Paul’s epistles are listed according to decreasing size in the New Testament.
  • This letter was carried nearly 1,000 miles by sea and land from Cenchrea, the port city of Corinth, by a deacon named Phoebe, one of Paul’s co-workers.  Phoebe, or a reader she brought along, read the letter to the church.
  • Romans’ influence on Christian theology is the greatest of all Paul’s letters.

Be sure to come and hear about the various theological perspectives (salvation, justification by faith, redemption, etc.) that have been understood in Romans, including some newer perspectives that will challenge us to full participation in the gospel, enrich our faith journey, and ultimately transform us for the just transformation of the world.  I look forward to seeing you in church!

Rev. Sandi

Wisdom

I must say it feels so good to be back in the routine of regular worship on Sundays!  Resuming choir practice (with its inevitable belly-laughs), seeing long-time friends, and becoming acquainted with the new faces in the pews all warm my heart.  Our seasonal members will start trickling back in a month or so, and I think everyone is going to be pleased to see how we are fleshing out our new mission statement: Congregational Church of the Valley United Church of Christ is a community sharing Jesus’ message of love, hope, peace, and joy with all persons.  We plan to communicate publicly and often exactly how our family of faith is impacting the local community-and how we can all be part of something greater than ourselves.

Last week I preached on Proverbs 8, which is a great Old Testament wisdom passage.  I will continue the wisdom theme this coming Sunday, and this time preach out of the New Testament, focusing on James 1:5-8.  You will see that there is great consistency between the Testaments (and throughout the canon) on biblical wisdom.  What’s important is knowing that (biblical) wisdom is a gift of God, derived from experience, and mediated by prayer.  Jesus, in fact, is “Wisdom in Person” and the one who showed us that true wisdom comes in the complete giving of ourselves-that’s why true wisdom isn’t particularly natural or intuitive.  I have lots more to share and some good stories to tell!  So as long as I-17 stays open and the Agua Fria River doesn’t rise, I’ll see you in church!

Rev. Sandi

Erring on the Side of Compassion

It’s taken me awhile to get my scattered thoughts together after this, yet another, mass shooting and terrorist attack. I have heard and read the rhetoric that inevitably follows: the media pundits’ spins, op-eds, politicians’ statements, clergy declarations, tweets, and Face Book posts. I’ve liked a lot, hated a lot, but haven’t weighed in, mostly because I’ve been so aghast and confused about what to do in this rapidly changing scape of our reality.
For some, this tragedy is a call to ban guns or strengthen gun control laws. For others, this is evidence for why we need guns: If we don’t have them, they argue, only terrorists and criminals will have guns. Conspiracy theories abound. The argument goes on and on, and many of points are valid on either side of the issue.
And again the vitriol against Islam surfaces. We are told by some that terror is Islam’s technique to spread itself throughout the world—through a reign of fear and destruction, and they cite history to prove this. And others, both Islam’s highest level clerics and other educated experts in world religions, say that the perpetrators cannot be true Muslims, any more than so-called Christians who spew hate toward LGBQs—or immigrants—or others who don’t believe as they do, can be called Christians. If you for a moment don’t think Christians engage in violent speech that incites, just check out these “pastors” in the following clips: http://fox40.com/2016/06/13/sacramento-baptist-pastor-applauds-orlando-shooting/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCIE0vqk6Uo
I’ve heard politicians and so-called Christian leaders say that such shootings occur because we’ve taken (Christian?) prayer out of schools (never mind that I taught in schools in Hawaii where the most of my students were Buddhist). Rather than taking any concrete action, people blithely say, “I will hold Orlando in my thoughts and prayers.” I don’t know about you, but that just sounds hollow. I’m not convinced thoughts and prayers will magically prevent attacks or change anyone’s circumstances; prayer just doesn’t work that way. Prayer will, however, work on our own souls. So if we are going to pray, and I think we should, let us be prepared to have God use us as the responders, the comforters, and the activists.
As the complex arguments play out in this increasingly polarized society, I invite you to a fairly simple reflection that has everything to do with compassion. Actually, Mr. Rogers, who was a Presbyterian minister and beloved children’s TV show star, finally inspired my response to my confusion. He once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Can we be the helpers?
Can we be the compassionate ones? Can we be mindful of our fears, aware of our prejudices, and engage in critical thought? Even more important, can we lay our fears and prejudices at the foot of the cross, risky as that might be, for the sake of others? Even in our polarity over issues like gun control, the nature of Islam, acceptance of the LGBQ community, and the power of prayer, we can always choose our words and actions to err on the side of compassion.
Rev. Sandi