Reading a Daily Devotional

Dear CCOV Family,

I hope you are all off to a great summer, whether you are now settled into your more northerly locale or trying to stay cool in the Valley.  Wherever you are, I wanted to let you know about a great resource through our denomination: a daily devotional.  You can sign up to have one delivered daily to your email inbox by clicking here for devotionals.  If you don’t like to wade through much email, then you can visit the sight daily and click on the day’s reading.  The exercise takes just a few minutes and consists of a short scripture, a meditation on the scripture, and a prayer.  I find that reading a devotional is a great way to start each day!  Also, if you are leading a time of devotion before one of our Sunday morning fellowship breakfasts, you can use one of these.

We continue to collect back-to-school supplies (backpacks, paper, pencils, etc.) for Vista del Camino Community Center each Sunday through July 2.  This is a wonderful way to serve our community and make sure children have everything they need for school.

Finally, I hope to see you at Robin’s celebration of life service Saturday morning, June 10 at 10 AM.  Please be reminded to bring food or come early to help set-up if you signed up for either.  We will celebrate the precious life of Robin, God’s “good and faithful servant,” in a big way!  

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Sandi

Ready for Summer!

Dear CCOV Family,

Right now church feels like the end of the school year, similar to the way things used to feel I when taught high school!  This week I am writing my last sermon of the season before we break from regular worship and go to a more informal gathering for June, July, and August.   We’ll continue to meet at 10 AM—but in Hayden Hall.  Bring a brunch item to share (fruit, snacks, donuts, etc.) and we will have a word (short devotional), a prayer, and a song before we eat together.  On Sunday, June 11 one of our members will show slides and share his adventures from his recent trip to Vietnam!

I will be with you one or two Sunday mornings each summer month, but the other Sundays when we’re not on vacation, Clint and I will worship at a church up in Prescott.  This way I get a bit of a break from my weekly 100-mile+ drive and can visit some local churches, worship without leading, and glean some new ideas.  That said, I want you to know that I am just a phone call, text, or email away and can still be down in the Valley in a few hours, so please, please, please keep me informed of any pastoral care needs!  This goes for all of our CCOV family: I hope to hear from you while you are in your summer locales and on your trips.  You are all so dear to me! 

 This Sunday I will preach on the Ascension, and if you want to read ahead, the scriptures are Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11.  Come and hear all about this event in which Jesus was raised into heaven forty days after the resurrection and ten days before Pentecost.  Most important, you will hear all about what it means to live an Ascension-shaped life.  See you in church!

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Sandi   

Countdown to Summer!

Dear CCOV Family,
Here we are on the final countdown to summer! As worship attendance thins out, please know that my thoughts and prayers go with all our seasonal members returning to cooler climes. We look forward to seeing you in a few months!

Meanwhile, I want to share a sampling from the UCC Southwest Annual Conference that Dorie, Clint, and I were privileged to attend last week in Albuquerque. Dorie and I spent the first day in anti-racism training. We learned that racism is deeply embedded in most of us, and that even with heightened awareness of our tendencies and intentions to be unbiased, we are still “racists in recovery.” One interesting activity in the training was filling cups with beads of varying colors as we thought about whom we employ as our professionals and service people. Predictably, my cup was almost entirely filled with white beads. We also watched some eye-opening Ted Talks given by those who have suffered from racism and had important insights to share. How crucial it is to listen deeply to one another and to be willing to change and grow!

Of note during the business session was that the Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons, previously serving as our “designated conference minister,” was overwhelmingly and joyfully voted in as our settled/called conference minister. Another business item is that the Southwest Conference voted almost unanimously on the resolution to be a sanctuary conference. This means that it will fully support sanctuary churches who have chosen to advocate for immigration justice and offer immigrants sanctuary. I have a copy of the resolution if any of you would like more information.

Finally, I wanted to let you know that big changes are proposed for those going into ordained ministries. The UCC may no longer require an MDiv or other seminary degrees as part of the typical ordination process–though none of this will be voted on until 2019. Many have recognized that ministry does not look like it did even ten years ago: Churches are smaller and may not be able to afford a pastor who potentially has a $90,000 seminary debt to pay off. Members in discernment will still have a rigorous “marks of ministry” process to complete. Of course we should always remember that local churches remain autonomous though in covenant with the denomination.

I could share so much more about conference, but space is limited. Feel free to talk to Dorie, Clint, or me if you would like more information! Stay cool!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Post-Easter Musings

Dear CCOV Family,
If I didn’t get to personally wish CCOV’s seasonal members goodbye over the past few Sundays, I bid you a wonderful time in your more northerly locales! Please stay in touch with me over the coming months—we can always talk and pray together over the phone or through email. I will again be looking forward to your fall/winter return and the energy you bring to worship and to the life of the church.

Meanwhile, we will continue this Sunday with Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. This Sunday I will focus on Jesus’ appearance to Cleopas and another unnamed follower on the Road to Emmaus. If you would like to read ahead, you can do so in Luke 24:13-49. One thing you will note is that the gospel stories that we read starting at Easter about the post-resurrection events all seem to involve cases of misrecognition. At the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene mistakenly thinks that Jesus is a gardener. While on a fishing trip, Peter and the rest of the disciples see a man walking by the shore, but they do not immediately know that he is Jesus. And Thomas, as we talked about last week, refuses to believe until he sees and touches Jesus’ wounds. The journey along the Road to Emmaus is no different: Jesus appears to Cleopas and the other follower as a stranger, but then becomes known to them in the breaking of bread. In a sense, they were blind but then they see.

We often misrecognize things too. It is always my prayer that in church we are reminded that we have souls and that there is a larger reality all around us. Our busy weeks often distract us from what is really important—and cause us to miss seeing that which is truly sacred. I look forward to seeing you in church, where through word, music, and sacrament, we will get a glimpse into God’s larger reality.
Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Easter Sunday and Holy Humor Sunday

Dear CCOV Family,

Prayers for a blessed, faith-enriching Holy Week. I look forward to seeing you all Easter Sunday when the sanctuary will be fragrant with Easter flowers and filled with the beautiful music of John Good and our own Larry Loeber! This Sunday’s sermon title is The Miracle of Resurrection, and the scripture readings are John 20:1-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:12-22. The resurrection is the culmination of Jesus’ seven miracles (or signs) in John’s Gospel that I have been preaching through for our Lenten theme. All of the other miracles have been pointing to and leading up to this one. On Sunday you will hear all about how the resurrection is cosmic in its scope, the centerpiece of Christianity, and the focus of our hope in both this life and beyond.

As is our recent tradition at CCOV, the Sunday after Easter, April 23, is Holy Humor Sunday, so please get your (clean) jokes ready to share during worship. We enjoy this thanks to a 1988 a group called the “Fellowship of Merry Christians,” who resurrected an ancient custom of celebrating the Sunday after Easter with joy, laughter, parties, picnics, singing, dancing, and playing jokes upon one another. They engaged in such joking because they thought God had played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead: For this very reason, early church theologians like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom called the resurrection “Risus paschalis” or “Easter laugh.” We typically have some very good laughs together on Holy Humor Sunday!

See you in Church!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Spring Has Sprung!

Dear CCOV Family,
Spring has long since sprung across the Valley and is now underway up here in Prescott. My peach tree is in glorious pink bloom, and I awake to quail calls each morning. Except for all the pollen, it’s a great time of year!

I especially love the energy in worship that this season affords. On Sunday we celebrate our special relationship with Boy Scout troop 649, and you can expect to see these impressive young men involved in our service. Jenn Newman will enrich our worship with her incredible voice and will feature some songs of Jerome Kern. I am preaching on Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus, and you can read ahead in John 11:1-45. After the service, the Boy Scouts will treat us to a pancake breakfast!

Then can you believe that Palm Sunday and Easter come next? Be sure to put in your order for Easter flowers now so that the sanctuary is filled to overflowing with color and sweet fragrance. Spring flowers are such a fitting way to celebrate that great day of resurrection, when Jesus rises from the tomb in triumph. John Good will return as our Easter guest soloist. How about inviting a friend to church that day, because something as good as the Easter story must be shared!

I look forward to seeing you in church.
Rev. Sandi

Finishing the Lenten Journey

Dear CCOV Family,

It’s hard to believe that we are nearly half way through the church season of Lent, which this year goes from Ash Wednesday, March 1 until dawn on Easter Sunday, April 16!   Lent is traditionally described as lasting for forty days, in commemoration of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, before he began his public ministry.  The English word “Lent” is a shortened form of the Old English word “Lenten,” which meant “spring season.”  The word may contain a reference to the lengthening of days characteristic of spring.

Appropriately, we are approaching the midpoint of the Lenten sermon series on the Miracles/Signs of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John.  Rev. Len Silvester will be with you this Sunday, March 19 preaching on Jesus’ Feeding of the 5000, found in John 6:5-14.  His sermon title is “Here’s to the Leftovers!”  On Sunday, March 26, I have decided to preach on Jesus’ restoring sight to a man blind from birth instead of the sign of him walking on water, as I had announced previously.  You may want to read the entirety of John Chapter 9 in preparation, though I am going to focus on the first 12 verses.  Always read John’s Gospel with an awareness that much is going on just beneath the surface.  I will keep unpacking the deep meanings for you as we finish the series.

I bid you grace and peace as you continue your Lenten journey.

Rev. Sandi

Personal and Spiritual Transformation During Lent

Dear CCOV Family,
Can you believe that the season of Lent is already upon us? March 1 is Ash Wednesday! Ash Wednesday heralds a journey that takes Christians through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and on to the celebration of Easter Sunday. One way you might observe Lent this year is by following a special devotional guide—options are plentiful if you check a book store or on line. I bought one on Amazon a few weeks ago called The Miracles of Jesus: Meditation and Prayers for Lent by Wessel Bentley. For each day of Lent, I have a scripture reading followed by a brief meditation, reflection, focus, and a prayer. The idea is to engage in something that will, in a disciplined way, encourage personal and spiritual transformation.

For a Lenten preaching theme this year, I am responding to a request to focus on selected miracles (or signs) of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of John. Here is a forecast for each Sunday so that you can read ahead in your Bibles:

March 5: Water into Wine, John 2:1-12
March 12: Healing the Paralytic at Bethesda, John 5:1-15
March 19: Feeding the Five Thousand, John 6:5-14 (Rev. Len Silvester will be preaching!)
March 26: Jesus Walking on Water, John 6:16-24
April 2: The Raising of Lazarus, John 11:1-45 (Boy Scout Sunday!)
On April 9 (Palm Sunday) and April 16 (Easter), I will use traditional texts, which I will announce later.

John records seven signs, which have deep significance in this most theological of gospels. I will unpack most of these signs in the coming weeks by explaining how these complex events challenged people’s attitudes and beliefs as well as touched people through healing, multiplication, and ultimately resurrection. I look forward to a special Lenten season with all of you!
Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Upcoming Preaching Topics

Dear CCOV Family,

It was so fun catching up with you all last Sunday during the well-attended potluck!  Again, I am reminded of what fabulous cooks we have at CCOV, and it was great to see Hayden Hall so full of friendly faces.  I want to give you a forecast of my sermon topics through the end of February as well as for the season of Lent.  The lectionary places us in the gospel of Matthew, and for the next few weeks I will continue preaching through significant portions of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Last week I focused on the Beatitudes.  On Feb. 5 I will preach on being salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-20), Feb. 12 on choosing a good life (Matthew 5:21-27), and Feb. 19 on breaking the cycle (Matthew 5:38-48).  Feel free to read ahead! For the season of Lent, my theme will be the Miracles of Jesus, and I will unpack a miracle each week.  Jesus’ miracles were complex events that challenged attitudes and beliefs through healing, multiplication, and resurrection; but ultimately, they restored a person to community and liberated him or her for service in God’s kingdom.  Together our biblical literacy is really going to increase in the coming months!  Always remember that I am here for your pastoral needs—I’m just a phone call away and can be in the Valley in just a few hours.

Grace and Peace,

Rev. Sandi

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