Breaking the Cycle


Friends,

A few months ago I got pulled over in Cave Creek for speeding.  Passing through unfamiliar territory, I wasn’t paying attention to the speed limit signs; I offer no excuses.  I took an on-line driving class so that the points wouldn’t go on my record, and that was that.  Those of you who attend our church (who have also seen those red and blue lights in your rearview mirror) know that sinking feeling that I felt, but I doubt you have ever felt the abject terror that an encounter with a police officer could possibly end your life.

    
I am writing in the recent aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and Daute Wright—and the longer aftermath of Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin and so many others.  My heart just weeps when our brothers and sister of color are dying at a much higher rate at the hands of police than white people.  In fact, per a 2019 research article from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police over the course of life than are white men.

 
That said, I also have friends who are police officers who are exhausted and feeling reviled and unsupported.  They lament the lack of respect for the law they are supposed to uphold and enforce.  Many are burned out, quitting all together, or retiring early.  That is worrisome because we know we need a fully-staffed, well-trained, and healthy police force to protect society.  It would be truly awful if we needed help and no one was there to respond.

 
In this most polarizing of times, it seems we are all caught in a vicious cycle of whose lives matter the most.  And that is getting us precisely nowhere.  Jesus knew and acted on this deep truth: His message, in both his living and dying, was to yield power and privilege for the sake of us (read Philippians 2:1-11).  I think of the whole biblical canon and all of the stories that tell the lengths God always goes to protect God’s people, and how quickly we forget that we are called to live into that image.  If God seeks to protect us, we must respond by seeking first and foremost to protect one another.  If we could all get on board with that message, what a radically different world that would be!  Blue lives would seek to protect black lives, and black lives would seek to protect blue lives. In fact, that’s the only way the world can truly work.  Someone has to break the cycle though.  May we all live lives of looking first to the needs and interests of others.

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi  

Staying in Touch with Dear Friends

Friends,

I learned late last week that long-time members, Bill and Nora, are traveling back to Ohio where they will explore a move into an assisted living residence.  They do not expect to winter in Scottsdale in the future, though they plan to keep their Scottsdale home for their children to use.  As you may recall, Bill suffered a number of health setbacks recently.  CCOV UCC has been a very important part of their lives, and they continue to enjoy our on-line services immensely.  I know that they will love hearing from all of us.  I encourage you to write them a card or phone them from time to time.  Please thank them for all of their service to our church throughout the years.  Clint and I will surely miss their lovely faces greeting folks as ushers and hosting all those fellowship hours. Their contact information is available from Michelle in the church office.

Let us be in prayer for the our dear brother and sister in Christ and for each other.

Co-Pastor Sandi

Holy Week 2021


Friends,

Here we are already in Holy Week, 2021!  While we are still worshipping virtually like we did last year, there is much hope on the horizon as vaccines become more widely distributed!  How I wish we could be together physically for Easter as well as the events of Holy Week, including Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.  Since we cannot yet all be together, I will remind you of their meanings.


Maundy Thursday is our remembrance of Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples when he washed their feet.  The world “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning mandate or command.  In modeling humble service, Jesus mandated that his followers also serve one another.

 
Following Maundy Thursday, Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified.  We may ask, “Why do we call it Good then?”  I will offer two possible answers.  One, the word Good used herehas a more obsolete sense in that it connotes piousness and holiness.  Two, the origin of the term Good is often debated.  It may have come from God’s Friday.  In either case, the name Good Friday is apt because the suffering and death of Jesus, as awful as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God’s great plan for humanity’s salvation—which is the ultimate good.

 
After Jesus’s death, some Christians also hold vigil on Holy Saturday, which ends the Lenten season.  The vigil is the final (tomb-side) preparation for the resurrection, which we joyously celebrate on Easter Sunday.

 
It is my prayer that Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday this week remind you that we pass through many difficulties on life’s journey, but these difficulties are sure to end with the great joy of RESURRECTION!  Remember that love doesn’t end and life doesn’t end: This is our blessed Easter hope!

Grace and Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi

Loving the Immigrant as Ourselves

Friends,

I know that many of you are concerned with what is going on at the border, and some have asked if there is anything we can do to assist asylum seekers, who are suffering in many ways.  Though our little church is fully engaged right now with many other types of mission projects, if you want to render aid, you can help one of our sister churches in the conference in this very Christian cause.  First Church Phoenix (1407 N 2nd St, Phoenix, AZ 85004) is the site for a drive-by drop-off of basic medical donations this coming Sunday morning.  Here is specific information from the conference newsletter:

“The Immigration Task Force at First Church Phoenix invites everyone to drive through their parking lot On Sunday, March 21 from 8am-10am to drop off needed medical supplies and donations to assist families seeking asylum. The donations benefit One Hundred Angels, a local volunteer group that assists asylum seekers with basic medical care. Families making the long journey to the United States from South of the Border are exposed to extreme environmental conditions, experience poor nutrition, exhaustion, dehydration, and other issues that weaken their immune systems.  Items might include Cough Drops, Vitamins, Pain relief (aspirin or ibuprofen), First Aid supplies (bandaids, Q-tips, wound care, lotions), Stomach relief (Anti-acids and over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medication), Pediasure, Baby Formula, and Gallon-size ziplock bags.”


Our Bibles have a lot to say about how to treat our fellow human beings who happen to be the alien, immigrant, and stranger.  In Leviticus 19:34 God says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”  For an extensive list of Bible verses regarding the treatment and care of immigrants, please click here:  https://sojo.net/22-bible-verses-welcoming-immigrants.


I rejoice with you as you continue to get vaccinated!  That means we can soon start seeing one another’s wonderful faces in person once again!

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi 

One Great Hour of Sharing

Friends,

Each Lent during my childhood, our UCC would collect an annual offering in little globe-shaped, folded-paper containers.  In Sunday school class and in worship, even children were encouraged to allocate some of their allowance for One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS).  We all listened to moving stories about how our donations changed lives around the globe, and I remember how my Sunday school friends and I got so excited to participate with the adults.   

This time of year, our congregation typically joins with the greater UCC denomination in OGHS, which part of Our Church’s Wider Mission (OCWM).  OGHS is a yearly opportunity to give an offering that changes lives through the provision of clean water, food, medications, shelter, healthcare, education, advocacy and resettlement for refugees and displaced persons, disaster preparedness and response, emergency relief and rehabilitation—plus more.  Other denominations including the American Baptist Church, the Disciples of Christ, the Church of the Brethren, and Church World Service join together in this worthy effort.  You can learn more about OGHS and how to donate on line by clicking here:  https://www.ucc.org/oghs_resources_frequently-asked-questions/.  You may also send a check to church and designate the offering to benefit One Great Hour of Sharing.  All donations should be received by March 14.

I do realize that we have just pledged our usual tithes and offerings and are also participating in the Southwest Conference’s Lenten mission project to relieve medical debt, but I still want to encourage you to donate to OGHS if you are able—there is just so much need in the world!  May you continue to experience the deep joy of giving this Lenten season.

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi

UCC Campus Ministry at ASU

Friends,

Although it was many years ago now, I well remember how spiritually formative campus ministry was for me and other Christian students during our years at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.  Our campus minister was always available for guidance, support, and stimulating Bible studies.  He also planned and accompanied students on a number of well-attended off-campus retreats and adventures, which became some of my most memorable college experiences.


I thought you might be interested to know about a similarly vibrant ministry of the United Church of Christ on the campus of Arizona State University.  Desert Palm UCC in Tempe, in partnership with the Southwest Conference of the UCC, offers a campus ministry with a progressive presence and voice on the ASU Campus.  I have recently become friends with the UCC Campus Minister, Andrew Ponder Williams, who has acquainted me with his programs.  He offers support for students in the form of weekly small groups, monthly worship, and one-on-one conversations.  Because of COVID-19, Andrew and his students are mostly interacting right now by Zoom, though that will change in the future.  Besides advocating for ignored voices, fighting climate change, ensuring all people have housing, and advancing LGBTQ rights with his students, Andrew also leads Arizona adventures away from campus so that students can enjoy enriching spiritual retreats at low or no cost through scholarships.  All students are welcome—not just ones who are UCC.   He has prepared a video for you all to watch that describes his ministry.  I think you will enjoy getting to know him and learning about the work he does by clicking here:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1P2jR9Z5b5T8Mvi3-OX4vUVKAGL_PVDB0/view.  When we can meet in person again, we will have him preach one Sunday.  In the meantime, maybe you have grandchildren at ASU or know of friends’ children who would benefit from such support and spiritual formation while in college.  

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi  

Retiring Medical Debt as a Lenten Project

Friends,

Lent, you know, is a fairly somber church calendar season that begins this year on February 17 (Ash Wednesday) and ends with the great feast of Easter.  It used to be that people would “give something up” or fast from something for the forty days of Lent.  For some, this might involve giving up chocolate, omitting meat, or turning off the TV, perhaps to join in some small way with Christ’s suffering.  In recent years, people have begun adding a practice instead—like performing some sort of special service to benefit the needy or giving something away.  Rather than renouncing chocolate (which is a vegetable and, as it turns out, is good for us!), why not instead participate in CCOV’s debt-relief project, which will be so very liberating for burdened people?  Imagine what this will mean for area families who learn that their medical debt has been paid off by the members of our church!  Could there be any finer way to imitate Christ than through debt paying?  Please read more about this special project in your moderator’s newsletter column this week.   

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi 

Martin Luther King Day 2021

Friends,

I am writing this on Monday, January 18, Martin Luther King Day.  Truly MLK is one of the greatest and most relevant prophets of our time, and his acute analysis of American race relations remains prophetic.  He would have turned 92 today. To honor his memory this week, I want to share a few of his timeless quotes:


Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.  Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.


Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.


We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.


Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”


He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.  He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.


Freedom is not won by a passive acceptance of suffering.  Freedom is won by a struggle against suffering.


We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice.  Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.


May MLK’s words, which arose from his deep faith and biblical witness, inspire us anew to become a more peaceful and just people.

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi 

The Lord’s Prayer: A New Sermon Series

Friends,

Starting this Sunday in our on-line worship, Pastor Dick and I are embarking upon a new sermon series to explore the Lord’s Prayer.  The series is entitled, “Pray Then Like This: The Lord’s Prayer for Our Time.”  We will examine Matthew 6:9 in detail, and over the next five weeks cover one phrase per week: Our Father, Thy Kingdom Come, Daily Bread, Forgive Us our Sins, and Facing Temptation.  You will be amazed at how much meaning is packed into every last word of the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.  Additionally, you will be surprised at how political and counter-cultural the prayer really is:  It calls for heavenly ways to be integrated with our own.  Spoiler alert:  Rome didn’t like Jesus upending the status quo, and our current political systems don’t much like that either.  Also, the prayer points us far beyond ourselves to greater inclusiveness and a broader reality.  Prepare to have your understanding of this seemingly-simple and succinct prayer much enlarged!

Happy New Year!

Co-Pastor Sandi

Merry Christmas!

Friends,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  I hope that you have a meaningful and safe way to celebrate Christmas, even though your celebration will most likely be pared down from years’ past.  Mayo Clinic’s website gives some useful guidance on keeping safe while celebrating this year.  Check it out here: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/covid-19-holiday-safety-tips/art-20503363.  For those of you who are feeling a bit blue, try to keep a positive perspective, recognizing that this year is an anomaly.  We have much to hope for in 2021, including getting a vaccine, which could eventually return us to something like normalcy!  If you are feeling lonely, reach out to me, someone at church, a family member, or a friend; phone calls and Zoom can help everyone feel more connected.

 
Speaking of Zoom, watch your email for a link that will connect you to CCOV’s Christmas Eve service.  Sign-on is at 5:15 PM MST.  We will see each other’s faces live and enjoy the music of Larry Loeber and Jean Newman, Christmas messages and prayer, some carol singing, and the Christmas scriptures.  I know that we prefer to meet in person, but it is safest to worship on Zoom this year.  Recently our conference minister, the Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons, informed conference clergy that the virus was recently spread at a local UCC’s outdoor worship service, so he strongly recommends that we do exactly what we have been doing, just to keep everyone safe.

 
Just one more thought to share during this very different Advent and Christmas…You know how we always talk about the busy-ness of the season?  Perhaps we have been less busy than usual without all the concerts and plays and parties.  Maybe, just maybe, we can do some real heart preparation this time around.  Stop to call a friend.  Benefit your favorite charities (hope CCOV rates!).  Put seeds out for the birds, and stop to thank God for the beauty of the desert, the moon, and for this year’s “Christmas star,” formed by the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter.  And as you do so, may you be heartily blessed.

With All Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love,

Co-Pastor Sandi