Perhaps as we have been looking at skies over our beloved Valley of the Sun this summer, we have seen, if not smelled at some times, the smokey haze from the numerous wildfires burning in our state. It’s not just Arizona. In late July Clint and I visited Pastor Dick and his wife Shirley at their Estes Park cabin, and the Colorado skies were similarly smokey. Most times it was hard to appreciate the views of the great Rocky Mountains through the smoke. Concurrently, the news reported that on July 20, smoke from Canada and our western wildfires even darkened the skies over the Yankee Stadium in NY!
I simply don’t know how anyone can deny climate change any more; we are constantly immersed in its unhealthy effects. What’s more, I certainly don’t know how God’s People can deny or ignore climate change, believing that there is nothing we can do to stall it or mitigate its effects, which often impact the poor and marginalized the worst. I italicize God’s People, because for us, the Book of Genesis is foundational to our theology. God clearly entrusts the earth to humankind and calls us to steward it properly (Genesis 1:26-28). If you are reading a translation that uses the word “dominion,” please realize that “dominion” connotes RESPONSIBILITY to care for nature in a way that is consistent with God’s will.
Scientists tell us that we need to reduce fossil fuel C02 emissions by 65% by 2030 and then to 0% by 2040 if we are to avoid the displacement of 760 million people from sea level rise and a “hothouse earth” (see http://blueprintforbetter.org/articles/architectures-carbon-problem/). Christians need to be on the forefront of working for this. Rather than relying on cable news, I encourage all to read scientific sources (like the one in the link above) as well as professional journals and papers. Our denomination takes climate change very seriously, and at the July 2021 General Synod, the UCC became the first denomination to declare that NATURE HAS RIGHTS. You can read more about it here: https://www.ucc.org/a-new-first-united-church-of-christ-declares-that-nature-has-rights/. Let us all take the steps we can to care for God’s creation for the least of these, for nature, and for us all.
I start each day with Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditation, delivered overnight to my email’s inbox. I was especially struck with his July 16th mediation on prayer entitled “A Superior Lens” and this concluding quote in particular: “Despite what Christians have often been taught, prayer is not a technique for getting things, a pious exercise that somehow makes God happy, or a requirement for entry into heaven. It is much more like practicing heaven now by leaping into communion with what is right in front of us.” In particular I have often observed that prayer isn’t about wish fulfillment (as we are so apt to think it is) but about communing with God, who may feel hidden to us outside of applying our intention. Contemplative prayer opens God’s larger reality to us, a reality that we are apt to forget in the busy-ness of our lives.
Rohr goes on to define contemplation “as an exercise keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see hidden material.” I have to think that Christians could learn a lot from Eastern religions, which employ meditative and contemplative practices in everyday spirituality. Contemplative prayer reminds us of who we are—and more importantly, whose we are. Join me in resolving to set aside time each day “to be still and know…” (Psalm 46:10). To read “A Superior Lens” for yourself, go tohttps://cac.org/a-superior-lens-2021-07-16/ https://cac.org/a-superior-lens-2021-07-16/. While on the website, consider signing up for Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily meditations. You will be blessed by them each morning.
Many of us enjoyed a special fellowship time together last Thursday evening in S & V Urban Italian Restaurant’s private dining room. It was wonderful to enjoy good food and wine together after over a year of not meeting in person due to COVID-19! In excellent company, we shared recent joys, sorrows, and told and listened to a lot of stories. We plan more of these dining out adventures now that we are vaccinated. Let me know if you have any favorite restaurants that can hold a small crowd. In the meantime, stay cool, hydrated, and keep the faith!
How many of you know that our denomination has a statement of faith? We do indeed have one, and it is printed in the back of our New Century Hymnal. I grew up saying the Statement of Faith at my United Church of Christ in Pennsylvania and always had a great appreciation for the wording. In particular, I love the part that says that Jesus has “come to us and shared our common lot.” It means so much that God descended from the heavenly realm to walk the human experience and knows so well life’s joys and sorrows. The Original Version was written in 1957 to express the common faith of our newly-formed denomination, from the union of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches. The Statement of Faith was updated in 1981 using inclusive language and is in the form of a doxology, a fancy word for “a liturgical expression of praise to God.” I want to share the 1981 Version with you today, because it conveys who we are as a denomination and undergirds the Gospel message we share.
We believe in you, O God, Eternal Spirit,
God of our Savior Jesus Christ and our God,
and to your deeds we testify:You call the worlds into being,
create persons in your own image,
and set before each one the ways of life and death.You seek in holy love to save all people from aimlessness and sin.You judge people and nations by your righteous will
declared through prophets and apostles.In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Savior,
you have come to us
and shared our common lot,
conquering sin and death
and reconciling the world to yourself.You bestow upon us your Holy Spirit,
creating and renewing the church of Jesus Christ,
binding in covenant faithful people of all ages, tongues, and races.You call us into your church
to accept the cost and joy of discipleship,
to be your servants in the service of others,
to proclaim the gospel to all the world
and resist the powers of evil,
to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table,
to join him in his passion and victory.You promise to all who trust you
forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace,
your presence in trial and rejoicing,
and eternal life in your realm which has no end.
Blessing and honor, glory and power be unto you.
Peace be to You,
Many of us are in a hurry to return to normal, and there are signs all around us of some kind of return. When I went to Fry’s this past week, for example, I noted that the vast majority, for better or worse, were not wearing masks. It looked almost like old times.
As Pastor Dick and I begin preparations for in-person worship again, we have frequently mused over the idea that what was once normal in our churches may never quite be so again—not like it is at Fry’s anyway. We know that we are still facing struggles (even though we are getting some things replaced and patched up around our campus that were long overdue). Will people return to church again, we wonder? Or is worshipping on-line and in our pajamas more comfortable? Have new routines replaced old ones?
Episcopal priest, Stephanie Spellers is a leading thinker on change and growth in the church, and she sees the current challenges of church and society as a way of God “cracking open” people for greater possibility. In commenting on her work, Richard Rohr expressed the typical, churchgoer mindset: “Americans and church folks have been tempted to replace, destabilize and re-center. Let’s return to the building. Let’s reestablish majority American Christianity in its former, privileged cultural post.” Yet, he admits that God may indeed be doing a new thing out of the present unraveling. Alen J. Roxburgh in his book Joining God, Remaking Church, and Changing the World: The New Shape of the Church in Our Time says that American Christianity’s malaise may even be the work of God, nudging us on to something new. He writes, “A church that has been humbled by disruption and decline may be a less arrogant and presumptuous church. It may have fewer illusions about its own power and centrality. It may finally admit how much it needs the true power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. That’s a church God can work with.”
My prayer is that God is at work doing something new and great in our humble little church. Normal really wasn’t working well anyway. I am reminded of the verse Isaiah 43:19: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Join me in praying for God’s in-breaking and a future at CCOV UCC characterized by something far greater than normal!
The president of my seminary often puts a quote out on social media that goes something like this: Attempt something so big that it is bound to fail unless God intervenes. Of course his intent is to inspire present students and alumni alike to think big and and have faith that God will intervene for God’s own kingdom. Admittedly, attempting something big is a pretty challenging sentiment, especially for risk-adverse people like me. I’ve been thinking about my seminary president’s quote for a few weeks now, especially as Pastor Dick and our (present and former) council members have charged ahead with long-needed repairs, replacements, and a general sprucing up of our church campus. We are all excited about our Sunday, Oct. 3 grand reopening, and we are attempting something big: Get it ready and they will come. We are faithfully expecting God to intervene. CCOV UCC is going to have a future!
As I’ve been cranking on the quote about attempting something big, it seems like God continues to message me in a similar vein. Today while in the narthex, I noticed a plaque on the table off to the left. I never noticed this plaque before. It reads: “Going out on a limb is risky, but that’s where all the fruit is.” We all want a fruitful future for our church. In preparation for our post-COVID reopening, consider brainstorming with us ways to make Oct. 3 big! Join with us in September as we work around the campus together, pledge additional gifts to cover maintenance and replacement costs, serve on council, and evangelize your friends and neighbors. Tell them about our loving church family, our inspired music, our outreach, and our inclusive message. Unite with us as we faithfully attempt a BIG future at CCOV UCC!
I want to report back to you on the highlights of the UCC Southwest Annual Conference that Clint, Pastor Dick, and I attended by Zoom over April 23-25. First, our own Scott Greenwood was also in attendance as he serves as the conference treasurer and gave a wonderful and uplifting report on the financial health of the conference. Because of the recent sale of several church properties, the conference has plenty of money and is able, among funding other new conference-wide ministries, to offer churches a $5000 grant for upgrading the technology we need to continue to offer meaningful virtual worship!
In fact, the theme of this year’s annual conference was hybrid worship models. Perhaps if there is any silver lining for the church in this age of COVID-19, it is how it has catapulted us into the future of extending worship via technology to get progressive Christian message out beyond the walls of our own sanctuaries. Brent Jensen will continue to video our worship and Three Good Minutes services even after we return to meeting in person on Oct. 3. We have expanded our reach, and our services will still be available virtually across the country and around the world! We were also inspired to see the creative ways our sister churches have done ministry during the pandemic. One church in Albuquerque even did a socially-distanced baptism with ropes and buckets! We enjoyed seeing a film clip of this.
A hearing that Clint and I attended involved a tweaking of conference by-laws to reflect more inclusive language in its on-going efforts to decenter whiteness and incorporate varied voices from all of its southwestern regions. Be assured that our conference is actively grappling with the legacy of racism among other social ills in our society.
The conference concluded on Sunday, April 25 with an uplifting worship service you can access on YouTube by clicking here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sOYi3gajA0. Don’t miss the clip of our own Scott Greenwood, the inspiring music, and Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Bill Lyon’s excellent message.
In His Service,
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.
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.
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,