Making All Things New

Dear CCOV Family and Friends,
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 Katarzyna Honsberger and our own Larry Loeber! My Easter sermon’s title is “God’s Work: Resurrecting All Things,” and the scripture readings are John 20:1-18 and Revelation 21:1-6a. I encourage you to read ahead. You will hear all about how God is actively at work in nature and in our own lives, making all things new and resurrecting all things—both in the present and for all eternity.

Don’t forget that the following Sunday is Holy Humor Sunday, so please get your (clean) jokes ready to share during worship. In the same vein as Easter Sunday, I’ll endeavor to preach (humorously) on how God is actively at work even amid all the brokenness we see and experience and why we can always have hope. One such example is how the Spirit is working through this church in the repairing of air conditioners, sidewalks, roofs, and plumbing. I so appreciate all you are doing to keep the campus safe and comfortable for our congregation and for the Montessori School that we are soon to host!

I look forward to celebrating the resurrection with you!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Using our Building in a Missional Way

Dear CCOV Family,
Wasn’t it great having all of that youthful energy in our sanctuary last Sunday? Boy Scout Sunday leaves me feeling so energized each year, and I’ll bet all of you feel the same way. I am grateful for the special, reciprocal relationship we just celebrated with the fine young men of Troop 649 . We give them a home, a meeting place, and they take on projects around our church. In so many ways, God has blessed us with a beautiful building and has given us the means to maintain it.

In the same vein, I want to thank all of you who are working so diligently on getting the Pre-school building ready for the Montessori School. Our preparations of getting the roof repaired and the air conditioners running well will be a great welcome to the children and staff who will once again inhabit our campus during the week. It is my prayer that we will always be able to use our beautiful church in a missional way for the benefit of our greater community. God has given us this asset for a good reason!

Finally, I want to give you a forecast of our worship services in the coming weeks. This Sunday, as I continue our Lenten Series entitled In the Upper Room: Jesus’ Final Lessons for His Disciples, I will preach on John 15:1-17 and talk specifically about abiding in God, pruning, and producing good spiritual fruit in our lives. On Sunday, March 18, don’t miss Rev. Dr. Dick Wing who will be preaching on Luke 7:36-50 in a sermon called “The Willingness to Become Uncomfortable.” Clint and I will be in Hawaii that week—Clint for a medical conference, and I will fill the time doing a lot of ocean swimming. We will be back for Palm Sunday, March 25, and I will preach on John 12:9-19 in a sermon called “The Fickle Factions.” Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing you all Friday night at 7 PM for our Evening of Extraordinary Music entitled “The Great American Songbook.”
Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Join us for Annual Conference in Tucson!

Dear CCOV Family,
A few of us from CCOV have the exciting opportunity to attend the UCC Southwest Annual Conference, hosted by Rincon UCC in Tucson, from April 19-21. We have money in the budget for three or four of us to attend, so please let me know ASAP if you would like to be part of our church’s delegation. We will then will join our sister churches, hear what they are doing, and learn how we can better be the Church of Jesus Christ together. On Thursday, April 19, Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, a national leader in areas of poverty and immigration, will offer two “Faith Rooted Organizing Workshops” that provide a theological framework for faith-rooted organizing and social justice advocacy. We will learn all about strategies to engage fellow faith followers and community leaders and find out what the next steps are for action on specific public policy issues in Arizona. The conference proper is on April 20 and 21. As a delegate from CCOV, you will have a vote, participate in worship in a large-scale setting, and attend general, business, and break-out sessions. Rooms at the Radisson are reserved for us (April 18-21), and a number of meals are included. See me if you would like to go or want more information, and check out the annual conference page on the conference website: www.swcucc.org.

At church this Sunday we will continue with our Lenten series entitled “In the Upper Room: Jesus’ Final Lessons for His Disciples.” That night in the Upper Room was the last time Jesus would have with his disciples, so what he is saying to them is of utmost importance. Maybe you have been with someone in their final hours before they have died. Perhaps in those hours that person told you the things they too wanted you most to know. This week I will be talking about the practice of self-examination in light of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. To preview the scriptures ahead of time, you can read John 13:12-38 for this Sunday, February 25th, and John 14:1-27 for March 4th (Boy Scout Sunday), when I will be talking about the untroubled heart. As always, I look forward to seeing you in church!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

In the Upper Room: One Last Night with Jesus, A New Lenten Preaching Series

Dear CCOV Family,
Each Lent I buy a devotional-type book to guide me through the church season preceding Easter. Last year I studied “The Miracles of Jesus: Meditation and Prayers for Lent” by Wessel Bentley, which inspired and helped to resource my 2017 Lenten preaching series on the Miracles of Jesus. This year I bought the book “With Jesus in the Upper Room: A Workbook on His Final Lessons for Today’s Disciples” by Rev. Dr. Maxie Dunnam. Rev. Dr. Dunnam served as the president of my seminary from 1994-2004. I attended the Florida Dunnam Campus of Asbury Theological Seminary, which he founded in the late 1990’s. Perhaps best known as the world editor of the Upper Room Devotional Guide (1975-1982), Rev. Dr. Dunnam has significant insights about the importance of what Jesus communicated to his disciples on their last night and supper together. I am using his book to guide my 2018 Lenten preaching series called “One Last Night with Jesus,” and during the Sundays in Lent before Palm Sunday, you will hear all about Jesus’ last words to his disciples in the Upper Room. I think you will find that Jesus’ actions and words on this night were as monumental for his twelve disciples as they are for us today. If you want to read ahead for Sunday, February 18, take a look at Luke 22:24-27 and John 13:1-11. I will be preaching on the servanthood of God. I hope you will consider following a devotional guide of your own choosing this Lent as well.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Our Church’s Collective Lenten Project

Dear CCOV Family and Friends,
The season of Lent this year begins on February 14 with Ash Wednesday, which is also Valentine’s Day. The UCC Book of Worship defines Lent as “a penitential season of self-examination, prayer, and fasting that precedes the observance of the Triduum (Maundy Thursday evening, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter, which begins on Saturday night)” (Book of Worship, pp. 21-22). Lent is the season in which we reflect on the life, suffering, and death of Jesus, and what his giving of himself on the cross means for our lives. Some follow a Lenten devotional guide. Some participate in intentional prayer and study. Others give up something. One year in the mid-1990’s, for example, I gave up internet chat rooms. If you plan on giving up chocolate this year (as some people do), it is good to know ahead of time that the season begins on Valentine’s Day.

Another thought, however, is that we could add something to our lives or give something extra rather than taking, say, chocolate away. This year our church is continuing our Healthy Packs mission project as an outreach to hungry children living in the margins in our greater community. We will run this project through Lent, and it will be our church’s collective Lenten discipline. You can read the blurb about Healthy Packs in our latest newsletter, written by our moderator. I encourage all of us to do some healthy self-examination and participate, perhaps even upping our contribution level from last year. It will be good for our souls.

May we always reflect the great love of Christ, who loves us so much that he endured the cross for our sakes.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Our Busy Time of Year

Dear CCOV Family,
We are moving into our busy time of the year at CCOV! Here’s a forecast of some upcoming opportunities. First, council has planned a potluck fellowship meal for right after worship on Sunday, February 11. So dig out your best recipes and fire up those crockpots! Beverages will be provided. Did you ever notice how when people eat together, the bonds of community always get strengthened? Also, stay tuned for forthcoming information about our church’s mission projects including Health Packs and our UMOM dinners.

Additionally, I want you to be aware of some denominational and interfaith opportunities. The National Council of Churches (NCC), a covenant partner with the United Church of Christ, is calling the nation to heal from the wound of racism on the National Mall, April 4, 2018 in an event called United to End Racism. If you are interested in joining a delegation from the Southwest Conference of the UCC and going along, please let me know. Otherwise, we can all participate by praying for the end of racism. In preparation for this event, Sharon Watkins, Director of the NCC Truth and Racial Justice Initiative, is calling upon all of us to pray every Thursday morning at 7 AM (in our own time zones). One other local event you may be interested in at the Islamic Center of the North East Valley is an Interfaith Dinner invitation for 5-8 PM on Sunday, January 28, 2018. You can register now for the event at http://icnev2018.eventbrite.com and join our own Dorie, who is planning to attend. The topic of the evening is “Similarities among Abrahamic Religions.” There is no cost for this educational event. Also, anyone interested in attending the Annual Southwest Conference of the UCC in Tucson from April 19-21 should let me know soon. We can fully fund several of us to attend and represent CCOV.

Finally, I want to give you a preview of what is coming up in worship. After spending the fall focusing on scriptural passages about women of the Bible, I am moving into men of the Bible—and I don’t have to stray far from the lectionary to do this. This week you will hear all about Philip and Nathanael. Upcoming weeks will include Simon and Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, and the unnamed leper of Mark 1:40. Our knowledge of biblical personages is going to continue to increase. What life lessons and inspiration we can derive from them! Please feel free always to express ideas and wishes for our Sunday worship to me. This is a congregational church, after all!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Dear CCOV Family,
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I can still say “Merry Christmas” because Christmas lasts for 12 days! That’s why on Sunday, Dec. 31st we will continue to sing Christmas carols, ones we didn’t get to sing on Christmas Eve. Because we are going to spend some time this winter and spring talking about some of the more obscure men of the Bible, you will hear this Sunday all about Simeon, also a figure in the Christmas story. Simeon was an old man who had been waiting a lifetime to see the Messiah. When Simeon met Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus (who was just 40 days old) in the Temple, he saw the baby and broke into an inspired song starting with, “My eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon’s words are what we call the Nunc Dimittis, which you may enjoy hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing on You Tube. Simeon declares Jesus to be the means of salvation for all people, Jew and Gentile alike, and he sings of the light that has come into the darkness of this world. He and the old prophetess Anna, who both recognize the baby to be the Messiah that day in the Temple, are themselves representatives of all of Israel: two old people, one male and the other female, poised in anticipation of a new era.

In many ways we too stand on the cusp of something new: a New Year! This time of year we look backwards and forwards. Some are anxious to put 2017 behind them; others find comfort in the familiar. Some embrace 2018 with much hope, but others are still waiting for breakthroughs and answered prayer: peace on earth, a clean bill of health, and a hopeful future. Like Simeon and Anna, we also live in a time-between-times. We are not yet at the consummation of all things, but we are active participants in the coming Kingdom of God. Therefore, let us greet the New Year with hope: The light has broken into the darkness. We have a good God who came to us as one of us, and we have the love and fellowship of one another. See you in church!
With Hope,
Rev. Sandi

Blue Christmas

Dear CCOV Family,
We have just a week and a half to go, and then it is Christmas already! Some prepare by shopping, baking, wrapping gifts, traveling to or receiving family, and attending parties. Others struggle over the holidays because of stress, medical issues, world troubles, pain, and grief. Instead of singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” some may be sighing “In the Bleak Midwinter.” When I served as a chaplain at the Beatitudes Campus, we used to have a “Blue Christmas” service where folks who were having a difficult time could come and simply be reminded that God was there. Other places may call this kind of worship a “Longest Night” service, because we are near the winter solstice and the year’s least amount of daylight.
While we haven’t had this kind of service at CCOV yet, I do want you to know that I am aware of the struggles so many of you have been through this past year and are currently experiencing. I wish I could provide neat answers for you, but I cannot. What I can tell you is that I will stand with you and pray with you. I hope you will call on me when you need to talk or you need prayer. And I know that our church family is deeply caring and will also circle you with love.
For many, this Christmas may not be at all like ones before. We may not be able to participate in the same beloved traditions, and our nostalgia may prompt tears. One thing I can say is that the real message of Christmas is that God’s light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, even when it seems like the darkness is winning. We have ultimate hope because of the coming of Jesus. You are not alone.
Peace,
Rev. Sandi

Advent and the Coming of Jesus

Friends,
Here we find ourselves in the Advent season once again—the beginning of the liturgical year for most churches in the Western tradition. The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin adventus, meaning “coming” or “arrival.” You will hear the motif of pregnancy running through our Advent worship, especially this Sunday as we talk about Mary. You will also hear soloist Katarzyna Honsberger sing “Ave Maria” and “Mary Did You Know?” among other beautiful songs. For those who like to read ahead, Sunday’s scripture is Luke 1:26-38, the story of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was chosen to bear the Messiah. Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and it ends on Christmas Eve. It’s going to be a great season at CCOV!

Like pregnancy, Advent is a season of expectation. We expect light to break into the darkness, even in the shortest days of the year. If we were following the lectionary, our readings this Sunday would seem to point us to Christ’s second coming with scripture passages like Mark 12:24-37. This is the text that speaks of “the Son of Man coming in the clouds” and how no one knows “that day or hour, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” The passage concludes by calling us to be alert and awake. Those who have spent time in other Christian traditions may have heard these scriptures interpreted in terms of end-time prophecies and predictions—predictions that have failed again and again. I would suggest instead that we understand these passages as the coming of Jesus into our lives, again and again—sometimes with ferocious suddenness. So indeed be awake! Jesus comes when hearts of stone melt, oppressed and marginalized folks are liberated, when forgiveness sets us free, and all are granted a place at the table. Advent is truly about expecting Jesus to be born again and again in our hearts, saying “yes” to God as Mary did, and becoming the Christ carriers.

I look forward to celebrating this Advent season with you.
With Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love,
Rev. Sandi

So Much to be Thankful For

Dear CCOV Family,
I love the lyrics to a song called “Thankful” by David Foster, Carole Bayer Sager, and Richard Page. It’s on Josh Groban’s 2009 Christmas Album, Noel. The opening verse could be a mini sermon:

   Some days, we forget to look around us.
Some days, we can’t see the joy that surrounds us.
So caught up inside ourselves, we take when we should give.
So for tonight we pray for what we know can be.
And on this day we hope for what we still can’t see.
It’s up to us to be the change.
And even though we all can still do more,
there’s so much to be thankful for.

“Thankful” is a good Thanksgiving song about changing our perspective and looking outside of ourselves—rather than focusing first on flaws and problems. When I ask the usual question, “How are you today,” I am struck by faith-filled answers like, “I’m so thankful. I’ve got a roof over my head, friends and family around, and good food to eat. How are you?” I love responses that start at a place of gratitude. Unfortunately, I often catch myself responding to such a question with litany of complaints like, “Fine, if it weren’t for this cold,” or “Tired, because I’m not sleeping well.” Our natural human inclination is to focus on the flaws and problems, because indeed, we’re often “so caught up inside ourselves.” Paradoxically, the best way to stop dwelling on our problems is to make a habit of looking outside of ourselves.

These days we have so many opportunities to look outside of ourselves. You know as well as I do that a myriad of places in the world are in dire need of our attention. I hope you will continue to give to disaster relief as you are able. You can write checks to the church with the designation “disaster relief,” or you can go to the UCC’s website and give at www.ucc.org/. At church you can also help sponsor a senior for Christmas, purchase UMOM cards in Hayden Hall after the service, or help with our UMOM meal service. This Thanksgiving let us respond to God’s incredible generosity to us by offering our gifts, tithes, talents, and treasures.

Clint and I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving holiday!
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Sandi