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.
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!
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,
Over the past Decembers in recent memory, our church has participated in the UCC denomination-wide offering called Veterans of the Cross. This special Christmas fund “has been caring for active and retired United Church of Christ clergy and lay employees and their families for over 100 years, providing emergency financial help, supplementation of small annuities and health premiums, and Christmas ’thank-you’ checks to our lower-income retirees” (www.christmasfund.org). With all the hardships 2020 has seen, giving to this fund, if you are able, is probably more important than ever.
If you follow the link to the Christmas Fund website, you can click on a video and hear Rev. Cathy Barker talk about a time in her life when the love and care represented by the Christmas Fund made all the difference. It was December of 1968, and Cathy’s father had just died after a long struggle with cancer. She and her mother anticipated a lonely and humble Christmas. The check arrived and meant so much—they were touched that the wider church remembered them.
I know that we usually have pew envelopes for this offering, but this year it would be best just to give through the website, www.christmasfund.org. I know that we have all felt stressed by all we have lost this year, but ironically, joy comes with giving and knowing that we are making someone’s life just a little bit better.
I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, even though it won’t be anything like Thanksgivings past. I know many of us are sad, because large gatherings, travel, and the usual ways of doing things are all upended—or at least pared way back. It’s especially hard since we are, after all, such social creatures. So, we lament. There’s nothing wrong with lamentation; in fact, a whole book is devoted to lamentation in our Bible. Yet, the scriptural trajectory always moves us through times of lamentation toward restoration, hope, and resurrection.
We have much hope—an effective vaccine is coming. In the meantime, we still have a myriad of things for which to be thankful—and we have many opportunities to show our gratitude this season by giving. In fact, we can improve our mental health when we start each day being thankful for what we still have and what we still can do. We can also feel great joy when we give to others, whether through outreach projects at church or buying an extra turkey to donate to a local food bank.
I’m especially thankful that we live in a place where it will be 70 degrees on Thanksgiving Day, and we can gather in small groups and eat, socially-distanced, outside. I’m thankful for food, shelter, family, friends, and the technology that keeps us virtually connected. What are you thankful for this season? May you find joy in your practice of Thanksgiving 2020.
With Gratitude for my Church Family,
In the aftermath of a turbulent election, I want to share with you a prayer from our Conference Minister, Rev. Dr. Bill Lyons.
Holy One, elections always create winners and losers. Spirit, guide us to be ministers to friends and neighbors disappointed and grieving, friends and neighbors celebrating, and into the work of building unity as we take up tasks as healers, peacemakers, and justice builders. What joy is mine as the first woman in American history steps into her role a Vice President of the United States! Protect President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris. Grant Mr. Trump the ability to put nation before self and to make a good ending for himself. Protect the nation from anyone who would seek our harm or who would use violence against others in the wake of this result. Heal us, O God. Heal our land. Bring us peace!
Rev. Dr. Lyons reminds us in his prayer that there are always winners and losers in elections, but we Christians are called to be ministers of healing, peace, and justice—first and foremost. I pray that even in our diversity we can be Christian ministers to one another. That, after all, is a hallmark of Christian maturity. Let us always seek to be bridge builders between those who are celebrating and those who are feeling defeated.
The weather up here in Prescott is crisper now—fall is really in the air. This weekend, of course, is Halloween, and if we were worshipping in our sanctuary together, we would be celebrating All Saints this Sunday. At CCOV UCC we celebrate All Saints by lighting candles as we remember loved ones who have gone home to glory before us, as well as by singing the hymn, “For All the Saints.” This week in particular I am remembering and missing all the dearly departed saints I have known throughout my life, and I am especially thinking about the ones at CCOV I have known throughout the years. This Sunday, if we were in worship together, we would read the names of Jim Gaspar, Fred Rhoads, and Hugh Schilling, our own dear church members who departed in 2020.
Halloween, All Souls’ Day, and All Saints’ are interrelated. For a good history and explanation of their significance, you can click here: https://www.hfcc.edu/news/2019/halloween-all-saints-all-souls-holidays. What I would like most to point you to is the comforting passage in Revelation 21:3-5a: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ’See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for this first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ’See, I am making all things new.’” Even though we won’t be in person to light candles together this year, perhaps you can light a few at home to recognize and celebrate that there are no real or permanent boundaries between time and space, this world and the next. We are on a continuum separated from our departed loved ones only by a thin veil and only for a time. God’s reality and our reality coexist! Know that God dwells with us here and there; for God’s home is among us, wherever we are. This is the good news of our faith!
Have any of you ever done an in-depth study of the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples? If you have, you will know that so much more is packed into every last word of that prayer than we typically think. Let’s just focus for a moment on the first two words: “Our Father.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t start with “My Father” or “Her Father” or “His Father.” He uses the plural possessive pronoun, “our.” A deep message is contained in those first two words, which communicates the universality of God’s love and care. When we pray “Our Father,” we cannot consciously or subconsciously reject our neighbor, even our neighbors who don’t look, think, talk, or act like we do. “Our Father” is radically inclusive of different races, socio-economic statuses, genders, religions, world geographic locales, and political affiliations. Our God is truly everyone’s God.
I wonder how different life would be if those in power truly modeled Jesus’ leadership style. Jesus, right up front in the Lord’s Prayer, communicates that God belongs to everyone—not just to one group. Jesus, the servant-leader, washes feet. Jesus, the servant-leader, preferentially spends time with and cares for the orphan, the outcast, the poor, and the sick. The deep message for Christ followers is that we must be sure our decisions and actions take into account the whole, not just the parts. That’s not always easy, but it is the Christian way. Blessings,
Dear CCOV Family and Friends,
If there is any silver lining in this age of COVID-19, it may be the time it has afforded us to tackle long-postponed projects around the house. For many years Clint and I have wanted to digitalize the thousands of photos in our old photo albums, which are bulky and heavy to move. My dream is to have our life’s slideshow playing on an endless loop on our living room TV screen one day soon. So, we began this long-term project a few months ago, and it has taken us on quite the trip down memory lane. Not only are we digitalizing the photos, but also old letters, report cards, and other remembrances.
I realized that I never threw a single letter or card out during my high school, college, and young adult years. I’ve recently re-read every last one of them and found that they (along with old photos) told a story about those years of my life. Fuzzy memories have grown sharp again. Friends who were almost long forgotten are once again at the forefront of my mind, and I found myself longing for them. Because of that, yesterday I reached out and called a friend I haven’t spoken to in years. She and I were neighbors and grew up together—we were even in each other’s weddings! I can’t tell you how heartwarming our conversation was—and how timely, as she had just been through some real health challenges and reconnecting meant the world to her. It felt so good to catch up and reminisce, and we vowed never to grow apart again.
As I’ve been preparing for Pastor Dick’s and my upcoming sermon series called “Really Bad Ideas Not Found in the Bible,” I’ve been reflecting on this bad idea: everything happens for a reason. Actually, Pastor Dick will be preaching on this half-truth the first Sunday in October. But here’s a sneak preview: While there is cause and effect in this life, COVID-19 did not happen for a God-ordained reason; moreover, God did not send the pandemic to punish the world. That simply is not good theology. What we do know is that suffering exists in this world for a variety of reasons (including ones of our own making), but God’s work is bringing us through, all the while strengthening our souls and growing us into God’s own image. Jesus showed us that all manner of suffering can be used to reorient and transform us. Knowing that, how about we all keep using this time to tackle things we’ve been putting off? Who knows, our projects may even lead us to the unexpected joy of reconnecting with someone who needs to hear from us!
Recently my Prescott neighbors told me a story about a family of quail that visited their back patio. They were alerted to the birds by the insistent calling of the mother—a distinctive noise that went on for a full 45 minutes. She had 13 babies in tow. Finally, it got quiet when the father arrived with the 14th chick, which had been lost on the hillside below. It was only then that the covey of quail moved on its way. I said, “Wow! That’s a story with great biblical implications! Thank you for giving me an idea for my next newsletter blurb!”
We all know Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:11-14 and Luke 15:3-7), and how in God’s kingdom, God, the Good Shepherd, leaves the flock of 99 to go in search of the lost one, because that one matters most in that particular moment. This story tells us something of God’s preferential care of the lost, the marginalized, and the oppressed. In the context of being lost, that one life mattered most at that point in time. Like the parents in the covey of quail, the Good Shepherd would not move any of the flock on their way until He had restored the lost one.
This story has eternal application. Note that the 99 in the parable aren’t all baaing, “All lives matter! Let’s just enjoy our safe, privileged place and get on with things!” Jesus’ point in the parable is that there are contexts when we must depart from the “all” and focus on the lost, the least. In so many ways, God’s economy is very different from ours. We have such a context now. For us, in our time, the ones who have endured hardship generation after generation need us to redress wrongs and restore justice.
I’ve been actively immersed in anti-racism training through our denomination for the past four Saturdays. To hear people of color tell their stories has been emotional and heartbreaking—we just can’t imagine the depth of their pain, but engagement with them helped. I hope you can hear stories like the ones I heard. You can gain a deeper understanding by reading books like “White Fragility,” “So You Want to Talk about Race,” and “The New Jim Crow.” Or you can watch films like “Tell Them We are Rising” (on You Tube) or visit here https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/film-tv/gmp32961462/black-history-movies-anti-racism/ for other film suggestions. When we truly redress the roots of our wrongs, provide real justice for all, and seek out the lost, society may indeed find peace and quiet like that covey of quail finally did, and be able to move on.