Epiphany

Happy New Year CCOV family and friends!  We find ourselves in the church season of Epiphany, which focuses on sudden perceptions or insights of God that come into our midst.  Every other week Pastor Dick is revealing epiphanies in his “From Good to Great” sermon series.  On the alternating Sundays when I preach, I will be revealing epiphanies in some of our beloved psalms.  Psalms 29, 27, 112, 2, 121, and (of course) 23 are all in my late winter/early spring Sunday line-up.  Come and hear some of the reasons why the Psalms speak so poignantly to us today, even some 3000 years after they were composed.

Here is a little background: The Psalter was Israel’s hymnbook.  The Psalms communicate the Israelites’ experience of the God who came to Israel, their response to this God, their God’s glorious characteristics, their confessions of faith, and their deepest emotions.  No wonder people have derived comfort from them through the ages—the whole fund of human emotions can be found in them.  In general , there are psalms of lament, thanksgiving, praise, and even royal psalms used to coronate a king.  We can turn to them when life gets difficult and see that we are not alone in what God’s people are feeling.  We can see how the psalmist pours his heart out to God in lament—and we can do likewise.  We can read incredible words of comfort like we find in Psalm 23, which we often choose for celebration of life services.  We can pray and sing their ecstatic expressions of thanksgiving and praise.  This Sunday I will delve into Psalm 27, which is all about being confident and fearless in life, even when suffering some terrible injustice.   We, just like the psalmist, can affirm our trust in God even amid life’s troubles and become confident.  And here is one of the coolest things about the Psalms:  As the book progresses, the Psalms move away from so much lament on a trajectory toward a great clattering of praise at the end!  Isn’t this another example of the believer’s ultimate good news?  I look forward to being with you in church!

Peace,    

Co-Pastor Sandi

Merry Christmas!

Dear CCOV Family,Our observance of Advent is culminating tomorrow as we celebrate Christmas!  Each week we lit a different candle—for hope, peace, joy, and love—qualities God has already implanted in our nature and are there for us to act upon when we open ourselves and say “yes” to God.
Two Sundays ago I talked about Mary’s interaction with Gabriel, the angel God sent to Mary to inform her that she found favor with God and was chosen to bear the long-expected Messiah (Luke 1:26-38).  Mary responds that she is willing to be used of God.  Effectively, she says “yes” to God. She opens herself to the divine and gives physical expression to the long-awaited hope, peace, joy, and love of the incarnation, the stunning event when God becomes enfleshed, human like us.
We all have Mary’s freedom to say “yes” to God and actualize for ourselves and one another the hope, peace, joy and love this world so desperately needs.  Let us continually remember to invite God unto our hearts and lives this Christmas and New Year.  Let us continue to bless our greater community with ministries like UMOM, Healthy Packs, Adopt a Family, as well as find new missions and ministries in the coming year. Always remember that God made us to be good and gives us the freedom to say “yes”!  Merry Christmas!Co-Pastor Sandi

A Season for Gratitude

Greetings CCOV Family,

Thanksgiving is a good reminder to be intentional about practicing gratitude for all of life’s blessings.  According to a study published in 2015 by two psychologists (which you can read more about here:  https://dailyhealthpost.com/gratitude-rewires-brain-happier/), people who feel the most gratitude are happier and healthier.  It turns out that practicing gratitude even rewires our brain and causes measurable physiological changes.  People who start each day from a place of gratitude have increased amounts of dopamine, which is a pleasure hormone.  No wonder God calls us to be thankful!  

I know that many of us, especially as we move into the holiday season, face struggles because things aren’t the way they used to be.  Many are grieving the loss of a loved one, caring for a loved one, experiencing financial stressors, or coping with health issues and difficult relationships.  These stressors are weighty and difficult to be sure. It’s easy to get bogged down in sadness.  Studies like the one for which I provided the above link tell us that we can improve our mood and health when we are intentional about starting each day at a place of gratitude—rather than with a litany of complaints.  We can name or journal specific things for which we are thankful and start reaping psychological and physical benefits.

Many scripture passages attest to this truth.  One in particular is Luke 17:11-18.  This is the story when Jesus healed the ten lepers.  Only one of them turned back, praised God and fell on his face at Jesus’ feet as he gave him thanks.  Jesus wondered where the other nine were.  What Jesus says to him is most interesting: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”  Starting at a place of gratitude is intimately bound up with our faith, and that can indeed make us well.  Isn’t it great when neuroscience confirms spiritual principles?  I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving and meaningful Advent season.

Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi

Hospitality

Our world’s religions all emphasize hospitality and kindness to the stranger.  Christians can’t claim those values solely.  Because most of us get few chances In life to spend significant amounts of time with members of other faiths, we don’t get to experience being on the receiving end.

Earlier this month Clint and I were privileged to travel throughout a large chunk of Turkey, a country that is 98% Islamic.  Because of that and the current geo-political environment, well-meaning friends and family expressed fear for our safety.  All I can say is that we felt safe and well cared for—and completely delighted by a gracious, hospitable people. One incident that struck me was when a Muslim man on our bus tour surprised Clint and me

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A Great Fall Ahead

Dear CCOV Family,

After a wonderful summer of a more intimate and interactive worship experience in Hayden Hall, we have moved back into the sanctuary and look forward to a blessed and full fall ahead of us!  Choir practice starts up again on October 13, and the choir will strive to present a well-known anthem on that same Sunday.  Our members slowly start their trickle back from cooler climes, and we rejoice in their return!  

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Christian Stewardship of Planet Earth

Dear CCOV Family,

God gave humans stewardship of this beautiful world.  I know that many of us, as God’s stewards, are concerned with environmental headlines in the news today.  The Amazon, which produces 20% of the earth’s oxygen, burns; the Arctic burns; and looking out the window as I type, I can see smoke from Prescott-area fires. Glaciers melt, bees continue to decline, temperatures soar, and the oceans are full of microplastics.  Sometimes we feel overwhelmed because the news seems to be so bleak all of the time.  Take heart though: There is good news, when people make a concerted effort to make a change.  For example, The World Economic Forum reports that in Europe forests are again blanketing the continent as a result of increased protection and better land management.  Trees now cover almost a third of France—even more forests cover Sweden, Finland and Spain.  We know that trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and help fight climate change as well as produce oxygen, which we need to breathe.  Additionally, forests safeguard biodiversity. 

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Gun Violence

Dear CCOV Family,On Sunday morning we gathered with heavy hearts in the aftermath of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings that left 29 people dead and scores injured.  When tragedy strikes and we are grieving, many of us turn to our churches.  We want solace, understanding, guidance, inspiration, and prayer.  Increasing waves of domestic terrorism cause us to feel insecure and fearful for our own families, friends, and selves, because we realize that no school, workplace, house of worship, or shopping center is truly safe.  We prayed together on Sunday, to be sure.  But we’ve prayed after other tragedies, and the violence keeps coming.  While our prayers don’t magically fix anything, they do go to work on our own hearts and convince us of the need to make changes and take action, which we can do.  Below you will find a link to a statement our UCC denominational leaders, including Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, have published in the wake of these tragedies.  Per the article, besides prayer, our denominational leadership is urging all UCC members “to call on the Senate to act immediately on pending gun violence legislation.”  Click here to go to UCC website
Additionally, they want us “to attend town halls and candidate appearances and ask the candidates what they plan to do to end gun violence.”  I have already called my senator and asked her to pass Background Checks and a strong Red Flag Law.  Please join me in taking concrete action.  With Caring,Pastor Sandi

Discussion Skills

Discussion Skills

Summer is a great time to mix things up a little bit.  Not only are we sitting around the table during a more informal and intimate type of worship (while eating some really good food), but toward the end of the hour, we have also begun discussing what the sermon brought up for you.  Such sharing increases our knowledge of not only the text but of one another.  We have different reactions to a given Bible story or sermon because we connect them with our own unique experience and understanding of the world. As we continue this practice of discussion in the coming weeks, let’s listen deeply to one another without judgment.  Here are some great discussion guidelines from the University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching:        

  • Respect others’ rights to hold opinions and beliefs that differ from your own. When you disagree, challenge or criticize the idea, not the person.
  • Listen carefully to what others are saying even when you disagree with what is being said. Comments that you make (asking for clarification, sharing critiques, expanding on a point, etc.) should reflect that you have paid attention to the speaker’s comments.
  • Be courteous. Don’t interrupt or engage in private conversations while others are speaking. Use attentive, courteous body language.
  • Support your statements. Use evidence and provide a rationale for your points.
  • Share responsibility for including all voices in the discussion.  If you have much to say, try to hold back a bit; if you are hesitant to speak, look for opportunities to contribute to the discussion.
  • Recognize that we are all still learning. Be willing to change your perspective, and make space for others to do the same.

These sample guidelines are helpful for all places where we engage in discussion—not just in church.  If you want more information, go to http://www.crlt.umich.edu/examples-discussion-guidelines where I found the above bulleted points.  I look forward to lots of stimulating discussion!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Sandi

Minor Prophets with Major Messages

Dear CCOV Family and Friends,

I hope all of you are enjoying your summers so far, wherever you might be.  If you are still in the Valley, don’t forget that worship continues in Hayden Hall at 10 AM.  More relaxed and informal, our summer services involve eating and fellowshipping together, singing a cappella, and a more interactive teaching/preaching style.  In the coming weeks I will be preaching out of Amos and Hosea, minor Old Testament prophets who have major things to teach us about God’s justice and righteousness.  This week we will explore Amos 7:7-17, and on Sunday, July 21, Amos 8:1-12.  You will hear that the prophetic voice is imaginative and calls us out of our comfort zones by not upholding the status quo.  In fact, the prophetic voice may even conflict with the priestly or pastoral voice at times, and you learn how to measure such voices by “God’s plumb line,” which is the Divine standard of morality.  Biblical prophets are primarily forth-tellers concerned with justice in a society, not so much of the foretellers as we might think.  You will hear how Amos’ vision informs our Christian response to the crisis at the border today.  I look forward to seeing you in church!

Peace,

Pastor Sandi        

Practical Advice

Dear CCOV Family,

Did you ever wonder if and when there is a right time to run an intervention in someone’s life?  Do you struggle with the nuances involved in advice or critique giving, or do you feel tempted to tell others what to do?   On Sunday, July 7 we will talk about these often-difficult issues during our 10 AM, around-the-table worship in Hayden Hall as we consider Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1-18.  From my sermon called “Practical Advice,” you will hear how Paul exhorts the Galatians to restore those who have transgressed in a spirit of gentleness, yet you will also hear how Paul calls us not to deceive ourselves.  We will talk about how we sometimes focus on the failings of others but neglect to reflect on (or be aware of) our own sin.  In short, it is not our task to persuade others to believe as we do or to control their lives.  The poet Archibald Macleish once said it best: “Religion is at its best when it makes us ask hard questions of ourselves.  It is at its worst when it deludes us into thinking we have all the answers for everybody else.”  I look forward to exploring this topic with you during the first Sunday in July! 

Stay Cool!

Pastor Sandi