The Hope of Advent

Friends,

This week began with our lighting the purple candle representing the Hope of Advent, and in the coming weeks we will focus on Peace, Joy, and Love and light their candles.  Sometimes hope eludes us when we look only to our natural circumstances.  I know people in our congregation who are struggling with aging parents, spouses who are ill, friends with cancer, their own health, and other worries and griefs.  Add to that a polarized nation and nuclear saber rattling, and we sometimes feel that even hope is elusive because the world’s problems are so overwhelming.  God’s people have always had times when hope seems hopeless, and that is why Isaiah, who is called the Christmas prophet, wrote 700 years before Christ: to encourage Israel amid the background of the prophecy of war and destruction, darkness and gloom.  Isaiah prophesies a glorious coming king, God with us, who heralds a new kingdom that we affirm is with us already but not fully yet.  Read Isaiah 9 today!  We continue to live in this time between times, yet our faith calls to us and reminds us that God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).  This Advent week, when we focus on hope, let us remember that our hope is in God and in God’s promises,  Hope for God’s people has never been defined by circumstances.  

Pertaining to hope, this week I read a quote by Robert McAfee Brown, who was a pastor and religion professor at Stanford University.  He wrote these words in his autobiography about an old family Christmas photo he included:  “There we are all gathered around the creche on Christmas Eve, putting the animals and the wise men and the shepherds around the baby, who is a small center of sanity in a large an crazy world.”  So, this is my prayer for you this now-waning first week of Advent:  I pray that Jesus continues to be the center of your lives, the center of your hope, and the center of your sanity in this crazy world.

With Great Hope,

Co-Pastor Sandi  

New Fall Preaching Series!

Friends,

Welcome the fall and the hope of cooler weather!  It’s good to be back in church and to see one another in person again.  Pastor Dick and I have an interesting preaching series on tap for late October through mid-November that we’re calling Should I Stay or Should I Go?   We are preaching through Brian D. McLaren’s book Do I Stay Christian:  A Guide for the Doubters, the Disappointed, and the Disillusioned.  Approximately the first third of the book gives reasons to leave the church, but take heart!  The second two-thirds of the book presents GOOD reasons to stay.  Here’s a sneak preview of upcoming weeks:

Oct. 23

Reason to leave:  Because Christianity has been vicious to Jews, opponents, women, other religions, and native peoples.

Reason to stay:  Because Christianity hasn’t failed; for the most part it has not been tried!

Oct.30:

Reason to leave:  Because of toxic theology.

Reason to stay:  Because of the power of grace and forgiveness!

Nov. 6:

Reason to leave:  Because Christianity’s real god is money.

Reason to stay:  Because Christianity is in its infancy!

Nov. 13:

Reason to leave:  Because of the failure to live by the Sermon on the Mount.

Reason to stay:  Because God needs to be freed from false images!

You will mostly hear why we need to remain Christian and stay in (or return to) church and be with one another.  As McLaren says in the last sentence of his book, “If you have the inner fire to stay in the struggle, may you know that you are walking a path that reformers, prophets, mystic, and sages have walked before you, including a fellow who grew up in Nazareth of Galilee and died just outside Jerusalem.”  I hope to see you soon!

Grace and Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi

WELCOME BACK TO IN-PERSON WORSHIP!

Friends,

Welcome September!  We resume in-person worship this Sunday, September 11 at 10 AM.  After the long summer, I’m so excited to gather again in our beautiful sanctuary!  We have ample space for social distancing, so the risk of spreading germs is  minimal.  Pastor Sandi is preaching.  Her sermon title is Lost and Found based on this week’s lectionary Gospel text, Luke 15:1-10.  We will revisit Jesus’ parables of The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin.  Hear all about how God and heaven’s angels take great joy in our transformation, our moving from lost to found, along this journey we call life.  Of course we will also delight in the music of our own Larry Loeber, pray, and sing our beloved hymns.

On another note, fellowship has been good and ample through the summer because of Thursday afternoon Zoom calls and our fellowship brunches on each month’s first and third Sundays.  With the resumption of worship, however, we will discontinue the Zoom calls and Sunday brunches.  Be sure to thank Scott Greenwood for hosting Zoom these past few COVID years.  Through our calls, we have developed even stronger connections as we checked in with one another during this very different time in which we live.  Those of us in town over the summer also enjoyed our dining adventures.  Because of their popularity, we plan to continue them in some form—maybe a monthly happy hour.  Stay tuned for more info.  See you soon!

Blessings,

Co-Pastor Sandi  

See You Soon!

Friends,
It’s already August and summer is winding down!  On Sunday, September 11 at 10 AM we will be back in church worshipping and fellowshipping together. I’m very grateful to all of our folks who kept the campus in shape and attended to regular chores through the summer.  I’ve also enjoyed hearing about and seeing photos of your various summer vacations.    

As we prepare to meet in-person again, think about whom you might invite to church.  Are there friends, colleagues, family members, and neighbors?  We all have such good friendships with one another, and there are so many other people in the community who could benefit and grow in an inclusive, caring fellowship like ours.  Worshipping on a screen is one thing, but real, live friendships are what so many people today need with all the disconnection in our world.  As one of my seminary professors used to say, “Let’s get the people into the ark, where we can guard each other’s backs!”

Enjoy the rest of the summer, and I will see you soon!
Peace,
Co-Pastor Sandi

Always do your Best

Friends,

This spring some women in the church met to discuss Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.  It’s good to share what we learned because the spiritual knowledge contained within the book finds resonance in all of our world’s religious traditions—and most certainly with Christianity.  In previous newsletters I shared with you the first three agreements:  BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD, DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY, and DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.  The fourth and last agreement is ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST.  Ruiz shares this story in his book:  “There was a man who wanted to transcend his suffering, so he went to a Buddhist temple to find a Master to help him.  He went to the Master and asked, ‘Master, if I meditate four hours a day, how long will it take for me to transcend?’  The Master looked at him and replied, ‘If you meditate four hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in ten years.’  Thinking he could do better, the man then said, ‘Oh, Master, what if I meditated eight hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?’  The Master looked at him and said, ‘If you meditate eight hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in twenty years.’  ‘But why will it take me longer if I meditate more?’ the man asked.  The Master replied, ‘You are not here to sacrifice your joy or your life.  You are here to live, to be happy, and to love.  If you can do your best in two hours of meditation, but you spend eight hours instead, you will only grow tired, miss the point, and you won’t enjoy your life.  Do your best, and perhaps you will learn that no matter how long you meditate, you can live, love, and be happy.’”

This sounds to me like a quality over quantity issue.  More, it seems, isn’t always better!  What is most important is our attitude toward whatever we are doing in the moment.  Attitude, the direction of our thoughts, seems to be key.  In Colossians 3:23-24 the Apostle Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.  You are serving the Lord Christ.”   Imagine if this were our first thought every morning:  How can I best serve the Lord Christ today?  Let us always do our best for the glory of God, no matter what the circumstance and give each moment in life the best we can offer, and we will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.  

Peace, 

Co-Pastor Sandi  

Don’t Make Assumptions

Friends,

Some of the women in our church met over the past several months to discuss Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.  It’s good to share what we learned because the spiritual knowledge contained within the book finds resonance in all of our world’s religious traditions—and most certainly with Christianity.  In previous newsletters I shared with you the first two agreements:  BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD and DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY.  

The third agreement is DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.  I saw a video clip on FB the other day with what appeared to be a pit bull dog dragging a helpless cat around, teeth seemingly clamped around the cat’s head.  It was quite upsetting, actually, because I am a cat lover.  For me, the clip seemed to be reinforcing all the stereotypes about the pit bull dog breed—that they are violent, destructive, ill-tempered, killing-machine kind of dogs.  Well, that wasn’t exactly what the video turned out to be.  The words THINGS AREN’T AWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM flashed across the screen.  Then, the camera panned in for a close-up.  Instead, what was happening was the cat had clamped its teeth down on the poor dog’s jowl and would not release the poor dog from its bite.  Viewers were first led to assume that the dog was hurting the cat; the opposite was actually true. 

One thing we know about Christian living is that we are called again and again not to judge—and making assumptions is a judgement issue.   We do it all the time though: A man parking in a handicap spot looks perfectly fine to us, though his jeans may be hiding a prosthetic leg.  We see a well-manicured woman paying for groceries with the modern equivalent of food stamps, but we don’t see behind the scenes: in reality she does her own manicures.  Making assumptions about others reveals that which is in our own hearts and says quite a bit about state of our own spiritual health.  Jesus in Luke 6:37 says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”  That sounds like a really good deal to me!  

Blessings,

Co-Pastor Sandi 

Don’t Take Anything Personally

Friends,

Some of the women in our church are meeting over several months to discuss Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.  We meet next at 10 AM on Thursday, April 14.  It’s good to share what we are learning because the spiritual knowledge contained within the book finds resonance in all of our world’s religious traditions—and most certainly with Christianity.  In the last newsletter I shared with you the first agreement:  BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD.  

The second of the four agreements is DON’T TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY.  The insight mined from this agreement is nothing others do is because of you.  What others say and do is a projection of their own reality.  When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.  Just like the famed lyrics go in the movie Frozen, we too can let it go.

I’m glad I had that agreement on the tip of my tongue the other day.  I was checking out at Albertsons and the young cashier sighed and told me she was coming to the end of a tough shift.  I asked her why it was so tough.  She said people checking out were blaming her for the store’s lack of inventory, and she was receiving a lot of negativity.  I told her not to take it personally; it wasn’t her fault.  All the people who come through her line have backstories; we have no idea what they are dealing with either.  Then I distracted her by asking what she had planned for after work.  Her face then lit up and she told me about her dogs and boyfriend.  

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and as such begins Holy Week.  May next week be deeply meaningful for you followed by a joyous Easter!  

Peace, 

Co-Pastor Sandi 

The First Agreement

Friends,

Some women in the church met on the morning of February 24 to unpack the beginning of Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements.  Through this Lenten season, I want to share with the whole congregation what we are learning together—a brief synopsis of each agreement, because all of us, women and men alike, can benefit from such teaching.  Although the author draws upon Toltec wisdom, the spiritual knowledge contained within the book finds resonance in all of our world’s religious traditions—and most certainly with Christianity.

 
The first agreement is BE IMPECCABLE WITH YOUR WORD.  Impeccable means without sin.  The exhortation aims to get us to speak with integrity and say only what we mean.  Pastor Dick reminded us in church this past Sunday of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:37—to “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ’No be ‘No’.”  Jesus well knew the way we are often so apt use words that give us loopholes and wiggle room—phrases like “I’ll try”  vs. “Yes I will.”  The first agreement also cautions against negative self talk or gossiping about others.  Instead, we can use the power of our words in the direction of truth and love.  Let’s not forget what power words have:  They can set nations to war and they can heal.  If fact, in Genesis 1, God spoke the heavens and the earth into being.  So, we are reminded what creative power our words can have and what good we can do with them.


In the coming months, I will share the essence of next three agreements with you.  In the meantime, let us pray daily for Ukraine and give where we can.  I recommend giving through our denomination here at https://app.mobilecause.com/form/8w38_Q?vid=qggfi, but you can also find other worthy agencies here at https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/ways-to-help-ukraine-conflict/ .

 
Grace and Peace,

Co-Pastor Sandi  

The Blessings of Church Participation

Friends,

Welcome to the Valley’s most stunning time of year!  The skies are clear and the days are warmed by the sun.  Pretty soon we will smell the glorious scent of citrus blossoms everywhere!  I think we all feel uplifted, not just by the weather, but also by our wonderful Boy Scout Sunday last week, when the fine young men of Troop 649 joined us and assisted in worship.  And for a double blessing, we were treated to the ethereal music of flutist Jenna Daum and our own Larry Loeber!  I think of all the unchurched people out there who don’t know the richness of worship and the way a good hour of contemplating the things of God reorients life’s priorities and charges us up for Christian living.

Another opportunity for the women of the church to extend the blessings of church participation is to join in the monthly discussion group we are hosting for February, March, and April.  Our first meeting will be February 24 at 10 AM.  We will gather at the church and strive to meet outside (for optimum safety).  We will discuss the little book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, and break it up in stages for discussion.  Rev. Dr. Suzie Chamness has graciously agreed to be our discussion leader.  Be prepared to discuss the first agreement for our Feb. 24 session, and we will decide together on our next dates in March and April as well as how to divide up the material for those discussions.  We will have approximately ten copies available in the narthex by Sunday (for which you can reimburse the church office the $8).  If you prefer Kindle, you can go on line and purchase your own.  If the men of the church are feeling left out, I highly encourage you to start a group too; we will make it happen! 

Grace and Peace,

Sandi

Belfast

Friends,

Clint and I ventured out for our first movie together since the pandemic began.  Last Friday we saw Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s 1969 historical drama loosely based on his own childhood.  The movie’s powerful riot sequence hits hard and brings to life the historical tensions between Protestant and Catholic gangs in a working-class neighborhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  The young family upon which the movie centers has to decide whether to stay in their birth community (among beloved friends and extended family) or flee for safer shores, which is an all-too-human decision people have had to make amidst violence, across the world, and from time immemorial.   Often there is tremendous suffering in decision making when weighing potential losses with potential gains.  I won’t spoil the movie for you by telling you the family’s decision, but I do encourage you to see it.  I feel such gratitude that my life has never been marked by an environment of such violence.  Movies like Belfast make me increasingly sympathetic to all manner of refugees who just want a safer life for their children.

 
One line from the movie I do want to share with you is what the Protestant father says to his young son regarding his son’s schoolboy crush on a Catholic girl:  “That wee girl can be a practicing Hindu, or a Southern Baptist, or a vegetarian antichrist, but if she’s kind, and she’s fair, and you two respect each other, she and her people are welcome in our house any day of the week.”  Imagine what a different world it would be if we all felt that way and could communicate and embody those sentiments!  I hope you mask up and go see it!

Happy New Year,

Co-Pastor Sandi