We all have a part to play

 “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? […] As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (from 1 Corinthians 12:12–20)

One of the great gifts that Paul offered to the church was this image of the Church in all of its diversity being the body of Christ. It’s easy for some to forget that each and every one of us is an integral part the Church.

I just returned from our Young Adult Habitat trip to New Orleans. We were graciously hosted by a church that was trying to rise to new life. A few years ago, it had dwindled to six members (and some of the behavior among those six sounded profoundly unhealthy). But, something in the spirit of the church wanted to live. The congregation now has had as many as 52 people in worship, but the core remains a relatively small group. When a church is that size it’s very easy for everyone to know how every other person is sharing in the ministry of life or death for the congregation. Most parts of the body are well known to the rest. It’s not unlike our mission team of 10, each with their wonderful unique gifts. We quickly learned on the job-site that not everyone was cut out for every task. Some were very clear about their relationship to ladders, others found that sometimes the nail that they pounded with the hammer was attached to the end of their finger… Indeed, there was more finger pounding than I’m used to on a job site. But the good news was that we had a hundred fingers among us, so any one or two at a time being pained still left the body of the group fairly dexterous. One of the profound gifts of going on a mission trip is living in a small community and learning to celebrate all the diverse gifts among us. They’re always there in every group, but sometimes we fail to notice.

Our congregation of about 500 allows many people to be less obvious with the ways that they may live as a part of the body of Christ. I see the mission of the church lived out with one praying, one serving, one sending cards, one caring for our buildings and things physical, one listening to the needs of another… and the list goes on. I’m sure that I don’t always do a good enough job of voicing my appreciation of all the myriad ways that the diverse parts of our church give it life and breath. But what I can see regularly is a place that often knows how to let the spirit work through it. Note that I say “often”, for there are certainly times when it seems that some of the critical appendages are suffering from the pins and needle numbness that comes when a limb “goes to sleep.” In those times it may be necessary to move and restore a little spiritual circulation.

There is an announcement in this Tidings that our secretary of 27 years will be retiring at the end of May. Diane has done an extraordinary job of coordinating lots of the ministry which takes place within our church home. She has certainly tirelessly ministered on the phone and in the office with her humble presence. It is hard to even begin to access all the ways that she has been an integral part of our church. We will celebrate the next chapters of her life even as we will profoundly miss her presence among us.

This change will be another time when we are called to step up and be the church. All of us will need to think about those who surround us and make our church come to life. Together we will continue to do great things… but the changes will also be extraordinary.

What is your role within the body of Peace Church? Have you thanked the hands and feet and heart that are at work in the multitude around you? Have you thought about what part of your own gifts you may need to shake out, wake up, and invite to dance with the rest of the body?

May God bless us in the ongoing witness!

Christmas Ponderings: December 2018 - January 2019

“Away in the manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head…”

There’s something magical about Christmas, whether it’s the lights, or carols, or the way that children’s faces shine with excitement. There is joy at Christmas. And there is also something wonderfully familiar about the rhythm of the season. I still tell the story about the year that my home church changed the Christmas eve service to preaching and a choir cantata and almost no opportunity for the congregation to sing the beloved carols… I felt cheated! Christmas carries its message of love and joy in part in the power of cultural traditions, in the expected repetition of the story. So, it’s a little stunning for us to stop and remember what scripture’s story of that first Christmas must have sounded like. Everything about the narrative is shocking, disruptive, perhaps even offensive!

Hear those words from the second chapter of Luke: “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” and then remember that those words were proclaimed to the shepherds and not to the kings. Shepherds were nobodies, they get described as smelly ne’er-do-wells, or as outsiders in the community. What’s clear is that this is not the group of people to whom anyone would expect this divine proclamation to be offered. That they are the ones travelling to pay homage to the messiah born in a cave to a scandalous young couple and laid among the animals should be a story that invites outrage or shock. Or maybe, if you can have a good sense of humor about such things, uproarious holy laughter. The Christmas story, like the Easter story, should turn our understanding of the world upside down.

Ironically, we live in a culture that much more closely resembles the powerful empire that Jesus was trying to transform than the community to which the Christmas story was made real. We take the message of a different way of being and turn it into a cute commercialized holiday that challenges none of our ways and only reinforces the brokenness of the world – the haves and have nots are cast in stark light yet again.

We should hear the proclamation that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” as a word of profound hope in a world that continues to be wracked with discord, distrust, and fear. That little child is born in all the wrong places proclaiming a different way. That light is Love that is humble and giving, that sees in the other not fear but hope and promise. The Christmas story is a gift that God offers us to draw us out of our cultural comfort zone to welcome the unpredictable divine.

For some months at church we have been talking about what God's radical hospitality looks like. One group with great passion has been challenging us to look at others through new eyes. The Inclusive Church Initiative has been asking all of us to journey in prayer with those whom the church and society have too often dismissed as being confused, sinful, or unwelcome. These conversations have caused great tension for many as we have been challenged to affirm the value of each person so that we can continue together on the journey of drawing all our lives closer to God. Unfortunately, even as the Inclusive Church Initiative is encouraging us to open our hearts and souls to the LGBTQ community, there are those who are feeling that this welcome means that there is no place for them and their values. We will lose a great deal as a congregation and as a witness to God's love if we don’t recognize that all our perspectives are valued as a part of the journey.

There was an inspirational segment by Ram Dass that crossed my desk speaking to my hope: “When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree, and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.  

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying, ‘you are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judging mind comes in. and so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.”

As we come into this season of Christmas and celebrate God's love being born among us, I wonder if we would be willing to open ourselves to God's wonder just the way it is? Will we find room for Jesus to be born in our hearts if it means that we accept ourselves as loved not because of what we’ve accomplished or how much we’re worth, but merely because we are a beloved child of God? Will we accept ourselves and the other as a reflection of God no matter what, even if the encounter feels like it leads us to a feed-trough among the animals? Or how about if that’s the neighbor whom we’ve never met? Are we willing to let God's grace break through our cultural barriers and expectations? As we sing our carols and light the lights and smile at the children, I pray that God's love might break us open in unexpected ways this season.

God's Christmas message is love, period, go tell it on the mountain… and everywhere!

Pastor Eric

Prayer Chain

Aisle - Pastor Eric May 2018.jpg

Did you know we send out a weekly "Prayer Chain" via email? To join, contact prayers@peace-ucc.org. 

"Let your speech always be gracious, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to answer everyone."  Colossians 4:6

"You, Lord, give true peace to those who depend on you, because they trust you. So, trust the Lord always, because he is our Rock forever."  
Isaiah 26:3-4

Pastor's Corner: Summer Rhythms

Brat Fry, Peace UCC Parking Lot 

Brat Fry, Peace UCC Parking Lot 

The girls awoke this morning to an owl sitting in the tree outside their window. As I understand it, the sighting didn’t get them out of bed for the day, but it certainly began their day with an unexpected surprise and I hope a glimpse at wonder and beauty.

There’s a passage in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is teaching his disciples about not worrying, trusting in God. He challenges them to “consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them” and “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these…” of course the punch line is that if God cares for ravens and lilies then God will care even more for us, we of little faith. And Jesus throws out the question that puts it all in perspective: can any of us by worrying add a single hour to our span of life? … if we can’t do that then why worry about the rest?

Lots of times our lives are go, go, go… and part of that chase is worrying that we’ll get it all done, or done well enough, or… so many other concerns… We get caught up in our agendas and perspectives and forget to slow down and discern God’s ways. Scripture often reminds us of the importance of being attentive on our journeys of faith. God is all around us, revealing God’s self to us in so many ways. It is never a surprise to me that so many people see God reflected in the natural world around us, in the seasons, in an unexpected owl, or the conversation that follows its encounter. Even as God is revealed to us, God is also always beyond our efforts to name or constrain the mystery of the divine. Waiting, watching, listening, discerning, become powerful spiritual disciplines along the way.

We are coming into summer when I always speak of the natural change of rhythm. For lots of people there are vacations planned, time outside unplanned, and just opportunities abounding to encounter the delight and wonder of God. I always pray that we can take the time to encounter God wherever this summer’s journeys may lead us, and then share the stories.

Of course our summer is always punctuated by hosting Family Promise, a Blood Drive, Summer Habitat trips, Vacation Bible School, Brat Fry, the Pignic (thank you to all who are keeping it going!), etc. There are always lots of opportunities to both be attentive to God and to get involved.

I pray that wherever you are that you keep your eyes open for reminders of God’s care for all of creation and, as Jesus teaches us, how that reflects God’s care for us. God is richly blessing us always, let’s do our part to notice.

Shalom,

Pastor Eric