Archive for January, 2014

5 Ways to Support Your Congregation (and the Body of Christ!)

January 30, 2014

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I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of “lists,” and right now there seem to be lists for everything from how to be a better parent to how to know what your cat is saying to you. But sometimes a list is a great way to get information across to people– which is, I guess, why so many people use them. Anyway, we often talk about supporting our congregations by being the Body of Christ in the world, and I get a lot of feedback in the form of “Huh? How can one person make a difference in the life of the congregation, or be the Body of Christ in the world?

So, here is my list, in descending order of importance:

5. Give. Give of yourself. Give your money (what you can, of course.) Pledge and meet your pledge, understanding that it is a commitment and a responsibility just like paying your mortgage or rent. Volunteer in your church’s ministries– offer to serve in the nursery or teach a Sunday school class. Clean one room of the church every week. Jesus invited people in, to hear his message and receive his healing. But then he expected his followers to go out and do and give. He sent people, “volunteers” out into the surrounding towns to share his teaching. And he had people supporting him financially, and people gave because they were moved by what he had to say. The church doesn’t run itself, and the pastor can’t make everything happen all by him or herself. If you get anything out of worship on Sunday, give back through tithing and volunteering.

4. Show up. It takes a lot of planning to put on a worship service, a Bible Study, or a fellowship event. It makes a huge difference when everyone shows up. It is understandable that there are days when you just can’t make it, when you’re sick or worried about risking yourself in the weather. However, if you wake up and just don’t feel like going, or if you’re tired at the end of the day, remember the work that has gone into preparing for whatever event is happening, and support that effort by showing up. The energy in the room is different when there’s a large group as opposed to a small group, and most church events need that energy to be successful. 

3. Take Initiative. Be the change. If there isn’t a class for your kids, start one. If the current Bible Study or Sunday School class doesn’t appeal to you, start a new one. If you have the gift of hospitality, offer to plan a fellowship event. When the same group of 10 people are always the ones putting all of the effort into planning and implementing church activities, they will burn out quickly and the activities will become stale. Change takes energy, but an energetic church is an attractive church, and fresh ideas and activities are attractive to newcomers and outsiders. One of the things that made Jesus’ ministry so attractive to people is that it was a fresh way of looking at and being in the world.

2. Be a good neighbor. In your own neighborhood, get to know the people around you– especially if your neighborhood is changing or has changed. Share yourself with the community by volunteering in the schools, by supporting the local police and fire departments, by offering to babysit for the single mom or dad (or couple) who live down the street. These ways are how we can be the Body of Christ in the world– by knowing who is in that world and what their joys and concerns are. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing but the teaching he had given them and the ability to heal and drive out demons, because he wanted them to offer themselves to the communities. He wanted them to be vulnerable. In your church’s neighborhood, be aware of the issues it’s facing– whether its a new housing development that will change the character of the community, or a high crime rate that threatens the people who live in the neighborhood, or whatever is going on around you– be aware and be involved. Make your space available for community groups and meetings– and show up for community meetings whenever possible. “Love your neighbor” is one of the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, and we need to do more of it.

1. Be flexible.  The number one thing I see that hinders a church in it’s ministry are people who aren’t flexible, who can’t or don’t want to deal with change. “We’ve never done it that way before” or “we tried that once and it didn’t work” or “things have been this way since I was a child and I don’t see why they need to change now.”  Never mind that society is changing all around us– not that the church needs to change because society is changing.  However, change happens whether we want it to or not. The world is different than it was 50 years ago, but the church is still trying to operate using that model. For churches to be healthy, congregation members need to be flexible and open to change– any and all change. Change is scary, and our world is a fearful place right now; however, trying to keep the church exactly as it has been since we were children isn’t realistic or healthy. Jesus was constantly on the move; he didn’t stay in one place, he travelled from place to place. The message didn’t change– that’s the important part– but he didn’t stay put, he was flexible, and required the disciples to be flexible as well.

Oh, there is one more thing you can do to support your church, that anyone can do, anywhere, any time: pray. Pray for your pastor, pray for the spiritual health of your congregation, pray for the community around your church and the people in your neighborhood. Prayer really does make a difference– if nothing else, it changes us and  the way we see the world.

So there you have it– my 5 (or 6) favorite ways to support your congregation and be the Body of Christ in the world. I can’t guarantee that if you do these things will change overnight– but what I can guarantee is that you will change and your congregation will feel supported and loved– and your community will too. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

What Will You Say “Yes” To This Year?

January 27, 2014

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The lectionary passage for yesterday was Matthew 4:12-23, which includes Jesus’ call to his first disciples:

Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people who sat  in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus[c] went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news[d] of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

This is a classic story that most of us are familiar with. There’s even a children’s song about it:  “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men, I will make you fishers of men if you follow me.”   Our picture may be of Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee, passing by these fishermen, and calling to them “follow me!” and having the men drop their nets and come running after. Their response to Jesus seems to be immediate, and positive, with no discernment committee or dithering or talking it over with the family. They just jumped up and came after him, saying an emphatic “yes!” through their actions.

But that isn’t how it always is in real life, is it? We aren’t always ready to jump up and follow where Jesus is leading us. Heck, most of the time it really doesn’t seem clear what Jesus is calling us to do!

So how do we know what Jesus is asking of us, and how do we find the courage to say “yes?”

First of all, we do have to spend some time in discernment. Discernment is a process which may involve prayer, Bible study, and conversation with others, in which we come to understand what God/ Christ/ Spirit is calling us to do– what our purpose is in God’s great creation. We may have different purposes at different times in our lives, and we may have to spend time in the process of discernment over and over again throughout our lives. Sometimes we have an inkling of an idea, a glimmer, and when we spend time in discernment we are able to make the glimmer come alive, and we know what we’re to do. Sometimes we’re stuck, and the discernment process can help us begin to be unstuck, to find a way forward into a new purpose or calling.

Then, we have to be willing to change. It doesn’t do us much good to understand our purpose if we’re not willing to live it out. Sometimes people and churches get stuck in this place– they get comfortable the way they are, and they don’t see any need to change or they are afraid of change. However, change comes whether we want it to or not, and to me it’s better to embrace it, to be intentional about the change that you need to make. We have to remember, Jesus never said, “stay where you are and as you are, it’s ok, you can live out your purpose staying in place.” No, Jesus said, “follow me!” and “go in pairs to the surrounding towns” and “go into the world and share the gospel with everyone you meet.” If we stay stuck in place then we really aren’t following the call that Jesus has placed on all of our lives. Change is hard! But again, it happens whether we want it to or not– and if we are wise, we will make the change happen rather than just letting it happen to us. All we have to do is say “yes!” to that thing that we find when we discern Jesus’ call on our lives.

So, what will you say “yes!” to this year?

Winter Grace

January 15, 2014

I do not understand the mystery of grace– only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it finds us.” –Anne Lamott

As I am writing this I am sitting at the window of my office and a light snow is falling. We are now past the Advent, Christmas, New Year hullaballoo, into what some folks refer to as the “dead of winter.” And in a way, the world outside looks dead– the leaves are off of the trees, the grass is dormant, today the sky is the grey that only a winter sky can be.

This is a difficult time of year for many people, with the short, cold days that force us to stay indoors more than we’d like; the season of joyful activity is behind us and that leaves many people feeling down and out. Flu season is in full swing and it just seems like a good time to hunker down and hibernate– maybe bears have the right idea!

And yet, there is a special beauty this time of year. As I watch the snow fall I see the way the flakes dance upon the wind; I see the tracks made by the man who walks his dog around the church each day and I see the patterns that the snow makes on our patio behind the church. Winter has a beauty all its own, and we only have to look around us to see God’s presence and grace in the world. And even in winter we can be transformed by grace, the grace of lengthening days, the grace of a  bright sunny day sandwiched in between the dingy ones. The grace of a cup of hot tea or soup shared with a friend.

Today we pray for those who have no roof over their heads to keep them from the cold; we pray for those who are suffering in body, mind or spirit from illnesses major and minor; we pray for those whose lives have been touched and forever changed by a violent act, and for those who are working to bring joy to all who suffer. “From [Jesus Christ] we have received grace upon grace” says the disciple that Jesus loved. Look for the grace as it meets you where you are. Share the grace that you have received with someone who needs it. Grace is transformational and never leaves us where it finds us. May we all find the grace in these days of winter to bring transformation to our world.

Happy New Year!

January 2, 2014

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I had intended to write this blog yesterday, on New Year’s Day, but we our internet was out and I had to wrangle with our cable/internet/ phone service provider on order to have it fixed (after 10 days of no service!)

So here we are at the beginning of a New Year. A friend and colleague asked the question yesterday, why do we put so much emphasis on the new year, when we have opportunities each day to change our behavior or our lives, to try something new, and not wait for the beginning of a  new year to make things happen? Why, if we’re unhappy with ourselves or our lives don’t we change it in the now, rather than waiting for the tomorrow?

I think her question is a good one, and I’m not one to wait around for a specific time to make changes that I need or want to make in my life. But to me there is something meaningful about the turn of the year that makes people take a look back at what has happened in our lives over the year, and sometimes that spurs us to make a change– or at least think about making a change. No, we don’t have to wait for the turn of the year, but since it’s a built-in marker in the passage of time, we can take advantage of it. It’s sort of like reading a book, in which each day is a page and the end of the year is like the end of a chapter.

On the other hand, I’m not big on making resolutions at the new year. It’s a lot of pressure, and they never seem to work out for me.  and while I might look back on the year and be glad or sad when the old year is gone, I much prefer to look to the future, or even live in the moment, or in the day, because one day at a time is about all I can handle sometimes! Looking ahead, though, allows me to dream about possibilities and options that make change possible. And even though I am a fairly practical person, I’m also a dreamer and an optimist who believes in the hope that comes through our faith in God and in our knowledge of ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, and our ability to move forward with that hope.

As we at Community of Faith live in the moment and look to the future, what changes do we need to make– both as a church and as individuals– to make COF a true community of faithful believers, a place where we’re excited to invite our friends and acquaintances, a place where we and our children and our children’s children will grow in faith and learn to love God and neighbor with our whole hearts? What are our strengths and weaknesses, and how do we build on or strengthen them? How do we live into our faith in new ways, while honoring the past that brought us to where we are today?

I am excited to be with you all for these discussions, for as long as we are together. I pray that God will show us the way, that Christ will be our partner on the journey, and that the Spirit will provide the energy we need to move forward into the future.

Peace,

Pastor Sharon