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Wednesday, 07 December 2016 15:38

 

Dear friends:

Everybody I know, including me, wants something more: some want more money, some want more time, some ache for more health, some want more love. On a less individual level, most of us long for an end to division and living in fear. Whatever it is, we all want something. Most of us feel at least an occasional emptiness and we want to fill it. What we crave may differ but we all know what it is to yearn.

We are in the season of Advent, which is the four week period of waiting for the coming of Christ. In this lead-up to Christmas, we have an opportunity to become more aware of this emptiness and our yearnings. At the root of our yearning is a longing for hope, peace, joy and love, all of which may be met in the path to God that is Jesus.

Jesus comes to bring us comfort, rest and peace. Jesus comes to share hope with those who are afraid. Jesus comes to offer meaning to those who wonder what the point of living is all about. Jesus comes to share with us the gift of God’s grace. Jesus comes to meet us, love us, and heal us. Jesus is the light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.

We have that Light of the World in us! Let’s acknowledge the darkness, both within and without, but trust in the Light. (Bring those feelings of loss and lack of hope to the Longest Night Service, 12/21 @7:00. That’s what that service is all about!) Let’s look for flickers of light and love and hope shining and add our light to it.

God’s peace to you. Pastor Lynn

 
pastors note 11-16 PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 12 November 2016 01:43

 

Dear friends,

There is a story of an old woman who is hiking and finds a stone of great value. Shortly after finding it, a hungry man comes to her, begging for a bite of food. She agrees and opens her bag to share her food. The beggar sees the stone and asks for it instead. The old woman freely gives it away. A few days later, the man returns with the stone. He tells the woman that even though he could sell it and provide for himself for a month, he wanted something else, something more valuable. He wanted what she had on the inside. He wanted what would allow her to give of herself without hesitation.

I often wonder what causes us to give freely. In our lives, where even in relationships and faith communities it can feel as if there is score keeping, it can be difficult to be truly generous - to give freely, without counting the cost, without expecting anything in return. The woman in the story seems to possess the gift, the secret of true generosity. Maybe she knew the mystery of God’s grace, the secret of God’s abundance, the promise that with God all things are possible.

The spirit that recognizes grace cannot but be generous in return. The spirit that recognizes abundance cannot but share and give. The spirit that recognizes God’s vast possibilities cannot but embrace the impossible. Generosity is a spiritual practice. Generosity is as big a gift to the giver as it is to the receiver. It is what enables us to participate in ebb and flow of life, as well as in the ministry of the church.

On November 20, Gratitude Sunday, we give thanks for the gifts of the past and the gifts of the future. We give thanks to God for these gifts and we share what we are grateful for. We celebrate both generosity and gratitude with a Community Thanksgiving Lunch, inviting all who worship and all who are hungry to join in a Thanksgiving Lunch.

In peace,

Pastor Lynn

 
pastor's note PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 13 October 2016 14:32

 

“I planted, you watered, but God gave the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:6

What is the difference between the words “Growth” and “Change?”

Change can be scary; Growth is exciting.

Change can be superficial; Growth is a spiritual maturing.  

Change can be good or bad; Growth is ultimately positive.  

Change can be losing numbers; Growth is bonding more tightly in the face of loss.        

 Change doesn’t mean Growth; but Growth means Change.

Our congregation is typical of many others. Sometimes we feel like we are losing in the culture. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed and irrelevant. We all want to grow in number but few want to change.

When we look at children, we see how much they grow, often so quickly. My younger son is excited every time he gets measured at the Dr’s office because it shows how much taller he is than the last time.

This growth is true of adults too. As I go through my father’s belongings, one of the more enjoyable, if not bittersweet, moments is looking at photos. There are pictures of my father as a young man, of my parents in the early days of their marriage. There are pictures of my parents in their 40s, which I used to think was when they were old. Now I marvel at how young they looked.

We grow; we change; it’s a fact of life.

This fact applies to institutions, like the church, as well. Congregational UCC in 2016 does not look the same as it did when the sanctuary was completed in 1859. It doesn’t look the same as it did at the congregation’s 150th anniversary in 1983. Nor does the world around us look the same.

“I planted, you watered, but God gave the growth,” Paul writes in a letter to the church of Corinth, trying to heal the divides that existed among them. This verse reminds us that Change is the work of humankind; Growth is the work of God. Change is doing things different for the sake of doing something different; Growth is becoming more like the people or community that God calls us to be. This is the challenge for us now as a church.

As the culture around us shifts, as people relate to church and plan their schedules differently than they did even 20 years ago, we need to figure how God is calling us to be church together. It may be scary sometimes. It will most certainly be exciting. But as long as we do it together, as long as we are holding God in our decisionmaking process, we will discover who God is calling us to be. And that’s Growth.

Wishing you God’s peace,

Pastor Lynn

 
pastor's note 9/16 PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 14 September 2016 15:24

 

Dear friends,

I hope that you have enjoyed a time of rest and renewal over the (sometimes) slower rhythms of summer. Now that the summer is unofficially over, it seems that the pace of life returns to a season that has more of a focus on learning and producing.

As we look forward to renewed purpose and meaningful activity, I pray for all of us that we remember to rest in God's being. Our God of Eternal Love desires rest and renewal as well as creativity and meaningful life for all creation. Every so often, but especially when life feels terribly busy or chaotic, take a moment to breathe and rest in God.

As part of the ebb and flow of seasons, we celebrated the ministry of John Steckel as Music Director on August 28. And, we celebrate the start of Hank Cronnister's ministry with us as Music Director. Hank is already planning for special music in each service, ranging from the choir, to vocal or instrumental solos and other music. Please encourage Hank as he starts his new role.

Blessings on each of you!

Pastor Lynn

 

 
fromthe pastor 8-16 PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 10 August 2016 14:55

 

Dear friends,
Thank you all for the wonderful expressions of sympathy, offers to
help, etc. that came from you as my Dad suffered a fall and proceeded
somewhat slowly to die. Your kindness and compassion truly touched
me and affirmed just what a caring community of faith we have, in all
its extended circles.
I know that death is part of the natural cycle and I trust that in
death, we return to God, the source of life and love. Yet it is also a
time of pain and bittersweet reflection. We, as followers of Jesus and
his path to God, are ultimately people of resurrection. We trust that
love trumps hate and life is stronger than death. Through this mystical
Spirit of Christ, we experience resurrection too. This is seen not only in
whatever we hope happens at our death but in our ability to put one
foot in front of the other and continuing to live, to love, to hope.
Please know that my family is not the only one to grieve at the
moment. Our beloved member, mentor, friend, as well as husband,
father and grandfather to his family, Iver Yeager, also passed in the
last two weeks. I know that expressions of love and sympathy to
Natalee and Ruth and her brothers are well appreciated.
Praying that we may all be kind and gracious to each other and to
this world that needs it.
In God’s peace,
Pastor Lynn

 
06/16 Pastor's Note PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 03 June 2016 15:50

 

 

Dear friends:

I hope that June finds you well. We started summer this last weekend, Memorial Day weekend, with a Singing the Old Songs. We did that not only because it was a 5th Sunday and we try something a little different on those days but also, and primarily, one of the activities we tend to do more of in summer is go to concerts, which worship was closer to being than it often is. We may do that again on the last Sunday in August too.

Another thing we do is go to movies. This summer, Congregational UCC and guests will have the opportunity to go to the movies as well. Many Sundays we will use film clips to illustrate the theme of the day. We will also offer a showing of certain of the movies, either on Sunday afternoon or an evening.

In addition to many of us adapting to the slightly more relaxed rhythms of our culture during the summer, we are also in this time called Ordinary Time or Sundays after Pentecost in the church. We can take that amazing transformation of a bunch of scared followers of Jesus with that wherever we go or whatever we do, no matter how “Ordinary.”

The Spirit empowers us to live out the love that Jesus’ life and teachings embodied. We focus on the transformation that God offers to each of us individually and to our faith community and we focus on how we live that out to bring wholeness to our communities.

As you enjoy the Sabbath rhythm of summer, I encourage you to continue to live out Christ’s love to those you encounter and to think about how God may be calling us to serve Jacksonville. How can you, how can I, how can we touch people in community with God’s love? How can we work for a more just world for all people? What should our mission focus be? What stirs your heart?

I cannot wait to hear how you hear the call to something greater.

In God’s peace,

Pastor Lynn

 

 

 
PAstors note 5-16 PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 04 May 2016 16:17

 

Dear friends:

I have been doing a lot of talking with our pastors and leaders in the United Church of Christ as well as in other denominations, mostly United Methodist, ELCA Lutherans and PCUSA Presbyterians. It seems that so many congregations are struggling and worried. Cultural shifts occur at lightning fast speeds, at least compared to past shifts. (That has many positives to it. The shift is very affirming of many values we hold dear, even if it may be scary as well.)

My reflection is that the mainline church is spending quite a bit of time in survival mode, chasing the money and making money and numbers the sole focus of health and well-being. And the money is important for mission, ministry, and programming. If money and numbers become the sole focus of health and well-being, however, then isn’t that what the church becomes? Isn’t it easy to fall back on what our culture defines as success: a “successful” church is one that can balance its budget and fill its pews? In the absence of another metric, it is understandable that those markers become the focus.

Yet, that focus runs counter to the Easter story. The early disciples and the early followers of the Way of Jesus were not a huge movement of people. They were scared out of their minds that the same terrifying fate that Jesus encountered would happen to them. But after receiving the Holy Spirit, they became on fire for God and for the mission and ministry that Jesus began. They gave their lives over to a mission and ministry.

God brings new life. But that new life can happen in almost imperceptible ways compared to the world’s barometers of “success.”

Sometimes, I think God can become an afterthought in a progressive Christian Church. We are different from the messengers of hate that often are the only public voice of Christianity. We understand the character of God and humanity differently. So we either keep quiet so as not to be confused with something hateful or because we hope our actions on behalf of the community will speak for us. Some of us may even expect God to bless us as because we are more open.

I think we, as a church community, should help define what those measures of “new life” should be. If we use the ancient wisdom of Scripture, how would we say that new life is either happening or not happening in our church? How are we living out our values as a church that values religious literacy, the gifts of other cultures and traditions, justice and peace, and being open and affirming to all? Are we being good neighbors? Do we speak and act with relevance? If those are not the questions for discernment, what should they be? And how do we make that resurrection narrative flow through our whole system as a local church community?

Just some things to ponder as our resurrection story moves into Spirit story. Please start a conversation and share your thoughts with me and others.

 

Peace,

Pastor Lynn

 

 
pastor note 2-16 PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 February 2016 17:05

 

Dear friends,

 Starting Wednesday, February 10th, we begin the season of Lent, that season that invites us to clear out our internal clutter and make room for God. 

When I look back, I am not sure that I thought long and hard about Lent and why it mattered until I was trying to figure out how to observe a holy Lent in a way that my sons would gain in their knowledge and love of God and their compassion to neighbors. 

 I want to offer a few thoughts about how we might construct a holy and life-giving Lent for ourselves this year, whether we are single or coupled or widowed or separated or whatever word(s) we would use. 

First, the season of Lent is NOT about simply giving up chocolate or xBox or coffee or Facebook. Lent mostly is not about giving up something. It is more about making room, making room for more faith, more hope, more love.  While this analogy is imperfect, it is like cleaning out a closet, donating the items to someone who can use them and then putting in a replacement.

 Lent is about making more room in our hearts for God.  I don’t mean just thinking about God or your favorite Bible story – that’s ok and there is use in that practice. But Lent is not just about ideas.  Lent involves practicing new ways of living that make us more like Jesus.

Second, there are three practices that help us become more like Jesus.  They are fasting, prayer and caring for the poor. And they are spiritual practices, or disciplines, that require something more than thought.

These practices help us to make room so that, as we put some things aside, we practice living in the image of God.  We choose to act more like the image of God than anyone else. That takes practice. 

 We will have many opportunities throughout Lent to gather together to learn more about God, to build community and to connect with God and live out service to neighbor. Later in this newsletter, we detail Ash Wednesday and our Lenten Gatherings, offered on Tuesdays throughout Lent. We will also gather on Maundy Thursday  in Holy Week. [Information about these will be in the March Parishioner.]

 That reason is the only reason we DO Lent:  it helps us practice becoming more like Jesus. We prepare ourselves for a holy Lent by making room.  The more we practice making room for God, the more loving we become.  My hope for all of us is that this Lent will be a time of making more room for Christ. 

 Pastor Lynn

 

 
pastor note 12-15 PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 28 November 2015 20:49

 

 

Dear friends:

As I write this letter, I can smell turkey broth cooking on the stove, I see Lucas’ gingerbread turkey and I sit at still decorated table from last night’s Thanksgiving dinner. I am filled with gratitude for family, friends, a home, plenty of food to eat, relative security and many other tangibles and intangibles. I am grateful for all the blessings that I have. I hope all of us can take that heightened awareness of the Good around us into this next season.

The season of Advent, the season of awaiting the arrival of Jesus, starts Sunday, November 29. We will light candles, seeking the coming of the light to push the darkness away. At least that is what we do in the Northern Hemisphere. Our brothers and sisters in the Southern Hemisphere are in the beginning of summer, as we are near the beginning of winter. Some of them are having water rituals just as we have candle-lighting rituals.

But since we are basically animals, I do believe in rhythms and cycles, the deep pull of biology, tides and seasons, in and out, up and down, work and play and rest. One rhythm I particularly live by is that there is a time for speaking, and a time for falling silent before the One who made us.

Whatever part of the world we live in, we are creatures that enjoy, maybe even need, the rhythm of seasons. As we are part of the world in which the darkness grows stronger, I find beauty in the lighting of the candles. But the coming of light isn’t the only thing that the season calls out to us.

Advent and Christmas is a time ready-made for falling silent. Ironically, it’s hard to do. Our songs and carols sing loudly about silence. Our prayers and poems pile up tons of words about silence. Christmas concerts and parties and get-togethers, sounds of shopping for gifts, all can make the volume go to the top of the meter.  

So, from the person who loves to talk, who makes part of her living with words, who doesn’t always fully appreciate silence, I would like to suggest we try something. Let’s try to have one minute every day that is completely silent. Immerse yourself in God, in Love, in the Good. I am telling myself (and you too): let’s shut our mouth once in a while, and open our spirit.

Falling silent doesn’t signal a permanent retreat from a world that needs our voices and action. It is a respectful engagement with that part of our God-given soul that demands a period of active rest and listening, in order to engage again more fully and from a more grounded place.

Our God came to be with us in the person of Jesus. We were already so close--but God wanted us to be able to lay eyes on each other. And God came not first as a walking, talking rabbi, but as an infant. A pre-verbal God, as it were, at least for the first 12-18 months.

That’s the God I invite you to spend some time with this Advent and Christmas, everyday. A God who doesn’t need carefully chosen words to connect with you, and know you, and love you. A God who knows you need to rest and be silent.

Enough said. Let’s hush.

Pastor Lynn

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 24 December 2015 16:40
 
pastor's note NOV 2015 PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 05 November 2015 15:39

 

For many of us, November is the time when our thoughts turn to celebrating the holiday of Thanksgiving and in practicing the habit of gratitude generally. As US Americans, when we hear the word Thanksgiving, maybe we remember making Pilgrim hats or headbands with a construction paper feather, designed to represent Native American culture. Maybe we think about Pilgrims and Native Americans feasting together. Maybe our minds are more focused on family reunions, the food, the parades and football. For some, this holiday will be the first Thanksgiving minus a loved one’s presence, and that absence will change the tone of the day.

The Bible is full of stories and words of thanksgiving. Our ancestors in the faith thanked God for deliverance from enemies, the end of disasters, for the beauty of creation, for the gift of life and for the gift of healing, redemption and reconciliation.

Every day can be a thanksgiving day. We don’t have to wait for the fourth Thursday of November to give thanks. When we wake up, we can thank God for another day of life and a new day of opportunities. We can be grateful for food, shelter, work, family, friends, our senses, the ability to learn and so much more. We can be grateful for coffee, pets, rain and sun. We can be grateful for all things, large and small, that make life possible or more enjoyable or meaningful.

Take some time to say, “Thanks, God, for giving me the things I need, for providing the basics.” Thank God for Jesus. Thank God for the Holy Spirit. Thank God for the gifts of hope, faith, joy, peace, love, companionship, perseverance and strength. Thank God for this church and all the places and people of faith that have nurtured you. Thank God for each other. I thank God for all of you and for the many ways that you share your life and love.

Give thanks with a grateful heart every day.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Pastor Lynn

 

 
pastor's note Oct.2015 PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 October 2015 15:26

 

Dear friends: As I prepare to write this Sunday’s sermon, in which God “speaks” to Moses from a burning bush, I think of our United Church of Christ motto, “God is still-speaking.” That got me wondering about what God might be saying to us. On a congregational level, on a personal level, I wonder what God might be saying to us. If the heart of our faith is love, what might God be saying to us about how we are called to love? Is there a particular person, or group of people or an attitude that God is leading us to love or love better? I thought about this for myself and the answer that I got is that as I lead with you, I need to put love first. Love for all of us. Love for each of us. Love for our ministries. Love for the people we serve. Sometimes when groups of people get together, whether large groups or small, we put change or tolerate before love. That is human nature. But I am pretty sure that the nudge to love first is from God. That will be my hope and my challenge. I invite you to share in it. Sometimes putting love first is easy. Sometimes it can be difficult. Sometimes we disagree. Sometimes people micro-manage. Sometimes we have competing interests. We are all human. We are going to delight and annoy. So, as I hear God speak to me as a disciple of Jesus, my call is to love first, in easy times, in difficult times and all the in-between times. May God strengthen us all as we seek to follow the path of Jesus. Pastor Lynn

 
9-2015 Pastor's Note PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 10 September 2015 14:31

 

Dear friends,

One of the lines in the Psalms is “Taste and see how good the Lord is!” (Psalm 34.8).

No wonder Jesus spends so much time eating and feasting with people rather than scolding or even instructing them: most of us learn best by doing and experiencing. We can’t intellectually embrace the sweetness of God; we have to taste it. The words have to become flesh before we understand.

Today, as you read this, we have started a new school year (whether we have any work or family with a school or not), we are back to the more regular rhythms of work and rest, of study and play.

We start another lectionary year, beginning with the covenant promises of God that will culminate in our celebration at Christmas of the birth of Jesus, one who shows us the fullness of life in God. We will be offering opportunities throughout the fall to go deeper into our relationship with God, to allow that transformation that God brings, and to take that passion, healing and wholeness into the world through acts of compassion.

As we move into September and the season of Fall, let’s taste and see the goodness of God. Not only did Jesus spend more time opening up hearts by feasting with God, he also asked us to go and do likewise. Let’s live awake and alert to beauty and justice, to head and to heart!

Peace,

Pastor Lynn

 

 
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