Ponderings at the beginning of a New Year…

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.” And he replied, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!” So, I went forth and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And he led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.
Minnie Louise Harkins, 1875-1957

In a world that is always telling us to “Grow up!” I find this poem to be a gentle reminder that the best way to live our lives may be to become more child-like. Jesus said that unless we become as humble as a child, we will never enter into heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

A child will humbly place her hand into the hand of God in complete and utter trust that God has her best interests at heart, and will take great care to guide her over the rough and rocky terrain that is life. A child will humbly allow God to lead him where God will, confident, that when he falls, God will pick him up, dust him off, comfort him for as long as is needed, then set him back on the path.

Notice that even with such loving guidance, the child still may fall. That is the reality of living in a “broken” world; bad things do happen. But, a child is resilient. Unless he or she is sick, a child will bound out of bed in the morning, looking forward to the adventure the new day will bring, in spite of a set back. This is trust at it’s best.

Paul Tournier said, ‘The spiritual life consists only in a series of new births. There must be new flowerings, new prophets, new adventures – always new adventures – if the heart of man, albeit in fits and starts, is to go on beating.” Every New Year presents us with new opportunities to find the blessings God has prepared for those who love him. Every day of the spiritual life has a miracle hidden in it, waiting to be discovered. The spiritual life is an adventure, for those who are not afraid to reach for it.

As a new day dawns, may it find you standing at the gate of the year, child-like in your humility and trust, ready to put your hand confidently into the hand of God, ready to trod gladly wherever he may lead. For God is a faithful companion on your journey, and safer than a known way.

May God gladden your heart, blessing you and those you love with new flowerings, new prophets and new adventures in 2011!

Happy New Year!!! Pastor Barb <><.

Behold, I am making all things new… Revelation 21:5

The Holy Mystery

Life is so full of mystery. There is so much more to every thing than meets the eye! Layers upon layers of meaning lie wrapped around hidden truths that take a lifetime to unwrap. Always there are new discoveries, new information, and the things we thought we understood to day, make no sense tomorrow. And yet, we try so hard to make sense of it all! Always digging around, rooting at things, working hard to uncover the secrets of life.

Counselors use the example of an onion. When you have a problem, you peel away the layers, one by one, until you get to the core of the issue that lies within, so you can heal. It takes patience and hard work. There are no shortcuts. You can’t just pick up a knife and chop at it to figure things out. Everything depends on your efforts. And, the nearer you get to the center, the more tears you shed. That model works well for things of the emotions. But, when it comes to the spiritual, I prefer to use the example of a rose.

A rose, like an onion, has many layers. But, unlike the onion, you can’t peel away at it. There is nothing we need do or can do with a rose, but allow it to unfold as it will. How it reveals itself is a mystery. You can’t hurry the process, or you end up ruining it. Everything depends on the rose itself. And the lovely bloom you enjoy in the end comes to you as a gift – not something you have sweated over or cried over.

So, too, is the mystery surrounding this season we call Christmas. Here, in the coolness of winter, at the darkest time of year, a rose is blooming. Layers upon layers of meaning lie hidden in the ancient story of Jesus’ birth. How God took human form, came down as a vulnerable baby, lived among us, died, and lived again, simply for the love of us. Every time we hear it, we shake our heads in wonder. For always, embedded in the old story, is new information, new discoveries, and what we thought we understood yesterday makes no sense today. We find ourselves wrapped in mystery, wide-eyed and whispering like Mary, his mother, “How can this be?”

There is nothing we need do or can do with this Holy Mystery called God, but sit quietly and allow the mystery to unfold as it will. God reveals God’s self to us, a little more each year. We can’t hurry God along. If we try, we end up ruining it. Christmas, for those who believe, is a time when we sit, empty hands uplifted, waiting to receive anew the most perfect gift – the most lovely bloom – the one perfect rose that is God’s great love gift to us all – Jesus Christ, our Lord. How different this is from how the world celebrates Christmas!

Come in from the cold. Come into the church. Come into the place where you can retreat from the hectic schedules, impossibly long lists of things to do, the urgent appeals to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” Spend this Christmas in joyful appreciation of the Holy Mystery. Come watch God’s everlasting love for you unfold.

God’s blessings on you and your loved ones, this Christmas and always,

Pastor Barb <><

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us.
Authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

A Love Feast…

Ah, Thanksgiving! The table so full of platters of food that there was barely room for the plates so we could sit down and eat and enjoy it! And, my grand mother, smiling, but bleary eyed from staying up late making pies and getting up early to get the turkey in the oven in time to be done by the time we all arrived. That is one of my favorite memories of Thanksgiving – a table filled with food prepared with love…a love feast!

How eagerly Grandma waited for the sound of little feet on the porch; for the sound of a tiny fist knocking at the door as we grandchildren arrived! She’d hurry to the door, drying her hands on a towel as she went, flinging it open to welcome us in. And we’d all sit down and eat together; a meal that fed more than our bellies – that also fed our souls. We were family. We belonged together. For those few hours, we had everything we needed, and we were thankful.

There is nothing quite like sharing a meal to draw people close. Jesus understood that. Much of his ministry was spent around a table, eating and drinking with people from all walks of life, getting to know them through the warmth and comfort of sharing a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. He went to people’s homes to meet them where they lived. He stood at their doors and knocked, waiting patiently, hopefully, for them to open up and let him in. Not everyone did. Some were skeptical. Some were afraid. Some were ashamed of what he might find hidden there. For whatever reason, not everyone was able to open the door and allow Jesus into his or her life.
But, some met him on the doorstep as though they had been waiting for him all of their lives. “Come in! Come in! You are welcome here!” For them, Jesus came in, sat down, and ate with them – a meal that fed more than their bellies, that also fed their souls – a feast of love.
Today, Jesus still stands at the door and knocks. How will he find you? Do you hide behind the door of your heart? Are there rooms that are locked and barred? Do you hear Jesus, gently knocking, but don’t dare to open the door and let him in because of fear of what he may find? Don’t be afraid. The one who stands at the door and knocks loves you! He knows all about you already! He comes for no other reason than for you to get to know him.

We are here. Zion’s door is open. We have set a place at the Lord’s table for you. Come! Get to know the Jesus that we know and love – the one who provides us with a love feast, every Sunday – the one who feeds our souls. We are family. We belong together. For all eternity, we have everything we need. And, we are so thankful!

Happy Thanksgiving!                                         Prayers, Pastor Barb <><

Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. Revelation 3:20

Counting Sheep…

I removed the paperback novel I had used to block the blinding light from the face of the clock radio on my night stand. The eerie green light pierced my brain, as it flashed it‘s silent scream, “2:00 A.M.!” I groaned and covered it back up. I was wide awake, with hours to go before the alarm was set to go off. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. Maybe a cup of warm milk would help. I eased out of bed, trying not to wake my sleeping husband, and padded into the kitchen, bumping my knee on the hope chest on the way. “I hope this warm milk works!“ I muttered.
Sleepless nights are the worst! Thank God, they are few and far between for me! I pity the poor insomniac, who must deal with nights like this on a regular basis. I never feel more lonely than when the rest of the house is sacked out, and I’m lying there, staring at the ceiling, counting sheep. Many fears are born in the wee hours of the morning, and sometimes, the wolf seems to be gaining.
Isaiah 28:20 describes very well the misery of a night like this. He says, “For the bed is too short to stretch oneself on it, and the covering too narrow to wrap oneself in it.” And, there you are, tossing and turning, boxing with shadows, longing for the dawn. Then, just when it seems you can’t stand another minute, you hear that still, small voice. “Here I am. Hear, I Am.” The shadows flee, you uncurl your fists, and the conversation begins.
Oh, how the Lord can turn your troubles into treasures! Imagine! Hours to share the deepest secrets of your heart with God, uninterrupted by life! No phones ringing. No children crying. No boss demanding that report be turned in. It’s as though you hit the mute button on the DVD player. Even the tree frogs give it a rest, as the moon heads off to other lands, to shine on someone else’s house for a while.
I think that’s why some monks in monasteries rise for Morning Prayers at 3:00 a.m. There is a closeness at this hour that is difficult to achieve in the daylight hours. God has you all to himself. And, you can listen, really listen to each other, when the rest of your world is still fast asleep.
So, while I wouldn’t wish a sleepless night on anyone, if you happen to find yourself wide awake at 2:00 a.m., forget about counting sheep! Spend that precious time listening to what God has to say to you, and telling him what’s on your heart. You just might find yourself setting the alarm to awake at that lonely hour on purpose!

Prayers, Pastor Barb <

On the Wings of the Wind…

I had never camped in a cemetery before. A circle of orange tape was stretched a respectful distance from the headstones, setting the boundary between the living and the dead. We arrived late, and pitched our tent in the dark, outside the circle – on the living side. In the morning, the rising sun broke over the pines and spilled out over the tents, perched like so many butterflies in a colorful ring around the graveyard. The shadows from the headstones ran long fingers through the wet grass, beckoning us to come and read the names engraved on them; Jones, Hannah, Vechorik. It was oddly comforting, peaceful and calming, to breathe in your mortality with your morning coffee. You could not take the gift of another day of living for granted when you awoke to the visual reminder that it could have been otherwise.

Our ancient Church fathers and mothers envisioned the earth as a flat plane, with the dome of the heavens above, and the waters of chaos all around. It was only the Breath of God – the Spirit – that held back the chaos and kept it from flooding the earth, snuffing out all life. This total dependence on the Breath of God for our very existence is expressed so well in Psalm 104, which says, “When you take away their breath, they perish and return to the dust from which they came. When you send forth your breath, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (vs. 29-30)

I watched the shadows shorten as the sun rose in the sky, and thought about my breathing. I thought about how fragile my hold is on this earthly life; how I was but one breath away from being on the other side of that bright orange tape. Yet, I was surprisingly okay with that. Because, I could feel the Divine power and purpose behind my breath – the Presence of God within – sustaining my body, renewing my mind, inspiring my soul.

God wasn’t just wasting his breath. I was alive and breathing because God wanted it that way. I rested in the knowledge that my breath would not fail me until God said it was so. On the first Pentecost, the Fiftieth day from the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus fulfilled his departing promise to his disciples. He sent them the Comforter – the Holy Spirit. The Breath of God rode on the wings of the wind, descending on them in tongues of flame. God sent forth his breath, and they were transformed. They became God’s Church, and through them, God renewed the face of the earth.

God, the Creator, is creating, still. In and out, in and out, his rhythmic breathing continues to sustain his world, bringing order out of chaos. And, we, his church of today, continue to breath deeply – to take in the Holy Spirit – to be filled with the Divine power and purpose that God set in motion at the forming of the world – that all might come to know and love him. We are living, breathing proof that God is not just wasting his breath. Through us, God continues to renew his world, and our work for him will not be done until God says it is so.

Come! Join the flame-filled, joyful, living and breathing community of faith called Zion! Discover the Divine power and purpose within yourself! Find the reason behind your next breath! Rest in the knowledge that the God who holds the universe in his hands, also holds you!

Pentecost Blessings,
Pastor Barb

You ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers. Psalm 104:3-4