Musings from a Pastor, Educator, Wife, and Mother

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Radical Hospitality: The House in Muswell Hill

Have you ever lived in a different country with total strangers?

Last week I wrote about a memory of radical hospitality during my study abroad experience during college in 2005.  But even more radical than the encounter on the train to Edinburgh was the absolutely brilliant host family I was blessed to live with during my three months in London.  

We flew "across the pond" all through the night.  A night of restlessness meant dragging suitcases wearily through the airport and hailing a cab to take us through the city.  My dear friend Katherine and I arrived in front of a house on a lovely street, rows of tall, narrow homes stacked side by side.  I'm not sure what felt heavier to me, my carry on bag or the bundle of nerves in my stomach. 

We were met at the door by Ingrid, she opened the door wide and greeted us; her voice a song of Irish lilt.  She gave us a tour of the house which concluded with our sunny little bedroom overlooking the garden.  Twin beds, a desk, a dresser, and a sink.  I can still call to mind the pastel colors of the bedding. 

We were told that the rest of our host family would return that afternoon--father Jeff, teenage daughter Charlotte, and two young boys, Tristan and Toby.  We were also informed we would have a housemate of the four-legged kind, a gray tabby-cat named Harry (yes, after Harry Potter).  But, we should not be offended if Harry didn't make friends, he was a bit of a loner.  

Did we nap then? Unpack? I don't recall.  My next memory is of sitting in what we would call a den being served English Tea and Biscuits.  Did I like milk in my tea?  Well, I do now!  Around that time we met the rest of the family.  My first true memory of Jeff is sitting in the den with us, Charlotte stomping down the stairs, running out the door....then knocking only seconds later to be let back in.  "Oh, Charlotte," Jeff exclaimed, "you've got a brain like a sieve!"  And I knew, I knew in that very moment--in a new country, in a new culture, even in the midst of a deep longing for home-- that I would love these people as dear friends.  

We quickly made friends with the beautiful Charlotte, who said the most darling things like, "Properly" and "Actually" descriptively in every sentence. Charlotte loved American things, especially clothes which are so much less expensive for her with the exchange rate.  Tristan would come into our room and tell us lots of jokes....I distinctly remember one about David Beckham, a plane crash, and lack of a they all tied together I don't know.   Toby loved The Simpsons and never missed an episode.  Toby also loved to play postman, and would invite us to "post letters" to our friends, but he had a specific formula for the address, so don't mess it up! 

Perhaps our most unexpected kinship was with Harry.  Harry quickly began sleeping with us in our room at night.  At first he loved to cuddle on Katherine's bed, it being closer to the window.   Then he realized that Katherine was much taller than I am, and therefore he had way more room to spread out on my bed!  Every morning we would have to turn on our sink as we got ready for the day so he could drink from the faucet.  One night after we returned from a weekend away Harry was so happy to see us and we were so delirious from travel and lack of sleep that we fed him peanut butter from a spoon.  

While I fondly recall funny things like watching the Sound of Music bundled in blankets with tea cups pressed to our nose before we found the heat override button for the house furnace and Jeff hurling toilet paper rolls at us over the banister from the second floor.... what I cannot adequately express is the nature of the absolute welcome and hospitality we were shown by this family.  We were invited not only into their homes but into their lives in a way that I do not think many other students on that trip experienced.  

If the family was sitting down to a meal, we were invited to join them, far beyond the three meals we were "required" to be provided. We could do laundry anytime. We had plenty of space in the fridge.  We had a space heater in our room for those first chilly minutes getting out of bed!  We were allowed to bake Bisquick biscuits from the box my mom sent us, making a huge mess of the kitchen (Jeff's fault).   If the family was going out of town, they trusted us to be in their home.  We could have our friends over anytime.  

It is radical, the way this family opened their home to us--and not only us but to Hollins students over and over again, for many years.  It was more to them than a way to make money (sadly for some hosts this is the case).  For them, it was a way to allow people to experience the best of their country and their lives, and for their children to have different experiences too.  I was so sad to leave them, more so than I ever thought possible.  One of my favorite parts of Christmas is getting their annual letter, to see how their lives have changed and how the children have grown into young adults.  

 Would you open your home in that way?  Do you open your church that way?  Are your doors always open to the newcomer, is your table always filled and ready to share?  How open are you to widening the circle not only to let others in, but to link arms with them and keep them there?  

I am so incredibly thankful for this family.  I am so thankful for their kindness and their love. Without them it would not have been possible for me to have many of the experiences I had that spring, meeting new people and being introduced to a variety of cultures, seeing places I could only have dreamed of visiting.  I can only hope one day my son will have the same opportunities.  Who knows, maybe Charlotte, Toby, or Tristan will host him! :)  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Radical Hospitality

What I have come to love most about this place, Montreat, is that it always brings my mind alive. It always awakens me to some hope, some dream. It always transports me to some memory of a special  time in my life.  I always find myself desperate to carve out some time and space when I am here to write while the waters rush by, singing a swirling song to my heart. 

Last night in worship, the preacher spoke about the story of Ruth and Naomi (one of my favorites) and he expressed that his desire for the church was to widen our circles.  He shared this wonderful story about his parents, who were from Mexico, taking their first trip to Europe, and about their visit to London.  The two of them, who spoke very little English, found themselves turned around in a tube station, unable to figure out how to get back to their hotel.  A very tall Englishman guided them to the right place. 

In listening to this tale, I recall my own first encounter with a tall Englishman. My friends and I met him on a train from London to Edinburgh thirteen years ago.  The story didn’t begin positively.  The train was waiting an inordinately long amount of time to leave the station.  But when we boarded we discovered that we could not sit together at one of the two benches with a table in the middle, but rather we had to split up because this one, selfish jerk was taking up a whole table with his lanky frame, nose stuck in a newspaper.  So, we were griping (probably mostly me) as all loud, touristy Americans do. Yes, yes—his thoughts—little did we know at the time was, “Oh, Lord help me, I am trapped on a train with four atrocious American girls.”    Two of my friends sit down across from him at the table.  Eventually sheer boredom prompts them to ask him for the Crossword section of the paper.  And so it began; by the time of our arrival in Edinburgh we were friends. 

Alec is a navy man, about six years older than myself.  Over the course of our three months studying abroad, our friendship grew with Alec. He became “Big Al” and we his, “American Girls” (in the best British accent I can muster).  I think perhaps he felt a protectiveness of us.  He would call to check in when we were traveling outside England, he would count us like little ducklings if we went out to the pubs.  He harassed us with brotherly love.

One of my favorite experiences of my time abroad was when Alec invited us to come to his family home in Torquay, along the coast, to celebrate his 30th birthday.  We got to meet his sweet parents and all his siblings.  They opened their home to us and made us feel like a part of their family.  To this day we keep in touch with Big Al, we are always thrilled to hear if he is coming to the states and we have had occasions to welcome him on our home soil.  We teased him mercilessly that we would all wear big, floppy hats to his wedding….I can’t for the life of me figure out why we weren’t invited!😉 

Just by sharing a portion of his newspaper (however reluctant at first), Alec helped me to widen my circle. Without him, I would never have visited Torquay; I would have never witnessed the absolute joy of their large family. I never would have had these wonderful memories with dear friends or captured this photo of my Hollins sisters that remains framed in my home, my absolute favorite.  By befriending four college students from Hollins University, he widened his own circle and showed endless hospitality to us.  Never underestimate the power of radical hospitality.

So today I am thankful for opportunities to travel with my sisters, for the blessing of unlikely friendships, for my own transformative encounter with a tall Englishman. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Reflect and Refract

Feb 4, 2018
Transfiguration--Mark 9:2-9
Sermon: Reflect and Refract

I’ve been at Covenant for almost three years.  I have served alongside you now for three Christmases.  I’ve had a different head of staff for each Christmas.  Through each one of them I have learned different things about being a disciple and a pastor.   You know they’ve served as a witness to so much for me, that I think I’ll build something to remember them by.  I think I’ll put up three shiny brass plaques to honor them right here in the sanctuary.  For Bob, I’ll create a place to display all of our softball trophies.  For Carl, I’ll install a fancy coffee cart.  For Kyle….hm, are you scared?  Well, I know he’d probably like more hours in the day (don’t we all wish for that) so I think a big, engraved clock might be nice---maybe we’ll make it Carolina blue.  When it chimes the hour it can play Amy Grant songs. It could be like a cuckoo clock and every hour on the hour some of Beth’s amazing muffins could pop out. 

It’s not inherently wrong to want to honor people who have paved the way for us.  Peter, James, and John—they had this perfectly human reaction to something magnificent that played out before them.  They couldn’t exactly comprehend what they were seeing, but in the heat of the moment they wanted to act- they wanted to DO SOMETHING that would mark the occasion—even if they didn’t grasp it’s meaning. 

On Sunday I had the opportunity to worship at Three Chopt Presbyterian Church in Richmond.  I served TCPC for three of my four years in seminary.  I was a youth advisor, a student intern, and an interim youth director during my time there.  I hadn’t been back there almost four years.  The last time I was there Kemper was like a basketball sitting on my bladder and I was baptizing my dear friends’ daughter Hana, who is now four years old.   This Sunday was a special one in the life of Three Chopt because Brenda, their Head of Staff for 11 years was retiring, it was her last Sunday.  I know you all can relate to how that congregation—so much like your own—is feeling right now.  Out of their love of her, their witness to her ministry, they wanted to honor her life, her work, and her friendship.  They said lovely words, they gave lovely gifts, they blessed her with the laying on of hands.  But all the while, I watched one of my mentors bring the focus of the day directly back to Christ.   She preached her sermon on John 3:1-16.  She reflected on all that the congregation there had accomplished in her 11 years—from changes in staffing models to amazing facility renovations she praised their commitment to the church.  But, she reminded them that all of that was guided by Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  Because God loves us all so much that he sent his only Son to be our savior.  She reminded the people gathered that the life everlasting is what we are to be ever striving toward. 

Brenda is the one who taught me the nickname I like to use for Peter: “Open-Mouth-Insert-Foot-Peter.”  Time after time, Peter is the one who instantly reacts to Jesus, perhaps before grasping the whole picture.  It is no surprise that in today’s narrative he is the one who wants to build three dwellings, one for Moses, one for Elijah, and one for Christ.  He knows it must be significant that he is seeing these great prophets of Israel with Jesus…so he must mark the occasion in some way, even though he doesn’t understand what is happening.  He’s been with Jesus for almost three years—and yet he cannot see the forest for the trees.  Jesus is radiant and sparkling before them! I imagine it was like driving into the sun… but before we ask the questions of why or how, let’s first do something, Peter seems to exclaim. 

I wonder if perhaps Jesus ordered these disciples to keep quiet about all they had seen and heard until after his resurrection because he knew they didn’t fully grasp what had happened yet.  I think Jesus knew that while his disciples trusted him and loved him, they didn’t really believe that the Son of God would suffer.  They didn’t want to believe that their rabbi and friend would die and certainly not be resurrected, and come before them, once again, in dazzling, heavenly light. 

Perhaps, we too, struggle with the overwhelming, trans-formative nature of Christ.  It is hard to take a leap of faith and trust in God’s constant care in our lives.  It is hard to imagine Jesus’ transfiguration, his resurrection, his ascension.  Especially since we were not there to witness these miracles. Many of us have had mountain top experiences—moments and places where we felt close to God, where we felt energized to dive back into life’s valleys.  Like the disciples it is much easier for us to busy ourselves with the work of faith than the life of faith.  We find ourselves wading through the details, struggling to see the larger picture of God’s continued work in human history.  God is with us you know, no matter how dark the world becomes. 

We often talk about the Light of Christ.  We are told here that Jesus was transformed and his robes were the whitest of white—Jesus was glowing.  This got me thinking about light.  Light can be reflected and light can be refracted.

Reflection is when light bounces off an object, while refraction is when light bends while passing through an object. Reflection is bouncing back of light into the same medium. When you look at a mirror the light bounces of the mirror from different angles, so you can see your reflection. ... Light waves are refracted when crossing the boundary from one transparent medium into another because the speed of light is different in different media. Refraction is when light bends. Light waves are refracted when crossing the boundary from one transparent medium into another because the speed of light is different in different media. So, refraction can change the direction of the light. Do we want to be a reflection of the light of Christ or a refraction?
Do we want Jesus’ light to bounce off of us, or do we want Jesus’ light to be refracted…. If light bends when crossing from one transparent medium to the other….perhaps we want to refract—because the light enters into us—our media or who we are---is intertwined with how we live as Christians.  Where as if we were to reflect the light of Christ—it would simply bounce off of us without our ever taking it in?  The disciples on the mountain with Jesus wanted to create a way to reflect what they had seen and heard but Jesus kept them quiet, because they were not yet prepared to take it all in and truly understand what had taken place and refract the light—they didn’t understand that it would change them.

And so, the next time you are itching to do something. To build three dwellings, to engrave a plaque, to dedicate something pristine—even in the best of intentions—whether life has been easy or difficult—try to step back from that moment and discern the larger picture.  The mountain tops change us, but we cannot remain there.  We must bring the dazzling light into the mundane, somehow. Not hurried, but faithfully.  We must always ask ourselves, how is Christ being glorified? How is the light of Christ being displayed?  How is the one who is, and was, and ever will be, echoed in the life of the church?  The transfiguration of Christ sets an image for us of how in faith we too can be transformed by God’s grace.  Amen. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Snow Day

Did you ever see the movie, Snow Day that came out in 2000? It follows a bunch of kids and teenagers who live by the mantra, "Anything can happen on a snow day."  These sparkling days do seem to have that magic.

Snow makes everything look fresh and pretty as it is falling.  It creates a crisp quiet that makes everything look new.  Even our sad, broken street lamp.

Even our Scriptures reference the purity of snow.  Isaiah 1:18 reads:

 Come now, let us argue it out,
   says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
   they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
   they shall become like wool.

Are you feeling beaten down?  Does it seem the weight of the world is on your shoulders?  Do you carry the guilt of your sins like scarlet?  The promise of God's love is that through the grace we are given in Christ our sins are forgiven, washed clean--we are pure as new fallen snow-clothed in Christ. 

It's hard to imagine the truth of this promise.  It is hard to let go and accept the forgiveness that is freely given to us.  Each morning that dawns is a new opportunity to live as Christ would have us live.  Perhaps, in the quiet of this day, you might look out your window and once again be reminded of the love and patience of our creator.  Perhaps you might be inspired to hit refresh and explore your faith anew.     

Anything can happen on a snow day. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

God Is Good

Today the clouded sky takes on a pale lavender hue with the rising sun.  Stark winter branches against a leaden backdrop.  My son is playing quietly in the next room, still in pajamas with tousled hair and sleepy jacks in his eyes.

It isn't often, but every now and again my morning routine sparks memories of the final days of my pregnancy almost four years ago.  My health went downhill very rapidly and for some inexplicable reason showers seemed to be the only thing that would bring my tired, heavy, and aching body comfort.  I would stand in the steam three or four times a day--all hours, even in the darkest moments of the night.

These memories remind me of my blessings.  These memories remind me to thank God for my life--for indeed I could have lost it had we not gone to the doctor when we did. And I may never have seen my family grow, or our lives turn down different paths these last  few years.  These quiet moments--sometimes the only ones I get in the course of a day--remind me to give thanks for the blond boy who gets taller by the second.  Who pulls all the cushions off the couch and begs for a piece of Daddy's beef jerky for dinner.   I am reminded to appreciate my spouse, who never left my side in those days, who brought his scrubs home from the hospital and even now occasionally pulls them out from the dresser drawer.

Life can be stressful.  It can be complicated and messy, just plain hard. For everyone--even a pastor. Even for us sometimes it can be difficult to say,"God is good!"  But this morning I was reminded to say, "all the time."

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Present Promise

After my sermon on Sunday, multiple people asked if I could make it available for everyone so I am sharing it here.  You can also listen to it on Covenant's website.  I have removed last names of children and youth before posting. 

Luke 2: 22-40

“Present Promise”
This story of Jesus’ life is one that can often be overlooked.  Nestled here between Jesus’ birth narrative and the Epiphany which brings us to the story of the Magi, is Jesus’ first introduction into the community of faith for which he and his family are a part.  While Mary and Joseph’s situation is clearly very different from other young Jewish families, they faithfully maintain the law and come to the temple to offer a sacrifice and participate in purification rituals. 

I confess that I often get caught up in the last verses of this text and bypass the particulars of verses 22-39.  I get distracted by verse 40—“The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Because wouldn’t you know, the following verses of Luke skip ahead to Jesus’ time in the temple at age 12!  What does it mean that he became strong and filled with wisdom?  How did he do that, what happened in those twelve years of his childhood?   Did he learn to walk faster than the other babies?  Did he throw tantrums at three when he didn’t get his way?  Did counting come naturally to him or did he struggle as other children to learn? When did he begin to work alongside his father in carpentry?  Did he enjoy playing with his siblings?   It’s funny because, sometimes we get so caught up in the future of our children, our teens, our own selves, and even our church—that we miss out on what is being offered in the present. 

It is important that the gospel of Luke witnesses to this faithful event in the life of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  It is a bold reminder of Jesus’ heritage in the Jewish faith.  I also find that it is important that the two individuals who encounter the family in the temple are called upon by name—one male, Simeon—who has waited all his life to see the Savior and now in his old age is witness to his coming.  Also, an elderly female—Anna, a widow who just happens to be present in the temple and finds herself sharing the news of this baby with anyone who will listen.  

The birth of any child brings great responsibility and commitment—but can you imagine being the parents of the Son of God!? Everyone thinks their baby is special—but this brings it to a whole new level. And isn’t it amazing that here, in this community of faith, Mary and Joseph receive guidance and wisdom from the elderly in their faith community.  Simeon is honest with Mary, even though his witness is hard to hear.  According to William Arnold, “He represents [what happens around] the birth of every child—a wider company of people with hopes and fears for the future. Some will watch from afar and some will become involved and engaged with parents and children.  They love enough to share the joys but also honest caring words for what may lie ahead in difficult times.” 

I can’t help but think that the interest and care with which Mary and Joseph received, would have been a comfort to these new parents—and perhaps solidified relationships that would carry into their lives as they raised Jesus.  Perhaps, beyond his family who would have lived close by and helped to raise Jesus (as was the custom of the time), people in the community, faithful Jews, would also have taken interest and guided Jesus and his parents along the way. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about our children and our teenagers at Covenant lately…. It is my job after all.  But, it occurs to me that while some members of the congregation know them personally, a majority of folks in the congregation will witness to them only in groups—“The Children” and “The Youth” without individual identities shining.

 I know there is a lot of excitement surrounding them, and a deep and abiding hope that our church will nurture them in the faith. You have witnessed to that in your vision statement, in your mission study, in conversations and discussions about the future of Covenant and how best support ministries that guide them.  My challenge to you today is that YOU find a way to come alongside them, find a way to engage them in positive ways that have a direct impact on their spiritual life.   

I won’t be able to list them all, it would take all day, but I thought today I would provide some introductions to you—so that you might be able to call a child or a teen by name and recognize their PRESENT PROMISE—not just your hope and belief that they are the future of the church, but that they are the NOW of our church. 

You see many of our children in worship on Sunday, they are active in Christ connections, Children’s Sundays, and most recently the Christmas Eve Nativity. 

You may know Grace best of all, as granddaughter of Bob and Dusty, beloved daughter of Jonathan.  But, what you may not know is that Grace has the capability to turn any moment into an opportunity to strike Cam Newton’s “dab” pose.  Her competitive nature is greatly outshined by her compassion to her friends. 

Grace’s new brother Ethan enjoys his time at the microphone but he is also watching everything we do-and asked great questions about Communion this summer. 

Macy & Natalie  are not just great swimmers—they are excellent helpers.  They delivered flyers about the concert series this summer.  Macy is always nurturing and generous with Kemper and Natalie, a 6th grader, helped with our nativity last weekend. 

Devon has a small obsession with bananas.  He also loves to hide downstairs before Christ Connections starts, so that his friends search for him when they come into the room.  When I first started here, Devon had no desire to be up front, but since then he has become a natural at holding the Hunger offering bags and an integral part of Children’s Sunday worship. 

Kaylee  is a budding pianist.  She willingly played her first public concert for US on December 17 when she led the congregation gathered in the fellowship hall in carols.  She did beautifully. She is a dedicated big sister to Joshua and Lily who are often close to her side. 

Alan is one of our oldest children, he dressed quite the part as King Herod in the nativity. But more importantly, Alan designed our 10:30 AM Christmas Eve Bulletin this year.   Alan’s younger sister Christine is quiet but thoughtful, extremely excited to have a new kitten at home, and great friends with Kaylee.  I love that they always bring their Deep Blue bibles to church.

Mason shared his artistic talents with us last year on Christmas Eve.  He lives into his role of big brother well, always guiding little Samantha up front for Children’s time. 
Lenah, a college freshmen has taken VBS photos for two years.   Noelah and Sarah always look out for young Micah, and I see great babysitters in my own future! Noelah will be our very first acolyte next Sunday.  Sarah, a sixth grader, along with Bass, have been some of the best helpers for VBS I have ever seen. 

You may not have witnessed the calm with which Riley assisted her mom with crafts at our event on December 17 but she was wonderful! It was a chaotic table, but Riley’s guidance was certainly felt.

I have had such positive experiences with some of our college students and teens over the years.  You may not be aware that I served on Presbytery youth council with several of your college students: Reinfred , Scott, Rhee, Emily, Zoe, Matthew, Steadman, Grant, Alex & Ellyn  all served on youth council while I served as an adult. You heard that right, all three siblings, Matthew, Alex, and Ellyn have served our Presbytery as well as brothers Colin and Scott.  Colin, Reinfred, and Matthew have also worked in Camp Peaks with JoAnn McElmurray.   In fact, knowing these young adults was a huge part of my decision to serve as your associate pastor, because I had been so impressed by their leadership and love of this church.  Matthew & Emily were both on my search committee and Sophie Williams served on Kyle’s.   Reinfred served on the Mission Study team as well.   These young people are so thoughtful, and articulate, and faithful, I just can’t tell you what you are missing if you do not get to know them. Emma and Zoe had us in stitches at the College Christmas party reminiscing about their childhood here.  Lindsey  who has faced so much wrote an amazing Advent devotion on Love this year that brought tears to my eyes as I read about the love so apparent between her and her siblings.

Sixteen confirmands came through last year.  Sixteen!  Each of them wrote thoughtful statements of faith that also fit their personalities and presented them in small groups to the session.  There are so many amazing youth in this church, I cannot touch on them all…but a few highlights for you to consider.

Ellyn, as I mentioned before, serves on youth council in her “spare” time, which doesn’t exist because she is a swimmer.  She designed our 8:00 PM bulletin for Christmas this year.  She loves Montreat and radiates kindness to everyone she meets.

Olivia  & Cicely —quite a pair—often sing for us on special occasions.  They, along with sister Ingrid , did a beautiful rendition of Silent Night on Christmas Eve.  What you likely do not know is that they adopted an angel tree child this year on behalf of the youth group and went shopping after ringing bells for the Salvation Army. 

Emma J.and Emma Z.—two recent confirmands also rang bells for the Salvation Army this year with Lynn McGhee.  Just lovely young women. 

Andria  is a 9th grader this year. You may know her as queen of the energizer. What’s more, she has recently joined the choir. Andria and Gavin both took time out of the first days of the summer break to help with Camp Peaks at Splash Valley last summer.

  One of Andria’s dear friends is Corinne , also a 9th grader. Corinne, alongside several other youth was integral in leading the children for the PCC Christmas Party this year. 

Jacqui's  fun-loving spirit makes me laugh often.  Her first request to me last spring was that we please, please have a lock-in this year.  It’s on the calendar. 

Brothers, Joey and Stephen, regularly serve as ushers and greeters on the 3rd Sunday of the month.  Joey came to the youth Christmas Party after writing a paper all day long and built one of the most solid ginger bread houses I have ever seen. 

Nick  is a faithful Christ Connections, worship, and youth group attendee.  Nick can be quiet but he is considerate.  I will never forget my first Sunday here, Nick must have been in 4th or 5th grade at the time, he brought me a gift after worship. 

Nick and Brendan  helped with the PCC party and also spent significant time perfecting their ginger bread houses at the Christmas Party.

Many of you witnessed Fiona's testimony during our season of generosity in worship.  So poised and ready to tell you how the many adults in this congregation have already influenced her faith. 

Charlotte is witty and creative.  I’ve watched her enthusiasm around writing skits and leading in worship and she reminds me of myself at her age. 


Why am I telling you all of this?  Because a community of faith is important for all ages.  And not just to prepare the younger generations to be adults (although that is a part of it) but to provide a space for Christians to be Christians RIGHT NOW—whether they are nine or ninety-eight.  The church may be one of the few places left in the world that does not need to be segregated by age…. Although to be honest we are doing a pretty good job of that.  Friends, we need each other.  We need each other to be faithful.  We need to continue to let the little Kemper’s and Samantha’s weave around our legs at lemonade and cookies.  We need the Grace’s and the Ethan’s to learn alongside the Riley’s and the Alan’s of our church, so that they can model for one another what faithfulness can look like in a peer.  We need these children to watch their own parents in worship, so that they begin to have a sense of the sacredness of that time together.  And we all need to be reminded that sacred does not mean that there is no room for wiggling or whispering in the pews. We need our teenagers to participate in worship in new, innovative ways—we can learn so much through their eyes.   Parents of children and parents of youth should be able to greet one another and rely on each other through the various seasons of life.  I would hope that when Grace and Ethan reach college age, Christy and Jonathan will know they can call upon Allison and Steve Anama.  I would hope that when Kemper begins Kindergarten I can call Amy Ridenour and say, “what was it like your first day?”  Maybe one day Ashley Monk and I can have lunch and imagine what life will be like with an empty nest…. It won’t be long before the Ramsburg’s are calling the Williams’ and asking what 7th grade was like for Nick and how did they handle all those faith questions that came from confirmation? And it won’t be long before the McMillen’s, the McGhee’s and the Wulff’s are attending more weddings than graduations. And you know what—they might be calling upon one of you to ask what these seasons were like in your life!  Maybe they will reach out to Charlie and Ethel or Jerry and Judi to say, what was your experience like when you retired or when your children first moved away? How did your faith change after your family was grown?  How did you stay involved once your children were in college?  Or maybe even more important—how did you stay involved in the church with young children to raise or teenagers that wouldn’t get out of bed!?   And if you feel that these people sitting next to you in the pews are only your friends for Sunday morning, then you are missing the point of a community of faith entirely.  There is no reason why Angie Miller and Sarah Baumgardner cannot fellowship over sewing with Ethel Simmons and Susan Foard!  I can’t think of one reason that would prevent the men of this congregation, from Ed Mahler to Walter Jones from attending the men’s Bible study on a Saturday Morning and going for a walk together in the afternoon. 

The community of faith is the key to nurturing us my friends!  Simeon and Anna knew it—they were both spending their time in the temple with the faithful.  Mary and Joseph knew it—it was about more than just the law—which remember Jesus came to fulfill—it was about the signs and symbols of their faith that those actions represented, a fellowship in which they could more fully grow in God. 

We are on to something here at Covenant.  We must continue to live into the present promise that we have.  The life of faith is meant to be lived communally…. It is meant to be built on relationships with one another.  I anticipate a year filled with fellowship, study, worship, outreach, and prayer in 2018.  Investing in relationships in this place will bring you more fully into a strong relationship with Christ and one another.  It can strengthen your life in so many ways—not only in your faith, but in your family life, your professional life, your social life.  Let’s stop compartmentalizing and segregating and invest in one another.  And then perhaps, like young Jesus, we will soon discover that we too are growing in strength and wisdom, finding favor with God.  Amen.






Tuesday, December 26, 2017

12 Days of Christmas

You know that ridiculously long Christmas song.... the one that always ends with a partridge in a pear tree?  Now that I have it stuck in your mind again--just in time for Christmas songs to stop on the radio--let me remind you of the twelve days of Christmas.  They actually take us into the new year, the twelve days of Christmas are actually after December 25.  So, you technically have twelve more days before the tree has to come down, before the carols have to stop, before the sugar consumption gets cut back.  For us at Covenant, it means twelve more days to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.  We return to celebrate the events immediately after Christ's birth narrative--his presentation at the temple and the visit of the magi.   

I wonder if you might come along side me and spend each of these twelve days reflecting on Christ's birth and the grace he brings into our lives.  That we might be intentional in word and deed over the next few days,  devoted in contemplation, in action, in prayer.   Consider it an early resolution. 

Day 1: Forget the empty boxes scattered all around.  Remember that it is not for everyone that happiness abounds.  For some this season holds the darkest and coldest nights as they mourn the loss of ones they once held tight. 

Day 2: As you scrape the last leftovers from plastic Tupperware dishes, remember you have plenty of what so many long for in wishes.  For some the holidays do not mean a bounteous feast, take some time to consider, when did you last feed the least?

Day 3:  When you take down those empty stockings from your mantle and fire place, take some time to give thanks, for the warmth of your bright space.  

Day 4: And if your fire is roaring, before you add another log--might you stop and pray for someone who is seeking shelter from the chill and fog.  

Day 5: You wind your way through crowds, making returns with gift receipts.  Do you remember the first gifts of the season--as wise men knelt at a baby's feet?  

Day 6: Nothing like a party to ring in the new year, drawing friends and loved ones to cheer.  Before you make that simple toast to health, and light, and love--stop for just a moment and give thanks for the gifts from above. 

Day 7:  How is it that the prince of peace, who calls for the lion to lie with the lamb, finds himself still praying for wars to cease centuries after the resurrection of the great I AM. As you set yourself high goals, for the new year to begin, set your mind to pray that true peace on earth might set in. 

Day 8: As you settle in at night, before you shift to turn out the light--won't you bind yourself to a new quest... perhaps the thing you need most this year, is just a little more rest. 

Day 9: And speaking of rest, Sabbath rest is best.  God made us to be in Community, to worship to study, to pray.  When you're mapping out your weekly routine, come be a part of the body of Christ, before you go out to meet the fray. 

Day 10: Before you throw those cards away--season's greetings and thoughtful art--pray for the souls who sent each one, and for blessings of peace on each heart. 

Day 11: Perhaps in the course of this great year--your heart can grow three sizes... find yourself much like the Grinch, let go of your judgments and disguises.

Day 12: And when everything finds itself packed away, the greenery and trimmings stripped down--be easy on yourselves beloved, and gentle with all who you meet about town. For this is how we spread the joy and good news of that great star--there is no reason that until next year, good will toward men should be barred. 

Peace and love, forgiveness--it's a wonderful Christmas Time. 



Do you know the reason for the season?
How the heavens came down to the earth
Bringing hope for all who will receive it
A sacrifice that forever changed the world

And the shepherds and kings
They would sing out rejoicing
And they fell to their knees
When they heard the angel's voices

Singing peace on earth
Good will towards men
There's a newborn king
Born in Bethlehem

Do you know the reason for the season?
A star that's shown for all who will believe
A holy child swaddled in a manger
A love that no man ever could conceive

And the shepherds and kings
They would sing out rejoicing
And they fell to their knees
When they heard the angel's voices

Singing peace on earth
Good will towards men
There's a newborn king
Born in Bethlehem

All the stories tell
How they followed the star
On the first Noel
On the first Noel

Peace on earth
Good will towards men
There's a newborn king
Born in Bethlehem

Do you know the reason for the season?