The sermon title for this Sunday, January 21, is "Tables as Idols". The scripture will be John's story of the temple tables being over turned (2:13-25). The Annual Meeting for Sharon Congregational Church will happen after worship this Sunday. Annual Reports will be received and a vote on the budget will be taken.
Christmas Eve ServicesThere will be a 4:00 service on Christmas Eve. We will light the Advent Candle. We will sing Carols. We will hear the Christmas Story and use a manger scene to tell it. We call it a Family Service. But if you like a lessons and carols and few candles, you will like this service at any age. We hope you will join and see what our new Minister will do. There will also be a 7:00 service on Christmas Eve. This one is filled with music from our choir, the lighting of our Advent Wreath, a retelling of the Christmas story, and a brief message from the Minister about how any of this might be important. He says it will be brief. And he has been pretty good, so we are inclined to believe him. We will also receive an offering. We will use this in the coming year when there are needs in the Sharon Community that we can help with. We like to think that most of what we do helps Sharon, but here we are talking about direct aid to people. We will also be having a service at 9:30 in the morning. This is actually our regular Sunday service. It just happens that it is on Christmas Eve Day and so is technically a service on Christmas Eve. Kinda. Please join for this too if you would like. We will sing some Carols, light the Advent Candle of Love, and other churchie stuff. And coffee hour. Which is usually pretty good. And some good people. And it would be good if you were there too.
So, it is that holiday season that runs from before Thanksgiving, through Advent and the 12 days of Christmas, and includes New Year’s Eve. About a tenth of the year is during this time!
And it is time a time of Ho Ho Ho, fa la la la la, and making merry for many people. But not all people. Or not for all of it. It can be a tough time of the year for many people.
There are a lot of reasons for this: holiday stress (family, finances, time), grief that someone is dead, (there is like a 1 in 12 chance that a loss or tragedy actually happened during this season so there is an anniversary of loss during this time), job loss seems to happen a lot, short days, and the cultural expectation of everyone being a Bob Cratchit and not a Scrooge just seems to highlight when we get the blues. The colored lights of the season might even make these blues a deeper shade.
So, if you find that you can not deal with all the merriment, don’t.
● Do not fake happiness; it takes energy to put on the holiday face. Be honest that you have a case of the blues. You are allowed. Save the energy for living your life.
● Do not hide from all the merriment. Maybe avoid some (especially when it seems forced like New Year’s Eve), but do interact with people who will let you be honest. Sunday Worship should be that. Helping at the Church Supper can too.
● Balance that interaction with taking time for yourself. Balance your eating and exercise. If you drink, remember chemically it is a depressant. If you need a drink, don’t. If you have one, enjoy it.
● Do not let yourself stew in your own thoughts. Talk with me, a counselor, or someone you know who will listen without judgement. It can help to simply tell someone that you miss a tradition, your kids, the way things use to be, or a person.
● Be mindful of your management of time and finances. Don’t let our culture (family, neighbors, ‘them’) push you past what you decided to do. It won't make you happy.
● And yes, pray. Be contemplative. You do not need words. Watching the night sky thinking about God’s creation. Use your creativity being mindful of God. I will not say this will cure all things. But it helps and puts you in the hands that will hold you with love. Relax and enjoy it.
NOW, if you are like Buddy the elf, please remember that others are not. Don’t roll your eyes because someone does not act like they had extra sugar in their hot chocolate. Don’t try to jolly them into a round of Ho Ho Ho or poo poo their mood. Scrooge lost his love. It hurt and he was changed from that loss. Bob Cratchit had love in his life. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, was able to love his uncle who was a scrooge. When Ebenezer was transformed, it was to these two that he turned. They had let him mutter bah humbug, and never let go of their relationship or hope for transformation. Steadfast loving kindness. You can allow others their scrooge mood while waiting for their Ebenezer to reappear. Actually, that is kinda Christian.
That is how I see Jesus acting and who I know God to be. And I feel the need to say this: Love everyone.
Especially love yourself, no matter the mood. Let the Spirit transform us into someone even more loveable. ‘Tis the season.
Pastor's PenI took two years off from pastoral leadership before arriving here in Sharon. It allowed several good things to happen. After a respectful time, I attended church again at Bethany. I cannot tell you why or what was different, but I found it inwardly satisfying to be in worship. It stabilized my whole day. Sometimes a couple of days. One of the things I discovered was how much I like giving an offering. The plate never goes to a minister leading worship. Giving money in worship is a very different thing than giving money to the church. It could truly be called an act of worship. It transformed the money giving thing from something that could be done with Rotary, medical research, or shopping from catalogue. The money wasn’t sent, it was given and blessed and dedicated to God. After nearly 30 years of envelopes given in the office or sent at the end of the year, my money again became an offering. Same money, but completely different. And I liked it. Years before during a pledge/stewardship effort at my church, Amy and I decided to significantly increase our pledge. I am not sure now that we even had a reason for doing it. But I gotta tell ya’, it was really cool. I would get a smile on my face just thinking about it. I still do. I stretched my neck/wallet out there and trusted it would be okay. It was okay. It gave me a real thrill to be that courageous and faithful. And I liked it. So, try something new with this year’s pledge. Find some way of reminding yourself that your pledge is an act of worship or an expression of faith. Figure out what might help you remember that this money is not dues paid to a club or a donation to a charitable organization. Remember that this is not giving so you get something in return. This is some glorious expression of thanks, honor, or tribute to who God is in your life. This is something awesome! I will pray that find that awesomeness. But work with me here. Try anythingnew that makes sense to you. Sure, a real jump in your giving could do that. Writing a few word prayer (thanks for-, sorry about-, help with- ) or just a message to God on the check or envelope might be cool. Giving an offering before you pay any bills is a classic reminder. If you need to give outside of worship time, try just touching the offering plate and saying, “thanks” to God. But SOMETHING to make sure that this is a part of your spiritual life. Next year at this time let me know what you did and what it was like. I will be praying that you say, “I like it!” Yours, Mark
Pastor's PenHosea 6:3 “Let’s do our best to know the Lord. His coming is as certain as the morning sun; he will refresh us like rain renewing the earth in the springtime.” (CEV) I think that springtime has indeed arrived. I’ve seen flowers pushing their way up through the earth, worms on the sidewalk during the rain, robins hunting those worms in my back yard, grass that is greening, geese and ducks, and vernal ponds temporarily full of life. The earth is being renewed after a long rest during the winter. I think that the same can be said of our church. We all agreed that we needed a winter, a time of rest. Now we see spring emerging. The service that we held to honor veterans, especially those from the Vietnam Era, brought many tears of compassion to the eyes of people who were present. We were able to share together and listen to words of turmoil and hope. A week later I watched Doris, Irene, Phyllis and Tony perform an impromptu quartet rendition of “I Believe” while Doris played the accordion. During both of these occasions I was reminded of how much love there is in our church. Watching the joy on their faces as they sang, made my soul feel renewed just like the rain renewing the earth in the springtime. Hosea reminded us to “do our best to know the Lord.” In recent weeks we have been imagining a life of perfection with the Lord and examining what we believe as individuals. During our Bible study times (Tuesday evenings at 6:30 in the Lighthouse) we often share what we believe and what we can imagine. During these studies, we look at the readings for the week ahead and talk about what they mean to us. For some, it helps to give more meaning to the message that is shared on Sunday morning. I invite anyone who would like to join us to attend. Each week is different so you don’t have to worry if you haven’t been before. As we move forward on a path of discovery for our church we will keep Hosea’s words in mind. We will do our best to know the Lord because we know that His coming is as certain as the morning sun. My the Lord’s light shine on us as push up through the soil and bloom reveling in the brightness of His love! Spring has sprung. In Peace, -- Sunnie
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:24-27 (NIV) We just celebrated the victory of our Lord over death. His sacrifice means so much to us. Because of His sacrifice, we are the recipients of the Holy Spirit. How lucky are we that we have a God who cares enough to hear our prayers. And luckier still, the Spirit knows the inner most concerns of our hearts and speaks on our behalf when we don’t even know what to say. Have you ever had that time when you just couldn’t find the right words to express the way that you felt? The Spirit can express those feelings for us. The flowering of the cross during our Easter service really spoke to me about hope. We start with a bare and barren cross and through the simple act of adding flowers, we see a masterpiece unfold before us. Each flower that was placed on the cross brought a new sense of hope for beauty and completeness. Working together, that hope was realized. For anyone who had never witnessed this happening, it can be quite awe-inspiring to see the finished product. I think the same is true for the future of our church. Right now, we are quite bare (but definitely not barren). We will be adding flowers as we move along the path to charting a new future for our church. The Spirit will be active among us and will cry out with the words that we are searching for. We will need many to come and help. Each flower that is added will help us to create a path that moves us onward toward the Will of our Lord. We will keep you updated about meetings that will happen to determine the next steps in our journey. We invite many, those who regularly attend our services and those who do not, to come and add your thoughts to the process. The more input we have, the more awe-inspiring the results will be. In Peace, -- Sunnie
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18) As Lent builds to its Holy Week climax on Good Friday and Easter, it becomes more and more difficult for us to avoid the brutal reality of Jesus’ crucifixion and the mysterious claim of Christ’s resurrection. Both are topics we’d prefer not to have to deal with. The crucifixion is an uncomfortable reminder of the fact that even the most sophisticated societies can cruelly torture and destroy the lives of good and innocent people. The resurrection, on the other hand, strains our credulity by challenging us to accept the possibility that death is not only the end of life, but also a new beginning. It would be so much easier for us if we could just think of Jesus as a great moral teacher, a committed social reformer, or a highly gifted healer, without having to wrestle with death and resurrection. But the Christian gospel doesn’t afford us that more comfortable luxury. The fact is, Jesus nonviolently faced head-on the murderous hostility of his enemies, and refused to take any evasive action. Throughout his ministry, he trusted God to work through him in wonderful and unexpected ways. Even when confronting his own execution, he continued to trust God to manifest divine love and power through him. Most people, then and now, would regard his faith as naive and unrealistic. But on Easter morning, his confidence in God was dramatically vindicated. Death was not the end for him, but the beginning of a ministry of eternal scope and power. Some people like to point to Jesus’ experience as something unique to him, and irrelevant to ordinary people like us. But Jesus’ instructions to his disciples make it clear that the ministry to which he called them included trusting God to work through their own weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and deaths. Their faith in the undying, life-giving power of God’s love was to characterize their own lives as it had his, right to the very end of life as we know it. This is a difficult instruction for most of us. Our human nature instinctively wants to preserve our lives at all costs, fighting and destroying the lives of others if necessary to do so. But Jesus promises that God’s Spirit will help us to see beyond the ending of our own lives to envision the transformation of the world we’ll leave behind us. By living our lives in a way that will benefit people who come after us, even death can be faced as an act of love. This is an invitation to strengthen our mystical connection with God as individuals, and also as churches. Most people today regard the church as a dying institution that no longer has a place in the modern world. It is seen as hopelessly trapped in the music, rites and rituals of a by-gone era and which no longer has anything to contribute to 21stCentury life. For that reason, the church is routinely ignored by all but a handful of people each week, despite the professed “Christian” convictions of the stay-at-home majority. Despite the heroic efforts of church leaders to keep the institution alive, it is clearly on life-support, and cannot survive much longer. It has been nailed to a Cross by human indifference to God’s presence among us just as Jesus was crucified centuries earlier. The institutional church as we have known it must die, just as Jesus did -- not because its death will remove all trace of Christ’s presence among us, but so that God can resurrect it in a new, more perfect form. The church that must die has become preoccupied with structures, rules, roles, personalities and personal preferences instead of focused on the life-giving and life-transforming Spirit of God at work among us, creating a kind of humble unity that we alone can’t generate. The New Creation that God will resurrect in its place will not be concerned about buildings or bank accounts, but with the Mystery of God’s activity in their midst: reconciling our differences, healing our brokenness, forgiving our failures, vindicating our suffering, calming our fears, ending our loneliness and giving us hope for the future. This resurrected entity will be known, not by its words or rituals, but by the mysterious peacefulness and warmth that emanates from it. The Lenten season is about crucifixion and resurrection -- not just that of Jesus, but our own! The question it asks of us is: How much of what we normally think of as “ours” are we willing to let die so that God’s love can be revealed? We know how Jesus answered that question. What will our answer be? -- Duane
When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. (Exodus 16:14-16) The book of Exodus tells the story of the Israelites’ journey from slavery in Egypt through the wilderness in search of the Promised Land. It is a story of the hardships and frustrations they endured, and of the many times they were on the verge of giving up and rebelling against Moses’ leadership. But each time they felt like God had abandoned them, something wonderful would happen that showed them that God was still with them and providing the resources they needed to continue their journey and reach their destination. The verses above refer to one of those special moments when they discovered that God had provided an unexpected food source for them. We commonly refer to this strange dessert-bread as “manna” but that name actually means “What is it?” That original meaning is worth remembering. It is a reminder that God’s resources are not always recognized for what they really are. If Moses hadn’t been there to help them appreciate the value of this unfamiliar substance, they would have overlooked it and either starved or returned to captivity in Egypt. But once their fear was allayed, they realized that their situation was not as desperate as they had originally thought. This was a lesson they had to learn over again during their time in the wilderness: God will lead them and provide for them if they will put more trust in God than in their own wisdom, power, experience and abilities. That lesson is just as important for us today as it was for the ancient Israelites. Nowadays, churches all over the country are in decline, and church leaders are desperate to find ways to sustain and revive them. They are as frightened as the Israelites were in the wilderness about the bleakness of their future. The familiar “foods” that previously “fed” them are no longer available, and institutional starvation and death seems imminent. But what if, like the Israelites, God’s providential resources are already right in front of us? What if our problem is that we don’t recognize them because they’re not the same as we’re used to? What if we look around us and all we can say is “What is it?” What if our mistake is to seek to feed our institutional hunger with our own resources rather than God’s? We think that more money or more people will save us and restore the church to its previous condition. But the food God is offering is different, and we don’t recognize it. It isn’t food to return us to the Egyptian captivity of yesterday, but to feed us for our journey to the land of promise and freedom. Instead of buildings, bucks and bodies, the food God will nurture the church with is with a new sense of divine purpose. The future of the church is people who are passionately pursuing God’s dream of a new society that is unlike anything they’ve ever known before -- a society of dreamers that seeks to let God build relationships among them that are more just, loving and compassionate than the world has ever achieved on its own -- a society that discovers God’s providence in the midst of life-threatening hardships, and finds God giving us new life even while dying on a Cross. The future of the church in our world today depends on our readiness to ask “What is it?” What is the source of hope and strength and nourishment that God is offering us in the midst of our most desperate situations? What is the gift that God will reveal to us as we hover on the edge of giving up? What is that Holy Spirit that enabled the impoverished, persecuted church of the first century to expand at the fastest rate in history? That is a question we must ask over and over and over again, kneeling together in the presence of the only One who can give us the answer. I hope we have to humility to do it and the spiritual discernment to hear God’s answer! -- Duane
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. (James 1:22) When I was in my teens, I did a lot of bowling. My father bowled in a league, and he shared his enthusiasm for the game with me. We sometimes would go bowling as a family activity. Eventually, I joined one of the teams in the league my father bowled in, and for much of my high school career, I bowled every week. But when I went off to college, I no longer had the time (or money!) to bowl every week. I went from being an dedicated bowler to being a person who still enjoyed the game and knew how to play it, but one who didn’t actively participate in the sport on a regular basis. I no longer consider myself to be a bowler, but merely an afficianado of the game -- someone who has happy memories and good feelings about the sport, but who no longer actually bowls. You may have undergone similar changes in your life. In your younger days, you may have been an avid baseball player, skater, dancer or musician, but as time went by, your involvement in those activities diminished and eventually ended. Unfortunately, some people’s spiritual life follows a similar trajectory. While aging will naturally impose a limit to our ability to engage in vigorous athletic activities, the same is not true of spiritual practices. Prayer, worship, bible study and meditation are not activies that require the vigor of a youthful athlete to perform. In fact, it is often those who have lived a long, fruitful life and experienced more of life’s difficult and painful challenges who get the most out of regular spiritual disciplines. They find that, beneath the religious ideas they learned in childhood which seemed so bizzarre and unbelievable, lies a level of profound experiencial truth that they never knew existed before. Words that meant little to their minds now speak eloquently to their hearts. Sadly, there are also those whose only religious activity ended in their childhood, yet who still consider themselves “active” Christians and church members. They live in a state of denial, refusing to acknowledge that their behavior exposes the delusion of their claims. It’s as if their nostalgic memories of childhood or their private religious convictions could exempt them from any responsibility to express their faith in any outward way. It’s as rediculous as me still claiming to be a “bowler” even though I haven’t touched a bowling ball in over 30 years! My purpose here is not to insult anyone who may have drifted away from the church, but to challenge them to emerge from their state of denial. Christian faith has never been some private, inner world of spiritual ideas, but a way of life that engages us in a distinctive community that seeks to demonstrate God’s love for those whom the rest of the world has rejected. It is not a community that exists only in our minds or on some abstract spiritual plane, but which requires tangible participation. Bowlers must bowl. Christians must be part of making the Body of Christ visible in the world. Athletes may be forced to give up their sport due to age or disability, but Christians do not. All over the world, there are elderly and disabled people who find ways to participate in Christ’s body in tangible ways, whether through their giving, by ministering with cards and letters, or by hosting group meetings that others may attend. Participation in a Christ-centered community -- not abstract ideas or pious feelings -- is the hallmark of the Christian faith, just as a bowler is defined by rolling a ball down the lane. A bowler may throw a strike or a gutter ball, but at least there can be no doubt that that person is really in the game. Participation is how we tell if a person is a genuine follower of Christ or just an afficianado, uninvolved and standing on the sidelines. -- Duane