Archive for Pastor’s Notes – Page 2

A Note From Stephen Sept 2016

When does the year begin? That answer to that question is usually January 1. Because I am a minister who uses the lectionary, you may expect me to say the year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, which this year will be November 27. In Shakespeare’s day, most people thought the New Year began shortly after the vernal equinox—about March 25. By then it was noticeable that the days had begun to be longer than the nights, and it fits with the way we all feel renewed with the coming of Spring.
I am still conditioned by my childhood experience of going back to school, usually on day after Labor Day. For me, and many others, the new year at church begins at the same time as the new year as school. I suppose that means, here and now in Nebraska, the New Year begins in late August, as the kids start pouring back into the classrooms. To me this is the “program year” of the church—if something is scheduled in March or April, it is late in the program year.
Hopefully we are all refreshed by a summer filled with vacations, reunions, travels, family time, gardening, barbequing, and swinging in the hammock. It is time to begin a new program year revitalized and refocused.
Some of the things to watch and listen for as the church’s program year of 2016-2017 begins:
 If you have fallen out of the habit of coming to church on Sundays, September is a great time to get back into the groove.
 Our three Ministry Emphases Teams (Nurture the Young and their Families, and Ministries of Compassion and Outreach to Inactives,) will be sharing the fruits of their labors with the congregation.
 Choirs: The Chancel Choir and the Gloria Dei Bell Choir begin their Wednesday night rehearsals. The Chancel Choir sings every Sunday and we hear the Bell Choir on First Sunday.
 Sunday School for all ages resumes on September 11.
 The Martha Circle begins its monthly Bible Studies from Horizons. The theme this year is “Who Is Jesus?: What a Difference a Lens Makes”
 The Confirmation Journey begins with a parent’s orientation on Sunday, September 11, at 9:30 in the Church Library. The Confirmation Explorers, seventh grade and older, will have their first joint meeting on Wednesday, August 14. Each explorer will be given their own itinerary as they explore the world of Christian faith and the life of disciples prior to make a decision as to whether they will become full members of the church.
There will be plenty to interest and involve every member of the congregation, and those who want to join us in bearing witness to the love of Jesus Christ in Kearney and the world.
So happy new (program) year. The great things about God’s grace is that it lets us make a new beginning any time. It is always true, as we sometimes say as words of pardon in our Sunday services:
“To all and to each, where regret is real,
God pronounces pardon, and grants us the right to begin again.
See you in church!

A Note from Stephen July 2016

Summer is garden time. My grandfather’s garden provided all the vegetables that I ate in his house. I took pride when recruited to shuck the corn on the back porch under my grandmother’s watchful eye, and envied my sister who got the honor of shelling the peas. Gramps’ pride was his beefsteak tomatoes, the best I ever saw or tasted.
I grew up with a prejudice against flower gardens. There were no flowers in Gramps’ garden, no flowers in the yard. Flowers weren’t useful, they weren’t delicious, and they were dangerous—at least the thorns on the rose bushes were. Above all, they were artificial. They didn’t have the beauty of wild nature, the pruning and the weeding and the arrangements on the ground or in a vase seemed so inauthentic to my youthful sensibilities.
Early in our married life, I spent a day trailing my wife around the famous Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia. The only pleasure I recall was stopping for ice cream.
But all that changed then a member of the church of which I was then a pastor gave me a backyard tour. Jack was a certified Master Gardener who loved flowers, and he had a delightful way of communicating information and insight in conversation. By the end of his tour I understood that all the weeding, pruning and arranging were not about being artificial: it was about bringing out and encouraging the inherent beauty that was in each plant. Jack approached his flowers the way Michelangelo approached a block of marble—he was releasing the beauty that was already inside the bud as the stature was inside the uncut stone.
Suffice it to say that since Jack showed me his flowers through his eyes, visiting gardens and backyard flower tours have become, for me, highlights of the summer.
To me, there is a connection between my own education in the beauties of the flower garden and the Christian life. There is something in the culture, and something inside each of us, that resists the demands that the life of faith puts on us, such as do not kill, do not steal, turn the other cheek, love your neighbor, and do to others as you would have them do to you. All these commands, negative and positive, seem to be artificial, inauthentic, at odds with our normal human impulses. Wouldn’t we be more honest and better off if we just accepted our inherent anger and self-centeredness and accepted ourselves just as we are?
The flaw in that reasoning is assuming that our natural condition is our true authentic self. In fact, we need a lot of weeding and pruning and arranging in our lives in order to become what God intended us to be when we were formed in God’s image. Living by the 10 Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount is the way to bring out the image of God that is in it, of actually becoming our authentic selves.
The book of Genesis says that God gave humanity responsibility for the garden; we were made for a life of weeding, pruning and arranging. As Christians, we know that Christ has poured out his sacrificial love upon us, and God has shown us how to live, because, as Joni Mitchell sang, we have got to get ourselves back to the garden.

A Note From Stephen June 2016

When I was a child, summer was not just a season that let me not go to school and to play out doors—it was also the time to discover a new world. That new world was the farm my cousins lived on, which to me, as a child of the suburbs, was as strange as another planet. It was filled with things I never saw at home: big animals, big trees and big skies. The water from their well tasted different than the water that came out of the tap in our kitchen. And grown-ups cared about the weather from day to day and hour to hour as though it was something more important than just something that meant I should carry a raincoat. I would spend several weeks on the farm each summer, and was always busy, never lonely. There was always something to watch, something to do, something to learn.
Going to a different world was never the problem. Coming home was the problem, coming back to a place where everything was routine, over-organized and old news. At least that is how it seemed to me as a kid.
I think that for many of us, our spiritual lives have the same rhythm of the discovery of a new world, a new dimension to life, and then a disappointment when we realize that in many ways, the old way of life just goes on and on. Sometimes in a moment of prayer we experience a deep peace, or the excitement of knowing that we are truly in the presence of the Lord. Sometimes in the church we experience a season of vision, of new possibility, and we are excited about the changes. The truest words in the Bible seem to be “Behold, I make all things new.” And then, months later, nothing much seems to have changed. Life itself, and our religious life especially seems, as Hamlet put it, “stale, flat, unprofitable.”
When I was a child, it helped to remember, when I came home from the farm, that there was another summer coming. All I had to do is to get through another year of school. I would be a grown-up before I could look back and realize that during the school year I was growing and learning things so that the next summer would be even more interesting than the last.
We need to remind ourselves, as we journey together in faith, that there is a rhythm to the spiritual life, as there is to all of life. The season that feels dull and ordinary is also a season where God is at work in us, and that when another season of spiritual growth comes around, we will remember, like Paul, that when we were children we thought as children, but now as we become more adult in our faith, we are actually glad to put away childish things.
If your spiritual life is in school now hold on—summer is coming! And if you are blessed at this moment to be in one of those seasons of spiritual fruitfulness, just remember—it won’t last, but even better seasons, and a more bountiful harvest, are coming. “I am coming,” says Jesus, “and I will all things new—forever new.”