Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009 Pastor's Letter

I simultaneously loathe and love clichés such as this: “It’s the journey, not the destination.” I love it because it is grounded in truth, and loathe it because it is a truth I often find myself ignoring.

Maybe we think of Christmas as the destination – or maybe even Epiphany. And while Advent is a season which leads up to these two celebrations, Christmas and Epiphany, it is easy to just think of Advent as a stepping stone before we reach, “the big day,” something we can walk on without thought.

But its times like these, seasons like Advent, that the cliché, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” is most filled with truth – truth that we cannot ignore.

We celebrate Christmas as a time when God has come to be with us, to live with us and to experience life with us in the must humble of ways – as a human being, born of a human mother, as an infant in lying in a feeding trough. And even though we have celebrated Christ’s coming in Christmas’ past, even though we have prepared for Christ’s coming years before, it’s an opportunity to ask ourselves again and again, “Are we really ready to receive Christ into this world?”

That is why we take time to prepare for Christ’s coming. That is why we celebrate Advent, this penitential season full of self-examination and self-inspection: to make our hearts, our lives, and our world ready for Christ’s arrival. Indeed we also take time to prepare the Christmas ham, the presents under the tree and the new garland around the door. But we must make time for Christ’s arrival into our hearts and lives – because He is coming!

And this advent – this time of preparing for Christ’s coming into our lives is a journey.

I would argue most of us cannot just fix one thing and say we are ready for Christ’s arrival. It’s hardly enough to simply change the bed sheets and claim to be ready. Rather there are many things we find ourselves doing, many changes and preparations. Some preparations are as simple as changing the bed sheets, like quitting a habit we know is not good for our relationship with God. But other preparations take time, they take careful planning and include steps and building blocks that build on top of one another. And in this sense – it IS about the journey.

Our spiritual journey is filled with stepping stones and building blocks which help us to find a more right relationship with God. Our spiritual journey is complete with ups and downs, highs, lows, and plateaus, all of which contribute to our relationship with the Divine. Many of us would not be in the relationship with God we are in, without the entirety of our spiritual journey leading up to this point.

Simultaneously, our Christmas and Epiphany experience will not be the same without the journey towards it, without Advent.

Let us journey together, utilizing the tools we’ve each brought for the journey as we prepare for Christ’s coming. And as cliché as it may sound, may we embrace this journey. Because it is both the journey AND the destination that bring us to right relationship with God.

In Hope and Peace… Laura

Monday, November 16, 2009

November 16, 2009 Pastor's Letter

The “end times” are a confusing and sometimes frustrating conversation. And there are plenty of voices contributing to this confusion.

There are many things we know in faith, from scriptures, and from our own experiences with God. We know that God will be with us – to the end. We know that Jesus Christ, in his resurrection will also be with us, through life, through death and even beyond death into the resurrection. We know that God is good, God is faithful and God is trustworthy.

But there are also many things that we question. Are the writings concerning “end times” in the Bible – are they predicting exact moments in the future? Are they responding to the world as the writers knew it, or are they supposed to transcend time and space, speaking to us as well. Were the writers of these “end times” writings in a place of their own end times that forced them to think about such issues? Would places like jail, or certain death influence these writers in certain ways?

Biblical scholars use the term, “eschatology” to describe the study of theories about the end times. Notice however, that eschatology is not the study of the end times themselves, but rather the theories about the end times.

Good eschatology helps us make sense of the present in light of what we know in faith about how God wants things to end. Good eschatology helps us to understand what it means to live in the “already” while also looking forward to the “not yet.” Bad eschatology reads the Bible’s verses as if they are tea leaves, trying to learn from them what Jesus says that no one knows except God – when it will happen, who will be saved etc. Bad eschatology tries to answer questions, that currently have no answer, well at least no better answer than “not yet.”

The book of Revelation is filled with confusing metaphors and images that can complicate our understanding of the end times. And while we need to take care in studying any “end times” scripture, giving it proper examination and scrutiny, I think one of my seminary professors sums up the book of Revelation, and any “end times” scripture or conversation in two words. It only takes two words to provide a good eschatology about the end times. GOD WINS.

Many people have turned the “end times,” into a dark and scary thing, but it is really good news. The end times and the second coming are the promise that the future of all creation is in God’s hands, and God wins. So we do not, and should not worry about it these end times, because they are in God’s hands.

People have tried over and over again to read the tea leaves, to look into their crystal balls, or to read their Tarot cards. While I’m confident they have not been able to predict anything, whether they are able to predict anything or not is beside the point. The point is that God wins. The future of all of creation, including each and every one of us, is in God’s hands. There is a promise and hope in that – and God Wins. And this is good news.

Out of all this confusion, out of the many questions that may come up regarding the “end times,” there is still a bottom line. What is that bottom line you might ask?

It is this: Do not worry. Our future is in God’s hands. This is Good News.

In Hope…… Laura

Monday, November 02, 2009

November 2, 2009 Pastor's Letter

As Michael gave his message on Sunday, I couldn’t help but think of a few of my own situations and life experiences in which I had initially resisted something, but in the end, it was beneficial and a valuable experience.

Immediately, I thought of my best friend from 8th grade, who I met at church camp. She and I both went to church camp on a Sunday afternoon, bitter enemies. At thirteen years old, we could not stand one another, and resisted even admitting to others that we knew each other, or that we went to the same church. I can’t recall a specific reason why we both “resisted” one another so much, but I do remember the surprised look on each of our parents faces when they came to pick us up from church camp the following Saturday. We had become the best of friends, and were just devastated that she had to go on family vacation that following week – it would be a whole TEN DAYS before we could see one another again! I vaguely remember crying as her family drove towards California, and as my family drove me home. But those memories of initially “resisting” her and crying as her family left on vacation are most certainly over-shadowed by the many memories I now share with my best friend of fourteen years. Our friendship has grown into something deep and quite powerful.

I cannot recall why exactly I resisted this relationship with her, or her with me. Was it simply because it was new and unknown? Or maybe it was uncomfortable?

Sometimes situations we initially resist may seem awkward and unpleasant, difficult or distressing. Sometimes they are just downright painful, and hurt for quite some time. More often than not, our first inclination is to ask, “why God, why?” Why would God allow me to be in such a distressing situation – something so uncomfortable? If God is all-powerful, why do I have to live through this painful experience? How can I possibly grow from this experience that I would benefit from such pain?

As the book of Ezekiel tells us, the Israelites asked similar questions while they were living in Exile. Why are we in exile? Is God unjust? Why could God not protect our land of promise? Why isn’t God doing anything about this situation?

Ezekiel’s message to the Israelites in response to such inquiries is one that provides us today with just as much answer and hope as it was meant to provide ancient readers. Ezekiel’s answer to such questions – an answer that came in the form of a vision of the Valley of Dry Bones – is not an answer that necessarily provided immediate comfort and hope. Rather the response Ezekiel gives on behalf of God is to provide an enduring hope, hope that will outlast any tough situation. And we receive that same hope today.

God provides us with that hope in Jesus Christ. For the answers we receive in Jesus Christ are not trite, quick wit answers that only provide fleeting hope. The answers given to us in Jesus Christ are answers which provide enduring hope, to provide us with practices of hope, that we might see more fully God’s ultimate will. We will still experience tough situations in life, and sometimes those situations bring pain, lack of understanding and anguish. But the grief will not last forever. The current and immediate sorrow will be replaced by everlasting comfort and life. The heartache and anguish will be transformed into strength, as we find wholeness in the Body of Christ, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. May we continue to seek this hope and life in Jesus Christ, even in the midst of new, uncomfortable or down-right painful situations, for it is in God in Jesus that we find our hope, our comfort and new life.

In Hope…… Laura