- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 14
Josh Bryan, Riverside’s Stewardship Chair, along with Jan Nicholas , RPC’s outreach coordinator, and Pastor Brian Lays visited DESC where they observed the ministry of Matthew 25 in action.
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 13
Jeanne Miller Clark, a Riverside member and the chaplain at MD Anderson Cancer Center, shared this photo of her neighbor who helped his elderly neighbor by removing this huge load of bamboo that was overgrowing her yard.
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 12
Julie Handley, a DESC Board member and RPC member, shared the story of how DESC (Downtown Ecumenical Services Council) changes a life…one pair of work boots at a time!! Bernard had been out of work for two months. He applied to a landscaping company, but a new pair of boots was required if he was going to be hired. Thankfully DESC was able to give him a new pair of boots and lots of encouragement as he headed to his new job.
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 11
“When I was hungry . . .” Michael Lane, former Deacon and RPC Sexton, delivers meals to Meals on Wheels recipients at Riverside Apartments.
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 10
I was standing at the shore of the Volta Lake in Ghana, still shivering from malaria, but needing to get into a wooden outboard ferry. Just offshore, that would take Mary and me the thirteen miles across the lake to our next hosts as she negotiated partnerships between American Presbyterians and two Ghana Presbyterian denominations working in different language groups. We knew the water was badly polluted with schistosomiasis, a nasty parasite that causes bloody urine. I hesitated, trying to imagine some safe way to get aboard. Recognizing my fear, a young Ghanaian man scooped me up in his arms and by his wading, carried me over the polluted water to my seat in the skiff. Suddenly an Epiphany: he had taken the very real risk for me – and was gone before I could even thank him. I felt very embarrassed, and then acknowledged how truly he had been Christ to me in his gracious act. – John Bartholomew
- Where Have You See Matthew 25? Ep 9
“As I was driving back from the store this morning, I saw a mother and her daughter cleaning up litter alongside the road in their neighborhood. I found it wonderful to see a parent modeling such good work with her child.” – Dave Tuttle
Have a story to share? We invite you to share where you have seen Matthew 25 at work! Email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 8
At the end of our street is a nondenominational Christian church called The Well. I don’t know a lot about The Well, but I do know that they have a ministry they call “Love Cleans”. The church has invested in a large vehicle that is equipped with three private showers and a bathroom. They take this unit to areas in the city where there are communities of homeless people. With the “Love Cleans” vehicle, people are given a place to take a shower and receive a change of clothes. It’s a ministry of basic human dignity and compassion – providing resources for personal hygiene. Jesus showed us humility and love throughout his ministry and tended to the details of life by feeding people, healing them, and teaching them about their worth and God’s love for them. The work of The Well with its “Love Cleans” ministry is a beautiful example of Jesus’ reminder and call to us in Matthew 25 – “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,” “I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me.” – Kathy Para
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 7
On April 27, I was the recipient of kindness from a stranger. I had gone to a nursery to shop for plants for the 2 large containers on my front porch. I found what I wanted and was beginning to wrestle with these bulky plants when a young woman, not an employee, asked if she could help. I said I probably could manage but she said, “Here, take these,” and handed me her two little pepper plants and then deftly and easily picked up my plants, one under each arm. I followed her to the check out area where she stopped long enough for the clerk to take note and then walked to my car and, while I used the clicker to open the back and pay, she placed my plants in my car. I was very grateful. – Marilyn Noon
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 6
” I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . .”
To be sure that every RBI participant could enjoy this inner city activity, Debbie Grisnik, avid garage sale bargain hunter, found bats, gloves and balls for those who don’t have their own. Play Ball!
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 5
On May 30, Riverside hosted a Pop Up Vaccination Site, providing Covid vaccines to those in need.
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 4
Where Have You Seen Matthew 25?
For I was hungry and you gave me food. . .Dave Pierson joined ten volunteers from area churches to pack food items for Trinity Lutheran’s Mobile Food Pantry (a Mission of our Church) on May 10.
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 3
Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ms Williams, a Duval County paraprofessional, has agreed to leave her beloved elementary school arena to accompany her special needs student to middle school. Her constant presence since kindergarten has enabled him to successfully navigate and graduate fifth grade. Her transition to middle school allows him to rely on the same steady support he has known since first grade. She says “ ..he will have so many changes at a new place, I just didn’t want him to have one more new thing.”
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep 2
Where Have You Seen Matthew 25?
Recently, as I was walking my dog, two dogs came charging us from out of nowhere. I was completely caught off guard and trying to decide what my next move would be, when a young man came running out of his house barefooted, shooing the dogs away from us. Needless to say, I was very relieved and thankful that he appeared so this event did not have to escalate into something more dangerous.
This young man obviously was looking out the window when I walked past, saw a need and sprung into action to offer help just like God is always watching ready to help when the need arises.
– Pat Mason
- Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? Ep. 1
Where Have You Seen Matthew 25? “I was naked and you gave me clothing . . .”
When long-time choir member Judi Perdue passed away on April 22, her family donated a mountain of yarn to Riverside Presbyterian House. The residents at the House began a project dedicated to keeping the homeless warm next winter. Judi, known as the “giving woman” by her fellow residents, has left a Matthew 25 legacy.
- Matthew 25 Update
The PC-USA Matthew 25 initiative, begun in 2019, imagines the Matthew 25 imperative aligned around three pillars: Congregational Vitality, Eradicating Systemic Poverty and Dismantling Structural Racism.As a reminder, the actual text of Matthew 25: 35-40 reads: … for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Riverside’s Session voted in 2020 to become a Matthew 25 church. Your Matthew 25 Task Force has worked to remain true to the structure set out by the PC-USA while allowing our agenda to develop organically as we asked ourselves how we live out Matthew 25. We live out Matthew 25 as we…
- partner with Community Outreach to fund Meals on Wheels
- join with RPDS in a Spring Clothes Drive with DESC
- prepare for a Summer Book Club reading Just Mercy
- prepare for a Fall Education Series
- take the heart of Matthew 25 to our hearts and look to the ways in which we have seen God at work in our lives, and the ways in which we can join God in His work
Every week, we will ask and answer:“Where have you seen Matthew 25?”We as a Task Force will update you from time to time on our activities. More importantly, this question is meant for all of us to answer, in big ways and small ways. We invite you to share where you have you seen Matthew 25 at work! Email your story to email@example.com
- May 25, 2020
There are some days when I’m just so over computer screens, so tired of zoom meetings and emails instead of face-to-face conversations.
I realize that for some who are feeling very isolated, this technology is a lifeline. Indeed, I don’t want to imagine not having this tool to stay connected and carry on work and school. Just the same, I get sick of it.
One day last week I had several (seemed like 200) hours of zoom meetings and had another one immediately ahead on my schedule. I was tired of screen time and hungry for food and brainless decompression. The upcoming meeting was not required of me, only requested that I participate. Here’s a confession: I just skipped it. I had reached my limit of unbroken zooming. Just skipped it. Went to get something to eat.
I’m not really confessing this, I suppose, because I don’t feel guilty about it. Actually, I feel good about acting with a little self-care, which is not always easy for “caregivers” to do. It wasn’t easy for Jesus either, but he managed to do it. He got up while it was still dark to be alone and pray (Mark 1:35). Even when crowds were looking for him and the world needed saving, he would repeatedly withdraw. Sometimes he’d take his friends with him, sometimes he’d just go be alone.
For some, this distancing time has been a welcome opportunity to slow down. It hasn’t been too hard, just inconvenient. For many, it has been exhausting, stressful and full of loss. Especially for those “high-functioners”, times of continuous high demand (i.e. parenting) take a toll. God wants us to practice self-care. The Great Commandment includes “…as we love ourselves.” The more centered we are (instead of externally driven), the more we can hear Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, those of you who are weary and heavily burdened…I will give you rest”
Writtten by Rev Bill Hoff
- May 22, 2020
A word I am hearing with great frequency in the these most uncertain of times is hope.
The headlines say it all: “Auto Workers’ Return Gives Hope”, “Property Owners Hopeful Vacation Rentals Will Be Cleared to Reopen”, “NCAA Hopes for June Sports Return”.
People are hoping to have haircuts, to fly on commercial airplanes, to have their teeth cleaned.
Perhaps the best explanation of this abstract concept, hope, has been provided by American poet, Emily Dickinson.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
In this extended metaphor, Dickinson identifies hope not as a thing, but the thing within all people which keeps us going. She likens hope (an abstract concept) to a tangible entity: a bird. Covered with soft feathers (though feathers are also strong allowing the bird to fly in gusty winds), the bird sings, not at daybreak, not on a sunny tree limb, but in the dark and chill of life’s storms.
I believe we have all heard this bird, are hearing it daily if we stop to listen. It’s what keeps us going.
Dickinson scholars have long commented that many of her poems are reflective of the Psalms and of hymns.
Consider Psalm 62. Here the psalmist, presumably David, besieged by enemies, places his hope on God: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress.”
A familiar hymn by Isaac Watts proclaims the hope provided by God throughout the ages, this “something” within us all that Dickinson points to.
Turn up your speakers now, and sing along:
Oh God, our help in ages past
Our hope for years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home.
- May 21, 2020
SONGS FROM THE BUS
Remember a couple of weeks ago, we talked about “Who’s Driving the Bus?” We decided that it is Jesus, our Lord and Savior. The thing is that the ride is longer and bumpier than we could ever have imagined, but there are many signs of hope and of future. Just different.
Last night this passenger woke up – couldn’t go back to sleep. I sensed that other riders were restless too.
I started to sing “Fairest Lord Jesus, ruler of all nations….. Thee will I honor, Thee will I cherish, Thou my soul’s glory, joy, and crown.” I suddenly felt the “peace that passes all understanding.” Others were singing, too.
Then the little girl in the seat in front of me started to sing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…. Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, …….”
After that another passenger sang “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me….”
And then we were all singing songs that we love, songs of our faith and trust. Songs of our past and of our future.
Then, only Jesus, driving the bus was awake, and there was quiet and peace – and I’m pretty sure He was smiling.
SO let us “SING! praise to God, who reigns above, the God of all creation. The God of power, the God of love, the God of our salvation. With healing balm, my soul is filled, and every faithless murmur stilled. To God all grace and glory.”
- May 20, 2020
Finally, the quarantine is being lifted! Or so they say … Really it’s sorta lifted so some businesses can try to rebuild and maybe people can, within limits, come and go as they once did … it’s kinda lifted since now we have 4 more packages of toilet paper on the shelves but still no disinfecting sprays or wipes – oh, wait: the Walmart near me did say they were expected 2 boxes on their next shipment … they just failed to further explain the 2 boxes held a total of 12 cans for roughly 24,000 people … And it’s maybe lifted unless the virus begins to spread again, which would logically lead to reversal of the lifted quarantine and put us back in the old quarantine with the old rules — or would it be a new quarantine since it would be a new time and date and would we have new rules and guidelines because it’s the second time around??
This is a dizzying and unsettling time – in history and especially our lives. I feel like the deep dark tunnel I’ve been wandering around in these past weeks has expanded and exploded in my face. Those few little guides I had before aren’t so defined and clear. The slope is becoming slippery and the walls are sharp and cutting. The light I once thought I saw glowing in the darkness has faded. I’m stumbling along my way, hoping I don’t fall down and get hurt, or worse: become totally lost in the dark!
I’m more confused that before — the rough but clear guidelines have become blurred. I might even be more concerned and a little more scared without them. What can I do to find my way when the instructions aren’t clear enough for someone who’s OCD tendencies kick into overdrive? How do I find peace and calm in a world filled with COVID-chaos?
My grandmother used to say if we ever got lost and didn’t know which way to go, we were to sit down and wait for help to come to us. It didn’t occur to me at the time as a child just how valuable her lesson was. Many times in my life I have thanked God for the special blessing He gave me: growing up as a Protestant I read the Bible many times and learned a lot of scripture. Converting to Catholicism I have read many beautiful prayers written by many Saints and sinners. Living in the best of both worlds, I learned the greatest peace and calm fills my heart when I simply sit still and wait for help to find me.
Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10
Isaiah 41:10 Fear thou not; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; yes, I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.
Adaption of the Prayer of St. Pio of Pietrelcina
Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You.
You know how easily I abandon You.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need Your strength,
that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life,
and without You, I am without fervor.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light,
and without You, I am in darkness. Amen
Written by Teri Wright
- May 19, 2020
My cell phone gives me a weekly report about my use. This report tells me how many hours and minutes I used my phone when compared to what I used the prior week. I find this report quite interesting. Generally speaking, I have this feeling that I should be spending less time on my phone. But under our current circumstances, I use my phone to call people I can’t visit.
What if God sent me a report each week giving me the amount of time I spent in prayer with him this week as compared with last week? What would that report look like? The implication in this report is that I should have spent more time talking with Him than I did.
But communication is not just with words or on my knees or with my eyes closed. Sometimes I pray while doing. I actually talk out loud while I’m in the car alone. Hearing what I say to Jesus helps me stay focused.
I can also talk to God by bringing some canned food in to the church for distribution by DESC. I can also talk to God by picking up litter I see on the road that was dropped or blew out of the back of a vehicle. Talking to God can also be calling my German exchange brother in Germany asking him if he is staying healthy. Speaking with God can also be listening to someone talk about how they are doing.
God gives us so many different ways to communicate, but it doesn’t have to be in our sanctuary. I don’t think it even has to be when “…two or three are gathered together in my name…” that we can talk with him.
Prayer: Oh Lord, help me to speak to you everyday in as many ways as possible. Amen.
Written by Dave Tuttle
- May 16, 2020
If you know me, you know that I am a planner and organized to a fault. I actually keep four calendars, one wall calendar each for home and work and two honest-to-goodness paper calendar/planners, one for personal use and one for work. It used to be my habit to get up each morning and check my planner because every day was different. Was there a baseball game? Was it away or at home? Would we have time to eat at home, or would pick something up? Maybe you can tell that I’m not one of those people who flits happily through life without a care. Type A and with some OCD tendencies, I was always prepared, always put-together. But I was also always on the road, driving to the next activity, hoping I could fit it all in. I was stressed. Every time one of my kids’ baseball practices or games was rained out, I would feel a little guilty at the relief of having one less thing to do.
If you had told me three months ago that life as I knew it would change in such a way that I would have to erase everything in my calendar (thank goodness I wrote most of it in pencil!), I would have said you were crazy. At first, I thought that certainly things would be back to normal by Easter because Easter isn’t something you write in pencil. It’s Easter! Yes, Easter still happened, but it was surreal. No crowd of children around the floral cross? No Hallelujah chorus in the chancel?
James 4:13-15 says, “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow… Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’” I feel like this verse is a neon arrow pointing at my head. Planning isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not everything, and I now realize how little control I have over my own life.
Of course, life has always been this way. As James reminds us, anything can happen at any time, and COVID-19 has put that in perspective for me like nothing else could. I have no choice but to work and school my children from home, and I mourn all we’re missing, yet I cherish those things I didn’t even realize I was missing before—talking to my kids about any- and everything on our nightly walks, meeting and befriending our neighbors, observing all the amazing wildlife around our home, and weekly family. While I wish it hadn’t taken a global pandemic to make these changes in my life, I know it would be a terrible shame to ignore these unplanned gifts.
I pray every day that I’m not the only one who feels the need to change, to slow down this frantic pace I’ve been living. While I never for a moment believe that this is God’s judgment on us—that we need to change or face the consequences—I do believe that we’re none of us perfect and that the opportunity to reflect and appreciate and make a change should not be wasted.
Written by Sarah Cotchaleovitch
- May 15, 2020
More than One Way to be Together
Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. -Acts 2:46-47
I suppose you could call this a devotional about devotionals. We started posting these pieces written by staff and members of RPC on March 18, thinking that we would have to buoy folks’ spirits for a couple of weeks. Here we are, a two months later, and the end remains hazy. One deadline is sure, however. My time of service will conclude on May 17. I have appreciated all the kind words and deeds shared with me over the last month since I announced of my ending date. In response to you all, I say, You’re welcome!!
Back to these devotionals. I believe this one counts as #12 from me. I really enjoy writing these short works. Most importantly, however, I want you to know how often I have been moved to tears of joy and gratitude by the devotionals YOU, the members of Riverside Church, have written and shared with us all. You are navigating these same choppy waters of adversity with open hearts and minds, providing your captain’s-chair perspective on things with skill and wisdom. I want to be sure you hear the loud THANK YOU that I and many others shout out for the grace and beauty and poignancy you’ve added to our days!
Which is why I thought of the passage early in the Acts of the Apostles, which could also be entitled, the Acts of the Church. Jesus’ first followers were living through torturous, tumultuous days in their lives. You know their stories of persecution and deprivation. They had to figure out news ways of being community in order to survive. And they did! Not social distancing; rather, quite the opposite: Gathering together and finding strength in numbers. I trust you can see the connection to our present situation. While not gathering together, we ARE finding a multitude of new ways to be community in tumultuous times. Your simple yet profound devotional words that appear in our inboxes each morning draw us together and remind us that we are not alone in our separation. I contend that we have learned so much of what it means to be community in this time BECAUSE we are not able physically to be together. You devotional writers have provided some of the spiritual glue that has done the necessary job.
On my way out of town, I want to encourage you to keep sharing your life stories. When we rely on professional “religious” folk to carry the bulk of that load, we miss out on so much of our shared wisdom. So keep writing! I have been deeply and profoundly moved by your efforts.
Prayer: God of unity, help us to continue sharing our stories, and by doing so, uniting us into the fellowship of love and compassion that is the Church of Jesus Christ. Amen!
Blessings, Pastor Zomermaand
- May 14, 2020
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people, from this time on and forevermore. Psalm 125: 1-2.
As a student of literature, I learned long ago to translate poets’ visual images into concrete memories from my own experience. I haven’t seen A.E. Housman’s lovely cherry trees “hung with bloom along the bough,” but I have seen my share of blooming fruit trees and envision those instead. Nor have I stopped by the Vermont woods Robert Frost describes on a “snowy evening” to watch them “fill up with snow.” I have, however, hiked in the snow, and heard the sounds of the wind in the trees (“the sweep of easy wind”).
Psalm 125 describes the mountains which surround Jerusalem creating a visual image of God encircling his people. Having not been to Jerusalem, I can’t envision the mountains surrounding that city. I can, however, translate that image to places I do know.
One of my favorite of all places is Cades Cove, an area in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park near the little town of Townsend. A cove, by definition, is a valley or gap between woods or hills. Cades Cove is just that, a broad, arable valley which stretches for 4,000 acres ringed by mountains. Once home to a handful of farmers, there remain historic community churches and quaint houses and barns along the 11-mile loop road. Livestock still grazes in the vast meadows, and a few crops are still grown by farmers who now reside just outside the park boundaries.
It is a quiet, protected place. It is easy here to understand the psalmist’s metaphor.
Currently, we are by necessity surrounded by walls: walls of masonry, or concrete, of lumber. We feel safe, but, alas, fenced in. But almost daily I mentally take myself to Cades Cove. I set up my lawn chair in one of the lush pastures and enjoy the expanse of space and the comforting protection of the splendid mountains. I remember that as the mountains surround Cades Cove, so God surrounds me and all his people today and for all time.
I like to think we all have such a place. Where is yours?
Written by Sharon Cleland
- May 13, 2020
Many years ago I taught Spin classes at the YMCA on Riverside Avenue. I became fast friends with a Naval Helicopter pilot, Kevin & his wife Beth, a Calculus teacher at Episcopal High School. After coming to the Wednesday morning 6am Spin classes for a while, Beth asked for modifications for the workout because she was newly pregnant. (I was also newly pregnant with my daughter Julia, but wasn’t yet sharing the news, as we had issues with infertility). One morning, Kevin & Beth told me they were being transferred to London. Life got busier for me as I was having my own babies, so unfortunately I lost touch with Kevin & Beth.
In 2006, I was a part time working mom of 3 pre-schoolers ages 3 & under. I worked every Saturday & Sunday night from 7 pm-7 am at St. Vincent’s. I joined a group called MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) because they met on Monday mornings, and I saw it as free nursery care for my 3 babies. One Monday morning, as I was half-sleeping, half trying to engage with other moms at the meeting, I halfway noticed a mom sitting nearby with a special needs child. The child was in a modified stroller & her sounds were guttural. I didn’t want to draw attention or stare at the child.
We love to tell the story now, because that mom with the special needs child said I stood up & immediately she made the connection that I was the Spinning instructor that “tortured” her on Wednesday mornings. The mom with the special needs child was my friend Beth! Kevin had accepted a position at NAS Jax after fulfilling his commitment in London. Their daughter Clara had been born in England on February 5, 2004. Clara is my birthday buddy & is 10 days older than my daughter Julia. Clara had a seizure during childbirth, which left her uncommunicative & solely reliable on Beth, Kevin, their families & numerous caregivers to attend to all of her needs.
Very sadly, Clara passed away this past Sunday, May 3 at home surrounded by her very loving & active family – Kevin, Beth, Ian, Leo & Tessa. I wanted to weave a devotion about my relationship with the Rasch family because I love how God connected us.
With the passing of Clara, I have leaned on my relationship with God & have also leaned on people in this community. With a quick phone call to Emily, I was able to borrow candles that we use at RPC during our Christmas worship service to use at a vigil where we honored Clara’s 16 years with us on earth. Michael met me in the parking lot with the box of candles. It was so good to see him & have a quick conversation with him to check in on his family, while he asked about ours. As I was driving home from church with the candles, I received a call from Elizabeth who instinctively just knew that I needed to hear from a friend. I got to tell Elizabeth about Clara & the light she brought into our lives. Elizabeth & I had the chance to reminisce about her dad Bob & the very sweet connection that Bob & Sam shared. I also had the chance to reflect on Clara’s Hospice Peds palliative care experience with Betty, her caring & faithful advocate & how Percy took over my Spin classes at the YMCA when I was ready to stop the wheels from turning.
Even though we’re not currently connected physically, I’m taking comfort in the connections, friendships, & relationships that God makes possible when we don’t even realize it.
Written by Kristin Swiercek
- May 12, 2020
Listen for the Hope in Others
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. -I Peter 3:15-16
The verses above serve as my go-to text when preaching/teaching about evangelism. Evangelism for me tells stories about grace, mercy…hope! About how my life has been transformed because of God’s love for me. So why am I thinking about it today? Because God utilizes so many people to evangelize me by giving an accounting for the hope that resides in them. To cause me to look inside myself to find hope in dark times.
As the song I sang with the children on Easter states, Daily news is so bad it seems the good news seldom gets heard; get it straight from the Easter people, God’s in charge, spread the word! When I listen, good news bombards me daily. Christian or not, I perceive Christ-like motivations in the actions of people all around me. Let me share three recent examples:
- Experienced, hardened, and esteemed journalists, David Brooks (conservative) and E.J. Dionne (progressive) have been tag-teaming on the radio for decades. First one, then the other comments on an issue, usually from quite opposing viewpoints. I savor their wisdom, often exclaiming (usually to no one), “Brooks and Dionne for Presidents!” They regularly air their deep policy differences on matters. NEVER ONCE have I witnessed one belittling or demeaning the other. In normal times, they broadcast from a studio together. Not now. A few weeks ago, the radio host asked them in their separate locations if they had anything personal to say to the other. Profound expressions of mutual love and appreciation flowed easily from their battle-toughened lips. I was moved to tears.
- A radio story (Sorry, I’m a radio guy.) highlighted a couple waiting on the birth of their first child. C-19 necessitated a c-section delivery. The mother was found to be C-19 positive; the father and newborn not. So new mom was isolated at home; and dad became DAD!!! Not the plan that they imagined. The love and determination and ingenuity of the couple rushed like a flooding river from my radio. So did the tears from my eyes.
- I was listening to the radio (surprise!) this morning and heard of two long-term, from-childhood friends, one white and one black, who became best buds when such alliances were challenging, even dangerous. They both ended up in healthcare occupations, now serving C-19 patients in different places. We were privileged to eavesdrop on their e-chat. They shared dangers, worries, and satisfactions. Neither was surprised that they both had dedicated their lives to help others. Their thirty-plus years of love and support for each other came through my Sony loud and clear. Guess what happened to me? Yep, more tears.
Life ain’t so great right now. All the for-real feel-good stories don’t change that. I am really appreciating the stories of hope elbowing their way into my awareness. I hope you take the time to hear and see them, too!
Prayer: God of hope, cause us to stop navel-gazing long enough to be inspired by the stories of hope and love erupting from lives of those around us; for Jesus’s sake. Amen.
Blessings, Pastor Zomermaand
- May 11, 2020
- May 9, 2020
Counting Our Days
So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. -Psalm 90:12
Thus saith Moses. I read a Psalm a day in my morning devotional liturgy. A while back, I read Psalm 90. It is the only chapter in that book attributed to Moses, one of the greatest figures in our faith. Tradition has him looking wistfully from the top of Mount Pisgah…over the land to which he has led God’s people, on which he would not set his feet. I imagine he counted pretty much every single one of his days, from hearing God speak from the burning bush, to facing down Pharaoh, to bouncing around the desert like a pinball…to his Pisgah perch. Each and every single one of them provided challenges and satisfactions. And now, Moses was wrapping up his tally of them. Psalm 90 serves as an open prayer to God, meant to honor the Holy One and to add an exclamation point to the teachings Moses piled on God’s people, especially in the long, heavy, often dour book of Deuteronomy.
The morning I read Psalm 90, we received notice that Federal social distancing guidelines would be extended until the end of April. We’d been counting the days already. More time to do the math: sixteen, twenty-seven, thirty-eight… I would like to suggest that Moses’ instructions to the Hebrews fit our present time to a T—that is, perfectly! However, the goal is not to keep track of the number, but rather the value of the days. We may kind of feel like the Hebrews, wandering aimlessly through a foreign-like experience. Moses challenges us not simply to cross the days off the calendar, but to pay special, close, intentional attention to them in order to squeeze the substance from them and to gain wisdom by so doing.
Maybe it’s my solitary perch in this office chair that allows me to be more reflective than others; so I see how much of this wisdom-gaining is already occurring. So many of you are asking really valuable questions and processing the days, seeking to gain a wiser heart. We are longing for a lot of the stuff that we’ve lost…and some things, we don’t miss at all. Life has changed, and will continue to change, for a good long time. We probably won’t be wandering for forty years; but forty days have already passed, with the end not yet in sight. As I suggested in another of these posts, Easter will be a lot more Lenten-like than we prefer. These days and times WILL end. We each hold the key for determining how much wiser we will be for enduring them. Just imagine how prepared the ground of our being will be!
Prayer: Holy God, teach us to value these days, even though we may not love them. Guide us to use this time, like Moses, to gain a heart that is wiser in the things that really matter to you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
- May 8, 2020
Consider, one of the positive benefits coming from Safe at Home is that for my age group, retirees, etc., the pace of life has slowed. Suddenly the quality of serenity has started to appear in our household. This has raised the question, is an untended benefit of the Holy Spirit that we should be re-examining our lives and seeking new things to do. When going to the grocery store is the highlight of one’s week, I think surely we can do better than that.
So what am I doing? I read one of Fred Buechner’s sermons at breakfast time on our porch while looking at nature. We have gone through our library, discarded the books of no further interest for the library sale, taken an inventory of our vintage LP’s, reviewed our lives by going through and culling the slides of our past lives, worked on our family tree, done some yard work to ease the load on our faithful yard guy, doing an immense amount of reading (things I have not read and things I have read but forgotten). Plus learning more about my wife’s religious beliefs. (Stupid me, I always thought she believed exactly what I believe. We have been together for only 64 years)
So I am pushing myself to make very good use of this time and recognize that this is the Holy Spirit’s gift to those of us who have not been infected. Praise God!
Written by Carl Zacheis
- May 7, 2020
This morning modern technology gave me the gift of two devotionals that resonated in my soul. One was Dean Kate Moorehead from St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville. The other was from Rev. Shannon Kershner, Pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Both captured the truth of our lives – we were not created to be alone. These times are clearly showing us that I believe.
Dean Moorehead reminded us of our beginnings, beginnings in the wisdom of God’s desire for companionship. She pointed to the Resurrected Christ’s appearances to the disciples as a group. Her focus was that we reflect God most clearly when we are gathered, when we are together in love.
Rev. Kershner asked the question, “What if one of the decisions we made as a result of the coronavirus pandemic was to purposefully rebuild the “we” culture?”
Her meditation began with words from the hymn, “In Christ There is No East or West”. In Christ now meet both east and west; in him meet south and north…All Christly souls are one in him throughout the whole wide earth.”
Joy comes when we gather together for worship, service/mission, study and fellowship in Christ Love. Challenge comes when we remember those once active among us who for a variety of reasons are now sidelined. As we find ourselves in isolation with family or alone, let us remember the “we” in our DNA as Pastor Kershner reminds us. As we hopefully move out of isolation when it is safe, let us use our call to be energized, creative and imaginative to change our strong Western culture drive to be “I” to become a culture of “we.”
Let us pray together: Eternal God, God of grace and love, in this time of global isolation, illness and death help us to reconnect with the “we-ness” of our lives as you created us. Open our hearts and minds to the many ways we come together in your love. Help us to see the paths you are always creating for us to support each other, to embrace our dependence on creation’s health and wholeness, and to find joy on the journey. Amen.
Written by Rev Carol DiGiusto
- May 6, 2020
What I Miss
A friend asked me why I am sad to be separated from Riverside and what I miss so much.
It is so complicated. and so simple.
I miss the physical building. I miss the way the light comes through the stained glass windows. I miss the organ pipes in the chancel. I miss my pew (we are like colonial Episcopalians) with the hymnbook that my mother gave in memory of my dad. I miss the loose button on the cushion that accosts my bottom when I sit on it wrong. I missed the purple of Lent – now the white of Easter. I miss all the beautiful wood that Michael faithfully polishes every week. I miss the candles and the communion table with the silver the church ladies polish every week. I miss the airiness and openness of the sanctuary.
I desperately miss the community there – the choirs – those who have professional quality voices and those who cant always hit the notes and who need the railing to get into the chancel – the balcony people who wave and blow kisses when we pass the peace – the children’s time on the steps where they hit their siblings and give outrageous answers some of the time, the wiggly kids who get to leave after the children’s time and the wigglier ones who have to sit through the whole service- the people I have know since I was 6 years old and the new friends I made in Martha’s illness – the ones who ask after my mother every single Sunday and the ones who can’t pronounce her name – the people I have been sitting in the middle of for years and years – the staff who faithfully make worship happen every week – the people who sidle up to me afterwards and ask how is the PNC doing and do we have a candidate yet – the generations of families who still sit together week after week, yes in the same place all these years.
I miss the music – the fabulous organ, the beautiful choir, Sam and Janie and their magical group, the bell choir, the familiar hymns – which I seem to know because I guess I have been singing them all these years they are almost all familiar – and the congregation giving it their all when we struggle with new tunes. I miss the quiet during prayers and the noisy confusion before and after the service.
I miss my friends. Many of my closest friends are Riversiders. We have so much history together. We raised our children together. We taught Sunday School and other classes together. We cook in the basement together, meals to be delivered to the sick and otherwise infirm. We hold each others hands when times are tough, and drink together in good and bad times. Our theology isn’t always the same and our politics aren’t always the same but we love each other and miss the same people and aren’t ashamed to cry when we need it and when most people wouldn’t understand.
I miss that it is part of my history, who I am. I sat there with my father and Martha and Betty and any number of other who have gone on. I have memories and stories about so many things that happened there involving lots of people I love. I miss that it is taking away my present and future not to be there – every Sunday I am gone I do not get to sit with Will and Teddy and Katie and Engy. I do not get to hug all my little intergenerational friends who mean a lot to me. I am missing part of their growing up and that makes me sad.
I miss the preaching- the fact that it is okay to be a doubter and a questioner and that we have always been about that at Riverside. That the sermons (some, not all) and the theology have shaped my world view and made me realize the importance of faithfulness and servanthood because I have been so loved and cared for. We are having streaming worship every week now, but it is not so good. I get too distracted by the heathens in my household, and the NYT puzzle lying there still unsolved and the sudden need for another cup of coffee. It is so unsatisfactory. I certainly believe that the fault is all mine and that God is reaching out to me, offering alternative beauty and meaning. But I am sadly not as adaptive as I once was, so there is a hole in my heart where Riverside could be. and will be.
Maybe this is a mixed blessing because I will never take Riverside for granted again. They dogged me relentlessly during college and law school and the first years I was back in town. I threw away all the Messengers without reading them for 10+ years. More like 13. But there they were, ready with open arms when I needed to come back – the prodigal daughter. So it is home. The most long-standing home in my life. And there doesn’t seem to be an adequate substitute for it in this life.
Written by Mary Coxe
- May 5, 2020
WHO’S DRIVING THE BUS?
Suddenly, it seems like the world as we have known it is unrecognizable. I don’t know about you, but in spite of a lifetime of faith, prayer, and hope, recently I keep thinking, “Who’s Driving the Bus?”
I do believe with all my heart that it is God’s Son, Jesus Christ, my Savior: the same Jesus who carried the Cross for me and for us all so long ago. The very same Jesus whose resurrection we celebrated just weeks ago.
Jesus’ friend and disciple, John, recorded a lot of who Jesus said that he was and is:
I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me shall never hunger and he who believes in me shall shall never thirst. John 6:35
I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, yet shall he live. John 11:25
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me. John 14:6
Well Jesus’ credentials are certainly in order. And then there is God’s promise to Jacob and to Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; You are Mine. Isaiah 43:1
So are we ready? We may be in for a bumpy ride, so fasten your seat belts. We know that we need to do everything we can to be safe, care for our families and loved ones, and to do everything in our power to help others. It truly is my belief that our precious Jesus Christ, with God the Father and the Holy Spirit are “driving the bus” and will be with us through this pandemic and until the end of time.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, Son of God, please be with us now. We are an Easter People, but many of us are alone and lonely, but you are always with us. Be with families who are struggling with what seems suddenly like too much togetherness. Be with those who need food and shelter. Especially protect all who are caring for those in need every day, trusting you to protect them. Amen
Written by Barbara Bath
- May 4, 2020
“TO WHOM SHALL WE GO? YOU ALONE HAVE THE WORDS OF LIFE.”
I pay attention, as I think you do, to language. I am curious about word choice and its impact, whether intended or unintended. Some words we find ourselves using these days in the course of conversation:
“Stay At Home Order” (sounds like something out of a Dostoevsky or Ayn Rand story)
“Essential” (referring to a worker, business, activity…but what defines essential in a given week?)
“Shelter in Place” (used to refer to surviving hurricanes but is used more broadly)
“Social Distancing” (oxymoronic but aptly descriptive)
“Heroes” (selfless service comes in a variety of mostly mundane packaging)
“The New Normal” and “The New Non-normal” (language that maybe begins to show an acceptance of change)
We notice word choice in “news reporting”, how frequently a word can become accepted shorthand for a complex reality (ex. “insurgents”, “extremists”, “environmentalists”) and thus gradually flatten our understanding. Linguistic decisions can be used for pejorative ends in barely noticeable ways.
Word choice often reveals a speaker’s emotional commitments even when s/he purports to be speaking “just the facts”. Younger generations are particularly suspicious of the sales pitch and manipulation through words, maklng them skeptical of religious claims and “accepted truth”.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In him was life. …The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory.” (Gospel of John, chapter1)
God’s Word, God’s communication or expression, became flesh and blood.
We might say God did this so that we could clearly understand God’s intended message. We can actually see and touch the Word of God in Jesus (1 John 1:1).
Paradoxically, incarnation made God’s expression all the more difficult to objectify, hard to boil down to a universal dictum. As the song from Rent says, “How can you measure a life?” So even the embodied Word of God is subject to interpretation and misunderstanding because the eternal Word was made historically particular. Some people loved Jesus, some thought he was a flake, others saw him as a serious threat.
As you pray or meditate today, what is God’s word to you now? One word. One word of grace, love, or invitation. Hold this Word of God today.
Written by Bill Hoff
- May 2, 2020
“Be still and know that I am God” -Psalm 46:10
Breathe. Amidst this unknown time, it is important to remember to breathe and be still. Take a moment to look away from the news and to stop thinking about all that we have lost during this time. Some have lost events that they looked forward to for years and others have lost travel opportunities. Some have lost their jobs and others have lost loved ones. Food banks are low in supply and many organizations have been unable to encourage volunteers. Yet, during this time, some have united to donate funds to incredible healthcare workers, to local businesses, and to feeding the hungry. Children have written letters to those in nursing homes and discovered ways to make online learning fun. The bike shop was overwhelmed with customers, and all across the nation, people have begun to enjoy the glorious outdoors. People are adapting and learning to enjoy the slower pace. So, despite all of the sadness, unknown, and distance, be still. Focus on your blessings and know that God is there. Treat every day like Thanksgiving and list what you are grateful for. Facetime your loved ones and friends. Get creative and curate a themed meal! Be still. Know that this will pass. Look forward to big hugs, eating in restaurants, and returning to a sense of normalcy. But, rest and know that God is there, watching over us. Breathe.
Written by 12th Grader, Charlotte Rosenberg
- May 1, 2020
My daughter has a good friend who lives in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday he sent a video of his drive interrupted by camels running beside his car. Maybe you have heard the phrase “hump day.” In our country that is Wednesday. For Jason that is Tuesday. In the UAE, Sunday is a regular work day as Friday and Saturday are their weekend. Jason wanted Sara to see how his Tuesday Hump Day was well underway accompanied by camels on the move!!! With the dust of the desert roadway swirling around them, the camels jogged along-side his car as he made his way to his destination.
I began to think about the rhythm of our lives. Tuesday or Wednesday marks the middle of our week. Hump Day…the middle of the week as we make our way to the weekend. In our current isolation working from home my days have mingled. Is it Monday or Wednesday? Ooops, it’s Sunday…find the ipad for worship! As much as I try to keep up, I am always a few days or hours behind. “What do you mean it’s supper time?”
Centuries ago our days were divided into hours and weeks. As much as I thought I was not time and calendar bound, I have learned differently. I use time and days like a compass to point me to events, meetings, devotional time. I have missed the clear definition of our weeks beginning with Sunday worship together at a certain time and place.
Creation seems to have an internal calendar and clock. The warmth of days brings growth and renewal – gardens bloom, ducklings appear, trees have new growth. The cold breezes indicate a time of dormancy is coming.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
Maybe my lesson during this time is to listen, observe and learn from creation. To embrace the times and seasons of our lives as they are given – a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance. This time says to me “quit overthinking, over planning and over reacting…breathe deeply of the day, the hour, the minute…pause in the present…find gratitude.”
Let us join in prayer: Gracious and Loving God, your gifts to us of day and night, of rest and awareness, show us your tender care and plan for all creation. Help us to embrace the times of our lives. In our sorrow and our pain, help us to know your presence and your compassion. In our time apart and time together, help us to embrace moments of your grace. In our confusion and doubt, help us to seek your way, truth and life. Amen.
Written by Rev. Carol DiGiusto
- April 30, 2020
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. -Paul (II Corinthians 5:17-18)
Hardly a day has gone by in this Covid-19 era when I haven’t heard other people hijacking one of my favorite phrases; “Hey, how ‘bout…?” As an interim pastor, I am charged with looking at church activities with new eyes; from a different perspective. I also like to unleash folks to give it a try themselves. Covid-19 has become my ally in this effort (though not a beloved assistant). Necessity forces us to think and act differently in times like these. And we are!! Very seldom of late has the older maxim, “We’ve never done it that way before,” bumped into my ear drums. Way more often now I hear my cherished words, “Hey, how ‘bout…?”
God’s people have been greeting new situations in life since…creation! So we don’t have to feel that special. The fact that we are so good at it pleases me immensely. The root of our desire to consider new things grows out of our calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ; and as Paul and our church theme agree, a movement for reconciliation. How we keep doing what we are called to do because we have been forced to so is the question of each new day.
God has been shaping and reshaping the Church of Jesus Christ since the first Pentecost. Our Presby-Reformed motto is The Reformed Church is always to be reforming. Sometimes we sag into long periods of business as usual. Quite often, we do that business pretty well. And then…Kaboom! All heck breaks loose. We have scurried to a great degree to our safe corners and living spaces; but we are not cowering in them. We’re assessing how the world looks from this new perspective, and then we’re asking, “Hey, how ‘bout…?”
A few summary thoughts. First, the current reality does not provide a diversion from our work, but rather an opportunity (forced though it is) to re-imagine what we do. Second, my gratitude runneth over for the many of you who have hijacked my aforementioned phrase. You all are a thoughtful, imaginative, creative bunch and you are inspiring me a great deal. Third, we have to resurrect this creative moment when the ruts of regular life return. Let’s admit it: we like our ruts. We long for them right now! And that’s great! As long as we remember that even—no, especially in good times—we must force ourselves to keep interjecting, “Hey, how ‘bout…?” That practice would be one of the most important babies to be birthed by our Covid-19-induced time away from the ways we’ve always done things.
Yes, this devotional is tailored to church life. Yet, Paul intends for our ministry of reconciliation to flavor every aspect Christian discipleship. I hope all of us can see how this eternal truth can be ironed onto the garments of personal, family, school, work, and recreational reality as well.
Prayer: Creative God, we confess our tendency to fall into our beloved ways of doing things. We rejoice in finding out that you have placed—and in some cases hidden—remarkably creative insights and abilities within us. We praise you for prodding us to hunt them down and release them in such a time as this. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Written by Pastor Zomermaand
- April 29, 2020
The Power of Prayer
I am so grateful to God for giving me the gift of Prayer as a means of navigating through life’s daily challenges and routines, especially in this pandemic world we are all currently living in. I recently read a quote from Mohandas K. Gandhi, “A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes”. This reminded me of how my attitude is impacted by how I am thinking about what is going on in my life. This enlightened me about how my daily prayers, conversations with God if you will, help me stay focused on and connected to what is truly important. As I suspect most of us do, I have a very rigorous and structured, though spontaneous ritual of prayer. As I talk to God, my Daddy, Jesus, and all those listening, I bring Heaven down to Earth; and conversely my prayers take me on virtual visits to Heaven.
I have many named specific prayers that come to me randomly, or daily, as the need and circumstance dictates. One of them that I call my “Paulie Prayer” – is essentially my daily go-to prayer: “prayers for all my family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, neighbors, care givers, those in need, hurting, sick or alone, Lord be with them this day”.
A wonderful piece of scripture, which gives us license to pray about everything, is Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice in the Lord. Let all men know your forbearance, the Lord is at hand. Have anxiety about nothing, but in everything with prayer, supplication and thanksgiving, make your requests be known to God; for the peace of the Lord surpasses all understanding, and shall keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, forever.
This is the word of the Lord, Thanks be to God.
Written by Paul Bessent Mahoney
- April 28, 2020
It’s the Little Things
As we slow down as we’re hunkered down, it’s the little things that come into focus. Maybe it’s the new growth on that tree right outside the front door that you always barely noticed or the beautiful birds, butterflies and squirrels playing effortlessly in your backyard. Now that we have time, we have the opportunity to sit and listen and pay attention to the little things. It is spring and as the days start getting warmer, there are myriad examples of new birth around us. Maybe you have flowers about to bloom or vegetables and herbs growing in your garden. Perhaps you now notice how much greener all the plants are after it rains. Or you have a new vision looking for spring growth as you walk around your neighborhood. Have you stopped to smell the blooming honeysuckle? It’s all there just as it always was year to year but now we notice the little things in a different way with our days slowed down. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” Isaiah 43:18-19.
Prayer: O Lord, thank you for today full of Your glory right around us. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear and noses to smell your gift of Spring. Help us to have a renewed sense of Resurrection and Rebirth and help us to live as Easter people. In Jesus’ name, Amen
Written by Dale Child
- April 27, 2020
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night.” And it was so.
Long ago, Joni Mitchell sang in her popular tune, Big Yellow Taxi:
Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
Yeesh, we’ve had a lot of practice of late in the sentiment St. Joni raises. Seems like the vast majority of things upon which we base our everyday, walkaround life are history…at least temporarily—whatever temporary means! Granted, not every aspect of ordinary existence deserves special attention. I mostly will not know that I miss my least favorite elements of daily duties…until I have to pick them up again! Kind of ironic, huh? Or perhaps I’ll approach those tasks in the drudgery bin with a little more zest, or at least appreciation, than previously.
We humans all fall victim to a greater or lesser degree to the taking-things-for-granted disease. Even the items we really love move over to the routine list at some point. I thought I would never, ever, ever tire of listening to California Dreaming by the Mama and the Papas. I did, though I still really love that song. I remember being so excited about lacing up my basketball sneaks before practice that my hands shook! After my last game in high school, I remember feeling, at least a little, Glad that’s over! (I regrew my sense of excitement for basketball since that time.)
What about something really consequential. God created the light bearers and glued them on the arc of the heavens in such a way that life appeared and organized itself (with much Divine tending) on the face of the earth. The sun’s been rising and setting ever since. Sometimes we’ll find a place where the aura is particularly awesome—like the beach. Mostly, the sun rises and sets…and we yawn at the astro-physical magnificence of the occurrence. The amazing regularity of that awe-inspiring event prevents humans from being toast…or ice cubes, depending on your location on the globe.
I would like to challenge you to think about this question as the Easter season unfolds: About what can you sing, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, now that it’s gone for a bit? Maybe, just maybe it’s your favorite thing ever—like advanced algebra class. Or maybe it’s something you don’t know you miss yet. Write it down in your journal (a practice which you have continued since Lent ended, right?), or on a piece of toilet paper. No, don’t waste that! Record it somewhere! The measure of who we are as resilient people comes from what we learn when the pressure is on. News flash: The pressure is on! We will be a different society when Covid-19 abates. HOW we will be changed will depend on our ability to think about what we missed…and what remains. Let’s get a head start on the learning curve.
Prayer: Gentle God, these are challenging times, and we don’t need to pretend that they are not. You continue to speak to us through them, however. Keep us alert to the lessons we didn’t even know we needed to learn. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen
Written by Pastor Zomermaand
- April 25, 2020
During this pandemic many people have talked about how bad this disease is and the effects it has on us. But are there not good things about this virus? Like how many people are getting outside to get exercise. In my neighborhood not many people used to walk around. Now I see people walking around and enjoying nature. Another good aspect of this virus is how sanitary everybody is. People are wearing mask and washing their hands for longer than they used too. A final good aspect about this virus is what it is doing to the environment. Less cars are driving around which results in cleaner air. Animals are thriving, during this pandemic. Although this disease is horrible, what if God planned this out, that way people would become more aware of their surroundings. God has a plan for everything and is planning what will happen during this pandemic.
Written by 8th Grader Eli Stevenson
- April 24, 2020
Missing Our Church
We are fortunate that our technology enables us share communal worship virtually. How limited our worship would be if we didn’t have access to the internet! Still, being virtually together is a poor substitute for the closeness we feel there, one of the main impulses drawing us there each Sunday morning.
As I watch on the screen the staff and members of our little choir wave at us at the end of each service, I feel a little melancholy knowing how much better it would be to shake their hands, exchange a smile, a pat on the back, or a hug. It must be a feeling common to many of us.
But it is not only the personal contact that we miss. It is the place. It is the absence of the light that streams in through our sanctuary’s windows. Most of us received as a gift Becky Rogers’s beautiful little book containing photographs and descriptions of the stained glass, but it is not quite the same as enjoying the spectral light that warms the interior of the sanctuary and our faces in the pews on Sunday mornings.
Most Easters I spend a little time appreciating the War Memorial Window in the south transept, which features the image of the Risen Christ surrounded by scenes of strife and images of the six resurrection appearances from the Gospels and Acts. Lying between and within the lines and colors of the glass are the stories–told and untold, remembered and forgotten–of men and women who died in a war that both shook and strengthened the foundations of our faith, stories of men and women who remain alive to God.
Nearby are the old stone font with its carved images of roses and thistles from which so many of us and our children and grandchildren were baptized, and the gleaming Celtic cross in the center of the reredos. Both are powerful reminders of our Presbyterian heritage.
We hear all the time that the church is the body of believers. That is correct, of course. But that body is gathered together for worship and fellowship in a place hallowed by the Word proclaimed from the pulpit and enacted in the sacraments, united by all the experiences of music, children, prayer, love, and fellowship we share together there.
“The Lord is in his holy temple” appears in script above the central doors of our sanctuary. A temple is a place of worship and memory, a place to assemble to experience the presence of Christ in our midst. It is our common home, a place of beauty offered to God and inhabited by God’s Spirit and God’s people. It is no wonder we feel its absence so keenly. It is no wonder we long to be there together again.
Written by Chris Wrenn
- April 23, 2020
Now in the days following the watershed event of Easter, we are given time to absorb the impact of and wonder about the possible meanings of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection for the world today. One such attempt is a sermon by Fred Craddock, a renowned Methodist preacher.
In his “Why the Cross?”, Craddock considers but finally rejects the notion of following the teachings and example of Jesus up to but not including his Passion (what Craddock calls “the beautiful Jesus”). The teaching, feeding, forgiving, healing Jesus is so attractive!
But without the Cross, without the experience of suffering, there can be no Resurrection. The Apostle Paul said, “I must preach the Cross of foolishness and scandal.” A Christian faith without the Cross is not Good News, cannot bring hope, does not even need Easter.
But we do need Easter, especially now. Not merely a rescue from our problems, but a doorway to New Life. The Cross tells us about God who, it turns out, identifies with our suffering and stays with us in love to the end. And then? Then it is not the end!
Our disappointments and losses are not the end, nor should they be the center. They are the prelude to Resurrection, the seeds of sacrificial love for one another.
- April 22, 2020
The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other.
A popular piece of jewelry, called the Mizpah coin, originated in that ancient Bible verse. We usually recall it sentimentally when we experience separation from people we love. Truth is, it comes from a rather contentious delineation of territory and belongings between Hebrew patriarch, Jacob, and his father-in-law, Laban. Neither of those biblical figures lines up solely on the hero side of the room. In their flawed familiarity, they recognized that absence from one another would not only make them fonder of each other, but would also keep them alive; that is, from killing each other.
Back to today and the good thoughts we attach to that saying. Some of the distance enforced on us by C-19 tears our hearts out. As a pastor at RPC, the fact that I can’t simply get on my bike and visit any number of you counts as the saddest reality with which I (and your other pastors) have to deal. Even worse, I am fully aware that some of you are separated from those you love the most; people who, up until this point in your life, you have poured the best of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We number among RPC members spouses whose health situations have mandated complete physical separations. I am also aware adult children with older parents—those people who changed your diapers and bandaged your wounds, who cheered you on since T-Ball times, who funded your educations and joyfully picked up the tab for your weddings, who blissfully watched your kids so you and your spouse could gaze into each other’s eyes over a quiet dinner, etc, etc. Now, they must contend with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…on their own. I know of first-line caregivers who presently exist in caves and cubbies for fear of spreading of the devilish killer to those they love. Dad gum breaks my heart!!!
I write this meditation for you. I am stymied and pained because all I can do is to pray for you. Old dog that I am, I will admit that my appreciation for modern connective technology has grown by leaps and bounds. Not so much for myself, but for you in these times and places of separation. I also invite you to call me if you’ve worn out all the other nearer and dearer ears. Let’s face it, we sometimes do. We are human, after all.
Kind of brings me back to Jacob and Laban. We can grab hold of the positive sentiment we so value in that verse, assuring one another that our love for the other runs deep; but never deeper and stronger and truer than that of the Lord who focuses an eagle eye on us in our separation.
Prayer: Covenant God, we pray especially today for those who love and care for each other deeply, many of whom have done so for decades, but who are now physically separated. May they find ways to be together remotely; and assure them that you are watching over and between them in these days. Amen.
- April 21, 2020
We’ve been hearing these words, “We’re all in this together.” Our connection to and interdependence with each other locally and globally has never felt more real. We are distancing ourselves and wearing masks. We’re washing our hands more and wiping down surfaces. We’re making masks and delivering meals and offering words of encouragement and hope. When we listen to foreign correspondents they describe distancing measures, the situations in hospitals, the shortage of PPE, the devastation to economies, the jobless rate and we realize they could be describing the United States. We have the same virus in our midst and its impact is the same – profound and broad – wherever we are. All of humanity is united to fight this common enemy. We are forced to put our differences aside and our leaders are being asked to consider a global ceasefire.
Having these common experiences and a common goal – even a colossal one – doesn’t completely explain the sense of community I feel with those close to me and around the globe during this time of physical separation. The words of Paul, in Ephesians, and those of Bill Hoff, on Easter helped me understand it better. This idea of unity of all people isn’t really news to Christians. For example, in Ephesians (Chapter 2) we’re reminded that in Christ there are no more divisions, we are no longer strangers and aliens, but rather fellow citizens with the saints and are of God’s household. There is no dividing wall. Christ’s example is our cornerstone. The community he showed us with his life with the apostles is the foundation. With the resurrection, Christ is transformed and he appears again and reminds the disciples (us) to gather, to tend his sheep, to take his message of love to everyone. In Bill’s Easter sermon, he said, “The Resurrection vindicated Jesus in His way of radical inclusiveness, borderlessness, non-violence, and suffering love. Now we are invited to hold on to each other. ‘That is where you will find me. That is where I am living,’ Jesus instructs. Hold on to each other, in your uncertainty, in your vulnerability. Hold on to each other in your despair and in your diversity.”
We’re not alone. God is with us and we have each other. We’re all in this together. This truth is at the core of what we believe. It’s our charge. It’s our hope.
Prayer: God of all, we thank you for living among us and for reminding us that we have you and we have each other to help us through all things. You call us to community with you and all people. Give us hearts and eyes to see your love and hope where we are. Help us to hold on to each other. Give us hearts and eyes to see and respond to those around us and boldly claim the fullness of life in You.
Written by Kathy Para
- April 20, 2020
Recently I listened to a podcast conversation between a father and son. Their names may be familiar to some of you. The father is Presbyterian pastor, Dr. Jody Welker. The son is Joe Welker, a student at Harvard Divinity School. The podcast is Joe’s project. He had invited his dad to share in a conversation about Holy Week. I encourage you to google the site.
Toward the end of the podcast the conversation centered on Easter. Joe said, “what’s sticking to my ribs right now is…” and the conversation became a fascinating engagement of Christ’s resurrection. It stuck to my ribs! What is sticking to your ribs following Easter? About Easter? About Christ’s resurrection?
Of particular interest to this father and son was the demonstrated recurrence of resurrection in the text. Jesus was resurrected beginning the wave of changed experience, perception, life understanding. Jesus showed resurrection to Mary in the garden. Mary was resurrected from fear and the dying of her spirit because of the loss of her dear friend. The disciples were resurrected from fear and the death of their spirits when Christ entered the room where they were hiding and spoke, “Peace.” The Spirit of Peace and Resurrection began to seize the lives of others who encountered the Risen Christ. We remember the resurrection experience of the two men on the road to Emmaus. Their hearts were burning as their spirits were resurrected.
Father and son began to explore the ways resurrection occurs among us in these days. They spoke of a cancer diagnosis in their family. Remembering a friend bringing cups of coffee to the hospital, they agreed that was a resurrection moment—a neighbor bringing love, presence, life into a deathly moment…the image of the cup of cold water to a thirsty soul…
In their conversation I began to hear your voices as I have talked to you by phone in these days. “How can I help?” “I will deliver those meals.” “I am delivering banana bread to my neighbors.” “Let me help call and check on our church member.” Resurrection. Resurrection brought into our lives by those who reach out to us. Resurrection spoken through the phone, email, text.
Resurrection is not a static moment held tightly by history thousands of years ago. Resurrection is an action word changing lives of fear and death of spirit to hope supported and surrounded by love.
What’s sticking to your ribs in these post Easter days?
Join with me in prayer: Gracious and Loving God, resurrect our tired, worn out spirits. Bring life to our aching souls. Bring love to our hearts. Resurrect us to your life for us in these weary days. Help us be agents of your resurrection power loose among us. Amen.
Written by Rev. Carol DiGiusto
- April 18, 2020
As a child, my favorite time of the week was Friday after school. At that time I had Friday evening and night, all day Saturday and all day Sunday (minus church) to do whatever I wanted. I liked choice and being able to pick whatever I wanted to do.
This social distancing has given me back that choice of picking what I want to do. I find one of my biggest challenges now is trying to distinguish one day from the next. Virtually every day is Saturday and I can’t tell them apart. One difference between choices I made as a child and now is that I have more responsibility today. Another difference now is that I find I view life as a much more precious commodity.
Earlier this week I called a good friend I made when I was an exchange student living in Germany when I was a teenager. I haven’t talked with him in over a year and haven’t seen him for ten years. Talking with my friend, Paul, helped me remember so many good times we had together as teens. Paul’s wife is a Headmaster and both are now working from home. Her school has gone virtual too. These challenges we face are being duplicated around the world. We aren’t alone.
I hope you all are able to reflect, also, on good times you have had while we are having this unique period of separateness.
Prayer: May these circumstances we find ourselves in remind us of the good experiences we have had. Help us to maintain those experiences we have had and find the time to reach out to others who are also segregated one from another.
Written by Dave Tuttle
- April 17, 2020
Early this morning, finding myself awake and unable to fall back asleep, I decided take a walk. At one point in my life, pre-dawn runs were a regular occurence, but they have been pretty rare recently. Today, though, I was reminded how much I love the cool and quiet of a city right before it wakes up. As I neared the halfway point of my walk, I felt a breeze waft off the river, and a tree ahead of me rang out with the morning song of birds. A tiny spark of joy ran through my body – I knew the signs of a cooling morning and the first notes of the birds meant that dawn was on the way. As I continued walking, a line from my favorite Christmas hymn popped in my head:
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
As yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
I realize I’m in the entirely wrong season here. We left Christmas behind months ago and have made our way into Eastertide. To be honest, though, I’m still having trouble getting in that Easter mood. I look around, and I don’t see a world being remade by a death-conquering Jesus. I see a weary world-
-weary of having nowhere to go
-weary of missing friends and family
-weary of restaurants too empty and hospitals too full
-weary of wondering how rent will get paid or if hours will pick up next week
-weary of figuring out how to do things virtually
Weary of so many things. Just so very weary.
In this weary world, it is hard to see evidence of the earth-shattering, world-remaking resurrection. The love of God coming in the tiny, unsuspecting form of a baby makes a lot more sense to me right now – the world being remade in ways so small we almost miss them. Maybe this makes more sense to me right now because in my family we have an actual new babe to celebrate – my less-than-two-week-old nephew. Nothing beats back despair quite like mooning over pictures of a snuggly, chubby little newborn. In his peaceful face, I see the tiniest signs of hope. I may not know about resurrection today, but I know about God’s love sneaking in.
Dear God, open our eyes today to see your love breaking into our world in the tiniest ways so that our eyes will be trained to spot the signs as you remake the world in big ways. Amen
Written by Jessica Means
- April 16, 2020
Not All that is Normal is Good
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and move towards the goal of true maturity.
-Romans 12:2 (Phillips Translation)
We wandered through Lent with our new restrictions on personal movement serving as a kind of enforced discipline. Now, Easter has arrived with its focus on new life and grow and expansion; and we are getting really tired of the recent status quo. I confess that I am longing for a boatload of normal stuff to float my way. I will also admit that I hope some of those regular things drift off into the Bermuda Triangle, never to plague humanity again. Let me share a little of my wishful thinking.
- Polluted air can just stay away forever! We have been driving less because we can’t go anywhere. Still, I believe we drive too much and some of that motoring around doesn’t need to happen. Can we drive ten or twenty percent less in the new order of things? That would go a long way in our fight against greenhouse gases and climate change.
- Interpersonal hostility: O, it hasn’t gone way; but people over all seem to be kinder and gentler these days. This has become a we’re-all-in-this-together event like none before. Yes, some are suffering way more than others, but life is different for pert-near everyone. I wouldn’t miss the every-being-for-themselves attitude prevalent in our previous social order.
- Endless political campaigning: Who misses the constant attack adds everywhere you look or listen? I see no hands!! Other civilized societies attach time limits to their campaigns. We can, too. We have to get the fox guards away from the campaign industry hen house, however. Way easier said than done. I am all for it, just the same.
- Apathy among RPC members (other churches, too):We are experiencing just how valuable our ministry is, mostly because of those things we value about it are gone for the time being. I hope that the new normal witnesses all RPC members putting up and stepping up to make the next chapter in our life together the best ever!
- Busy-ness:We humans are too busy! We’ve slowed down because reasons for busyness, good and otherwise, have disappeared. I hope that more of us will realize that Sabbath—rest for rest’s sake—is a good thing. Examine what keeps your SUV on the road too much, and pare a thing or two from your Gotta-Do list.
I have gone on and on; and the more I think about this, the more I could go on and on. Take the sit-and-think time you presently have to imagine how you can create the life you want, not the one the world expects you to live. I hear a lot of complaining about the way things are. Things won’t change if WE don’t change. Sweet dreams!
- April 15, 2020
Zoom is quickly becoming a household word. Who would have thought that a month ago? I know I use it all day these days. I’m setting up live online Zoom Art lessons weekly joining all the other teachers transitioning to Distance Learning. Zooming, if that’s a verb, has also become a vehicle for families or groups of people to connect. To set up a Zoom meeting, I pick a date and time that works with the big schedule then I set the times on Zoom and then I invite my participants and give them the meeting ID number as well as the password. Then the participants have to be sure to join my meeting at the right time entering the right meeting number and password. If I ever go over the time I’ve set up for the meeting to end, the screen goes blank and we’re all disconnected. And then there’s the question of whether the internet is going to be working…
I was thinking about that and I thought in contrast about how God is always ready to “zoom” with us without having to set up a meeting and He will listen as long as we want. Jeremiah 33:3 says “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know”. What a remarkable promise God gives us that He is always there for us. And not only that but He longs to hear what’s on our minds and hearts.
O Lord, Thank you for today and thank you for always being there for us. Help us to call out to you and tell you what’s on our hearts today. Thank you for Your promise that You always hear us and You love us. Open our eyes to see Your work in our world around us.
In Jesus’ name, Amen
Written by Dale Child
- April 14, 2020
I can’t explain it. Boredom? Fear? Denial? Whatever…I have found myself
watching (don’t laugh…ok, do laugh) the Old Faithful webcam from Yellowstone
National Park. The webcam runs about 2 minutes behind. Snow is falling. The
landscape is wrapped in fog/snow/steam. First there is a little plume of
steam…then, after hours of watching the plume thickens. The screen says that
you know when Old Faithful will erupt when crowds gather. There are no crowds.
No one gathers. The park is closed. But, the camera continues to capture the
moments. Old Faithful continues to be faithful.
The moments go by. I call my daughter to watch. “Ok, Mom. If that’s what we
need to do.” I don’t know if we need to watch but there is something riveting to
me about Old Faithful and this time period. Oh, yes, I am also watching lambing
on the Isle of Iona, Scotland. The puffins returning to their ancient homing
ground on Staffa and other islands. Highland Cows being brought in from
Why? Because there is hope. There are much needed reminders that the cycles
of nature…of our natural world continue screaming, “Life! Life! Life!” The tree
outside our apartment balcony have new leaves maturing where 2 weeks ago
there were none.
The Hebrew language has the word “hesed…” Hesed may be translated steadfast
faithfulness. God is known through “hesed” to the writers of our Hebrew
scriptures. God is steadfastly faithful. Nature around the world is showing us
Old Faithful. A reminder that there is life among the sadness and trauma of these
days. That God’s love is steadfastly faithful and present in all those who are
serving us whether doctors, nurses, cleaning crews, first responders, teachers,
military, grocery store employees, and the list goes on….
As my teacher Walter Brueggemann reminds us in a prayer offered in his devotionals titled A Way Other Than Our Own:
O God, you summon us to life in the midst of death, peace in the midst of
violence, praise in the midst of despair. Filled once again with your unruly Spirit,
may we answer your summons and be part of the movement of life. Amen.
Written by Rev Carol DiGiusto
- April 13, 2020
Easter has Come! We’re Saved!!
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.
-Paul (I Corinthians 15:20)
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Like a too-tightly wound jack-in-the-box, I finally get to rocket out of my Lenten box and declare openly what I’ve known my whole life: Everything changed forever when Jesus emerged from that dark cave two millennia ago! No matter what we are required to endure; no matter what evils befall us; no matter how long we are trapped in small spaces with those we are supposed to love the most; no matter how many lives and jobs Covid-19 claims; death and darkness and distancing do not have the last word! I am not a pie-in-the-sky optimist. The brutal realities of daily life in the best of times tax us to the max. These days? We can see the limit from here! We have been asking for weeks, “How long, O Lord?” How much can we bend? How far can we stretch??
Time will prove how tough we are. Our resilience—another title for hope—springs like a jack-out-of-the-box precisely because we cling so tightly to the truth we celebrated yesterday, for the seven weeks of Easter, and forever. The angel first mouthed the message: “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.” (Matthew 28:5-6) The Hallelujahs and Alleluias we put away during Lent have been hauled out, gussied up, and returned joyfully to our hymns, prayers, and lives. Theoretically.
On the face of it, however, nothing seems to have changed. We worshipped remotely yesterday. Today, the nasty little death dealer stalks invisibly and prejudicially. We are still confined to our cabins, large or small. No March Madness champion was crowned. No Jumbo Shrimp bats are cracking. The Masters…in November?!? The tux and prom dress don’t need cleaning. Sigh! Liturgically, it’s Easter! Practically, we’re trapped in a Lenten-like existence.
Attitudinally, spiritual, and relationally, however, we are liberated by our Easter cry. After Jesus’ resurrection, his followers didn’t get on the express train to heaven. Paul inks the word above, not because life unfolded like the petals on a rose. Rather, because it didn’t. But signs of hope—first fruits—kept popping up all around the place. I, too, have witnessed their presence around RPC and the half-block I cover these days: acts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, even self-control—at Publix!! I have been moved to tears so frequently by the stories of resurrection I have seen and heard each and every day. A lot of other shtuff, too; but those things do not have the last word. Paul and Pope Francis and Pastor Bill…and we do. So find an open widow and shout it out: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Better yet, sing with Brain Wren, to the tune of Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You:
Christ is risen! Earth and heaven, nevermore shall be the same.
Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain.
Tell its grim, demonic chorus: “Christ is risen! Get you gone!”
God the First and Last is with us. Sing Hosanna everyone!
Amen! And Amen!
- Stations of the Cross 13 and 14
Station 13 – Jesus dies on the cross
READ – Luke 23: 44 – 46
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last.
PONDER This passage talks about darkness that came over the land when Jesus died. What does this incident say about who Jesus really is? Look at the image and notice the light and the shadow. What do you think this represents?
PRAY Following our Lord Jesus, enable us to relinquish control of our lives over to you, with deep trust in your tender care, both now and forever.
Station 14 – Jesus is placed in the tomb
READ – Luke 23: 50 – 54
50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the sabbath was beginning.
PONDER How does being confident in who Jesus is move us to action no matter how difficult?
PRAY Even when it no longer makes sense to hope, O God, help us to act with faithfulness and integrity this day. Perhaps, even now, there could yet be a redemptive outcome.
- Stations of the Cross 11 & 12
Jesus promises his Kingdom to the good thief
READ Luke 23: 39 – 43
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
PONDER In the last image, we considered what Jesus focused on when he was dying. In contrast, what were the criminals thinking about Jesus when they were dying?
PRAY How grateful we are that we can live today with you, and thus taste the joy of heaven in this moment.
Jesus on the cross, his mother and his disciple
READ – John 19: 25 – 27
25 And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
PONDER Again, what was on Jesus’ heart as he was dying? Look at the image. What do you see reflected in his eyes? What do you see in the faces of those looking at Jesus?
PRAY May your grace enter into our homes and infuse our relationships there. Give aid and comfort to families in pain and turmoil.
- Stations 9 & 10
Station 9 – Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
READ – Luke 23: 27 – 31
27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
PONDER Do these words sound comforting? What was Jesus trying to prepare these women for? Where was he telling them to direct their compassion? How does each face in the image show their different responses to his words?
PRAY You do not solicitate our sympathy, Jesus, you command us to look for your in-breaking kingdom. Make us ready for this upheaval of the status quo.
Station 10 – Jesus is crucified
READ Luke 23: 33 – 34, 47
33 When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.
47 When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”
PONDER What do you know about Jesus’ heart for us by what he says? What is Jesus focused on when he was dying?
PRAY God of earth and eternity, forgive us, for we mostly do not know what we are doing to sacred places and peoples.
- Stations of the Cross 7 & 8
Station Seven – Jesus takes up the cross
READ Mark 15: 20
20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
PONDER What’s significant about the cross to you today and how is that different than what someone might have thought about the cross at the time Jesus carried it?
PRAY As Jesus experienced the depths of hate and injustice for our sake, so may we now turn away from all forms of slander, slurs and insults, which injure again the Body of Christ.
Station Eight – Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his cross
READ – Luke 23: 26
26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus.
PONDER What would it be like to find yourself in the middle of this scene? What would you be thinking as you followed Jesus?
PRAY O Lord, give us strength to bear whatever is our cross, knowing you are right here with us.
- Stations of the Cross 5 and 6
Station Five – Jesus is judges by Pilate
READ – Luke 23: 13 – 25 13
Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” 18 Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” 19 (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) 20 Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” 23 But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.
PONDER Look for the word Truth in the image. What was the truth that Pilate believed? What was the truth the crowd believed? What is the truth that Jesus testified to?
PRAY When we bow to pressure to deny our own inner truth, may your grace help us come back to ourselves and to you.
Station Six – Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns
READ – Luke 22: 63 – 65 and John 19: 2 – 3
Luke 22: 63 – 65 63 Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; 64 they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” 65 They kept heaping many other insults on him.
John 19: 2 – 3 2 And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. 3 They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face.
PONDER Reread the passage. Close your eyes and imagine the scene.
PRAY Grant us a love of neighbor that will not turn our eyes from suffering nor minimize evil.
- Stations of the Cross 3 and 4
Station Three – Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin
READ – Luke 22: 66 – 71
66 When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. 67 They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; 68 and if I question you, you will not answer. 69 But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” 70 All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.” 71 Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”
PONDER Is Jesus perceived as a threat? Why? What do you do when someone’s mind is already made up or stuck in their rightness?
PRAY Deliver us from the kind of certainty, religious or otherwise, that erodes a gentle and welcoming spirit.
Station Four – Peter denies Jesus
READ – Luke 22: 54 – 62
54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. 55 When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. 56 Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” 57 But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” 58 A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” 59 Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. 61 The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.
PONDER Jesus looked at Peter and it brought him to repentance. Look at the image? What is Jesus communicating by the way he is looking at Peter? How does Peter respond?
PRAY Though our sin is ever before us, help us receive with confidence your gift of reconciliation and peace.
- Stations of the Cross 1 and 2
Station 1 – Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane
READ Luke 22:39-46
39 He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. 40 When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” 41 Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. 44 In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. 45 When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, 46 and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
PONDER What is it like to feel all alone particularly when you are going through a difficult time? What does it mean to you that Jesus felt anguish and prayed in earnest to God to, “remove this cup from me”?
PRAY Help me to know your presence during times of anguish and distress. Be now with others who are feeling alone and abandoned.
Station 2 – Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested
READ Luke 22: 47 – 48
47 While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?”
PONDER Why would it be painful to be betrayed by a kiss? Why would it be painful to be betrayed by someone you trust? What was Jesus trying to get Judas to think about?
PRAY God, forgive our betrayals; especially in relationships where deep trust has been broken.
- April 4, 2020
And just like that everything changed.
I’ve always been fascinated with a twitch of a nose or a click of the heels producing instant dramatic change. I loved to watch Tinker Bell turn the tv from black and white to color with the tap of a wand. It was great fun to see what was coming next out of Mary Poppins’ bag!
I thought of myself as one who embraces change- you know that whole mindset thing. I read books about that and I know that people are actually wired to seek change. I was very flexible I told myself. At least that’s what I thought. But in the past few weeks, the changes to our lives are a bit overwhelming as they swirl around us daily. It feels unsettling like the ground is moving under my feet. It seems like I’ve adjusted to the new normal and then that changes and becomes a shifting shadow. So I reach out my arms to try to keep my balance and I find myself reaching out to God.
I know God is not changing and He can be my sure footing. I take great comfort in scriptures that reflect that like Malachi 3:16 “I the Lord do not change” and James 1:17 “ Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”. What wonderful promises God gives us and just what I need to focus on today.
O Lord, Thank you for giving us Your word and Your promises. Help us to turn and rely on You as You pour out Your love to us knowing that will never change. Help us to minister to others with this Good News. Please be with us and protect us and our families.
In Jesus’ name, Amen
Written by Dale Child
- April 3, 2020
I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. -Psalm 27:13
In these uncertain days, I find myself connecting with the Psalms more deeply than ever before. All of a sudden, the sense of loneliness, isolation, despair, and sorrow they often convey does not seem so far off as it once did. The pleas to God for rescue and nearness feel timely and urgent.
This morning, as I read through Psalm 27, I found myself wondering “Where have I seen the goodness of the Lord lately?” It didn’t take long to compile a lengthy mental list: a friend’s baby discharged from the hospital, the cardinal couple that plays in our yard everyday, video chats with faraway friends, smiling pictures of my nephews showing off their elaborate crafts, flowers blooming all over town, the menagerie of little critters making their home on my back patio. I was struck that though these days feel heavy, I am surrounded by all this evidence, large and small, of the goodness of God.
Historian Kate Bowler recently remarked that in Lent we are given permission to lay down the burden of striving for some sort of all encompassing joy. Instead, we can be on the lookout for the tiniest moments of joy and let the weight of all those tiny moments add up to something bigger. We see a new sprout on a tree, hear a baby’s laugh, smell chocolate chip cookies in the oven, and we pause to soak them in. As we journey through the rest of Lent and Coronatide together, this is the practice I want to adopt: looking out for the tiny joys and letting the accumulated weight of them surprise me with God’s goodness. Will you join me?
Written by Jessica Means
- April 2, 2020
I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world
you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!
-Jesus (John 16:33)
I want to borrow a word that the good Dr. Anthony Fauci, now-famous director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases and national truth-teller, has used frequently of late. I voice it a bit myself and do so in this meditation. I was traversing the Riverside/Avondale neighborhood on a walk a few days ago. Now, I’ve been walking/running/biking around the area since last September, so I have some empirical data with which to work. A few days ago, the number of people who were out an about astounded me. I realize that my observations are anecdotal and not scientifically-verifiable, but I sensed something wonderful: people of all ages, lots of them—moving, interacting (mostly at appropriate distances), greeting me and each other with a spirit of we’ve got this in their voices and postures. I also know that it was early evening and most likely everyone had their fill of staring at screens for the day (or the week, or the month) already. We’re still pretty early in this everyone-home-all-day experiment. Still, my walks and runs are usually witnessed by a handful of others, so the appearance of many spectators, co-exercisers, and outdoors-enjoyers buoyed my steps. My anecdotal evidence convinced me that the spirit on the streets was upbeat.
At the end of a long session of teaching, Jesus directs the words above to his disciples, telling them what was about to happen to him. Life would get worse before it got better. But take courage; I have conquered the world! Note that he didn’t say don’t worry. Rather, take courage. Plenty of stuff exists in the world to cause humans to worry, appropriately, I might add. Jesus tells his followers not to worry in the Sermon on the Mount, but it’s not so much that they shouldn’t ever fret. Rather, that we should not let it engulf us and overwhelm our lives. Back to John 16. Very soon, a mob would appear and rip their rabbi away from them. They would scurry like worried rats to their own dark corners of existence. Jesus doesn’t say this to wag his finger in foreknowledge, but rather to give them a weapon in their anti-worry arsenal when it attacks. Remember, Jesus says, whatever rotten thing gets pitched at your head, it will not defeat you. Even when I am behind Pilate’s closed doors, my spirit will be with you…and yours with me. So let courage pin worry to the mat. In me, you have overcome the world.
I intend to keep walking and running around town, properly distanced from others, of course. I will be praying (as I always do when I am out) that the overcoming Spirit of Jesus will be the driving force as our separations and our enforced co-existence continue. We disciples of Jesus have a gift to share with our neighbors. Not false piety or groundless optimism. Not the feeling that we are invincible and need not follow Dr. Fauci’s wise advice. But the assurance that the Conqueror of the ways of the world is our Savior. We live daily, dealing hopefully (mostly) with our fears, knowing that we’ve got this! That’s not anecdotal data but Jesus’ assuring word.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you faced adversity with confidence and courage, showing us the way. Give us faith to follow your lead. Continue to bless all those who are ill or are on the front lines in battling this present scourge, that they and we all may know your love, grace, and healing mercy in our daily lives. Amen.
- April 1, 2020
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
One of my favorite Easter hymns as a child was “Because He Lives.” Donning our Easter finest, I can still vividly visualize my family sitting in the fifth pew on our sanctuary’s left hand side. Excitedly, I would wait for the moment we would all stand and sing “God sent His son, they called Him Jesus.” Oh, how for a moment I long to go back to ten-year-old me. Life seemed so safe, so easy, as I rested in the shelter of my parents 40 years ago.
Then, it hit me. Today I still rest in the shelter of my parents, but that shelter is called my Father Almighty. As the chorus to the aforementioned song goes, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because He lives.”
I don’t know what tomorrow or 2 weeks or 2 months from now may hold, but I know the One who does. Yes, I worry about my family and friends, but Christ alone is able to drive out that fear. I don’t know the financial impact this may have on our nation or how different life will look when we return to “normal,” but thankfully the future is not in my hands. I am just grateful for a new day, a new sunrise, a new flower blossom, new life, because life is truly worth living within the shelter of the One who loves us!
Father, remind us today that this Lenten season will soon give way to Easter morning! Hallelujah!
Written by Deana Green
- March 31, 2020
in the morning,
on our side deck,
that I am reconnecting with my God.
I get away from the news for a while;
I get away from my thoughts for a while;
I get away from the preparation for days of isolation for a while.
The cardinal sings his beautiful song and I see him fly from tree to tree.
The mockingbird sings every bird’s song…
the crow fills in the quiet in between.
Leaves drop from the camphor tree above me.
Sometimes hitting me lightly on the shoulder,
sometimes making a sound as they hit the varnished shining wood.
Ripe peaches call to me for picking from across the fence. Blossoms shine bright white on the pear tree.
I notice the pecan tree, the last to leaf out, has started it’s spring job…
the leaves bright green in the sun.
Poem by Kathy Lopez
- March 30, 2020
I received a newsletter from Jim and Jodi McGill today. Jodi teaches nursing, Jim engineers systems for clean water and sanitation. They do this in the middle of Africa, specifically South Sudan and Niger. They live and work without what we would call “sound infrastructure”, reliable supply chains or even personal safety.
They wrote to share their great joy about the opening of the ESPERANCE nursing school in Niamey, Niger and the water sanitation training course in South Sudan. These achievements are the culmination of years of work and prayer. Now, student nurses are being trained in areas such as neonatal health, pain management, the uses of ultrasound technology, and much more. Community leaders are now able to bring improvements in hygiene and sanitation to their villages. They can drill clean water wells and build small reservoirs for rainwater catchment. Adults and children have a better chance to stay healthy.
With the stream of anxious news and uncertainty we are absorbing these days, I thought you would want to know how the life-giving work of God in the world – through the Church and beyond it – goes on. It continues through the dedication of people who do not seek the spotlight – like the McGills – and it continues because of the faithful generosity of Riversiders who have supported them over the long haul.
There are reasons to celebrate and give thanks, even now. Perhaps they are found in other lands and distant lives; perhaps some can be found right here.
Written by Bill Hoff
- March 28, 2020
Six More Weeks of Lent
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
-Paul (Romans 6:4)
A couple of upsides to this challenging time have already made themselves apparent to me. First, I have grown in appreciation for my mundane patterns in their absence. I will smile broadly rather than grumble about the ordinariness of life when it returns. Second, my far-flung, busy family has way more time on their hands than usual. We will have more recurring Facebook meetings; at least for a while. With a toddler grandbaby in the mix, the episodes often devolve into hilarity. I hope the laughter persists as we plod through these days.
One humorous text message hitched onto our family chain. It had to do with Pope Francis canceling Rome’s Easter celebrations. Wow! Amazing…and sad. Humans seek humor even in tragedy, however. A responder announced that Jesus saw his shadow, so there will be six more weeks of Lent! I chortled mightily at the comment, even though my mind’s ear heard my late-mother’s disapproving response. Ouch! Truth is, it looks like a more-Lenten spirit will overshadow us past Easter Sunday. More preparing the ground. More introspection. More looking at our own lives. More wondering who we have been and who we will become. More realizing that we WILL be different in some ways, major or minor. HOW then will that be? We’ve got time to contemplate that question.
One thing I always say about Lent is that we remain Easter people, even as we make a forty-day effort to tone down our personal and corporate lives. We schmear ashes on our foreheads and put on our somber faces…but we know the end of the story: Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father! We do our best to feel the awfulness of Good Friday; AND we know that Sunday’s comin’! Even during Lent, we are Resurrection People!
Each year we have the date of Easter posted on the calendar. Not this year, in some ways. Yes, the listing denotes April 12th as Easter Sunday. Pretty good chance our lock-down situation will mandate six more weeks of Lent. We aren’t yet so sure of the end of this story. When will our not-always-beloved routines return? When will be not have to fight crowds to buy hand sanitizer and toilet paper and milk? When will our kids get out from under our feet? When will we happily return to our work cubicles? When will we pile into the Sanctuary, pull out all the organ stops, and scream, Jesus Christ is ris’n today, Alle…? We don’t know. Sigh!!
Of this, with Paul, I am sure: Therefore we have been buried with [Jesus] by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. Our Celebration of the Resurrection may be postponed this year. The truth of Jesus’ resurrection will never change; nor the new life that is ours because of that one day long ago. All the other ordinary stuff can be taken away. Good grief, I’m a part of the susceptible population! I could die of Covid-19. I count myself a part of the Resurrection Crowd, however. I will cling to, live, and die (someday for sure) in that truth. Even though it feels like Lent will be extended for six weeks, every morning remains Easter morning…from now on!
Prayer: Gracious God, as we travel though whatever the “here-and-now” has to offer, we hold fast to this unchanging truth: we are your resurrection people! We thank you; in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Blessings, Pastor Zomermaand
- March 27, 2020
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
In these days as we live from news bulletin to news bulletin, and press conference to press conference, life is exhausting and confusing at best. I found this quote from Isaiah that gave me heart. We may not have all the information needed. We may not know whether our sore throat is the Coronavirus or allergy. We do know that God tells us again and again…do not be afraid…do not be dismayed. Having met with officials of the World Health Organization and the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland, I am mightily assured that the world is at work with good minds and generous hearts to understand this new virus and find cures, treatments and global understanding.
What amazes me is that this pandemic is teaching us that we are very much connected. That our world is tightly knit together. Our decisions here affect the world – it’s people and it’s climate.
As we Riversiders are “preparing the ground” during this Lenten season, may we be attentive to the world God has given us. May we not be afraid or dismayed but seize the ground of our being – God’s steadfast love for all creation and God’s steadfast presence with us – and with hope, embrace God’s love and in turn embrace our neighbors in Christ Love…yes, even the birds, trees, streams and oceans…
Pray with me: Gracious and Loving God, we give you thanks for the many wondrous ways you show us your love, most particularly in the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. We give you thanks for your steadfast faithfulness to us. Help us as we tend to preparing ourselves to receive your love again and again…Help us as we work toward preparing the ground in our communities so that they become centers of your love in the midst of anxiety and fear. Help us to be supportive of each other as we are preparing the ground in our communities and with our neighbors to survive this unknown virus. Help us as we prepare the ground of the good wisdom given by you to resolve issues in these days and return to your hope…Amen.
Written by Rev. Dr. Carol DiGiusto
- March 26, 2020
Every now and then I experience what Steve Goyer terms a “God moment,” as I expect you do. At the Presbytery meeting in January, I met Ricardo Green, the new pastor at Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) Presbyterian Church in Orange Park. Our meeting led to a God moment for me.
Ricardo was recently installed as pastor to that little church, which is striving to succeed and grow. He moved from Atlanta, in advance of his wife and son, to Orange Park to begin his ministry.
One Sunday recently, he met me at Riverside for early worship and attended our confirmation class. Diane Tuttle and I alternate Sundays teaching the class, and that Sunday was my turn. I had prepared the lesson based on Jesus’ three parables about being lost: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost boy (prodigal son). We read each of the parables, and I talked about my impressions of their meanings in a fairly simple way. Then, Ricardo asked if he could tell his story.
He began by sharing that he was one of nine children who grew up in a fatherless family in Honduras in the 1960s. At age 16, a friend encouraged him to join a group of boys traveling through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States to seek out a living. He was reluctant, but agreed. Their journey, much of it on foot, took two months. During the trek he was often hungry. At one point, having gone without food for three days, he found a dried tortilla on the floor of the old bus in which he traveled some of the way. No food, he said, had ever tasted so good to him.
After Ricardo crossed the border checkpoint into the U.S., he was “found” by a small Hispanic Presbyterian church, which took him in, fed him, and helped him to find work and complete his high school degree. He sensed a call to the ministry and proceeded to obtain a college degree, completing his education at Princeton Theological Seminary. Subsequently he married and became a father to three daughters and a high school son. All three of his daughters have graduated from college and moved on to successful careers and families.
Ricardo had been like the prodigal son, traveling to a distant land with hope for a different life, fatherless on his journey. In America, among a Presbyterian community, he found welcome, inclusion, and help. For Ricardo, the modest little church that found him, like the prodigal’s father, became a welcoming parent to him. As with the prodigal, metaphorically speaking, the church placed a ring on his finger, slew the fatted calf, and granted to him a life of grace and joy he had never before known.
As Ricardo spoke, I watched our confirmands spellbound, following his words carefully. I sensed the strong presence of Christ in the room, surprising me and bringing tears to my eyes. Something remarkable was happening. Ricardo’s telling was so modest, authentic, and real—just as Jesus’ telling must have been. How I wish I could be more like that!
All the next week, I considered my own prodigal journey, as many of us will consider this Lent. It is a journey each of us takes in one way or another. I remembered again that God, in whatever form our Creator comes to us, is always the prodigal’s father waiting with open arms at the end of the long walk home.
I don’t know what our confirmands will write in their faith statements this year, or even (because of rescheduling) when Confirmation Sunday will be. But I am certain that in writing their statements they will remember Ricardo’s moving story of finding, in a little church, his father. I hope they will recall that we are all prodigals and remember that, collectively as Christ’s body, the church, we can be a father, too.
Written by Chris Wrenn
- March 25, 2020
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you,
even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.
-Jesus (Matthew 6:28b-29)
I was sitting in my quiet office at RPC a few days ago. Bill Hoff was preaching the following Sunday at our online worship service, so I didn’t have a sermon to prepare. My oldest daughter, now working from home, sent a picture text to our family group of the yogurt she had made at home. My kiddie’s Momma (my wife 😊) used to make yogurt when the girls were young. I think she gave it up by the time Arden arrived on the scene. If you’ve tried, you know that yogurt is not easily manufactured. All kinds of issues arise…like consistency and tartness. Family texts flew fast and furious for a while, as we were mostly working from home, or at least close by. “Hey,” one of the tech-savvy crowd opined, “let’s do a group video chat.” So we did. Doesn’t happen often with six scattered, highly-scheduled people. We presently call the northwest, southwest, southeast, midwest, and northeast (OK, the northeast-ish part of the midwest) “home.” Much against our will and desire, Covid-19 slowed us down enough to pay attention…to each other!
God didn’t send this latest coronavirus to make my family communicate with one another. We do that already. Still, in the middle of this disrupted time, we are prodded to stay in touch: to remember, to laugh, to support each other. I actually pride myself on doing nothing pretty well. It’s biblical…called Sabbath. When I was growing up, Sabbath was enforced in my home. It’s kind of being enforced again. I didn’t like it so much then; and I’m not crazy about the enforced kind now. You know, after six days/eras of creative activity, God rested…and looked around. “Very good!” God concluded. Creation remains very good in bucketsful of ways. We are enduring a time of enforced Sabbath. Follow the Creator’s example and look around. Be like Jesus and “consider the lilies.” We’re itching big time for the Monday of normalcy to return. It might be a while. We’re stuck in Sabbath mode—Sunday, in the way we count the weeks. I’m not telling you to be happy about it. I am inviting you (and me!!!) to make good use of the time. ‘Cuz right now, time we got! We WILL learn some important lessons because of Covid-19. Be sure you don’t miss them when they whack you (figuratively) upside the head.
Prayer: Creator God, your grace has always been sufficient for us to meet all the challenges of life. We continue to pray for those who are ill, who are at the front lines battling disease, and who are making policy recommendations at the highest levels of society. We also pray for ourselves, that we may not lose heart but remain steadfast as people of hope. Guide us in all we say and do, that we may be agents of healing and grace in our world. We ask this in our Savior’s name. Amen.
- March 24, 2020
My mother is in Assisted Living. She is also under hospice care. She is bed bound so she never leaves her small bedroom. She is extremely hard of hearing so she is unable to make any sense of a phone call. She is still smart as a whip like you remember her, although at times forgetful. She spends most of her time watching CNN and waiting for visitors to drop in. Up until last week I tried to go every day – perhaps more for my benefit than hers.
Yesterday was her 94th birthday. Her facility has been closed to all non-health care personnel for over a week. I wrestled with the fact that she is spending what may be her last birthday without family and without visitors. The grandkids and greats sent her cards and I asked Deborah, her daily caretaker, to please retrieve them from her locked mailbox downstairs. I knew she was receiving them because DeeDee, her favorite in house caretaker FaceTimed us so I could see her admiring the cards the little boys had drawn. And still I felt great sadness. It seems so cruel to live to 94 and have no family to celebrate the milestone with you.
Late Friday afternoon DeeDee FaceTimed again. She and Deborah were throwing a birthday party. They had bought balloons, and cupcakes and a tiara. There sat my mother, in her bed, in her prettiest nightgown, wearing a tiara and eating cake and ice cream while DeeDee and Deborah sang her Happy Birthday! She looked as happy as I can remember. I blew her a kiss.
In this strange and unsettling time we may be offered gifts that we never expect or look for. DeeDee and Deborah have made a new family for my mother and brought her joy. They have brought me joy and peace. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” I am sure he already knew DeeDee and Deborah and was talking about them. I pray that God will extend the mercy of continued good health to them as they open their arms and hearts to the most vulnerable among us.
Written by Mary Coxe
- March 23, 2020
Julian of Norwich, a 14th century Christian mystic, had a series of visions from God while gravely ill (she later recovered and recorded them). In one, she saw a tiny object like a hazelnut in her palm, and God told her it contained all that God had created. As she marveled at its smallness and fragility, God revealed to her that it contained three key truths of all creation: God made it, God loves it, and God sustains it.
In these unprecedented pandemic days, I find myself turning to this and other revelations from Dame Julian. She grew up during the Black Death, in which an estimated ⅓ to ½ of her town’s population was decimated. She also survived political and religious revolts. In short, she knew her fair share of suffering and uncertainty. And yet she held to an unshakeable faith in the deep love of God for us, his created ones.
I need to be reminded of these truths in these stressful days full of unknowns: God made us. God loves us. God sustains us. This was true in Dame Julian’s day, and it remains just as true in ours. We may not know what the future holds, but we can rest in the sure foundation of God’s love and sustenance for us. And we can pray with Dame Julian one of her more famous writings, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
Written by Jessica Means
- March 22, 2020
How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
–David, Psalm 4:2
I am the father of four kiddies. We proudly owned and used up two minivans through their growing-up years. We made trips in them. So you know that I have heard the question above about…a millions times?
The Psalmists, David and others, raised that question often, too. Usually pointing their fingers at God, directly or indirectly. Truth was, God didn’t often cause whatever problem they were railing against. They held the notion of God being in charge of EVERYTHING even more tightly than we; so ultimately, God was responsible. We still affirm that God holds the whole world in the Divine hands, for sure. We are less likely to blame God for everything, however. We persist in holding tightly to the notion that God can—and will—bail us out. So…how long before that happens in 2020?!?
We don’t like not knowing the answer to that question. We don’t know the answer. And we won’t for a while. Of course, two days is longer than we like. Two weeks a really long time. Two months?!? Argh!! That’s forever! Just like the Psalmist, who railed and flailed against the seeming-Diving indifference, we realize, usually in hindsight, that God is not indifferent at all. We are challenged to pay attention a little more closely. Which fits right in with our Lenten theme of Preparing the ground. Listening. Journaling. Praying.
Be as honest and angry with God as you need to be. God can take it. Been taking it pretty much since the plague that descended on Eden. After you got the questions out of your system, be prepared to be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46). Being still means waiting. Wait! We’re already doing that!! That means we’re already ahead of the process. We grab the certainty we can; and we ask…and listen…and wait in faith and hope. Even though we are keeping our social distance, we are still waiting together.
I am in the office regularly. It’s almost like staying home for me. So stay in touch! Give me a call. We’ll wait together.
Prayer: O God, we affirm that you are the giver of every good and perfect gift. Right now, we and our leaders need wisdom. Some of us also need a really big dose of patience. Bless us with everything we need for these days; in Jesus name we pray. Amen.
- March 21, 2020
We come before you now with heavy hearts full of so many emotions. We grieve the amount of people who are sick and the families who have lost loved ones. We feel powerless to help expand our hospitals to meet this crisis. We feel turmoil with the daily changes that the news brings. We feel sad for the people who are losing their jobs. We’re afraid of what might happen to us or our families. Help us, O Lord, to mentally place these burdens in a basket and lift them up to you. Help us to give them to you and trust that You will provide, You will prevail and You will be with us. How we long for You to replace these burdens with Hope and Comfort and Love. Thank You for promising You will always be with us even to the ends of the earth. We boldly claim that promise today. Help us to walk in that Light today. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Written by Dale Child
- March 20, 2020
Out of Control
I don’t know about you, but I really like to feel in control. With all that has been developing over the last few weeks, I would imagine most of us feel like we are not in control of our own lives, much less what is happening around us. Meetings cancelled, work cancelled, school cancelled, worship online, businesses closing and on and on. Everyone has opinions about what you should and shouldn’t be doing. The news and social media might help keep us informed but they can also be overwhelming and sometimes downright detrimental for our mental health. All of this makes life feel very surreal, out of sync and definitely out of control.
What are we to do then? When our lives are suddenly flipped upside down and much truly is out of our own control. First, we have to take our responsibility to help lessen the effect of this virus quite seriously and do what is recommended by the experts to help “flatten the curve.”
I am also considering this time as a good opportunity to practice “slowing down.” I am usually one who is thinking about what is next and rushing through whatever it is I am doing to get to the next thing. I have always admired people who seem to appreciate the moment they are in and who do not rush to whatever is next. But, “being in the moment” requires me to stop forcing things to happen in my time and requires me instead, to be more open to God’s time. In Ecclesiastes it is written,
1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
I hope you will consider what God is calling you to during this very unusual and uncertain time in the life of ourselves, our congregation and our world.
Lord, there is a time for everything. These times seem particularly uncertain and frightening. Even when things seem out of control, make us aware of your presence with us and remind us that no matter what the times bring, you are Immanuel, God with Us. Amen
Written by Emily Heeg
- March 19, 2020
A Devotional for Lent
The advent of the coronavirus causes me to wonder again at how much of the world exists outside our human awareness. It is not only our ignorance of the lives of billions of people, animals, plants, bacterial and viral life, and the inanimate elements who and which inhabit and comprise our planet. It is ignorance of objects and forces in the universe too profound for us to grasp and too minute to be seen by the strongest electron microscopes. These unexperienced layers of life are just as real as our everyday lives, just as integrated into existence as we are. Sometimes confoundingly beautiful, sometimes fearful and threatening, each life and element is a thread woven into the fabric of the creation in which we live, a creation somehow gone wrong.
Likewise in mystery and complexity is the Spirit of God. The Spirit that sustains creation despite its brokenness pervades everything visible and unseen, everything tangible and imagined. The Spirit who moved over the face of the waters of creation and inspired the apostles at Pentecost impels life forward and invades our every experience of it: the cool, smooth surface of a slice of obsidian; the billions of molecules of hydrogen and oxygen in the morning mist; the eerie glow of a tumbling meteor; the babbling joy of a first grandchild; the anguish that flows down our cheeks when we lose the person we love most in the world. The Spirit is there in all of it–the Spirit, our ground of being, holding in safety those we have lost, holding together the weave of creation in a reality we sometimes think we glimpse, but cannot hope to understand.
On the cross, a broken and suffering Jesus breathes his last, offering up His spirit both to the Spirit in whom He trusts His all and to the hope for our broken universe in all its vastness and complexity. He offers his life and death in demonstration of the love and mercy of that same Spirit for our infected and aching, but beautiful world. And, after the cross, Jesus’ own breath is restored and he is resurrected to a new actuality—the Easter reality that cannot die, that at once participates in the layers of life we know and don’t know and the layers of a Spirit we can only guess at.
As we watch the coronavirus take its course, let’s remember that in everything the Spirit remains above us, around us, within us, and for us–for the Spirit is the sustaining gift and presence of the God who clings to us, relieving our fevered lives with hope, love, and mercy.
Written by Chris Wrenn
- March 18, 2020
Romans 8:38 – 39 from Eugene Peterson’s the Message:
I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
When my knees shake and my stomach churns I find my mind repeating the more familiar phrase “nothing can separate us from the love of God we know in Christ Jesus…” As Eugene Peterson translates it “nothing can get between us and God’s love.” That gives me great comfort and hope.
Our theme this Lenten Season is “preparing the ground…” I understand that as preparing our grounding…our foundation…our core. We are preparing ourselves to respond to God’s incredible, astonishing love made known to us in Christ, made known to all creation in Christ. How do we respond? How will you respond? At our core, how will we respond?
On a visit to Haiti immediately following the earthquake we made it a habit to gather early each morning for prayer. Our Haitian friends joined us. We would be working together on accessing damage and helping our friends put their homes and lives back together. One morning I asked our driver how he found hope day after day, struggle after struggle, impossible odds following tragedy after tragedy. He looked deeply into my eyes and said, “You are here. Christ is here. We go on.” Christ Hope was brought to him because in us he saw tangible evidence that he was not separated from God’s love in Jesus Christ.
Pray with me: O God whose love knows no boundaries in all creation, help us as we journey with Christ to Jerusalem to prepare ourselves for our truth…we are Christ Love to all whom we meet…that through us – our actions, attitudes, words in Christ Love – all that might separate ourselves, others and all creation from your love melt away…help us to seize this truth…and live it…amen.
Written by Rev. Dr. Carol DiGiusto