The snow is melting, the birds are chirping! We are beginning to get sightings of robins and daffodils. It looks like we have survived another winter here in the Poconos. Easter is around the corner – Hooray!
As we work our way through Lent, we now turn our eyes to Holy Week. Believe it or not there are people who do not know anything about Holy Week and there are some Christians who skip over Holy Week right to Easter. However, for many of us we know it is an important because it is the holiest of all weeks on our Christian calendar. This week starts with Palm Sunday, which is also called Passion Sunday because we read the story leading up to the crucifixion and death of Christ on the cross. The day begins with waving palm branches and
The journey through Lent starts from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It is a forty-day trip. Even though as Christians we journey together, our experience of the trip will vary. Some of us will travel through Lent without giving it much thought and some will go through without much effort and some with little investment and gain nothing. However, others will embrace the journey, challenge themselves in a new spiritual way and in the end find themselves renewed, refreshed and transformed. So, as we begin the journey next week we all have to decide ahead of time how we would like our experience to go.
We must take the time to prepare and plan just like we would plan for a road trip. There is no better opportunity to reorder our lives, make a new start, and deepen our spiritual life through reflection.
February is the shortest month of the year. Although short it is filled with a lot of activities. The Super Bowl, which claims to be the biggest sporting event, is in February. Another big event in February is Valentine’s Day. What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love is a popular song on YouTube.
Love means many things to many people and as Valentine’s Day approaches we are all reminded that love is in the air. Businesses tell us it is time to buy flowers, candy, heart-shaped chocolates, strawberries and jewelry for those we love.
In the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13 is called “The Love Chapter.” It is the most requested passage of scripture for weddings. It says: “Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast…” Love penetrates every relationship we have, not just romantic and family relationships but also with everyone we come in contact with. Love should be expressed to those we work with, at the grocery store, and in our everyday activities.
God is the author of time and space. He created time but is not bound by time. So every 365-or-so days he gives us something special: a brand new time called a New Year. The New Year is given to us to do or redo some very special things, if we choose to or not. God leaves it up to us. God understands “newness” - the Bible says His mercies are new every morning. God often says I am going to do a new thing. He promises to give us newness of life. As human beings we also understand newness: we all like “the new car smell” or the fresh aroma of a pair of new shoes or sneakers. We all like something new from time to time.
That is why we make New Year resolutions. We want the New Year to be different from the past years. Many people will sign up for gym membership, buy new running shoes, try to eat healthy and lose some weight. The objective is to have a healthy lifestyle. New Year resolutions lose their momentum pretty fast though, and that is the reason why many people have stopped making them. So how do we prepare for the New Year? God says, “I am doing a new thing; can you see it?” A New Year itself is a new opportunity for us to focus on what God is doing. It is an opportunity to listen for the move of the Spirit in our hearts.
One of the literature books I read in school was “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. I hope some of us might have seen the movie as well. The story revolves around Ebenezer Scrooge, a heartless money lender who hates all things Christmas. He hates the songs, the decorations, the goodwill and the tidings of great joy. The story goes on to tell of brokenness, sadness and misery of the man Scrooge.
Then Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. Scrooge was filled with suspicion, distrust and cynicism that he was not able to experience the joy of Christmas until he was freed from that bondage.
Like the character of Scrooge we are also broken in some way. We live in a broken world and many times we also cannot find our way to enjoy the warmth of Christmas for many reasons. That is why we need the Season of Advent. Advent is the four Sundays before Christmas. It is a season of expectation and waiting. It is an expectation of the Christ Child who brings us the good news of great joy. It is the advent of the Christ Child into our broken world.
November is a powerful and spiritual month in the life of the church. It begins with All Saints’ Day, a celebration of the saints who now rest from their labor in Christ’s Church. The Bible says in Hebrews 12, “Since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, we must run the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfector of our faith.” Paul often opens some of his letters with thanksgiving for the saints. For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:2-4, he writes to those sanctified in Christ Jesus called to be saints, “we always give thanks for all of you and mention you in our prayers constantly before our God and Father Jesus Christ.” On November 4th, we will honor those in our church who have died in the past year as part of our All Saint’s Celebration.
November is also the month we pause to give thanks, not because it is a national holiday but because we want to give thanks and praises to God from whom all blessings flow.
In this church, we will pause to give thanks on November 11 for all that God has done for us. God has been good to us. We have been able to pay off the mortgage and that blessing calls for a celebration. At the end of the month, with our friends and family, we pause to celebrate Thanksgiving with people across this nation. Thanksgiving is an attitude of gratitude and appreciation that is very good for our soul and our spirits. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” So November is a big spotlight for Thanksgiving. All of us have received many blessings, all of us enjoy wonderful gifts such us the air we breathe and the family and friends we share. Not to mention the bounty, the freedoms, and prosperity we enjoy. All these are gracious gifts from God.
So as we look ahead to this wonderful month join us on Tuesday, November 20th at 7 p.m. for our Thanksgiving Service in the Sanctuary. May we always remember the source of all our blessings and give thanks to God for being the recipients of this wonderful generosity from our Father in Heaven.
Peace and Grace to you,
Commitment Sunday: I Belong!
Many years ago people in various communities had a relationship to the church in their neighborhood. In those days people were proud to belong to their church. The church and the schools were the nerve centers of the community. You went to church, you belonged to a church, and that is what you did.
To say we belong to something—a community, a church—means the place is important to us. It is the same with our families as well. The idea of belonging to something means that that thing gives us a sense of purpose. Our congregation has been a community for many people for many years. This year is the church’s 132nd anniversary. Through the years, many of us have had a part to play. So many people over the years—what the Bible calls “a great cloud of witnesses”—have played their part to make this church a community where people can belong. Some of us were baptized here, went to Sunday school here, were confirmed here, went to youth group, and were married here. For some of us our parents were married here and our kids were married here and their kids were baptized here and so on.
It was a great occasion when the entire family gathered for worship on Christmas or Easter. For some of us this congregation has been
Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.” As humans we often take for granted the cycle of life. God’s creation is filled with beauty and wonder. How the universe works is a wonder. Everything is interconnected: plants, animals, seas, the eco system, seasons, weather and the galaxies.
Many times we are not aware of the changing seasons of life and how time passes and changes. We fall into a routine each day and feel we are masters of our own universe. God gives us time and seasons to measure or evaluate our lives. The animals, plants and weather are all part of it. The changing seasons give us a rhythm of life. Seasons display God’s cycle of life: birth, death and new birth.
The month of September begins another season for many of us. It is a time for students to go back to school. Summer is almost over, the long days of freedom, the pool, the beach, the trips, barbecues, family reunions, no homework, and the season of fun is over. Things around us begin to ramp up. The retail stores