PASTORAL PONDERINGS - May 2018

"Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." ~ Matthew 22:37-40

Quad Cities Big Table

On April 20 and 21, the Quad City area held a 48 hour event called Big Table. This included 528 tables with an estimated 5,000 people gathering in all four of the major quad cities, to get to know one another, and discuss ways to make our community more cool, creative, connected and prosperous.

Both David and I hosted one of these Big Table talks. (It wasn’t all that glamorous, we were just there to make sure we stayed on topic, and that everyone had an opportunity to speak.) My “table” had 10 people, and we shared a lot of really good things. While we identified issues (topics relevant to our specific group), our takeaway was this: While we all want to make a big difference in our community, the reality is it has to start small. Get to know our neighbors; engage with them face to face.

One of the gentlemen there said that when he moves into a new neighborhood, he holds an Open House, inviting his friends and family over to view their new living space. One time, he decided to invite all of his neighbors as well. So he delivered the invitations door to door, and while not all of them attended, he told us that he would feel comfortable going to any one of them if he needed something as small as a cup of sugar.

This is what it comes down to—relationship. As Christians, we hear the story of when the religious leaders tried to trick Jesus, and the Pharisees asked him which commandment was greatest. And Jesus’ answer? Love God with everything you are, and everything you have, and love your neighbor in the same way. Everything else is built on that.

Relationship is hard. We want people to see things our way. They want us to see things their way. But relationship—radical relationship—is based on listening to one another as we share our stories. When we take a moment to listen—without interruption—we open ourselves to a new perspective. We find out that they aren’t so different from us. We all breathe air, need water to survive, sleep, eat, have feelings, and die. And we all have an innate need to be loved.

The voices of this world can overwhelm us with darkness, violence, hatred, and fear; almost to the point that we forget what we celebrated just a few short weeks ago. The story of Jesus’ journey of death and resurrection is our reminder that, even in this sometimes dark world—a relationship which is filled with love, will always win.

God. Others.

How many of you know all of your neighbors? If you do, kudos! How about the next block down, do you know all of them? How about the next block? For those of you who are able to attend Faith UCC, do you know all of our neighbors? If you don’t know your neighbors—why not? While we probably won’t solve all of the world’s issues, (or even our community’s issues), getting to know our neighbors would be a good start. Who knows what we might learn?

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - April 2018

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."  ~ John 3:16-17

As of Sunday, March 25, we will have held 12 weeks of Sunday worship in our Fellowship Hall. The entire first quarter of 2018 has been spent outside of our sanctuary, and yet, we still find ourselves able to give thanks and praise through singing, spreading peace to one another, praying, teaching the children, and listening to God's word.

For those of you who have been able to join us, you understand the challenges that we face each week. If someone is late getting to worship, they come in the door where everyone can see them. It is difficult to stand due to the way we are set up, so we have been sitting for everything but the last hymn. The choir gathers around the piano, which is where I put my chair, so I have been standing during the choral prelude and anthem. When the children come forward, they have to stand, because I am not overly keen on them sitting on the rugs which have been covered in salt, mud, and leaves. We don't light the candles, we pass the offering plates and communion elements differently, and we haven't used the hymnals at all. And then there's my personal issue—I don't get to "hide" behind the pulpit—I use a music stand, and have had to learn to stand differently than I usually do.

But just because we aren't worshipping in the sanctuary, doesn't mean this space isn't holy. Believe me, it is. I see it every time we worship. As we gather around the tables, we are able to look one another in the eye, instead of looking at the back of the heads of the people in front of us. We see the choir singing, instead of hearing them from the back. The children come up, even if they have to stand. And if someone is late, I find several people who scramble to make room for them. While it isn't exactly the way we are used to, and most of us are really ready to be back in the sanctuary, it is still worship, and it is sacred. And we are beyond blessed to be able to have a space we can gather.

The biggest blessing we have been given through this Lenten Journey, is a new perspective. We are reminded that we can worship anywhere; that we can adapt and overcome difficult situations; that gathering together around a table is more important than not doing it at all; and that even in our desert—our discomfort—God is present and the Spirit still moves.

As a faith community, we have journeyed together through this Lenten season, contemplating our relationships along the way. Sometimes, though, our journeys need to take us outside of our comfort zones in order for us to remember that what we do is always about the relationships we have, and not about what we surround ourselves with. No matter who we are, no matter where we are on life’s journey.

While our stations, our settings, and our circumstances in life are in a constant state of flux, there is one thing that never changes. God's love for us. God is always using their imagination to find new ways to connect with us—even to the point of offering their Son to prove it. While death may not feel like a great way of connecting, Jesus' death isn't our focus. It is the what happens three days after that awful crucifixion that matters. The resurrection is our proof. God raises Jesus in order to prove to us that we will not have to walk our desert journeys alone, or forever, because death does not have power over love, and death will not win. And that is certainly worthy of celebrating—ANYWHERE!

~ Happy Resurrection and Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - March 2018

"From that time on Jesus began to preach, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." ~ Matthew 4:17

Love Always Wins

Unless you have been isolated from all news sources, you know that once again, our country has been devastated with the horrific act of yet another safe place being torn apart by violence. Once again, we are asking the question, "Where does it stop?"

Here's the not-so-good news: it won't stop. Not until we, as individuals as well as a nation, repent of our ways—until we intentionally turn away from our complacency, our acceptance, our agenda pushing, our refusal to work together toward a solution, and our fear—and turn toward the only thing / One that will make a difference. LOVE.

But here's the good news: the truth we need to hear, and to trust: LOVE ALWAYS WINS.

Even when violence fills our news and our days—LOVE WINS. Even when hatred is spewn by children and youth who shouldn't even know what it means to hate—LOVE WINS. Even when we think we are at the end of our rope, with nothing left to lose and no place else to go—LOVE WINS. Even when we can't love our neighbors, let alone ourselves—LOVE WINS.

But in order for love to win, we have to open ourselves to it. We need to repent of our old ways and turn toward new life, new ideas.

Please know that I am just as scared as everyone else. I don't want to get involved when I see something going wrong. But not doing something is just as much a sin as doing whatever is wrong in the first place. Until we choose to face our fear and confront those who are doing wrong—from those exhibiting poor behavior, to the government agencies who swear to keep our communities and country safe—nothing will change. We will continue to have to grieve death from senseless violence.

I wish this issue was as simple as having better or more strict gun laws or fewer guns made. I wish that we could have a one-size-fits-all solution, but in the words of a very wise woman, "It's just not that simple." It's like an onion—there are layers and layers of problems. So where do we start? If I had that answer, we'd already be doing it.

I don't know about you, but I am tired of it. I am done being afraid. No longer will I stand by and stay quiet. I am going to do the only thing I can do—repent and turn toward LOVE. I am going to say "I LOVE YOU" to everyone; share of my abundance; clothe the naked; feed the hungry; stand up against injustice; share the stories of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection; shine God's love and light; and from the top of the mountain, I will shout, "LOVE ALWAYS WINS!" until everyone hears. And I will do it even when I am afraid, because I know that God goes with me, and that with Christ, all things are possible. AND LOVE ALWAYS WINS!

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - February 2018

Musical Notes

I love music. I love listening to it, singing it, and sometimes, even plunking it out on the piano—not well, mind you, but I still love it. The only thing I regret about my past is that I didn't learn how to play the guitar.

Music fills our souls like nothing else can. You don't have to sing well, or play it well, in order to enjoy it. Music is filled with emotion. The beating rhythms permeate through your body, filling your whole being with the song. It's like, when you listen, the music is filling those empty spots you didn't even realize you had. It can lift your sagging spirit, fill your heart with joy and hope, take you back to another time in your life, and it can move you to tears—even when you least expect it. Music is amazing, and it is Biblical.

Music has always been a part of how we worship and praise God in our faith tradition. And many of us have strong feelings and opinions about the music played and sung in worship. This is a good thing! If everyone agreed, then the music would always be the same. But that makes planning the worship services difficult sometimes. I work hard to get a mixture of songs in, the oldies but goodies, the traditional favorites, the easy ones, as well as some new, and often times challenging ones. Why do I do that? Because, although we might have our favorites, when we experience something new, we might find a new favorite. Besides, each generation has to find their own "traditional favorites."

Believe it or not, we are on the cusp of the Lenten Season, that 40 days (not including Sundays) which gives us an opportunity for spiritual and personal examination, a time to study our relationship with God, and with one another, a time to improve those relationships, and make them deeper. This year, the theme for our Lenten Soup and Conversations will be "Music in the Church." We will connect music with the Bible, discuss the history of music in worship, listen to different genres of music within different faith traditions, as well as dig into our favorites here at Faith UCC. My prayer is that we can look at the music we sing in a new or renewed way, both offering a deeper appreciation for a wider variety, as well as possibly exploring new ways to plan music for our own worship services.

The theme for our Lenten journey together is "Love." Together we will explore God's abundant love in scripture, and in our daily lives. Where do you see God's love in your everyday life? How will you share the love of God with others during this season?

Be sure to join us this Lenten Season as we look for God's love in our world and in our lives; and as we share the songs in our hearts. And be sure to invite your friends!

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - January 2018

I am not a big fan of chalk boards, and never have been. I don't like how you can be writing and suddenly, the chalk breaks and your fingers slip and slide across the board making an eerie screeching sound that hurts my teeth. I am also not a fan of chalk dust. It gets everywhere and makes you sneeze! When I was in elementary school, one of the chores assigned each day was cleaning erasers. I did everything I could not to have to do that job. (And that is saying a lot, because our elementary school had an eraser cleaner in the custodian's office, so we would get to leave the classroom when it was our turn!)

There is one thing I really like about a board you can write on like these, and that is that the writing isn't permanent. It can easily be wiped off, creating a clean slate, if you will. No matter how many doodles or mistakes are made, you can start over just by wiping it off. Maybe you could call it a do-over.

The church calendar starts over beginning on the first Sunday of Advent. It is at this time we begin preparations for a baby—Emmanuel—to be born among us. A baby whose birth, life, death and resurrection, wipes off the old and brings the new, creating in us a clean slate, a new beginning, an opportunity to start over. This new beginning is possible only through forgiveness. When we forgive someone for hurting us, we are offering them a clean slate, an opportunity to wipe the mistake away and start over. We don't have to forget what they did, and sometimes we shouldn't forget, but a clean slate offers us endless possibilities to start over. The same thing happens when others forgive us for hurting them. And sometimes that forgiveness needs to be toward ourselves.

Forgiveness is not easy, but it is necessary. When you write all over a chalk board and don't erase anything, before long it gets hard to read, and looks like a big mess. When we hold anger and grudges within ourselves, the same thing happens. Those feelings get all tangled up and pretty soon you aren't able to tell where one hurt ends and an opportunity for a clean slate begins. Our anger clouds our vision, it puts physical stress on our bodies, and if held in too long, has a tendency to come out in very ugly ways. A wise person recently told me that our society has normalized anger, giving people permission to be angry about anything and everything. I wonder what would happen if we learned to offer forgiveness as the Bible instructs us to……

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a  grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." - Colossians 3:13

So watch yourselves. "If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying 'I repent,' you must forgive them." - Luke 17:3-4

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." - Ephesians 4:31-32

"This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." - Matthew 26:28

As we journey through the end of one year and into yet another new year, where in your life do you need to create a clean slate through offering, or asking for, forgiveness? How would you feel, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, to have the opportunity to begin all over? With God, that opportunity is always present, and it is my prayer that you will extend that opportunity to those around you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC