PASTORAL PONDERINGS - June 2019

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” ~ Proverbs 22:6

Baby HandAs I write this, we are at T-minus 18 days to our oldest son's graduation. After 18 years of teaching him to think of others, to say "please" and "thank you," to be aware of his surroundings, to be nice to his brother, to stand up and speak for those who can't do those things themselves, to work toward a more fair and just world, to take responsibility for his own actions, and that no matter what happens, or what he does, we love him unconditionally. But of everything we have taught him, more than anything, I pray that he knows who he is, and whose he is: his is a child of God, made in God’s image, and loved by God more than we, as his parents, could ever fathom to love him. I trust that what we have taught him, will stay with him throughout his life.

As new parents, we swear we are going to do everything we can to protect these tiny creatures, and as they grow, they develop a mind of their own, and by the time they graduate from high school, we pray they are ready to spread their wings and make their way into this big, strange, shadowed world. And as parents, at least for me, as much as I know in my head that is how it is supposed to go, my heart isn’t quite there yet. With each day that goes by, I watch him do things “for the last time.” His last orchestra concert, choir concert, bowling meet, trap meet, awards dinner, class final. With each "last time" I watch him cut one more string of his childhood away. I want to hold on with all my strength, but know that isn’t what God has planned for him.

I can't help but think of other mothers who have to let go of their babies. The refugees who abandon everything they know and have to flee their country because of violence or political unrest, or whatever, and I imagine them holding them close for as long as they can, praying that they will make it safely to wherever they go. And my heart breaks when I think of all of the families who don’t make it safely, whose children are separated from them.

I think of Mary, who knew that her son was special, and couldn't keep him safe from what was happening. On Good Friday, I think of her sitting at mock trial, wanting to reach out, to hold him, to save him from receiving more lashes. I think of her watching him carry the heavy wooden cross on his bloody back, watching the nails go through his hands, and the spear pierce his side. I cry when I think of her hearing his final words, and watching him take his last breath. And then, I give thanks to God over and over again for my sons, and know that I am not in control, and offer them both to God.

Being a parent comes with so much joy, and so much heartache. I imagine God can relate to those feelings and emotions. As God’s creation, we haven't done the best job of caring for one another or for Creation. When we sin, and then ask for forgiveness, and repent of our ways—turning away from what was not good and choosing good, God runs to us, just like the father of the Prodigal Son, welcoming us back into God’s warm embrace. "You are forgiven, my Son, my Daughter, my Beloved, and I am so glad you are home!"

Wherever you have been, wherever you are, wherever you are going, God is there. Let God wrap you with comfort, compassion, peace, and love.

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - May 2019

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness  and rivers in the desert.” ~ Isaiah 43:19

Spring and Easter are synonymous with "new life". Trees bud new leaves, new flowers grow, baby animals of all kinds are born, the grass turns green and once again grows, and possibly the best part, is that the days are longer, and much, much warmer. Easter is when God proves to us that death doesn’t get the last word, by raising Jesus after three days of being dead in the tomb. This time of year is rife with possibilities, and opportunities.

Faith UCC is no different. As we continue to challenge ourselves by growing our faith, and working through exactly who we are, and what God wants us to be, we are exploring new ways of doing things, and taking on new opportunities.

In the last year, we have changed the look of worship several times as we followed an Advent Series and Lent Series; we partnered with First Christian Church DOC for VBS (and will again this summer) as well as for Youth Group; partnered with Edwards Congregational UCC for Confirmation, which led to a combined Lent Wednesday evening program, Maundy Thursday (which included foot washing by Pastor Becky and myself—something new for me!), and Good Friday services. We have moved a few rows of pews out of the sanctuary and replaced them with chairs so that those with back problems are more comfortable during worship, and there are more on the way.

We are also now able to offer Online Giving as an electronic tool for contributions so you can give via the Internet or download the app to your phone. Click on the Donate/Give Link on our website at www.faithuccdavenport.org to get started.

Coming up, new things to look for will be mission opportunities with Riverbend Food Bank (watch for more details); a trip with the Confirmation class (anyone who would like to go) to Feed My Starving Children in Aurora, IL; Confirmation trip to General Synod in Milwaukee, WI and a combined youth led worship service on June 30.

Our job is to continue listening, searching and praying for our call by God to the places we need to be. By keeping our minds, eyes, ears, and hearts open to that call, we learn to be flexible. Life is fluid, and the Spirit blows where it will, and as a mighty church on the hill, we must learn to be fluid and flexible as well.

Germination

I love spring, and I especially love the Easter message—death doesn't win. Our God, our Love, wins. And because of this, we are offered new life. What will we do with that new life?

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - April 2019

"Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering  on a mountain I will show you." ~ Genesis 22:1-2

Did you read the above scripture? If not, take time to read it again. How crazy is that? After 99 years, God’s promise of a son finally comes to fruition, and now God asks him to sacrifice him! How does that make sense??

Before I was in the Iowa CENTER/LEARN program, it was stories like this that caused me to avoid the Old Testament if at all possible. During the Old Testament class, we were instructed to pick a story, and put together a sermon or a Sunday School lesson on it. Our instructor—the Old Testament professor from what was Bangor Seminary in Bangor, Maine—said this, “For some of you, this will be easy. For others, because you have shared with us your fear of the OT, this will be difficult. So I challenge you to pick something outside of your comfort zone. Don’t choose a story you are familiar with, or comfortable with. Pick one that makes your skin crawl.” {She really did say that!} So I did. And in doing so, it changed not only my outlook on the Old Testament, but my outlook on God. In the exegesis (study of) this story, I learned so much of who God is and why God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son. (BTW—if you don’t know the ending of this story, turn to Genesis 22 and read it for yourself. And if you want to discuss it, come and see me!)

Grow our Faith

It is only in studying the scriptures that we find out who the real God is, and how much God loves us. While coming to worship each Sunday helps you understand scripture better, it is not the end-all-be-all. If you really want a full relationship with God, if you really want to know how Christ lived, if you really want to grow your faith, then you need to do more than just attend a one hour a week worship service. You have to step outside of your comfort zones and stretch yourself. Just like a flower, you can’t plant the seed and walk away. You have to tend it—water it and give it the right amount of sunlight. In the same way, in order to grow your faith, you have to tend to the seeds that are planted.

Guess what?! We can help you! We have some wonderful opportunities for you to join us and work on growing your faith.

First, there are still two more Wednesday evening Lenten programs that you can attend. Here we will have a simple supper together, and then gather to learn how to mediate. If you haven’t made it to one yet, I challenge you to try it at least once. Who knows what you will learn?!

Second, besides the confirmation class we have for 6-8th graders, and the Children’s Sunday School classes, we also have ADLUT SUNDAY SCHOOL that starts at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. Mick Noteboom brings a vast array of life experiences to this time of learning, and the conversations are always thought-provoking. I challenge you to give it a try. Grab your coffee and a cookie, and who knows, you might just learn a thing or two!

~ Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - March 2019

"By the seventh day, God had finished the work they had been doing; so on the seventh day, God rested from their work." ~ Genesis 2:2

Busy

How busy are you? Is every moment in your schedule filled up? Or do you allow yourself to relax each day? Trust me, I am not about to judge you, I excel at filling my calendar.

We are very good at scheduling ourselves to the point of being overwhelmed. Look at kids. D'Arcy Lyness, PhD wrote in KidsHealth, "While some kids can handle being in 2 sports, taking up an instrument, and attending Scouts or church functions all at one time, some kids are not. Keeping children busy has led to an increase of feeling tired, anxious, or depressed, higher chance of complaints of headaches and stomachaches, increase of stress, missed meals, or lack of sleep, which may result in falling behind on their schoolwork, causing their grades to drop."

For adults, being overscheduled has led to feeling tired or low in energy, increased stress which can lead to heart and health issues, a lack of sleep, a lack of exercise, feeling depressed, poor diet, and a lack of focus and concentration.

What is it about having such a full schedule that appeals to us? Do we feel a sense of responsibility to make sure everything at work, at home, or wherever, gets done? What is it in us that believes being overworked and overwhelmed is okay? Even God, the one who created us in their image, took a break. And God called that break time—the Sabbath—holy. Rest is HOLY!

The season of Lent has often been a time when we think about "giving something up." But what if we thought less about "giving up"and more about "making room?" This year, our Lent series is called "Busy: Reconnecting with an Unhurried God." Together we will explore what it really costs us to be so busy. Join us each Sunday as we take a look at what it means to clear our schedules, and follow the life that our God created us for. Let us reconnect to an unhurried God.

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - February 2019

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him.” ~ Colossians 3:17

I have a love/really-really-really dislike (because hate is too strong a word) relationship with mundane tasks. You know the ones—cleaning the bathrooms, washing the windows, cleaning the gutters, dusting, organizing closets, mopping and scrubbing the floors, raking the yard, mowing the grass, shoveling the snow. (Okay—confession—I love to shovel, but haven’t been well enough to do so for the last week!)

While I understand the benefits of being organized, staying healthy, and not making your neighbors (or the city) dislike you, sometimes it's just easier to come up with excuses to find other things to do. AND, while it’s hard enough to get these chores done at home, from time to time, we find ourselves needing to do these same tasks elsewhere, like CHURCH.

Purpose

Imagine for a moment, if we didn’t have volunteers to get the chores done around the church. (Side note—the cleaning of the church is being done by volunteers so Brian can be with Arlene in Iowa City.) Imagine dirty bathrooms, garbage overflowing, floors that have dirt and salt build up. Imagine the grass going to seed in the summer—which would probably lead to a fine from the city. Same with the snow on the sidewalks. How would you get into the church safely? What about changing the light bulbs, cleaning the kitchen, or watering the plants? Just like in our own homes, these things need to be done if we want to stay healthy, and have members and visitors return!

This work is important—and it is HOLY work! It isn’t done out of vanity, but rather, out of love. This work, if we do it right, keeps God at the center, and in return for this work, we can find joy.

While here at the church, many of us take for granted that these mundane tasks will be done, and therefore don’t give them a second thought, God sees what you faithful people are doing. And it pleases God greatly!

So, to all of you who take on additional chores here at Faith—THANK YOU! You are doing an amazing job by sharing your time and talents. Even if you don't get recognized every time you do something, know that I, that WE, appreciate everything you do. And so does God!

Press on, Holy Ones. Oh, and if you are feeling left out because you haven’t been able to help yet, don't be afraid to ask where your gifts and talents can be used. Trust me—we have something for everyone!

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC

PASTORAL PONDERINGS - January 2019

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." ~ Jeremiah 29:11

I was told by a wise friend once that you don't have to know what's coming next to be clear. I was worried, and for the life of me, can't remember why! What I do remember is that after three years, these words still hit me in a place that resonates.

We live in a time that is uncertain. And we live in a world filled with power struggles, violence, brokenness, hate, and ME! ME! ME! It’s easy to cry out "What is going to happen next?" With no straight answers, it is easy to let fear take over. Once fear takes control, we spiral away from our purpose in life, lose sight of our beacon of hope, and God is no longer our center.

But our time and world isn't the only time and place since the beginning that has had trouble.

Pharaoh wanted the boys dead because he knows they may grow up to fight against him. But there was one brave woman who wouldn't allow that to happen. She had no idea what the future would hold, but she was clear about the fact that she wasn't going to let her baby die. And Moses grew up in the Palace to release the captive Hebrews from the injustice and abuse they were facing by leading them to the Promised Land.

Then there's Mary – a young teen who is promised to a gentleman to be married. Before the vows can be exchanged, she finds herself to "be the favored one", and ends up pregnant. A visit from the angel Gabriel calms her, and even though she knows the possibility of abandonment, and even death, were ahead, she was clear – she was to carry and give birth to a very special baby.

And Joseph? He could have turned his back, but he didn't. He married the young girl, and Jesus was born.

The Wise Men had no idea where that strange new star was going to take them, but they were clear – they were to follow it.

Finally, Jesus. His life mission was crystal clear – love everyone; be a beacon of hope and beam of light in a world filled with shadows. Show God's love to everyone – no exceptions – even if they want to chase you out of town, try to trap you, or even kill you. JUST BE LOVE.

Live Love

As we move into a new year (where does the time go?!?!) you don't have to know what is coming next in your life to be clear about who and whose you are. You don't even have to know what your next step is to be clear about what you want your life to be.

Trust God. Keep God at your center. Love yourself – because you are created to be God's beloved just as you are. Share that same love and mercy, grace, and hope with everyone you encounter. Even - and maybe especially – in the face of adversity.

God doesn't promise we won't suffer and have hardships. God DOES promise that we will never be alone and that we will be abundantly blessed. I may not know everything, but I am clear on this. We are about to celebrate the miracle that Jesus is – a baby who was born in a stinky manger who grew up to change the world. And if he can do it – so can we! One day, one place, one person at a time. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Always Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

UCC