December 29, 2014

January 2015

Filed under: Faith Works — admin @ 8:27 am

50th Anniversary Sweatshirts

“Also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.’    ~Ecclesiastes 3:13

2014 is drawing to a close. We have much that needs to be done – the story of Baby Jesus needs to be told, New Year’s Resolutions need to be made, budgets need to be finalized, planning for Lent needs to begin, and as we all know, I could go on and on.

But among all of these “things” that “need” to get finished, I want to share something I have learned over the course of this year. It is the follow up to the “For everything there is a season” scripture we all know and love. It is the 13th verse, the one that reads:

“Also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.”

What beautiful words! Words that are actually written in the Bible – words that give us permission to enjoy everything we have worked so hard to bring to fruition. And we all work hard: physically, mentally, and emotionally. We put much energy into what we do, so why shouldn’t we spend some energy celebrating it?

Toil means to work very hard for a long time. God did. God created – toiled – for 6 days, and then “God rested.” God worked hard creating something beautiful out of complete chaos. And then, for one day, God took the time to step back and take a good look at everything that God created, and called it “GOOD.”

There was a time in my life – not so long ago – where everything I did needed to be perfect. And in that perfection, I worked so hard, I forgot to celebrate. I moved from one project right into the next, and didn’t take time to stop and enjoy what I just accomplished. In my not-so-infinite wisdom, I thought that as long as the event, or present, or whatever, was perfect, then everyone would be pleased. In making sure it was “perfect”, I forgot to enjoy the fruit of my labor. I forgot to “eat and drink and take pleasure” in my toil. Today, I take the time to stop and step back, and enjoy what I have done. I am not the same person I used to be.

We all “toil”. We are human, and we work hard. We cultivate the soil, plant the seeds, tend the seeds, and then we harvest the seeds. We get frustrated when the weather doesn’t give us what we want, we grow impatient when we don’t see the first shoots poking out of the ground right away. Sometimes we toil day and night to be sure every single bit of work is finished.

It is good to work hard, to want to do well in whatever you are trying to accomplish. But at the same time, we were created to be people of joy. We were created to “eat and drink and take pleasure in (our) toil.”

As we prepare to say good-bye to 2014, and ring in 2015, I invite you to look back over this past year and remember what it was that you “toiled” over. Take a good look at it, and then take a moment to celebrate what you have done. Take pleasure in it! There is always tomorrow to finish what you need to finish. Remember, “this is God’s gift” to us.

Christmas Peace ~ Pastor Heidi

October 5, 2009

A Frightful Scripture

Filed under: Faith Seeking Understanding — Pastor Tim @ 10:33 am

“Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  Mark 10:21b

Don’t those words strike terror into your heart?  Jesus had been asked what was needed “to inherit eternal life,” and this was his response.  But who can do that?  A number of folks manage to live on a shoestring; would Jesus really ask such people to give up their shoestring!

Actually we know this man depended upon much more than a shoestring.  The scripture says simply that “he had many possessions.”  Perhaps the question for us becomes this: How much is too much?  If we compare our lives to Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey or any number of professional athletes or movie stars, we may convince ourselves that we’re getting by on a shoestring.  If we compare our lives to the one-sixth of the world’s population that lives on a dollar a day, however, suddenly we are the wealthy.

But let’s not get hung up in any guilt over how much we do or do not have.  I don’t think this is a story about guilt.  It’s a story about love.  “Jesus, looking at [the man], loved him.”  Apart from his wealth, apart from his obedience to the commandments, apart from anything he could do to earn his way into heaven, he was embraced by Jesus’ heart!

That’s a frightful message for some of us who don’t know who we would be without our possessions, or without our obedience, or without our good works.  But that’s the gospel message for all of us: we don’t have to do a single thing, indeed we can’t do a single thing, to earn God’s love!

Quad-Cities CROP Walk, 2009

Filed under: Faith Works — Pastor Tim @ 9:37 am

With a couple of rainy, gloomy days before yesterday, I was worried what it could be like walking over the bridge at yesterday’s CROP Walk.  While the temperature was rather cool, and a chilly breeze blowing, the brightly-shining sun made a huge difference for those of us who walked over the bridge!

The walkers from Faith UCC included Sandra and Lyndy Holdt, Nicki, Lucas, and Jacob Smith, Harry and Maggie Stroupe, Janet and Tim Darmour-Paul, Helena Henry, and Darla DeToye.  Oh, and I took Metro along for the first couple of miles, but I wasn’t about to let him pull me over the bridge!  Darla, Helena, and I completed the entire six-mile route, and I suspect we all enjoyed getting our feet up and relaxing during the evening.

Thanks to all who walked and who contributed!

January 9, 2009

Happy Birthday, Faith UCC!

Filed under: Faith Seeking Understanding — Pastor Tim @ 1:03 pm

Happy 2009!  The first Sunday of this year marked the 45th birthday of Faith United Church of Christ in Davenport.

How are we a different congregation from when we were a newborn congregation?  Or a 20-year-old congregation?  We often focus on these facts: that the average age of our members is older, and that the number of members we have is lower.  I believe those changes are due largely to the shifts in the neighborhood of our church property.  We no longer are able to draw young families from the surrounding neighborhood because few young families move in this neighborhood any more.  (In the last fourteen years, we have never had even 20 trick-or-treaters at Halloween time at the church parsonage!)

But we are also different in the many ways that we serve in our community.  Whether it is supporting many of the hunger and shelter ministries of Churches United, or providing items for numerous social service agencies in our area, or supporting church camps at Pilgrim Heights, we have grown stronger through the years in our commitments to reach beyond the boundaries of our property.

We face new decisions every year concerning where and how we are to grow as a congregation.  May we always keep our hearts open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we make decisions that affect our future. 

June 24, 2008

Sabbatical - Lawn Care

Filed under: Faith Seeking Understanding — Pastor Tim @ 4:47 pm

So far, the major theme of my sabbatical seems to be lawn-mowing!

 Because of the floodwaters between us and Pilgrim Heights, I couldn’t get to camp for the first week of my sabbatical.  I went to my parents’ house an hour north of St. Louis instead.  They live on six acres in a country woods.  Because of recent health concerns, (my father has neuropathy that has been acting up), they needed help with lawn-mowing among other jobs.  So I spent a good portion of two days on their riding lawn mower.  (I hit a stump, bent a blade, and had to replace it on a third day.)

This week I have made it to Pilgrim Heights.  Right away, I learned the maintenance worker hasn’t had a day off in a long time.  So I’ve spent a good portion of today on the John Deere tractor, mowing, giving him an afternoon off at least.

Sitting on a tractor connects me with my roots.  I think back a lot to the days before my Grandpa died in a farming accident (1969, I think).  We visited the farm once a week, occasionally helping with chores (walking bean fields and chopping weeds, stacking hay bales, gathering eggs), but usually just to visit.  Visiting is sort of a rural art.  It helps folks slow down.  At least it helped us slow down when we left the hectic pace of the suburbs for Grandma and Grandpa’s farm.

Here at camp, we spend an hour for meals.  It is always hard at first to slow down enough to sit for that long.  It’s hard both for campers and for the leaders.  By the end of the week, when everyone’s exhausted, we look forward to those slower times.

A part of the gift of this sabbatical is the chance to slow down, whether visiting at the dinner table, or riding on a tractor.

June 14, 2008

“Will Our Faith Have Children?”

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 9:37 pm

Then the LORD said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”  Genesis 18:10

Abraham and Sarah laughed at the prospect of having children in their old age.  (Actually, it sounds as if they may have laughed at the prospect of having intercourse. v. 12)  But God was faithful and gave them Isaac, so the promise of becoming a great nation could be carried on through him.

Today many congregations struggle with a limited number of younger members.  We worry about no one being in the church when current generations have passed away.  We don’t want to promote the idea of having children simply for the purpose of saving the church!   But we do need to listen to the story of Abraham and Sarah to find ways towards our future.

Years ago, a book was written called Will Our Children Have Faith?  [John Westerhoff III, New York: The Seabury Press, 1976]  It was an important book concerning how the church would need to address Christian education at a time when many young people were beginning to experiment with alternative lifestyles.  However, a decade later, a seminary professor turned that book’s title around in a speech he gave.  [Walter Brueggemann, Hope Within History, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1987, “Will Our Faith Have Children?” first presented at Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, 1983]  By twisting that title, he invited the church to focus on how we live in ways that trust God’s ability to bring about a future that we cannot yet imagine.

He suggested we need to truly grieve the death of some methods of being church in our culture.  Then we need to embrace the dying of those old ways of being church.  And finally we be able to embrace new opportunities to live our faith with integrity.

A couple of decades later, I’d like to suggest that we are still working at grieving the loss of institutional religion and at embracing truly inclusive community as the way to identify our lives of faith.

I don’t have any easy answers for working at this.  (Modern music may have brought more young people to our institutions, but it doesn’t automatically shape disciples for inclusive community!)  Yet we do still have the story of Sarah and Abraham.

May their laughter give shape to our hope in God’s providing new life, new birth, new future!

June 4, 2008

Holy Interruptions

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 10:10 am

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.”  Matthew 9:9

While [Jesus] was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.”  Matthew 9:18

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak.  Matthew 9:20

You know how frustrating it is.  You sit down with your family to enjoy a nice, warm piece of baked chicken, and the phone rings.  “The extended warranty on one or more of your cars is about to expire.”  In actual fact, the warranty on your car is good for another two years, or it has expired five years ago.  But someone thinks they can make some money, so they program their company’s automatic phone dialers to intrude upon your meal time.

In this week’s gospel reading, first Jesus is the interrupter - calling Matthew from the midst of his efforts to balance his tax books.  But shortly thereafter Jesus is the interruptee - he is speaking to disciples of John the Baptist when a synagogue leader intrudes to get him to attend to his dead daughter; then as he’s traveling with this leader, a hemorrhaging woman imposes upon his journey as she seeks healing for herself.

“Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans,” goes a popular saying.  We must make plans and schedules, but we must also be ready for them be interrupted.  Indeed, many of life’s greatest blessings have to intrude and redirect our lives:

  • A baby blesses the life of a parent, but also disrupts all the familiar routines
  • A committed life-partner provides support through life’s journey, but also imposes his/her own life-situation on one’s own
  • A job opening provides expanding career opportunities, but also carries requirements for new learnings and for taking on new responsibilities

Not every interruption is the call of God, of course - especially not those mealtime telemarketers!  But a major part of our spiritual growth needs to be the developing of the ability to recognize God’s intrusions.  The call to make a contribution of time or talent or treasure towards some new ministry often feels like an interruption; but it is often how God seeks to work in our world.

Until God is finally finished shaping our lives, God will have to intrude upon our other plans.  May we find the grace to welcome these interruptions.

May 30, 2008

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 9:42 am

The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights….  And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.  Genesis 7:12,24

A number of years ago in the Peanuts comic strip, it rained and rained.  Charlie Brown stood outside, soaking wet.  And he looked up to the heavens with baseball and ballglove in his hands.  As loud as he could, he shouted, “Rain, rain, go away!  Come again another day!”  But still it poured.

The spring flooding we have received in our portion of the Midwest this year hasn’t been as bad as some other years; but there have been more tornados - many of the deadly - associated with many of these storms.  At times I have wished we could stand outside and yell at the clouds and make them stop raining.

The rains that came during the time of Noah were attributed to human corruption that led God to seek to wash away the evil with a flood.  Nowadays we tend to frown upon the suggestion that God tosses around curses when things aren’t going as God had planned.  Yet I suspect there is some sense in which God permits the consequences of human greed and apathy to flood the earth.  I believe the weather is affected to a greater extent than we usually wish to acknowledge by our practices of extracting as much energy as we can from the earth to supply our insatiable appetites for protection and comfort and speed. 

But in the end, the God who permits storms to damage the earth is also the God who tells Noah to build an ark.  The God who is unhappy with many of the decisions that we humans make is also the God who feels the pain of our condition.  The God who curses, if you will, is also the God who rescues humankind and provides for a fresh start.

We may not be able to shout (or pray) away the storms from our lives.  But we are able to place our trust in the One who created heaven and earth, and we are able to turn our lives toward compassion for others.  When we do so, then we find that we are yet embraced and nurtured by God’s promise of new life.

May 25, 2008

Overtaken

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 8:56 am

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today’s trouble is enough for today.  Matthew 6:34

Once when I was a volunteer chaplain in Quincy, Illinois, two different patients arrived in the ICU, having recently suffered heart attacks.

As I met with the woman, she told me straight out that she was worried.  She asked me to tell her a story about heaven.  So I told her the story of the people who didn’t have elbows, but who lived on a lush island filled with the most delicious foods.  It was hell for them if they tried only to feed themselves, but it became heaven for them when they learned to feed one another.  After I told the story, she immediately called for the nurse and asked if she could have ice cream.

As I met with the man in the ICU, he refused to look me in the eye.  I suggested that having a heart attack must have been a pretty frightening experience.  All he would say was, “I’m not scared.”  I wondered if he was a bit uptight being attached to so much medical equipment in a dark, dreary intensive care unit.  He forced himself to say, ”If I die, I’m going to heaven, so I shouldn’t be worried.”  And with that he used every bit of will power he had to keep from showing any signs of emotion.

A couple of days later, I saw both of their pictures and both of their names on the obituary page.  I remembered my last vision of each of them: him, holding his mouth and eyes closed, working hard to appear calm; her, eagerly slurping a chocolate milk shake.

I don’t want to suggest that either of them had a better death than the other.  But I don’t think Jesus means it is a sin to worry.  Worry is a sign of caring, and we need more caring people in our world.  Lack of worry can be a sign of apathy.

Perhaps Jesus means that it is a sin to let worry rule your life.  When we let our lives get overtaken by worry, we lose our lives trying to save them.  But when we live, in spite of our worries, we experience that gracious Presence that’s been sustaining us all along.

May 16, 2008

The Name of God

Filed under: Faith Matters — Pastor Tim @ 4:12 pm

“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Matthew 28:19b

The first name ascribed to God in the Bible is YHWH, a Hebrew word meaning “I AM WHO I AM” (See Exodus 3).  I understand that to be an UN-name.  That is, this name is proclaiming that there is no name by which the utterly free God can be trapped.

In the New Testament, we get a new formula for the name of God: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  This has caused all sorts of anguish through the generations, as outsiders have accused Christians of having three different gods.  It has also caused all sorts of creative attempts at explanation:  Ice, Water, and Steam all bear the same chemical form and hence are one, though they occur in three distinct ways; A clock in a tower has different faces on each side, but one and the same set of workings on the inside; If you poke your finger into the pointy end of a peeled banana, it breaks into three long, but relatively equal parts, though it is still one banana; etc.  Many explanations are provided to help folks to uplift this formula as God’s name.

But I wonder even our most creative explanations don’t miss the possibility that God (and the Church) are still playing the same game started in Exodus - namely, that God is simply too mysterious to be be trapped within any name.

So on Trinity Sunday, maybe we ought not get hung up on questions of the logic behind this identity.  Perhaps, instead, we can celebrate the One who is present around and under and in each and every one of us creatures who have been shaped in that divine and mysterious image.