This Wednesday, we will hold an Inquirers class, for people who are interested in becoming members of our church.
In our wider culture, the very idea of “membership” is changing. People are less and less willing to commit to organizations — be they Rotary, town councils, or religious groups.
So perhaps it’s a good time to ask ourselves: why church? Why are we involved in First Church, and what would we tell these folks who are thinking of joining?
For me, when I think about church among all the other programs and events that I participate in, the answer is simple: church is a time when we learn about, and connect with, God.
And our “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise” is a God whose presence can be felt in everything else that occupies our time — in our condo association meetings, in our days spent caring for parents or grandchildren, even in our favorite TV shows!
So, perhaps when we come to church, we don’t come in competition with all the other programs in our lives. We come because there is so much else going on.
We come, because only here do we have the ability, together, to learn about and thank the God who stands behind all this other busy and incredible stuff. If church is done well, it should be about more than itself. It should send us back out into our busy lives feeling a little more connected with the source of all goodness and peace.
It should send us back into our lives feeling a little more assured about why we do all the other things we do. It should be that place where we find our center and seek our meaning.
What a joy it was to be joined by over twenty of you for our outdoor sunrise service this Easter Sunday! We had keyboard, electric guitar, and flute. We had poetry and a cross bursting with lilies. We had coffee and mittens and folding chairs. And though it rained later that day (as it has every Easter I’ve been in California!), we had pretty clear skies and a sun flaring on the horizon.
Most importantly, we had you — in body or in spirit — as we sang and prayed and heard the story of Mary Magdalene, drawn from weeping into hope as Jesus calls her by name.
“I have seen the Lord,” Mary says, when she runs to tell the disciples. In the worship you experienced, in the meals you shared with friends and family, in the quiet moments of Easter Sunday, I hope you had your own versions of Mary’s story.
So — now what? Now what, in these first days after the Resurrection? Let me suggest one possibility: that you celebrate God’s redeeming love…by relaxing. Find a day, or half a day, or just an hour in which you are intentional about doing nothing. Nothing other than recognizing all that God has done for you, through Jesus.
One of my favorite preachers tells this story: A horseman is riding through the night, anxious to reach a town that lies on the edge of a great lake.
The horseman rides and rides, never knowing how far he has gone, or how fast he is going. When he finally reaches the town, it is long after dark. He asks the first person he sees how much further it is to the lake. She points behind him. It becomes clear: he has already crossed the frozen lake, without knowing. He has passed over the worst possibility, and felt nothing. He falls to his knees in gratitude.
I’m still figuring out how I think salvation works, but one thing is clear to me. We can’t do it ourselves. No matter how much we huff and puff, no matter how busy we get with our hours, the matter of eternity is out of our hands. And on Easter, with that empty tomb, God communicates once and for all that God is on the side of life and love.
Maybe some Easters, we feel that truth like a burning coal. Maybe some Easters, we feel not much more than nothing. But God has done God’s job. As with the horseman, the worst possibilities are behind us. We have passed over that frozen lake, into new life.
All of that is to say: we don’t have to do anything, to earn God’s love. We already have it — that’s the Resurrection. Now, we can bask in it, and discover ways of shaping the world according to its promise.
What does it mean to be an Easter people? This is the question I am asking myself this week.
Many of you joined us on Sunday, during Soul Sparks and worship, as we began the Holy Week journey. We thought together about the twists and turns of Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem, under the watchful eye of the religious authorities and the Roman Empire. We talked about how, in our world, things aren’t that different. A foreign prophet who welcomed the ill and children, drove out the loan sharks, and captivated thousands — he might well fear for his life in this country today.
We waved our palms in the air, celebrating Jesus’ triumphal march, at the beginning of worship. But by the end of the service, when we sang, “Were you there, when they crucified my Lord?”, we had settled into a different mood.
Across our world, it can be difficult to see signs of Resurrection. The ongoing news from Syria, the tragic bombings on Palm Sunday in Egypt. And, on a smaller scale, the ridiculous, violent de-boarding of a passenger from a United flight in Chicago, which has gone viral online and symbolizes the cruelty of a financial system where the bottom line now means everything.
What it means to be an Easter people is to “practice Resurrection,” in the words of the poet Wendell Berry. It means, first and foremost, seeing possibility and hope where on first glance there appears to be none.
In your own life, maybe there is a relationship that seems to have worn out. Maybe there is a fear that keeps gnawing at you. What we know from our story of the empty tomb is that God works unexpected outcomes from our current situations. Our faith lets us see a little further than we might see otherwise. And it empowers us to take action on behalf of what we believe. Despair and frustration are part of this life — and no honest Christian should deny that. But Easter reminds us that there is always another chapter to the story.
“Love gets the last word,” as one of my ministers liked to say around this time of year! I hope that for you, and for the people you love, the Resurrection story comes alive this week and the next: in the ongoing possibility of change, in the joy of slowing down and savoring life, and in small acts of justice that foreshadow our Risen God’s reign.
Whether or not I see you bright and early on Easter morning (worship details on the following page!), know you are in our thoughts during this powerful time of the year.
Dear friends,Scott Fitzgerald said that the test of genius is to hold two opposing thoughts in your head at the same time, and not go crazy.
Try it: I’m grateful (for this week of beautiful weather) — but I’m worried (about the state of our country).
Or: I’m tired (my week has been a busy one), but I’m excited (to see my friends at church on Sunday.)
Wait a minute… maybe life is always a little like this! Maybe we always hold different feelings alongside one another, like moods in a musical composition. And religion, if it’s worth anything, should speak to all of what we go through — our highs and our lows.
That’s why I find these two particular weeks in the Christian calendar so meaningful. On Palm Sunday, we get all the excitement of a big parade as Jesus enters Jerusalem. And yet, that very same week, we watch the political powers that be dash all that hope and promise, like a steam shovel uprooting a garden bed. Our Christian story dares to reach into the very bottom of the abyss, as with Jesus we ask God: “Why have you forsaken me?”
And then, on Easter morning, we dare to contradict that emptiness. We dare to hope and reach upwards, and put our best selves forward, in spite of all the signs to the contrary! We celebrate the truth that in the resurrected Christ, love gets the last word.
And here’s the thing about Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter.
To fully appreciate the final stop, you have go along for the whole ride!
I truly believe that in the peaks and valleys of these two weeks, there is no part of the human experience that God does not touch. So whatever you are going through at the moment, whichever opposing thoughts you are holding inside your self, know that there is a place in this story for you.
And join us…this Sunday for Soul Sparks and Palm Sunday worship, on Good Friday as part of a joint service at College Heights UCC, and next Sunday morning as we gather bright and early to shout, “Hallelujah! He is risen!” Details about all of these services can be found inside your newsletter.
I would love to know which part of the story speaks the most to you this year. It’s amazing what can happen in two powerful weeks.
Rev. Nate Klug
Soul Sparks: A Lenten Study Group
What is Lent? What meaning does it have for us today? As we move through this unique season of turning back to God, join Rev. Nate Klug to talk about themes and controversies sparked by that week’s Scripture text. Sessions will be held at First Church, right before Community Sunday worship.
Sunday, April 9: 3:30 – 4:40 pm.
Politics, power, and faith. We walk through Jesus’
encounters with politicians and crowds in Matthew 26-27.
What a life-giving Sunday we had — a full house for Soul Sparks and Worship! If you weren’t able to join us, know that you were there in spirit.
I knew this time would come: I blinked, and already I’ve been at First Church for a couple of the months. Because my next few newsletter articles are going to be geared towards Holy Week and Easter, I want to take the time this week to comment on a few things you might have noticed in my ministry.
–I am serious about getting to know each of you! If you haven’t yet gotten a note or a call inviting you to meet, it will be coming soon. Better yet, reach out to me, and invite me for a coffee at your favorite place in town, or at your home. I know it can seem intimidating to visit one on one with a pastor, but I really have no hidden agenda, just the desire to better understand my people’s hopes, struggles and joys.
-If you’ve been in worship recently, you’ve also noticed that my sermons have invited some participation. Two weeks ago, thinking about Jesus in the desert, we used Post-It Notes to write down the temptations, anxieties, and uncertainties we wanted to find freedom from. Last Sunday, thinking about the Samaritan woman at the well, we turned to our neighbor and talked about a life-changing conversation we had experienced.
Thank you all for taking a risk, and jumping into these moments with me! We won’t always include “audience participation” during worship, but it is heartening to see the way you have embraced it. “Liturgy,” which is often used as a synonym for the order of worship, actually means “the work of the people” — ie, you!
One advantage of our informal worship space is that no one can really just sit back and watch the sermon and music like a big screen TV. We are all intimately involved, mixed up among each other. As our Scripture stories this Lent have suggested, I think God likes it that way.
God is far more interested in us sharing our full selves than us performing for each other. As you continue to get to know me, and as I continue to get to know you, that’s a great thing to remember. As our bright new banner outside says, “Be the church!”