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Weekly Message

Why Church?

Dear friends,

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.

Thanking God for you,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

 

 

TAKING IT EASY AFTER EASTER

Dear friends,

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.

Thanks be to God! Happy Easter,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

 

 

An Easter People

Dear friends,

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.

God’s peace,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

A NOTE FROM NATE

ALL in TWO POWERFUL WEEKS

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.

Peace,

Nate

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.

 

 

 

 

A Note from Nate

Getting to Know You

Dear friends,

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!”

Serving with you,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

 

A Budget is a Moral Document

Dear Friends,

 

What does Jesus talk about most in the Bible? Hint: it isn’t heaven; it isn’t marriage; it isn’t faith…

Believe it or not, it’s money! There are about forty recorded parables in the Gospels (some of them are repeated across different Gospels in slightly different forms) — forty different stories we know that Jesus told his followers. And about half of these parables relate to money, in one way or another.

Jesus knew that how we choose to spend and distribute our money is a good reflection of our faith. Our stewardship tells a story of how we love, and what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like for us.

Last Thursday, the Trump administration unveiled its first budget blueprint. With defense spending set to increase, the budget is proposing to decrease funding for following agencies: Dept. of Housing, Dept. of Education, Dept. of Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Other organizations, like the National Endowment for the Arts, would be eliminated.

All too often, we separate financial decisions from ultimate values. I’m guilty of this. Sometimes, my planning and spending puts my needs first, which is a great excuse to put off giving away more of what my family earns. It’s as if one part of me reads the Bible, and another part of me rationalizes costs and savings.

On the national scale, it’s only slightly different. We have a deficit, and part of responsible stewardship is addressing our deficit for the sake of future generations. But balancing a budget should not come at the expense of the poor, the uneducated, and the vulnerable.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25). Jesus said that. He knew that budgets and financial decisions were inseparable from how we lived out our faiths.

So what would Jesus prioritize in a budget? What would he choose to cut? Those are hard questions, but they are ones we must ask, as thinking Christians, this Lent.

See you Sunday     (for Soul Sparks at 3:30, and then worship at 5!)

~ Rev. Nate Klug

 

 

Learning and Listening

Dear friends,

It’s been a wonderful, diverse week in the life of First Church.  Here are a few highlights:

-Last Tuesday, Bill, Paul, Howard, and I (plus our friend Henry from UCC Belmont) drove up to Hillcrest Juvenile Hall for our monthly visit. In honor of International Women’s Day, we and ten or so Hillcrest boys shared about different women who have had an impact on our lives. It was moving to watch these young men think and open up, and to hear their reactions to the feminine spirit of Wisdom described in Proverbs 3.

 -The next day, about twenty friends and members gathered at Yat Sing restaurant for our monthly Good Hope luncheon. Over excellent Chinese, I witnessed old acquaintances being renewed, new friendships forming, and — maybe most impressively — two of our elder members learning how to use the cameras on their cell phones!

-Finally, last Sunday, about twelve of you joined me for our first Soul Sparks discussion before worship.   We had a fascinating time thinking about Jesus’ mindset in the midst of  his temptations. We also talked honestly about Sin and confession: how often should we confess, and what for? A great part of a congregation like ours is the chance to ask the big questions and learn from one another — and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for, whenever I offer a learning program like Soul Sparks.

Where do all these snapshots come together, you might ask? Well, for me, they unite in the chance to learn from different perspectives — to listen, to try to table any prejudgments we might have, and to take this Lenten opportunity to humble ourselves in the midst of life’s great mysteries.

Are we ever done discovering? I hope not!

Grateful to be the church with you,

Nate

 

A Note from Nate

A Week for Women

Dear Friends,

When I arrived on the scene at First Church, several of you told me proudly how you had participated in the Women’s March on January 21.  On January 22, my “Candidating Sunday”, your faces were still beaming from the support and energy you experienced the afternoon before.

March 8, this Wednesday, marks International Women’s Day. What better way to observe Lent this week than to find your own way to celebrate this day? As I preached on Ash Wednesday, Lent is not just a time to number our individual sins (though this is important). Lent is also a time to reflect critically and creatively on our culture at large: Whose lives are we undervaluing? And how can we help shift the emphasis?

As Princeton professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor puts it, “women’s work or women’s labor is at times unseen. It can be undervalued, underpaid.”  We have come some way in addressing this inequality. But I don’t need to tell you how far we still have to go.

Some people are choosing to spend part of March 8 by protesting, sharing inspirational quotes on Facebook, or wearing red in solidarity. Here’s one other idea, in addition: open a Bible and read about the persistent widow in Luke 18, who kept pestering a corrupt judge until he granted her justice. Or check out the Syrophoenician woman who begged on behalf of her sick daughter (Matthew 15).  Or consider the feminine divine, personified as Wisdom, in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs.

Holy Scripture is full of words about women of faith, often on the margins of their society, who stood up for justice and mercy.  Indeed, one reason that we still call these stories Holy is because we see their truth reflected in our daily lives, every day–in the mothers, daughters, sisters, teachers, bosses, and colleagues who inspire, nourish, challenge, and help to shape us.

God’s peace,

Rev. Nate Klug

PS — See you Sunday:  “Soul Sparks” at 3:30     Worship at 5!

 

 

A Note from Nate

About Lent and Resistance

Dear First Church,

“Why Lent?” is a question every minister has to answer once in a while.

“Do we really need a whole season for repentance and saying sorry? Isn’t there enough guilt to go around in our culture already? And besides, I thought we were a forward-looking church?”

I’ll admit that my own experience of Lent has changed over time. When I first started going to church seriously, at the age of 20, Lent was a time to test my devotion. I had an equally zealous friend who put a small stone in his shoe, every day during Lent, to remind him of God! Ouch.

If Lent is no longer a time of testing my spiritual athleticism, I think I value it even more today. Lent, of course, is the season where we remember Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. 40 days, for him and for us, to figure out what really matters! That’s a huge gift–if we take the opportunity.

Here are three aspects of Lent that I am grateful for this year:

Lent is slow. It’s just an accident that the French word for “slowly” is “lentement”! But when you think about it, Lent is all about slowing down. The world values frenzy and rewards keeping busy. Lent demands that we catch our breath and prune back our priorities.

Lent admits mistakes. The whole Christian framework of sin becomes empowering, and even liberating, when we realize that we are not expected to be perfect. When I practice repentance, it feels like God is lifting a burden from my shoulders.

Lent is about resistance. When Jesus retreats to the desert, he is saying “No!” to a whole bunch of worldly pressures. It’s hard to say “No” in today’s world. And yet in our country’s current administration, there are many impulses and movements worth resisting. What will you stand up against this Lent?

And one last thing, friends. Easter, like the summit of a long hike, feels a whole lot better when we have been paying attention during Lent!

I hope you will consider joining us at our Ash Wednesday service, and at the Soul Sparks discussion series before Sunday worship in March and April. Come explore what Lent means to you.

Thanking God for you,

Nate

 

Faith in Action

Dear Friends,

 

Last Wednesday, Kathie and I attended a training on standing in solidarity with immigrants. In a conference room at the Congregational Church of San Mateo, more than 50 clergy and religious leaders from different faith backgrounds (see my blurry picture, below) gathered to learn about the different ways we can support those in our communities who are being targeted by our government. It was an inspiring event on many levels: practical, realistic, but also full of hope. We need hope!

 

As I mentioned in my reflection on Sunday, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids have been picking up in California. These past weeks, Jesus’ words from Matthew 25 have been on my mind: “…For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Jesus is talking about living the kind of life that reflects the Kingdom of Heaven. Not everyone present at our training considered those words to be scripture. But everyone found a common teaching of compassion and support for the oppressed in their specific tradition, be it Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian, etc.

So what did we learn, and what might we all do, as First Church Redwood City? First, we learned that the Faith in Action Bay Area team is setting up local groups of “rapid responders,” folks who can show up at an ICE raid at short notice (they usually occur in the early morning) to witness and provide moral support. If you’re interested in joining a rapid response network in your neighborhood, you can write to organizer Adriana Guzman at Adriana@faithinactionba.org, or see me for more information.

Secondly, and most importantly for our congregation, we learned about the California Values Act — a new piece of legislation that Adriana called one of the strongest acts to protect immigrants in our country. Here is how the act describes itself: “The bill provides essential safeguards to ensure that police, schools, hospitals and courts remain accessible to Californians from all walks of life.” At our next Community Sunday on February 26, following worship, all those who are interested will have the opportunity to add our signatures to a letter in support of this bill. We’ll have the letters ready. Our signatures will then be delivered, along with the signatures from many other faith communities, to Sacramento in early March.

One of the best things about community is the sense that we can do more, together, than we ever could on our own. We are never just one congregation. And as it is for everyone breathing on this earth right now, our lives intersect in urgent, powerful ways. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, we have a Teacher who gave us words to live by: “Just as you did to the least of these, you did to me.”

Thanking God for you,

Nate