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Weekly Message

ANNUAL GATHERING – – Who, What, and Why?

Dear friends,

First a quick thank you to everyone for making our big day on Sunday a success. In the afternoon, we shared worship with some residents at Casa, and then we celebrated Pentecost with special trumpet music and five different languages during our regular 5 pm worship. I’m grateful to all of you who participated and helped welcome our visitors (among the visitors were my parents, who had a blast).

In a few days, Carol, Sue Ann, Larry, Kathie, and I will journey up to Sonoma State to take part in the 2017 Annual Gathering of the Northern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ. That’s a mouthful!

You may be wondering: what is Annual Gathering, and why is it a big deal? Annual Gathering is the chance for every church to practice an important value: the value of covenant.

You may have noticed that we privilege autonomy in the United Church of Christ. Our local leaders make our own decisions. We don’t have to deal with a lot of hierarchy, or some church leader from far off telling us what to do.

But the flipside of this independence is the freedom to seek relationship with other churches and other people. Autonomy, in other words, leads to and empowers covenant. It has always been so among our churches — when they banded together to form some of our nation’s first colleges, when they stood up against slavery, when they fought for women’s rights, when they voted to ordain the first openly gay pastor in the United States.

Over this next weekend, your representatives of First Church will join nearly a hundred other local UCC churches. We will worship God together. We will attend workshops on a variety of topics including justice, music, church administration (I’m teaching a workshop on “Poetry and Protest”!). We will vote on four proposals related to the future mission of the Conference.

It’s easy just to be independent. It’s harder, and more valuable, to seek relationships that nourish and stretch us. That’s part of why we allot funds to have our church well-represented each year at Annual Gathering.

Pray for us as we do our best to represent this body of Christ. And look forward to hearing more, once we return!

Serving with you,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

 

Enthusiasm, Pentecost, and Saying Thanks to Andrew

 Dear friends,

What an exciting month we have to look forward to here at First Church. As I write this, eleven of us are preparing to visit the Pacifica Institute in Sunnyvale, to learn from their Muslim community, and to share an Iftar dinner. An amazing opportunity — and you know what? It all stemmed from a conversation we struck up during the Redwood City 150th Anniversary Festival downtown.

On Sunday, June 11, at 2 pm I’ll lead a worship service at Casa de Redwood, and we’ll visit with our friends there. Then, at 5 pm, we’ll gather at First Church to celebrate Pentecost. In many ways Pentecost is my favorite of the Christian holy days, and it’s a totally modern one.

Pentecost is all about diversity, and enthusiasm. Pentecost commemorates the moment when the Holy Spirit filled the followers of Jesus, and equipped them to preach the Gospel in their own native tongues. When we say we welcome you just as you are, that’s part of what we mean.

We’ll have at least five languages represented in worship on Sunday — can you guess which ones? There will also be special trumpet music, and another unique communion table design (thanks, Joyce!) to look forward to. You’re invited to join me in wearing red, to symbolize the fire of God’s Holy Spirit.

Sunday will also be a time to say thank you to Andrew Jamieson, who has served as one of our piano accompanists for over two years. Andrew has done a terrific job leading us in song, wowing us with postludes, and showing flexibility and good humor at all times. Please let him know how much he has been appreciated.

Andrew will still fill in for us in the future, but as we grow and expand our worship experience, First Church is hiring at part-time Minister for Music. Starting in mid-June, we will no longer have a rotating cast of accompanists, but rather a single, talented, experienced individual to plan and lead our worship music. Needless to say, I’m excited about this, and I will introduce our new Minister for Music in next week’s newsletter.

This Sunday, we lift up Andrew — who, amid his many other commitments, has been there for First Church through the highs and lows of the last few years.

* * *

I mentioned we have an exciting month (and indeed summer) ahead of us. I want to end my note by giving you some highlights to look forward to.

Please mark your calendars!

 

June 15-18   Five of us are representing First Church at the Annual Gathering of the Northern California Nevada Conference of the UCC, held at Sonoma State.

 Sunday, June 25 During worship, we welcome seven New Members into our church family!

Sunday, July 9 Movies That Matter (“Being Mortal” with Dr. Atul Gawande), 3 pm.    Worship at 5 pm.

Sunday, July 23 Our Annual Meeting at 3 pm. Rev. Nate Klug installed during worship at 5 pm.

 Sunday, August 13 Rev. Polly Moore (College Heights UCC), guest preaching.

 Sunday, August 27 Soul Sparks class returns at 3:30 pm, with a fall series entitled “Who We Are.”    Worship at 5 pm.

Thanking God for you,

Nate

 Rev. Nate Klug

 

LOVING the STRANGER

Dear friends,

Imagine that you are taking a commuter train. Lots of bodies of different sizes and colors. You’re doing your best to relax and settle your thoughts. But out of the corner of your eye, you see a man who seems to be acting inappropriately.

You edge closer to get a better look. Soon it becomes clear that this man is verbally harassing two young women, saying racist things, intimidating them. Some of what he’s saying sounds familiar — you’ve heard language like this during the Presidential campaign.

The women are trapped. The man’s voice is only getting louder. Other people look around at each other, wondering what to do. But no one moves yet.

Moments like this — racist, violent action against women, people of color, immigrants, and religious minorities — have been on the rise in our country during the last year. Last week, in Portland, Oregon, a man was harassing two women on a train. Three other men tried to intervene, and the harasser stabbed them, killing two and injuring the third.

So many things frighten me about this story. As a resident of the Bay Area, I’m in crowded, public places all the time, around people whom I don’t know and can’t fully trust.

And yet I know that, as much as I might be troubled, for people of color and religious minorities, entering into those public spaces must feel entirely different. I can’t ever fully know what it’s like for them, but I can listen to their experiences and try to learn from them. (A group from First Church will be doing exactly that on June 5, as we join other UCC congregations in attending a Ramadan Iftar dinner at the Pacifica Institute in Sunnyvale.)

We seem to have entered a moment where some of the basic tolerance and acceptance that was taken for granted in our country has eroded. Perhaps it was never really there, or not as prevalent as I’d like to think.

“Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.” These words come from the Book of Deuteronomy, an oft-neglected but actually pretty interesting part of the Hebrew Bible.

God’s commandment to the Israelites to love the stranger reflects the fact that they were strangers, once, and will be again. The message is simple. I try to remind myself that it is a commandment, not a suggestion.

Serving with you,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

 

 

Testimonies

Dear Friends,

This Sunday evening, we will gather and hear the story of the Ascension — the moment when the Resurrected Jesus leaves the earth and ascends to heaven, to the astonishment of his already-astonished followers. If Jesus’ leaving seems like a strange thing to celebrate, well, yes and no.

On the plus side, Jesus didn’t leave us alone. He left us with the Holy Spirit, that sneaky, surprising third person of God’s Holy Trinity. (More about that on Pentecost in June.) And before he left, Jesus entrusted his followers to be his “witnesses…to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1).

So, how do we live out Jesus’ request? How do we bear witness to Christ’s manifestations in our lives, big and small?

Just from my few months of knowing you, I can tell that our congregation is full of amazing witnesses to God. I’ve already heard stories of grace amidst illness, resilience and recovery, unexpected romance, and every-day acts of justice from many of you.

On Sunday, we will begin an occasional series during worship that I’m calling “Testimony.” Towards the beginning of worship, one person will stand up and tell a simple, two-minute story of a moment where they were surprised or moved by God’s grace.

It’s my hope that having an occasional time for Testimony helps us know each other better, and in a different way. I have a few folks in mind who will kick off our first few Testimonies. But it’s my hope that, eventually, every one who has a story to tell will feel like sharing. If you have a story that would make a good Testimony, please let me know! I will help you craft it to be worship-ready.

It takes courage to get up in front of other people and tell a story of where God touched your life. And yet — if we take Jesus seriously, this was one of his final wishes and instructions before he ascended.

In what way are you witnessing, this week?

God’s peace,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

 

Mental Health Sunday

 Dear friends,

Though we won’t be gathered for worship, this coming Sunday marks Mental Health Sunday in the United Church of Christ

calendar. This is a Sunday when we are invited to pray for, and think about how we might support, the mental health of

ourselves and those around us.

I love how this theme comes fast on the heels of Easter. When we think about the Resurrection and Ascension, mental health might not be the first thing that comes to mind.

But remember the people whom Jesus heals, and instructs to “take up your bed and walk.” Remember Mary, weeping outside the tomb. Remember Jesus himself, in a moment of doubt on the cross. It’s safe to say that mental health and Christ’s ministry are closely related.

The theologian Paul Tillich says that, in our modern era, Christian faith gives us “the courage to be.” Our modern world is distinguished by anxiety, irony, and the fear of meaninglessness. Into this void, Tillich says, comes God when all other powers and forces have failed. “The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God disappears in the anxiety of doubt,” Tillich writes.

The God whom we know through the resurrected Jesus did not come back for our perfect, flawless selves. God came back for our whole selves, that we might be healed, and that we might be non-anxious sources of comfort and strength for other people.

Maybe you know someone who is struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, or some other mental demon. Maybe that person is, or has been, you. Today, know that God is on your side. Know that the resurrected Jesus loves you, is patient with you, and cares for you.

Know that things can get better. For this is the Good News.

God’s peace,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

 

 

New Things

Dear Friends,

When Kit and I moved in January, we noticed that our new bungalow had raised garden beds in the backyard, installed by the last tenant. We didn’t think twice about them as we unpacked, and settled in.

But then spring came around, and we said: “Why not?” Neither of us had ever really gardened before. But we bought some seeds and seedlings at a local nursery, looked up a few videos on YouTube, and planted our garden.

Now, in mid-May, we have started to see some results. The middle bed is overflowing with swiss chard and tomato vines — actually, it needs to be weeded, as I write this! The far bed is growing calmly, with spinach and squash plants that haven’t yet emerged. And the near bed isn’t doing much. It has produced a few strawberries, but it’s not probably getting enough sun to flourish.

“Some results,” I said — but that’s not really what it’s been about, for me. Sure, it’s been great to pluck out a few plants and cook with them. But what I’ve savored most is the surprise of it all, the different responses of each bed, and the way a weekend of sun, or rain, can change the look of the garden.

Whenever we embark on something new, we risk failing. And when things do take off, we want to measure and quantify, as a way to reflect on how they’re going.

I’m not sure God looks at life this way. I imagine God cheering on each fantastic risk for its own sake. Each time we step out of our comfort zone. Each time we say “Why not?” Each time we stand up for what we know is right, even if it causes the anxiety of conflict.

For “God is new each moment,” as the theologian Edward Schillebeeckx says. With the comfort and security of God’s love at our roots, how can we not branch out!

Which new things await you, this month of light and growth?

* * *

Come join us as we celebrate God’s mothering presence, this Sunday at 5. We’ll have a full evening of worship and community dinner.

To those of you whom I won’t see on Sunday, I wish you a Mother’s Day filled with gratitude and joy.

Serving with you,

 

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

 

 

Unity in Diversity

Here’s an obvious statement: we don’t all see the world in the same way. Here’s one less obvious statement: this is a good thing!

When I taught our Inquirers class on Wednesday, the seven of us talked about the far-ranging history of Christianity and our denomination. One unique hallmark of the United Church of Christ, I said, is what we call “unity in diversity.”

Our denomination allows for extensive freedom in what each individual congregant believes, and how we interpret the Gospel. As we discussed on Wednesday, unlike some other denominations, we don’t regularly repeat any kind of Creed in worship (though we do say the Lord’s Prayer). In not confining our sense of how God works to a checklist, we take our cue from the English Congregationalist John Robinson, who preached to a group of nervous Pilgrims sailing to America that “the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.”

When we worship together, each person has a slightly different conception of “Who” God is and “How” She works. And we’re pretty good at celebrating that!

What’s a little harder to celebrate is when people in any church have real political differences — when they don’t see eye to eye about social issues or policy priorities. At every church I’ve served, this has been the case. And it’s a challenge: how do we talk about important political stuff together, when we might disagree? How do I stand up for what I believe in (which reflects my understanding of the Gospel) without alienating someone else?

This is a big question, and I don’t have a quick answer! What I will say is this: just as we expect and support diversity in our theological beliefs, so should any church expect and support diversity in our political viewpoints. Again, this doesn’t mean biting our tongue when it comes to sharing our own values and priorities. But it does mean not making the assumption that everyone is on the same page that we are.

“Unity in diversity” means taking the time to explain a little bit about where you are coming from, theologically or politically, for the benefit of others. It means being ready to listen when someone speaks up with a different point of view — and even inviting that person to share.

Over and over again, we hear about how divided our country is. How people on one side of the aisle hardly interact with people on the other side. How technology and social media are pushing us further and further into our bubbles. Guess which old-fashioned, radical, frustrating, inspiring kind of community can work against all that? You’re right: church!

Church, as Quinn Caldwell says, might be one of the last places left — besides family reunions — where you voluntarily encounter someone who thinks very differently than you. And you are called to break bread with that person. And you each are called to listen to one another, and set aside your assumptions.

That’s “unity in diversity.” And right now it’s something everyone needs.

Thanking God for you,

Nate

Rev. Nate Klug

 

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