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Archive for February 2017

Dear Friends,

One of the most powerful parts about church is the way in which our community bears the presence of all those who have touched it in the past. We are a living body, and yet our shape and identity does not only extend to the living.

This week marks the first anniversary of the death of Rev. Kim Smith-Nilsson. For many of you who knew and loved Kim, and who were known and loved by her, this is a tender time.

Here’s a truth about loss: in the stories we tell, in the songs that we sing, in photographs, in beloved objects, in something as simple as a gesture or a word, people come back. Their spirits don’t leave us.

In Christianity, we have a name for this–the communion of saints. This doctrine, which goes all the way back to the early church, comes from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” In Christ, God holds Kim, and you, and me, along with all those who have gone before us.

I’m not suggesting that death has no sting. Or that cancer doesn’t suck. It does. But I am saying that absence and presence do a strange dance together in this life.

Listen to what the novelist Marilynne Robinson writes about Jesus: “There was a moment in which Jesus, as a man, a physical presence, left that supper at Emmaus. His leave-taking was a profound event for which the supper itself was precursor.  “Presence is a great mystery, and presence in absence, which Jesus promised and has epitomized, is, at a human scale, a great reality for all of us in the course of ordinary life.”

I think Robinson is right. “Presence in absence” gets at something close to what I feel during the sacrament of Communion, or when I pray, or when I think about my relatives and friends who have passed on.

I never got to meet Kim. But in so many small ways, as I am beginning to know you, I am learning how she left her mark on First Church. Our lives grow fuller and brighter because of who she was. Join us in worship this Sunday, February 26 at 5 pm, when we say a special prayer of remembrance for Kim.

See you in church,



Today’s Newsletter

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, 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,



Today’s News


Join us


March 1

11:00 am

for a brief worship service

And, if you have time, you’re also invited to stay for Prayer Circle

immediately following the Ash Wednesday service.

All are welcome

Nate will be sharing “Ashes to Go” somewhere  very near First Church

at 2:00 pm.  If you would like to stand with Nate,

let us know via email or call the office at 650.369.0344.


A Note from Nate

Dear Friends,

Can you believe it? I officially began as your settled Pastor on February 1. Thanks be to God!

And thanks be to you–thank you to NCNC staff for connecting us. Thank you to the First Church Search Committee, for your diligent work these past months. Thank you to Kathie and Joyce, for helping me get started and get up to speed. Finally, thanks to every one of you, for welcoming me. After Prayer Circle and Staff Meeting on my first day in the office, I could already tell that the First Church community is a special one.

Luckily, we send out our newsletter every week, because there is a heck of a lot to cover. And over time, I will use this space to share about myself and my hopes and dreams for ministry at First Church. For this first note, though, I want to lift up three simple things that are on my mind — requests, I guess you could call them.


Number 1:

Help me get to know you. I want to visit with as many folks as I can, over my first few months of ministry. If you’re getting this newsletter, that means you! I am happy to meet you here at church, or at your home or a favorite local restaurant. Will you take the initiative and reach out to me to schedule a visit? You can call for me at the church office (650.369.0344), or email me at

Number 2:

Join us for worship and communion this month. On February 12, I will be talking about Paul’s notion of belonging, an important and tricky concept in our country at the moment.  And on February 26, we will celebrate Jesus’ transfiguration.

Look out, too, for our “Soul Sparks” Lent study group, beginning Sunday, March 12 (more information on page 7).

Number 3 (and this one goes for myself, more than anyone):

Breathe, and enjoy this newness. Sure, there may be some little hiccups as we get adjusted. But God is present in a special way during transitions. So, as much as I might like to rush ahead and cross off all my to-do lists, I am trying to slow down and bask in the here and now. By the time you read this, I will have been your Pastor for seven days! And I am praising God for the next seven of them.

In Christ,



Today’s News


Matthew 5:13-20

[Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”


The images of salt and light are part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ most well-known sermon and his first in the Gospel of Matthew. As he climbs up the mountain, he turns to look upon the crowd that’s gathered around him since he started his ministry of teaching and healing; their suffering and need fill his heart with compassion, just as he is keenly aware of the spiritual hunger and physical suffering of the world around them. He speaks about the reign of God that is even now, in his own person, breaking into that world. For three chapters, Matthew pulls      together a number of Jesus’ teachings to form a long sermon; this short passage connects the Beatitudes to the difficult instructions that follow. Before Jesus repeatedly raises the standard for his own followers (“you have heard it said Öbut I say to you Ö”), he uses two common, everyday images to tell his disciples who they are. After lifting up the mostly unlikely people–the poor in spirit, the meek and the merciful, those who mourn and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and the persecuted–and calling them “blessed,” Jesus addresses the crowd as “you,” and offers them words of both reassurance and challenge. The “you,” is plural, to be heard by us not as private, pious Christians but as the Body of Christ in the world God loves.

Like the second generation of Christians in Matthew’s community, we listen with the crowd to hear that we, too, are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” While Jesus is telling us who we are, these  metaphors are also about what we do, how we do it, and the effect of what we do in the world. We’re called to make a reinvigorating difference in the world, so that all who watch us will feel new life, new vitality, new        possibility, new hope, new beauty. The church is no     secret society, Jesus tells us, right from the beginning. Or, as Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message, “We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hillÖ.Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand–shine! Keep open house, be generous with your lives.” As we strive to live faithfully in the world, we may be small, but we are mighty, not because of our own strength but because of God’s own grace, which will never leave us on our own.

The Rev. Kathryn Matthews ( retired in July after serving as the dean of Amistad Chapel at the       national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio (

For Further Reflection:

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, 21st century
“The thing about light is that it really isn’t yours; it’s what you gather and shine back. And it gets more power from reflectiveness; if you sit still and take it in, it fills your cup, and then you can give it off yourself.”

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 20th century

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

John O’Donohue, 21st century

“May the light of your soul guide you. May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart….May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.”