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Archive for May 2017

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

 

 

Today’s News

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

 

Today’s News

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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

 

 

Today’s News

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

 

 

TODAY’S NEWS

 

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

 

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