Monday, January 26, 2015

From My Point of View

A blessing (one of many) of being a pastor is the point of view I have for every worship service at the altar, pulpit or up in front of the church for worship. I remember a member saying to me, "Pastor, you know we can see everything you are doing when you are up in front of the church." I responded, "And I can see everything YOU are doing when you are sitting in the congregation!" I have been at Epiphany for a little over two years now, and I am getting to learn where you sit, who it is you sit with, and who sits near you. We are creatures of habit, and that's okay. I think you would throw me off if you all decided to sit in a different place one week. (At my parent's church on April Fool's Day, the ushers asked everyone entering the church that day to sit on the opposite side they regularly occupied, wondering how the pastor would respond. Half way through the sermon, he realized something was not right!)

The more I get to know you the more I enjoy taking in the faces I see in church. I love seeing the new parents with the infants in their arms. I think it is great to see the choir and band members sit close to the choir loft or by the praise band or bells, and to see several of the choir members sitting with their loved ones until its time to sing. I am touched to see those who have recently lost a loved one coming to church, and being invited to sit with a friend so they are not alone. I am mindful of those who are hurting, and how the message of God's unfailing love is what they have come to hear. I see visitors and wonder how they are being welcomed (we had a least ONE visitor at each service this past weekend). I look to see how the sermon and service is being received. I can tell when I have lost you and when what I have said has touched you.

Or so I think. I remember one December in a previous church, I preached a sermon, and a man in the congregation whom I felt I could read pretty well by his expressions seemed to have a puzzled look on his face through the whole sermon. His head was cocked to one side and it seemed like what I was saying was not pleasing to his ear. I caught him after church and asked if there was something that I said had offended him or was puzzling him. He smiled and apologized and said, "I am sorry, Pastor, but I really wasn't paying much attention to you today. You see, after we put up the Christmas tree last week here in the sanctuary, I couldn't help but notice the angel I put on the top of the tree is crooked. I was trying to figure out how to correct it." At least he was honest!

From my point of view, what I see is the body of Christ gathered together to do what God created us to do - to love and worship God, and to be fed, strengthened, encouraged and empowered to go out and love and serve others. We gather to give thanks to God for all God has done for us. We gather to realign our lives with God's purpose for us, and to start a new week with a fresh start - forgiven, fed and focused on God.

From my point of view, worship is the foundation of our life together as a church. The church is here first and foremost as a place for worship. And I have found over the years that each Saturday/Sunday, for me (again, my point of view) brings me back to a solid focus of what it means to be the church. We can get bogged down by lots of details, programs, issues and discussions throughout the week, but when we come together, God present, and the good news proclaimed, the journey is so much more manageable - AND enjoyable.

That's my point of view!

Peace,
Pastor Charlie

Monday, January 19, 2015

I Love to Tell the Story

Last week, my daughter sent me a link to a video. I am glad she did. In the video, a parable of Jesus is shared. What makes it special is that the story is told by young children. Not only that, but the story was taken from the kids' sharing and then acted out by adults in the church. 

I did some searching for more, and came across two more videos that tell the story of David and Goliath. These are great fun!

St. Paul writes to the church in Rome, "Faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)

The reason we know who God is and how much God loves us is because someone has told us. Who is it that has shared the word of God with you? If you have a chance, make sure you thank them!

I will let these videos speak for themselves. Enjoy!















Peace,
Pastor Charlie

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What A Game

I am writing this the day after the big game - I am seeing a lot of happy, tired faces in the office today! Congratulations, Buckeye Nation on a well-played game and a great season. That may sound strange coming from a Michigan fan, but know that it is sincere. I do have some Buckeye blood in my veins - my grandfather (Mom's Dad) is a graduate of THE Ohio State University. My Dad's parents met at the University of Michigan and they told their kids they could go to any school that wanted to attend, as long as it was the University of Michigan! How Mom and Dad ever got together, I do not know. I guess football was not a part of the courting process.

I am a graduate of Central Michigan University, and I would venture to say that it is highly unlikely that my Alma-mater will ever get anywhere close to winning a national championship. But I still cheer on my school and wear their colors proudly. This is a part of who I am.

In Facebook posts, messages and cheers I hear many people saying, "We won!" But the vast majority of us had little to do in making that victory come about. It may be that we cheered them on at a game. It could be that some of us traveled to games far and near to show our support. It could be that we made a donation to the school or purchased some merchandise whose proceeds went to pay for facilities and staff and equipment and so on. It could be that tuition and student loan payments have been made to the institution that has supported the school. It could be that some of us have had contact with one or more of the players who are on the team and influenced them in attaining their goals. It could be that we show our support through wearing the team colors, gathering with others to watch the games and try to convey our messages of support (or frustration) telepathically through the TV (I imagine the reason the coach wears headphones during the game is so he doesn't hear those comments)!

We won! Yet we can only fathom the dedication and devotion, hard work and countless hours of the team, the coaches and staff and all who work behind the scenes to make this victory happen. Let us not be remiss to offer thanks and praise where it is due. We couldn't have done it without them. This doesn't diminish the feeling of euphoria - it still feels like our victory!

I do not envy the coaches and staff. I am sure that today- the day after becoming national champions, the question is asked, "What about next year?" And while the team looks like it will be very strong next year, there is no stopping along the way. There is work to do to prepare for all the teams that will be working hard to better themselves to take on THE Ohio State Buckeyes in the coming year. Enjoy the victory and the title. It only takes one bad game to turn the tides. Things change. (Who would have thought nine years ago, Urban Meyer would be held in such high regard in Ohio?)

It would be nice to hold on to this victory and the feeling that comes from it forever. Of course, we know there is one victory that lasts forever, and that is Jesus' victory over sin and death. He has a perfect record - undefeated! Through him we can say, "We won!" Or maybe it should be, "We Win!" Jesus' victory is our victory. In the waters of baptism, our sins are washed away, put to death, defeated. And as we come up out of the waters of baptism, we are raised to new life.

Eugene Peterson's transliteration of the Message (Romans 6:2-11)
When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!
That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.
Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. From now on, think of it this way: Sin speaks a dead language that means nothing to you; God speaks your mother tongue, and you hang on every word. You are dead to sin and alive to God. That’s what Jesus did.
No, we didn't do anything to earn this victory. This is God's doing. We cannot do it with God! But that does not diminish the victory at all. For this is God's gift to us.

What a game! There will be more victories, and it is likely some defeats along the way. Let us enjoy the victories and endure the losses, knowing that God's victory celebration has already begun, and will last forever! We won! We win!

Peace,

Pastor Charlie





Monday, January 5, 2015

Sunday Offerings

This past Sunday, we celebrated Epiphany at Epiphany (how appropriate). I shared a poem and a story in my sermon, and several people asked me for a copy of them. I thought I would share them in this week's blog for you. I have also included the Angel skit from Christmas Eve that Pastor Jay and I shared this year. 

First of all, we give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Here is a poem by Madeline L'Engle.

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time,
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.  

He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love:  Rejoice! Rejoice!

( Madeline L'Engle, "The First Coming," A Cry Like a Bell)

God's gift to us is what we need - one who comes to us as a child, who grows to be a man. He comes to love us, forgive us and promises to be with us to the end of the age. Jesus Christ, the light of the world - a light shining in the darkness of our lives.

I concluded my sermon with this story:

We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat my infant son Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly eating and talking. 

Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, "Hi there." He pounded his fat baby hands on the highchair tray. His eyes were wide with excitement and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin. He wriggled and giggled with merriment. I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man with a tattered rag of a coat: dirty, greasy and worn. His pants were baggy with a zipper at half-mast and his toes poked out of would-be shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a beard and his nose was so varicose it looked like a road map. 

We were too far from him to smell, but I was sure he smelled. His hands waved and flapped on loose wrists. "Hi there, baby; hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster," the man said to Erik. My husband and I exchanged looks, "What do we do?" Erik continued to laugh and answer, "Hi, hi there." 

Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and then at the man. The old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby. Our meal came and the man began shouting from across the room, "Do ya know patty cake? Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo." Nobody thought the old man was cute. He was obviously drunk. My husband and I were embarrassed. 

We ate in silence; all except for Erik, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring skid-row bum, who in turn, reciprocated with his cute comments. We finally got through the meal and headed for the door. My husband went to pay the check and told me to meet him in the parking lot. The old man sat poised between me and the door. "Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik," I prayed. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back trying to shield Erik, but Erik leaned over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby's "pick-me-up" position. 

Before I could stop him, Erik had propelled himself from my arms to the man's. Suddenly a very old smelly man and a very young baby met in a beautiful relationship. Erik, in an act of total trust, love, and submission laid his tiny head upon the man's ragged shoulder. The man's eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, pain, and hard labor--gently, so gently, cradled my baby's bottom and stroked his back. No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time. I stood awestruck. 

The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms for a moment, and then his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm commanding voice, "You take care of this baby." 
Somehow I managed, "I will," from a throat that contained a stone. He pried Erik from his chest--unwillingly, longingly, as though he were in pain. I received my baby, and the man said, "God bless you, ma'am, you've given me my Christmas gift." I said nothing more than a muttered thanks. With Erik in my arms, I ran for the car. 

My husband was wondering why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly, and why I was saying, "My God, my God, forgive me." I had just witnessed complete and unconditional love shown through the innocence of a tiny child who saw no sin, who made no judgment; a child who saw a soul, and a mother who saw a suit of clothes. I was a Christian who was blind, holding a child who was not. I felt it was God asking-- "Are you willing to share your son for a moment?"--when He shared His for all eternity. 

The ragged old man, unwittingly, had reminded me, "To enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must become as little children." 

( Rev. Richard E. Stetler, http://www.stmatthews-bowie.org/Worship/Sermons/2003/sermon_12_21_03.asp.)

One more item - this is my favorite Christmas/Epiphany cartoon - it was sent to us years ago as a Christmas card.
The caption inside read: 
Unbeknownst to most theologians,
there was a fourth wiseman,
who was turned away for bringing fruitcake.


From the Christmas Eve 5 pm service - enjoy!






Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year!  Happy Epiphany!

Peace,

Pastor Charlie




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Cards

Every December when the Christmas cards start coming in the mail, I am drawn back to Christmases past when I was growing up. I have a vivid memory of sitting at the dining room table with my Dad to my left, one of my brothers to my right, Mom at the end of the table, and the other two brothers across the table. Yes, we had assigned seats. Being the lefty in the family, I needed that corner. We won't get into the left-handed issues here - that is another blog for another time.

We sat at the table for dinner, as we did almost every night, and once the dishes were cleared and the freshly-baked Christmas cookies passed around the table, Dad would begin opening the Christmas cards we had received that day in the mail. He would read each one silently, maybe making a comment or two about the sender or the card, then the card was passed to me. Unless it had a beautiful scene or a funny caption or it came from overseas, and if I didn't know the sender, I would quickly pass it on. 

AND, if there was the annual Christmas epistle included, I DEFINITELY was not going to take time to read that. I was confident that if there was some bit of good news or bad news, Mom was going to comment on it when the card and letter made it to her. Quite often, we four boys had no idea who these people were that Mom and Dad were talking about, but we sat and passed the cards as they came to us. 

I can still recall those conversations about friends moving, new children arriving, family vacations and celebrations, as well as illnesses and deaths. The question was asked at least once a night, "Did we send THEM a card?" or "Did we get a card from them last year?" And sometimes it was, "Who is this?" Then the cards were placed in a wicker basket and placed by the Christmas tree, so when our extended family would come for the holidays, they could look through the cards as well.

Mom and Dad had a system. Dad had a box of index cards with names and addresses on them. When a friend moved, the card was updated by crossing out the old information and adding the new below it. On the back of the card was a list of years, followed by letters "S" and "R"- sent and received. Each year, the cards were scrutinized carefully, and if you haven't sent a card in the past two or three years, there may be a real possibility you would NOT be receiving the annual Woodward Letter, sent on colored paper and carefully detailing the activities of each of us boys, our family travels and information about extended family as well. Believe me, this was information you didn't want to miss!

I still enjoy receiving Christmas cards. We hang them up on the hallway door and give thanks for the greetings and news we receive. And now we receive emails and electronic letters too. I know that the letters and cards we receive do not contain all the joys and sorrows our friends and loved ones have experienced in the past year, but embedded in each one, there is a contact, a connection, a memory. These are gifts from God.

And I find my wife and I having the same conversations Mom and Dad had over the dinner table years ago. "Did you see that the Smiths are moving?" "Can you believe their daughter is in the eighth grade?" "Did we send them a card this year?" 

Thanks be to God for our friends and loved ones who take the time to send us these greetings. The news we receive and the memories it brings are things I cherish this season.

Peace,

Pastor Charlie

TWO MORE THINGS:
1. The blog is taking a long winters' nap and will be back on January 8th. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
2. I hope you get to church for Christmas Eve service this year, wherever you may be come December 24. From a sister congregation in Des Moines, Iowa, here is their invitation to worship for Christmas Eve. If you can't make it to Des Moines, know you are welcomed here!







Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

This past weekend at Epiphany Far Hills campus, our worship was built around the Children's Christmas Program. This year's offering was "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever." I have to be careful about what I say about the show since I was in it - so was Pastor Jay! We shared the part of Reverend Hopkins - Jay took Saturday's shows, and I was on for Sunday. I think we got the part because we already had the costume.

That being said, the show was great! After 20 plus years of being the one responsible for the Christmas program, I can relate to the story told in this year's show. It is about putting the annual Christmas pageant together, and things don't go as planned. The play is about a family called the Herdmans - a family of rotten children. They lie, steal, swear, fight, light things on fire, and are generally feared in the community. When they get wind of the annual church Christmas pageant, they bully their way into the main roles and generally wreak havoc. What some feared would be the worst pageant in church history turns out to have a special quality that causes the community to rethink the real meaning of the Christmas story. (www.storysnoops.com)

Besides being a wonderful show, I am thankful for the blessings that we offer and receive through this outreach ministry. Here are a few that come to mind:
  • All Are Welcome. Everyone who wishes to be in the production will be given the opportunity to do so. Even the pastors. Even those who are not members of the church. All are welcome, and are welcomed with open arms.
  • Bridges Are Built. Children and parents, extended families come to participate and to see the program, and over time relationships are built. Epiphany becomes a place where those who come here feel at home and that they belong to the community. 
  • An Army of Assistants Get The Job Done. Parents, family members, church members and friends join in to make up a great group of helpers, workers, supporters and friends. The names of those helping out was longer than that of the cast. Amazing!
  • Talents Are Tapped. Epiphany has a unique ministry with the drama program. For over 20 years, children and adults have been given the opportunity to get on stage and try their hand at acting. I can see the confidence and communication skills that the children develop through this program. We also know that the stage is not for everyone. There are builders and seamstresses and props people and sound and light people. So many different talents all working together to share the message.
  • Opportunities To Try. Some of our helpers were asked to serve in areas that were new to them. One of the blessings the church has to offer is to be a place where people can try new things and see if this is where God has gifted them. We might make mistakes, but grace abounds. 
  • We Proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. One of my favorite lines from this year's show was by one of the Herdmans. When Imogene Herdman asks what the Christmas Pageant story was about, she was told it's about Jesus. Imogene's response was, “Everything here is!" To that I say, "Yes, yes it is!"
  •  What We Proclaim is Good News. The angel comes to proclaim Good News of Great Joy, that UNTO YOU is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Good News! Great Joy! I saw a lot of smiles, heard a lot of laughter, and experienced a great deal of joy at church this weekend. The reason I became a pastor is because I want to share this good news of great joy. It was tangible this weekend, and for that I am thankful.
I am sure you can add to this list. 

I hope and pray that this season of Advent preparation and Christmas celebration be filled with hope, joy and peace. And I pray that we as a church do all we can to share that message for all who gather here, and all who carry it out the doors and into the world. 

Amen, Come Lord Jesus!

Peace,

Pastor Charlie





Monday, December 1, 2014

Tis the Season

I have a confession to make. I really love to listen to Christmas music once Thanksgiving is over. I know, I know... Christmas music is for Christmas. Let's not get ahead of ourselves and forget about Advent. Every Advent it comes up - we shouldn't rush into Christmas and miss out on the anticipation, waiting and hope of Advent. On the other hand, there are many who ask why wait till Christmas to sing those great Christmas songs? And by the time we GET to Christmas, do we really want to hear MORE Christmas songs?

Advent is a time of preparation, being ready and making room for Christ in our lives. As a pastor, the time of Advent is a time of preparation for all the Christmas celebrations at church. So what better way to prepare for Christ and for the Christmas celebration than with Christmas music! Can you see I am trying to justify my music selections?

That being said, I thought I would share some of my favorites that I have come across in the past few days. I hope you enjoy these offerings. I invite you to share some of your favorites with me. My hope and prayer is that the music not rush us into Christmas, but rather be an avenue to focus our hearts and minds on the greatest gift ever given, Christ the Lord.

"Mary Did You Know?" by Pentatonix


"Angels We Have Heard On High" by The Piano Guys



This video I created last year. The nativity scenes were displayed last year for Advent at Epiphany. I took pictures of them and added these songs:
"Some Children See Him" by James Taylor
"Welcome To Our World" by Amy Grant
"Away In A Manger" by the Piano Guys


One more - "Silent Night" by Pentatonix







Let EVERY heart prepare Him room!

Peace,

Pastor Charlie