Valley Presbyterian Church

17560 Chlllicothe Road, Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Category: Pastor’s Blog

Join the Adventure

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

“Join the Adventure!” This is the title of this week’s chapter of our new Adult Christian Education study – We Make the Road by Walking by Brian McClaren.  The theme of the chapter is being a disciple or, more specifically, making the choice to become a follower of God’s way.  It’s a decision that Jesus made even though it meant he would endure a forty day trial in the wilderness and then countless other challenges during his ministry.  And yet, Jesus said no to the tempter’s lure of power and violence and yes to God’s way of love and justice.

In one of his first declarations of public ministry, Jesus reads these words from the Old Testament:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2a)

Homeless Stand DownThis Monday, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, about thirty young people and adults from our local churches will be spending a few hours sorting items that will have been donated for the upcoming Homeless Stand Down of Greater Cleveland – food, clothing, blankets and personal care items that will be given to assist the homeless and transient population of our community; along with employment and housing resources, recovery support and health screenings.  For more information about the Homeless Stand Down go to http://www.handsonneo.org/HomelessStandDown

 

I am proud that several Valley members will be a part of this team of disciples – followers of God’s way – that are helping to bring good news to the poor.  I believe that recent events in our nation and world show us that we need to be reminded of Dr. King’s vision for justice, peace and equality – and of God’s vision that all of Christ’s followers help to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

The church (made up of many different churches), the body of Christ gathered and sent, has long been and continues to be an incubator for disciples who seek to follow God’s way.  It is where many of us have and continue to find ways to join in the adventure and to find nourishment and support for the road that we walk.  I give thanks for all who enliven, nurture, strengthen, and challenge the church to be true disciples.

If you are interested, Adult Christian Education gathers each Sunday morning in the church library from 9:15 to 10:15 for study, sharing and conversation.  In February, additional times for weekly gatherings to study and discuss We Make the Road by Walking will begin.  Copies of the book can be purchased from the church office or borrowed if you’d just like to look it over.

Blessings to everyone who has joined the adventure that is Christian discipleship – may we all learn how we might better and more faithfully follow!

In Christ,
Pastor John

Hit and Hope

I had an incredible opportunity earlier this month to spend eight peaceful and spirit-filled days at the Presbytery CREDO Conference, located at Beaver Hollow Conference Center in Western New York.  It was a beautiful setting – on the lakeside with peak colors of fall foliage all around.  I had the chance to converse, commiserate, laugh and worship with my peers; but I also had lots of time – for better or for worse – to be alone; alone with my thoughts; alone with my hope and fears; alone with God.

I was walking on the trails one day, listening to Pandora, and a song came on that I’ve heard before but something led me right then to pay attention to the words, so when I got back to my room I looked up the lyrics online. It’s by a group called Carolina Liars and part of it goes like this:

Save me, I’m lost; O Lord, I’ve been waiting for you.

I’ll pay any cost, just save me from being confused.

Show me what I’m looking for, show me what I’m looking for; O Lord.

It can take a lot of courage to admit that sometimes we feel lost, that we’ll do just about anything to not feel confused.  Often, our prayers to God are for direction and guidance – we want to know where we’re headed and how exactly we’re going to get there.  We want the same God who gives us freedom both to hope and to fear to provide us with answers; to show us what we’re looking for.

Hit and Hope

On our last full day on retreat, I snuck away to have a golfing retreat and, while walking the little country course – again alone with my thoughts and my God – I heard the same song again.  Only this time, the words didn’t resonate as being quite so true.  I had never played that little course before; I wasn’t sure where all the water hazards and bunkers were located, but as long as I could see the pin, I could “hit and hope.”  Did I always find the green? Of course not.  But I didn’t need to be paralyzed by the unknown; I didn’t have to be afraid.

I believe that everyone goes through times in their lives when they feel lost; and I certainly don’t think there is anything wrong with praying to God for guidance and direction.  But, I also believe that God has already revealed to us – and continues to show us – what we are looking for.  As Christians, we believe that we have already been saved – from our confusion, from our fear, from our mistakes – through the gift of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  Ultimately, that is why – instead of being immobilized and afraid – we instead can hit and hope.

I hope that each of can find in your life the beauty in life and creation; that you can find experiences that will offer you peace and fill your spirit.  And I pray that, through God revealed to us in Christ, you may have life in its fullness.  AMEN.

Salt and Light

Salt and Light

“You are the salt of the earth…
You are the light of the world…”  (Matthew 5:13-14)

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Jesus used what was common to everyday life in order to explain to his followers who they were in God’s eyes.  Here, in the midst of his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells them that they salt: that they provide flavor and that they sustain and preserve; while also light: that they illuminate the way and reveal the truth.  Even a little salt goes a long way and lasts a long time.  Even a tiny flame can be shared and passed along to bring light to others.

I read these words from Jesus as affirmation: they describe what can already be seen and felt now: that members of the Body of Christ season the world around them through their good deeds; that they work to build up and maintain vital relationships with God and one another; that they spread hope and peace and joy as a reflection of God’s love.

I would like to echo the words of Jesus and affirm what you – the members and friends of Valley Presbyterian – already do to be salt and light.  I believe that we should celebrate gifts put to good use; the compassion that is shown; and the love that is shared.  Perfectly?  Always?  No.  But what Jesus saw, I see as well.

But I would also like to hear it from you.  So, please take a moment this week to think of and share with me where you see the Body of Christ and its members being salt and light.  In what ways is life made more savory and lasting for others? How is God’s love for the world being better illuminated?

You can write a note and pass it along; you can give me a call on the phone; you can respond by email or on Facebook, but please let me know – so that through me – we all might better know and be more aware – who is salt? where is light?

Blessings to you for what you do, and who you are, and whose you are.

In Christ,
Pastor John

Known by Our Fruit

“Each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.  The good person, out of the good treasure of the heart, produces good.” (Luke 6:44-45)

Only a month later, I finally completed the online registration totals for this year’s Souper Bowl of Caring collection: $650 and 202 food items – both record highs over the past five years.  Way to go Valley! To date, almost 7000 churches and organizations from across the country have collected over $7 million worth in donations and food items.

The Souper Bowl of Caring began thirty years ago with one youth group at one Presbyterian church in South Carolina who wanted their members and community to remember the hungry on a day – Super Bowl Sunday – when many of us can and do eat more than we need to.

I am excited by our church’s commitment to fighting hunger as well.  In addition to these recent donations – which were designated for the Chagrin Falls Park Community Center (CFPCC) Food Bank – we also continue to be a key supporter of and ministry partner with North Church and their food program in downtown Cleveland.  Last year, we also began a food pantry garden on our property, providing a variety of fresh produce to supplement what is available at CFPCC.  On this summer’s youth/adult mission trip, we will also focus on hunger issues with our work at Camp Joseph Badger Meadows and their connection with Goodness Grows in Youngstown, OH.  You’ll hear more about that in the weeks and months to come.

Although yesterday’s sermon focused on the verses that follow it, the scripture passage quoted above was a part of yesterday’s gospel reading – a part of the Sermon on the Plain where Jesus is speaking “plainly” to his disciples and the crowds about what it takes to be a true follower.  In God’s eyes, we are known by what we do – what fruit we produce – as much or even more that by what we say.

Therefore, a stated desire to fighting hunger is one thing; finding creative and effective ways to carry out that commitment is something more; something that is worth our continued efforts and – we pray – pleasing to God.

In peace,
Pastor John

The Body of Christ

Most of the headlines in religious news over the last couple of weeks have been dominated by the abdication of Pope Benedict.  Though not unprecedented, this has not happened in hundreds of years and has therefore generated lots of speculation about who the next pope will be, how and when the conclave will take place, and whether having a “pope emeritus” will matter to his successor.

At the same time, the Presbyterian News Service has reported about a new agreement between Catholic and Reformed Christian denominations to recognize each others’ baptisms.   This is an important step in intra-faith relations, accomplished after seven years of discussions by Christian Churches Together in the USA, an ecumenical network created in 2001.

Here is the link for the PNS story: http://www.pcusa.org/news/2013/2/14/catholic-reformed-churches-agree-baptism/

What makes this so important?  For years, inequalities in the recognition of baptism have not only confused many Christians, it has harmed our ability to act in unity as the body of Christ.  Certainly, I do not believe – and do not expect – that all Christians will agree on every aspect of faith and tradition, but baptism is something that we all hold in common.

Reformed Christians consider baptism to be one of the two sacraments of the church (along with Holy Communion) because Christ both participated in it and advocated it as something to his followers – those that would become the church – should continue to do.  Jesus himself was baptized in the Jordan River, inaugurating his ministry.  But, John was not the first to baptize.  Jews had practiced ceremonial washing for centuries, but when John did it in the wilderness, it was a welcome to all – those considered saints and sinners alike – to repent of their sins, change their ways, and join together in God’s name.

This ecumenical agreement takes another step in saying that although might belong to different historic denominations, we are united in Christ.  Ours in not better, nor more right, than another; and yet our beliefs are not inferior.

To outsiders, it probably seems that seven years is a long time to spend negotiating this agreement.  For the ecumenical representatives, it probably felt the same way.  But, I see it as taking one step toward greater unity among Christians – one step closer to being one Body of Christ.

In Christ,
Pastor John

The Journey of Lent

A popular notion of the season of Lent is that we must “give up something.” We are often asked, “what are you giving up for Lent?” Various responses are expected: red meat, sweets, or perhaps excess television or Internet browsing.  Perhaps we need to “give up” that simplistic notion of Lent.  (Jeffrey Tribble)

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

On Ash Wednesday (February 13), we begin the annual journey of the Lenten season.  This is one of the two times in the Christian year (the other is Advent) that we – as Christians – are asked to make intentional preparations.  The celebration of Easter is forty days (not counting Sundays) away, and we are given this season of time to get ready.We are all aware of the common (if not always popular) tradition that asks us to “give up something” for Lent.  Fat Tuesday originated from the idea that the decadent and sweet foods – if they were to be “given up” for Lent – needed to be all used up and out of the house before Ash Wednesday.

But if, as Tribble suggests, this tradition is overly simplistic, then what is Lent for; what else can we do instead of just choosing what “to give up?”

One, he suggests is intentionality: taking on one of the many practices that Christians have traditionally added during the season of Lent: prayer, fasting, reading the Bible, acts of justice or piety, initiating fellowship or extending hospitality.  Intentionality means to act with a purpose, a plan, maybe even a schedule.  If you would like to follow the daily lectionary scripture readings for Lent, you can use this link:  http://www.pcusa.org/media/uploads/worship/pdfs/daily_readings_for_lent_2013.pdf

The other thing to do, Tribble says, is receptivity to God’s grace. The crucial assumption here, of course, is that God’s grace is available for us to receive.  Instead of turning away from dark chocolate or your computer screen, how about turning toward God?  When you are feeling sad or angry or confused, turn toward God for comfort.  When you face trials or temptations, turn toward God for strength.

Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are human.  Easter will announce that Christ is risen.  In the meantime, in the season of Lent, we can learn (or re-learn) that God loves us and is always with us even though we are human, and because Christ is risen.

In peace,
Pastor John

A Benediction

Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

According to Merriam-Webster, a benediction means:

  • the invocation of a blessing, especially: the short blessing with which public worship is concluded;
  • something that promotes goodness or well-being

At the end of each Sunday service, we offer a benediction – sometimes calling it the “charge and blessing” – because we are trying to incorporate both of these definitions: bringing something to a conclusion and encouraging something good to follow.

The Apostle Paul wrote these words of scripture to the Christians in Rome – a fledgling group of converts that he had not met, but still wanted to bless.  And so he wrote to them his most articulate and complete treatise about what it means to be a follower of Christ, including the powerful assertion that nothing in life or death will separate us from the love we have in Jesus Christ. (Rom. 8)

Even Christians who attend worship every single week spend only one percent of their waking hours “in church.” For the other ninety-nine percent, we need to know that God continues to fill us up and that the Holy Spirit continues to energize us.  Why?  Because this is where our hope comes from; it comes from God.

And so, friends, know that you have been blessed and charged: blessed even by those who you do not know but wish you well, and charged by God who forms and re-forms us to find, encourage, support and defend goodness.

Alleluia.  Amen.

In peace,
Pastor John