Sunday, August 29, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost B

Do you remember the nursery rhyme about little Jack Horner, his pie and his plum?

 

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner,

Eating a Christmas pie;

He put in his thumb,

And pulled out a plum,

And said, “What a good boy am I!”

 

But things are not always as they seem to be, are they? Nor are they always as they are represented to us. History has joined with legend to suggest that there may be more to Jack than a thumb and a plum.

 

For instance, sometime in the mid-16th century King Henry VIII confiscated the monasteries in England, taking the lands for himself. Although the legend’s details at times conflict, the gist of the story is that the bishop of Glastonbury, the one remaining monastery, sent his steward by the name of Thomas “Jack” Horner to the king with an apparent bribe to save his monastery. The bribe consisted of the deeds to 12 estates. The deeds were hidden in a pie that the steward carried. It is purported that this guy Horner, thinking that the bribe would be unsuccessful anyway or perhaps simply to enrich himself, is said to have broken open the pie and taken out the deed for the Manor of Mells, a real plum of an estate. It is said that the Horner family, who deny the tale, continued to live in that estate even into the 20th century.

 

The accuracy of the story aside, the image created by the nursery rhyme is a far cry from that of a thief who stole real estate. Thus, it is often the case that those who present themselves as “good boys” are anything but, regardless of how convincing they have managed to be or how many have come to believe the myths about them.

 

When we listen to the Pharisees in the gospel today we see a bit of Jack Horner. They presented themselves as “good boys.” They were impressed with themselves because they kept the rules. They were not intentionally evil. In fact, they tried very hard to be “good,” as they understood it. However, they had picked which rules were important, and they sometimes picked wrong. Jesus was not one to mock tradition but neither was he one to give the human-made rules of his time priority over the timeless rules of God.

 

The Pharisees in this story had not only used a handful of man-made rules to justify themselves, they used these same rules as verbal missiles to pass judgment on others who may, in the long run, have been holier than the Pharisee could understand. In focusing on these rules passed on by their forefathers, they had become blinded to the fact that they were ignoring the intent of the law of the Father.

Unfortunately, this is just as easy for us to do as it was for them. It is something akin to looking at ourselves in the mirror and determining our health and well- being by what we see, when an X-ray or a CAT scan may offer a much more accurate picture than the mirror. And, so, Jesus reminds us today that it’s what is on the inside that matters.

 

If we were to transport ourselves back in time to this gospel scene, we would have three choices. We could side with the Pharisees and be offended by those who do not follow what we consider important rules. We could side with Jesus in challenging the Pharisees’ priorities. Or we could remain quiet and not take a position. So, what do you suppose we would we have done? What would our church communities have done?

 

Certainly, to have sided with the Pharisees would have put us on an inside track with authority on our side. This would not only have provided a comfortable place, but also a seemingly safe place.

 

On the other hand, to have sided with Jesus would have put us on the outside. He was a radical, and our agreement with him would earn us the same negative label. Our comfort level would very definitely have been compromised.

 

Had we remained silent, we would not only have avoided conflict, we would have had the numbers on our side. We could have stayed out of the fray and devoted ourselves to whatever distractions occupied us.

 

Conjecturing on what we might have done may be interesting, but the important question and one that we cannot ignore is, what we do today when the same choices confront us?

 

Interestingly, Pharisee-types are still wandering about today. And we can find ourselves faced with the same three choices. We can throw in with those who revel in moral-values debates by picking a few convenient rules and using them as the litmus test for holiness. Or, we can attempt to address the questions of values through the mind of Jesus as expressed in the Sermon on the Mount or in his description of the last judgment. Or we can throw in with the silent majority, the folks who stay out of the discussion, at a safe distance from the fallout, and leave the assessments to others.

 

But for those of us that claim Jesus as our Lord there’s truly only one choice, and that is to invite him to the table of conversation, to listen to him and then follow his example, rather than thinking with the mind of a Pharisees or their counterparts today.

 

Like the story of Jack Horner, it is not the image we present that says who we are. Rather we are what is in the center of our being. The part of us where the Holy Spirit lives. Deep inside. That will be our best way of measuring our Christian faith and the values that reside in our center.

Pastor Alan

 

St. Paul is now officially open with in-person worship. Please come and worship with us, Sunday’s at 10:30 am in the fellowship hall on the lower level. Experience the fellowship and love that is St. Paul United Church of Christ! We look forward to meeting you – or seeing you again!

 

 


August 22, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost B

 

One of the best instructions I remember from public speaking classes in high school was, above all else, to slow down and breath. I had a terrible habit of racing through my presentations, as if to hurry to get it over with. From a religious perspective, we would say that powerful speaking comes from allowing the breath of God to fill us and guide us. Jesus never rushes as he delivers the word of God, and he speaks with power because he is always inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is a Spirit-speaker.

 

At the very beginning of his ministry in Nazareth, Jesus picks up the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” He knows from the start that his authority and power come from the Spirit of God speaking through him. “It is the spirit that gives life,” says Jesus to his disciples near the Sea of Galilee; “the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

 

What is true for Jesus is true for us. Any life-giving words that we can offer are going to come from being a Spirit-speaker.

 

Growing up in Miami, Florida I had heard much about a priest by the name of Father Oscar Romero. (Incidentally, last Sunday, August 15th, would have been his 104th birthday.) This spirited Catholic priest was consecrated Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. The country of El Salvador was in political and social turmoil at the time, with authorities committing government-sanctioned murders. Anyone who spoke out against the government leaders were in danger of losing their lives. Initially, because of his meek manner and gentleness among people the governmental authorities considered Romero to be a safe bet for archbishop. But their sanctioned killings began to affect him deeply. He sympathized with the priests who were aligned with the poor people of the country, pastors who believed that “the church is where it always should have been: with the people, surrounded by wolves.”

 

Finally, the death of a country priest provoked Archbishop Romero to become more outspoken and radical. He began to forgo the government approved worship services, and supported new worship practices that were more relevant to the poor and the oppressed, and he called on the church-at-large to become the voice of those whose voices were being silenced. As he did this, he became more and more of a thorn in the government’s side.

 

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Romero was celebrating Mass from behind the altar of the Chapel of the Divine Providence in San Salvador. He was focusing on the very same bread of life that Jesus had talked about by the Sea of Galilee, and he was doing his best to follow Jesus in bringing good news to the poor. But as he raised the elements and said, “This is my body given for you; this is my blood shed for you,” a single shot was fired. He collapsed; his heart pierced by an assassin’s bullet.

Archbishop Romero was a Spirit-speaker. He allowed the Spirit to speak through him and to guide him in the ministry and mission of Jesus. “As a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection,” he said. “If I am murdered, I will arise again in the Salvadoran people.” Along with Jesus, he knew that “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.”

 

After his death, Romero became an unofficial national hero in El Salvador and was later embraced by the country’s new government. El Salvador’s president formally apologized for the government’s role in Romero’s murder, and during his inaugural address, he asked that his administration be judged by the standards set by the archbishop.

 

“It is the spirit that gives life,” says Jesus the Spirit-speaker in the Gospel of John 6:56-69; “the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Jesus knows that the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential to a life that is generous and rich in good works, the kind of life that really is life. “But among you,” says Jesus, “there are some who do not believe.” Jesus realizes, sadly, that some of his followers are falling away, and at this point many of his disciples, in fact, do turn back and no longer go about with him. That’s true in our world today as well.

 

Being a follower of Christ is not easy. A life of sacrifice and service can seem to be more trouble than it is worth. But when Jesus turns to the disciples closest to him and asks if they also wish to go away, Simon Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

 

“You have the words of eternal life.” Peter knows that in spite of the hardship of following Christ, he is the way and the truth and the life. The Spirit-spoken words of Jesus are the ones that bring forgiveness and healing and eternal life. “To whom can we go?” Peter wonders. There is no one else. Jesus is the one who brings God to us, the one through whom the Spirit of God speaks most clearly.

 

Each of us can be a Spirit-speaker who communicates the value of a life of sacrifice and service. When the Spirit speaks through us, people around us are able to hear words of spirit and life. They learn about the kind of life that really IS life, a life of love and generosity and service. And through us, they can even hear the words of Jesus — words of eternal life.

 

Let it be so, dear Spirit of God. Let it be so!

 

Pastor Alan

 

St. Paul is now officially open with in-person worship. Please come and worship with us, Sunday’s at 10:30 am in the fellowship hall on the lower level. Experience the fellowship and love that is St. Paul United Church of Christ! We look forward to meeting you – or seeing you again!


Sunday, August 15, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost B

When’s the last time you felt like you were out of gas? When did you feel so thoroughly drained in body and spirit that you just wanted to stay in bed, or not leave the house? Life is demanding, and in spite of our technological and scientific progress as a society, life has not really gotten any easier. Actually, it seems more complicated.  

Jesus knew that some things would never change. People would always be hungry. Food would always be important. And there would always be a spiritual longing deep inside every human being.

We can only imagine how much our lives are improved over what it was like for Jesus’ disciples and the people of that time. Most of us can only speculate at how nice we have it compared to peoples in other lands. But our needs today are no different than those of people in first-century Jerusalem. Our needs in the United States are no different than those of people now living in Third World countries. Jesus’ words transcend the centuries and national boundaries: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).  Strange words, no doubt. But Jesus is talking about more than substantial food here. It’s true we human beings hunger for food and drink, yet they only fulfill our needs for the present. They keep us alive. But Jesus teaches his followers to eat from the bread of heaven and says it will keep us alive forever.

I often had to be prodded to eat as a child. “Unless you eat your peas, you will not be allowed to play with your friends after dinner”, my mom and dad would say. Or, if being watched by a neighbor it might be “If you don’t eat your liver, you won’t grow up to be big and strong and healthy.” “If you don’t drink your milk, your bones will be weak and your teeth will fall out.” And just think of the number of times we were subtlety told through television advertisements: “Unless you eat Wonder Bread, your young body won’t be built strongly 12 ways!”

What is it about food? Well – simply put, we’ve got to have it to survive. But let’s face it; some people eat to live while others live to eat. If you don’t believe me, just go to any of those giant bookstores and view the huge section devoted to cookbooks. Or look up “local restaurants” on the internet and you can always find an abundance of places to eat. There are endless websites on the internet that tell us how to present food in the most appealing ways. If that’s not enough, there’s always the Food Channel on TV, dedicated to giving us 24-hour access to anything we’d ever want to know about food, cooking and all the best places to eat throughout the world.

I can remember my mother always saying, “life comes from life”. Think about that. Everything we eat was at one time alive. Life must be given for life to be sustained. A plant or animal gives up its life so that we might live. Even milk and eggs must be given up. For us to eat, for our lives to be nurtured, a sacrifice must be made. We live in a world of give and take, and let’s face it; the human race is made up of a lot of “takers”, while just about every other living thing is a giver.

Unless you eat, you die. That’s the balance of nature. Unless you eat, this organism we call the human body will shut down. When we eat, a transfer takes place. Molecules of one life become a part of another life. Life is actually shared from one life-source to another.

In Jesus, God shared our life. He came into our world through natural birth. He was nourished with the same kind of food we eat and grew into the same physical form we share. God was able to experience life as we know it with all the joys, and all the sorrows, all the pain and all the healing. In Jesus, God became one of us.

Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, God’s Holy Spirit came into our lives. Now, we are able to share God’s life. Just as Jesus was able to experience the life of a human, the Holy Spirit enables us to experience God. We can know his thoughts and his ways. We can sense his peace and his power. We are able to have a vision of his kingdom and his eternity.

When Jesus talks about the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood, he is describing more than mere food substance. He is talking of that shared life, that transfer that takes place. Jesus receives his life from God the Father, the ultimate source. Jesus then passes that life, eternal life, on to us. And he’s telling us that unless we eat from his “Life-Source,” we really have no life at all.

My mother wasn’t wrong. Life DOES come from life. Unless you eat, you die. Still, Jesus tells us that even though we may eat that kind of food, we will still eventually die. It’s a temporary food for a temporary life.

The Bread come down from heaven is NOT temporary. Eternal life comes from eternal life. Unless we eat of the living bread from heaven, we die. When we share in Christ’s life and death, we share in his resurrection, too. Through the sharing of communion with him and his church, his eternal life-giving qualities are passed on to us. Unless you eat of THIS bread, you have no life in you.

Don’t you think it’s time for communion?   

Pastor Alan


St. Paul is now officially open with in-person worship. Please come and worship with us, Sunday’s at 10:30 am in the fellowship hall on the lower level. Experience the fellowship and love that is St. Paul United Church of Christ! We look forward to meeting you – or seeing you again! 


Sunday, August 8, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost B

 “Believing in Jesus” entails more than simply having opinions about his divinity or his true nature, or having answers — however carefully considered — to great theological questions. Believing in Jesus means taking his very life upon ourselves, rising up out of our own little selves and allowing his greater self to come alive within us. Believing in Jesus entails becoming a church; in other words, one body, with a common goal and a common vision, comprised nonetheless of unique individuals, each with a unique contribution to make.

 What we get this week from the apostle Paul is a glimpse of what this kind of “believing in Jesus” looks like. Exhortations to this kind of fleshed-out belief — in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit — are scattered throughout the scriptures. “What does the Lord require of us?” the prophet Micah asks. The Lord requires, that same prophet answers, that we “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.”

 What does the Lord require of us? Jesus’ answer to that question is that we “believe in the one whom God has sent.” What does the Lord require of us? What is true discipleship? What does it mean to “believe in Jesus”?

The apostle Paul gives the congregation of the early church his answer to these very questions. In fact, the answer is quite jarring. He tells us that we are to be nothing less than imitators of God!

 What?? “Be imitators of God?!”  Yep. Be imitator of God. 

 Paul gives us his marching orders as a church, as a body of individuals who call ourselves after the name of Jesus. Be imitators of God! The life of faith is not about putting God or Jesus on a pedestal and stopping there, keeping them safely at a distance as unapproachable objects of reverence that really make no demands on us. We are called to be imitators of God, imitators of Jesus. We are called to do nothing less than to bring God down to our level — or rather, to understand and to affirm that God, in Jesus Christ, has come down to our level to show us how to live our human lives.

 Be imitators of God! Now, how exactly do we go about doing that? How in the world can we, mere mortals, be imitators of God — the Creator and Ruler of the universe? Paul is telling that little church at Ephesus — and us — that imitating God is not some unapproachable, mystical fantasy. Paul is showing us that being imitators of God consists of nothing more than an act of will, or rather a number of acts of will. If “Step One” is to believe in the one whom God has sent, then “Step Two” is … to be imitators of God!

How? How can we be “imitators of God”? By choosing to do certain things, choosing to live in a certain way, choosing to conduct ourselves according to certain concrete, discernable measures. “Put away all falsehood,” Paul says a couple of sentences earlier. “Speak the truth to our neighbors.” These are acts of will; these are behaviors we can choose to act out and to live out based on the example given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Imitating God is no small task. It’s best done in community, with people who will speak the truth in love, sometimes with anger, but not with malice. It is best done side by side, with an eye out for the people who need some help. It’s work best shared among friends, neighbors, and also with people that feel very different from you. 

Over the past four years, I have participated in an ecumenical discussion group made up of pastors and former pastors of various denominations. In the spirit of being willing to demonstrate how I, personally, have received grace, I try to engage in conversation with this group not only about the church but about civic involvement; conversations that involve our responsibilities toward the communities in which we serve. These conversations, as you can probably imagine, are not always without some heat and passion. Matters like politics and inclusion and social attitudes towards those the church may have previously excluded, do come up. And we are not always of the same mindset. But we do try to keep these gatherings civil and respectful.    

Most importantly, we strive to keep in mind exactly how our heavenly Father treats us. He deals with us in kindness, compassion, forgiving our faults and encouraging us to live our lives in a manner pleasing to him. I thank God he has not dealt with me based on what I have often thought I deserved. But in grace, God chooses to love me and forgive me of my past indiscretions and imperfections. That is love. That is how God treats me.    

 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children . . .” Act like the Father. Love like the Father. Forgive like the Father. Be kind to one another like the Father. “Just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” “Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us.”

 Pastor Alan

St. Paul is now officially open with in-person worship. Please come and worship with us, Sunday’s at 10:30 am in the fellowship hall on the lower level. Experience the fellowship and love that is St. Paul United Church of Christ! We look forward to meeting you – or seeing you again! 

Sunday, August 1, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost B

 

It’s always been a joke in my family. Maybe in yours. too. It always seems to crop up every Christmas. It’s one of the most enduring — and most ridiculed — Christmas traditions. Can anyone guess what I am referring to? It’s the holiday confection so many people love to hate: the fruitcake.

 

The humble fruitcake. The butt of a thousand jokes.

 

My dad used to quote Johnny Carson every Christmas, as if it were his own personal joke and had never been heard before.  “There is only one fruitcake in the entire world,” he would say, “and people just keep sending it to each other, year after year.”  This is where the room would politely laugh and my mother would roll her eyes. 

 

Or, he liked this one, too: “Why does fruitcake make the perfect gift? Because the U.S. Postal Service hasn’t found a way to damage it.”

 

Funny or not, the greatest virtue of these infamous fruitcakes is that they keep for a very long time without refrigeration.

 

I’m sure everyone here knows the old tradition of newlyweds squirreling away a piece of their wedding cake (sometimes the entire top of the cake!) to eat on their first anniversary for good luck.  I’ve never understood the joy of that, sticking that slice or cake topper in the freezer and a year later eating it. From what I’ve heard it tastes just awful. Totally freezer burnt. Now, does anyone have any idea how that they come up with that tradition in the days before freezers? Well, I was curious so I did a little googling and discovered that the traditional wedding cake USED to be a fruitcake. A tradition that began in the 16th century in Britain. (True to tradition, Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding cake was a fruitcake.)

 

Today we hear from the Gospel of John, chapter 6, verses 24-35, Jesus say this: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” (He’s not talking about fruitcake here, I promise.)

 

Jesus makes that statement just after he’s fed a huge crowd with five barley loaves and two fish. He seems concerned that the members of the crowd — they of the beaming faces and the growling stomachs — have, because of the meal, misunderstood his message.

 

As a young Christian I had this wild, naïve idea that everyone in church was there for the same reason. But a classmate at Asbury College popped that spiritual bubble for me by telling me that early missionaries to India used to talk about “rice Christians”: people who would show up without fail, eagerly professing their love for Jesus — whenever rice was being distributed — but who never darkened the church door at any other time. Maybe Jesus is muttering to himself about “bread-and-fish Christians” as he challenges the crowd to seek the food that does not perish!

 

“I am the bread of life,” he tells them. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

 

History has proven this is no nonsense. Although his enemies imagined that by nailing Jesus to a cross they will end his little crusade, they had no concept of the power they would unleash that day on Calvary. The good news of his victory would eventually echo into every crevice and cranny of the world. The bread of life would not perish.

 

There have certainly been those in the world who have tried to wipe Jesus off the face of the earth. Joseph Stalin thought he could brush Christianity off, deriding it as an idea whose time had come and gone. But, for all his purges and slave-labor camps, Stalin failed in his bid to eradicate Christianity. In our own time, we have seen his monumental statues that were to last a thousand years come tumbling down, and the cross raised once again atop the onion domes of Russian churches whose doors were once barred shut to believers.

When the communists threw the missionaries out of mainland China, there were many in our country who despaired of the future of Christianity in that land. Many wondered what had become of the millions of Chinese Christians behind the dark cloak of secrecy imposed by Chairman Mao — until, the curtain was finally lifted and it became clear that the church had not only survived, but had grown! As house churches. And their numbers continue to grow.

 

The eternal bread of life is not easily rid of. 

 

Martin Luther King Jr., said something similar at the height of the civil rights struggle to the crowd that had marched with him to Montgomery, Alabama, from Selma: “However difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth pressed to the earth will rise again. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arm of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

 

“Do not work for the food that perishes,” says the Lord, “but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

 

The same is true of the communion bread of which we partake each month. Or, in our case, the flour wafers we have to utilize for the moment because of the coronavirus. On one level, there’s nothing exceptional about them. Some of you have said they are kind of nasty, in fact. Yet on another level, God allows these wafers to be something very special, something exceedingly holy. Truly, this is “food that endures to eternal life.”

 

On one level, there’s nothing exceptional about these wafers, this communion bread. And yet, the wonder of this meal is not what’s on the menu, but who’s on the guest list. For everyone who comes to this table is a sinner, invited here by sheer, unmerited grace. The wonder of this meal is that this perfect Christ would even choose to be our host at all, that he comes to offer us ordinary bread that is — by some mysterious means we can scarcely comprehend — at the same time the bread of life, the bread of heaven, the imperishable food that is offered us for no money, and for no price.

 

Wherever you are the next time you take communion, remember as you receive the sacrament that this bread is for you — because you are worth it. You are worth it because the host at this banquet says you are. Jesus gave his life and died for us to be able to come to this table. He has personally invited us – PERSONALLY! – to partake of this bread that endures.  

 

Pastor Alan 


St. Paul is now officially open with in-person worship. Please come and worship with us, Sunday’s at 10:30 am in the fellowship hall on the lower level. Experience the fellowship and love that is St. Paul United Church of Christ! We look forward to meeting you – or seeing you again! 


Sunday, July 25, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Ninth Sunday after Pentecost B

 

I can still remember the picture of clay pieces of a communion chalice lying scattered on the floor after a heated debate at a worldwide church gathering in 2004. The clay chalice had been shattered. A cup of forgiveness, deliberately broken as an act of protest.

 

A bishop of the church got on his knees and began to pick up the pieces, and others joined him.

 

The next day, on the projection screen at the front of the gathering, was a photo of the fragments of the chalice wrapped in white linen. These shards represented a broken church. The image spread quickly to denominational church news services. A professor of theology at the gathering was particularly distraught by it. She asked for the pieces of the broken chalice so that she could restore it.

 

Someone brought a table, and someone else located a first-aid kit with bandages. A camera woman found some glue. Several people gathered in the lobby, strangers to one another. Eventually, even the man who broke the chalice came to help put the fragments back together.

The camera woman was an artist of bricolage and happened to have with her jewelry wire in her purse. She used this to weave a basket that would hold the pieces together. The people began to sort the shards, but soon discovered that several pieces were missing. The shattering was complete. The chalice meant to hold communion wine would never do so again. 

 

Despite this, the chalice was repaired as best as possible with bandages and wire and glue holding it together. A candle was placed in the bowl, and when lit streaks of light shown through the jagged spaces.

 

The fragments of this clay chalice gathered together, once a picture of brokenness, now represented light and hope amid darkness and despair — fragments not thrown away, but tenderly and sacredly carried and arranged to bring light to a dark time.

 

Fragments of another kind represent hope and abundance for a people gathered to get a glimpse of Jesus, the Holy One. Fragments of fish and bread left over from a feast for over 5,000 people were not thrown out or disregarded, but gathered to be saved, appreciated and used again.

 

The feeding of the 5,000 in the gospel of John chapter 6 is a story not only about miracles, but about hope and abundance. It is a well-known story. In fact, it is the only miracle story featured in all four gospels. Jesus has encountered a large crowd. Many people have come because they want to see more of his healing power and listen to his words. They have heard about who he is and what he has done, and they want to be a part of it. They want to catch a glimpse of this man who has power unlike any other they have known, so they come to this mountain by the Sea of Galilee, where they know Jesus will be. Jesus looks at the crowd and, fully knowing the answer, asks his disciple Philip how they might feed all the people.

 

Philip answers logically: It would take more than six months of wages to purchase enough food to feed everyone there. But Philip doesn’t see the people in the same way Jesus does. Philip sees an overwhelming number of individuals, whereas Jesus sees a community. Philip and the other disciples think feeding everyone is impossible. After all, all the food on hand is a boy’s five barley loaves and two dried fish.

 

Nonetheless, Jesus instructs the disciples to get the people seated. He accepts the boy’s offering of bread and fish, blesses it and distributes it to the crowd. It’s not clear in any of the gospels whether the miracle is a supernatural multiplication of food or the unleashing of compassion and generosity among the people, but miraculously, everyone is fed.

 

After the meal, Jesus asks the disciples to gather the leftovers, and 12 baskets of fragments are collected, John tells us, “so that nothing may be lost.”


That’s the only explanation the text gives, but metaphorically the fragments of bread and fish gathered up have a deeper meaning for this community gathered on that mountainside. It indicates how, in this new community Jesus is establishing in the world, no food — or person — is ever insignificant or abandoned. Everyone matters, even if the culture considers them castaways, like a fragment, or a leftover.

 

Of course, there are eucharistic overtones here, but this is more about who Jesus is and less about the Eucharist. We learn about who Jesus is in the moment when he asks the disciples to gather the fragments that are left over. We see and hear who Jesus is in a new way. The people gathered on the mountain knew that Jesus was not just about the food in the present, but about hope for the future.

 

The fragments matter, and are handled with such care following the feast. Jesus sees the abundance that persists and that there is feast available in the fragments. Yes, one of the marvels of this story is that there is enough for everyone. But for Jesus, enough is not enough. Indeed, there is more available for all people, and there is hope for what normally would have been tossed aside.

 

There is hope in the fragments when people are willing to acknowledge that, through Jesus, they hold promise. They hold a promise of hope and abundance. 


The fragments of the broken chalice no doubt represented pain and brokenness, but when collected and reassembled they represented hope, light and abundance. The fragments left over from a feast for 5,000 represents the same. There is promise and hope in what is left, and we are reminded that, by Jesus’ word, what is left behind still matters and still holds promise.


St. Paul is now officially open with in-person worship. Please come and worship with us, Sunday’s at 10:30 am in the fellowship hall on the lower level. Experience the fellowship and love that is St. Paul United Church of Christ! We look forward to meeting you – or seeing you again! 


Sunday, July 18, 2021: Pastor Alan’s Message for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost B

Picture this: Imagine that you’re walking down a city street. And there, sitting on the pavement, is a filthy, ragged man. He holds out a dirty hand, muttering something about a dollar to buy some food.

 

Your eyes meet briefly, but then you look away. You change course slightly, avoiding the outstretched hand. As you pass, he mutters, “What’s the matter, don’t you have any compassion?”

 

A snarky reply, to be sure. Most big-city panhandlers are more diplomatic than that. Whether or not we’ve ever been the target of such a taunting, probing question, haven’t we asked it of ourselves? It’s a challenge we all face: how to act compassionately in a world where there’s so much need.

 

Compassion is among the noblest of human qualities. Yet, if we look at what compassion really means, we’ll discover it’s not so common at all. And if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit compassion is a pretty high bar we most often fail to clear.

 

Of course, you may not agree with me on this: “Now, wait a minute, pastor. I DO feel compassion. Whenever I hear a TV news report about starving African children or the homeless in our cities, I feel sorry for those people.”

 

Well, maybe that’s true. But compassion is more than just “feeling sorry”. 

 

Having that twinge of pity for people in need is certainly commendable, but it’s not compassion. Maybe sympathy. But not compassion. It’s like the cards we send to friends who’ve lost loved ones: “My deepest sympathy is with you in your time of sorrow.” Sympathy is a beautiful thing and it goes a long way toward soothing the hurts and pains of others. But sympathy doesn’t cost us very much: the price of a greeting card or maybe a fleeting moment to type some kind words into a social media feed or email.

 

Jesus expects more of us, his disciples, than sympathetic feelings. He expects real compassion.

 

Compassion was the hallmark of Jesus’ life. Time and again the gospel writers tell of Jesus’ encounters with people in need: lepers, paralytics, parents who’d lost children. Jesus saw them and he felt compassion. When he sees the crowd in today’s scripture lesson, stumbling around “like sheep without a shepherd,” he feels compassion for them. In the verses that follow today’s passage, when thousands show up to hear him teach, and they need something to eat, he feels compassion for them also, and he lives it. He feeds the people, multiplying a couple of fish into a meal for all.

 

The Greek word commonly translated “compassion” — splagchnizomai (pronounced splag-nitz-zo-mi) — is actually an uncommon word in the New Testament. The only person described as having splagchnizomai is Jesus. Others in the New Testament are said to love, to heal, to help the poor, but only Jesus is said to feel splagchnizomai. Even in Colossians 3:12, where Paul urges, “clothe yourselves with compassion,” the word he uses is a different Greek word for compassion (oiktirmos), which gives us the impression that our attempts at compassion (compared to Jesus) are much like children trying on their parents’ clothing, attempting to be “adults”. In other words, compassion doesn’t quite fit us. 

 

Yet, Paul DOES urge us to put compassion on.

 

What’s that, you say?  It’s hard work to show compassion?  Well, yes, that’s true. Truthfully, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to show and feel the level of compassion Jesus did. We’ll certainly never be compassionate unless we first open our eyes and see the need around us. But seeing is hard when there’s so much inclination on our part to practice selective vision. That’s what the snarky panhandler was talking about when he asked, “don’t you have any compassion?” He was calling us out on our failure to see, to notice him as a person.

 

What makes compassion so difficult is that it threatens our emotional equilibrium. The English word “compassion” literally means “passion with.” And there’s nothing peaceful about passion. We often equate the word “passion” to mean something on the order of an overwhelming force of romantic emotion. Like Rhett Butler sweeping Scarlett O’Hara off her feet. But in its oldest, truest sense, “passion” means suffering. This is why we preserve that meaning when we speak of Passion Week during the Lenten season: the week of Jesus’ suffering. To feel compassion for others is to literally share in their suffering.

 

For us, at the very least, it’s risky and painful: this participating in someone else’s suffering. Because we often choose to set limits on how far we are willing to go with them.   

 

The Jesus we find in the scriptures never stops with the fully-invested compassion for others. Always on the move, never failing to act upon his nature, his instinct, his spirit. He sees, he feels compassion, he sees more deeply — and then he acts. Jesus reaches out his hand, saying, “Take up your bed and walk.” He makes a paste out of mud and his own spit, and smears it on a blind man’s eyes so his blindness is removed. He looks up at the despised tax-collector Zacchaeus and says, “Yes, I’ll be glad to accept your dinner invitation!” He stops on his way to an urgent errand, turning and saying, “Someone touched me; I felt power go out of me.”

 

In Matthew 10:8, Jesus gives a hint of a way we can orient ourselves to act compassionately. After commissioning his followers for works of healing, he says, “You received without payment; [now] give without payment.” Jesus is reminding the disciples to remember who they are — merely needy sinners — and he’s tells them to live close to their God, without whose freely given forgiveness they could hardly survive a day.

 

Maybe Jesus was teaching them – and us – that the best way to live compassionately is to live confessionally – confessing that God is the only one with power to turn lives around, ours or anyone else’s; confessing that only God can give us the power and perseverance to chip away at the mountains of human need. Without God, we are capable of nothing. 

 

I’ve heard it said that “Prayer is the very beat of a compassionate heart” — and how can prayer even begin without an honest confession of our own personal short comings and needs, our utter dependence on God’s grace?

 

May God grant that each of us will discover anew the good news of the gospel: and that from it we will draw wisdom and strength for this Christlike labor of compassion!  Hard labor, indeed. But, oh, so worth it!  

 

St. Paul is now officially open with in-person worship. Please come and worship with us, Sunday’s at 10:30 am in the fellowship hall on the lower level. Experience the fellowship and love that is St. Paul United Church of Christ! We look forward to meeting you – or seeing you again! 



Sunday, July 11, 2021: Pastor Alan’s Message for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost B

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he writes that God — the God of our Lord Jesus Christ — “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (emphasis added). Not only that, God “chose us… before the foundation of the world.” What’s more, God “destined us for adoption” as God’s own children.

 

Wow! Richly blessed, indeed! Of course, this raises the question of whom we are talking about here, and how they got so lucky. Who has been chosen and adopted? Who has been so blessed, not as a reward for anything that they’ve done, but simply “according to the good pleasure” of God’s will? Who is it that has been so richly blessed simply because God chose to bestow such blessing?

 

The answer is, the who is “us”.

 

“Us” is, simply, the entire human race, with no exceptions. God has blessed, God has chosen, the entire human race for adoption as God’s children. We are certainly not the only ones who have been blessed and chosen by God. We, sitting here today — along with others who look like us and think like us — are not the only ones who have been so blessed, chosen and adopted by God. We are simply the ones who are beginning to get it at this point. God has so blessed the entire human race, and we are witnesses to that. Hopefully we have, somehow, personally experienced that blessing, that special oneness with God. God chose “us,” the human race, in Christ before the foundation of the world, and destined us, the whole human race, for adoption as God’s children in Christ. That is, God chose us, destined us, to be “in Christ,” to live the kind of life that Christ lived, in our own context — to be, as far as possible, the kind of human being that Christ was, in our context and in our time.

 

Before God began anything, our text says, God had a plan for us, which is to say for every human being who is, ever was or ever will be. We see what that plan for us is in the life of Jesus, in his preaching and teaching and healing ministry, and in his sacrificial death and new, resurrected life.

 

In Jesus Christ, we witness our oneness with God — a oneness God intended all along for the whole human race, and which God is even now working to bring into being. And God has made all this known to us, in the Christ whom we follow and call “Lord.” We who believe — we, gathered here today — are the first fruit of this action of God’s of making the entire universe one with God.

 

Amazing! Quite a privilege, don’t you think?  

 

So, what exactly are we to do with this privilege? Why have we been so blessed? And what shall we do with this blessing? What’s the purpose of it? Is it just so we can brag and bask in how richly God favors us?

In this letter to a long-ago, faraway congregation (which is ironically also a letter to us today,) the word “blessing” is the paramount theme here. We have not only been blessed; we have been destined — once again, “in Christ,” or “through Christ” — for adoption as God’s children. This adoption is not a result of any good work we have done, any choice we have made, any “decision” on our part, “for Christ” or for whatever. God adopts us as God’s children because God loves us and wants us as God’s own, and for no other reason. Adoption by God is solely a result of the design and initiative of God, before we were born, before anyone was born, before the world was even created.

 

“Us” is everybody — every soul moving and having its being among us now and in eternity, every soul ever created, so that all eternity is divided, not between the “chosen” and the “damned,” but between those who have come to the light and those who have not yet come to the light.

 

The deeper we dive into this passage, the better it gets! Yes, we have been blessed, chosen — adopted in Christ, as God’s own children. We have experienced that; we understand it. We “get it.” But, there are so many out there who don’t. How do we reach them? Well, certainly not with some wordy diatribe telling them they’re going to Hell if they don’t repent and believe like us! And not with some innocuous, sugary, generic blessing, either. We will reach them only with the love of Christ, gently and lovingly welcoming them in so that they, too, can become aware that they are blessed by God. Adopted children. Precious, beloved, to be like Christ in all ways, through and through.  That’s how. 

Amen.  


*** A SPECIAL MESSAGE TO ALL OUR FACEBOOK FRIENDS AND FAMILY!

St. Paul is now officially open with in-person worship. Please come and worship with us, Sunday’s at 10:30 am in the fellowship hall on the lower level. Experience the fellowship and love that is St. Paul United Church of Christ! We look forward to meeting you – or seeing you again!  



         

  Sunday, July 4, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Sixth Sunday After Pentecost B:

To say that ours is a topsy-turvy world in great flux is certainly not news. Not by a long shot. We’ve seen what nature can inflict upon humans: earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, ice storms and the like, not to mention the pandemic that has plagued us the past year and four months (and is still ongoing!). 

 

Things haven’t changed much since the Apostle Paul’s time. In the 11th chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul mentions a long list of troubles he had to endure. They include: imprisonment on behalf of Christ, beatings and floggings which left him almost dead. He tells of rocks hurled at him occasionally. He recounts being shipwrecked three times and once being adrift at sea for a couple of days. He was often in danger, he says, sometimes without food or shelter or potable water. Sometimes he was left cold, naked, hungry and sleepless. He became so weak that death seemed imminent. Of course I can only speak for myself, but I can’t help but admire his courage and dedication on behalf of the Gospel.

 

And, I haven’t even mentioned one other bothersome problem that Paul had to deal with. He called it “a thorn in the flesh.” It was some sort of physical ailment. We’ve no idea what it was but it certainly bothered him. It haunted him until he took the problem to the Lord.

 

He asked God three times to relieve him of the affliction, but the Lord responded: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” It was not what Paul desired but at least he was given the strength to deal with it. In fact, Paul testified that he learned how to be content no matter what life hurled at him. In his own words, he said: “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

 

Living through the COVID pandemic has been unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetimes. The loss of coming to worship has, for many of us, been more than a painful loss. It threatened our spiritual well-being in such a way that we all had to reinvent how we received our spiritual nourishment, and how we could experience fellowship with our church family and friends. At times, the isolation that the pandemic created was soul-starving. Heart breaking. On top of it all, the loss of friends and family and no way to mourn in the usual way. 

 

In hindsight, though, I have to say I have counted more positives from this pandemic. They far outweigh the negatives. Having to re-adjust priorities and focus more on where I DO get my strength. While worship each week with my church family is important, my strength does not come from there. For much of this shutdown, I have had to depend more fully on God for my strength. More than I ever have. It turned into a wonderful opportunity to deepen that dependence on God, and God alone.  

So, how have YOU responded to the awful blows, the tornadoes of pain, the vicious soul-shaking losses in life this past year? What have YOU relied on that pulled you through the darkest moments of your life? What kept you from throwing in the towel?  

 

There’s a story concerning Scottish-born Arthur John Gossip, a professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at Trinity College in Glasgow. His beloved wife died suddenly in 1929, and the loss of her nearly tore the heart out of him. But he found the peace that only God alone could give. One Sunday, not long after the funeral, he preached a sermon entitled “But when life tumbles in, what then?” Addressing his parishioners, he said, “You people in the sunshine may believe in the faith, but we in the shadows must believe it. We have nothing else.”

 

He went on to testify: “There is a Presence with us, a Comforter, a Fortifier who does strengthen us, does uphold, does bring us through somehow from hour to hour and day to day. And as the days go by, what grows upon one – more and more – is the amazing tenderness of God.”

 

Dr. Gossip relied on the same strength that sustained The Apostle Paul. And it is that power that we, too, can rely on, without fail. 

 

It is after these experiences in our lives that we learn that it is Christ alone who will enable us to develop strength out of weakness. May we all remember to affirm that unalterable fact.

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan

 

*** A SPECIAL MESSAGE TO ALL OUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY!

St. Paul is now officially open with in-person worship. Please come and worship with us, Sunday’s at 10:30 am in the fellowship hall on the lower level. Experience the fellowship and love that is St. Paul United Church of Christ! We look forward to meeting you – or seeing you again!  

    

 

  Sunday,  June 27, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost B:

 

Did you ever notice that Jesus had awesome people skills? I admire how he was able to interact with the important, high-positioned people as well as those who were basically anonymous in their society. Today’s gospel text, from Mark 5:21-43, contains one such encounter between Jesus and a woman usually hidden from view.   

 

She comes up to him mixed into a crowd, a large crowd. She thinks she’ll slip by unnoticed, get what she wants and slip away again. What she wants is to touch him. Well, not him, exactly, but just to touch his robe. The edge of his robe. That will be enough, she’s convinced. If Rabbi Jesus is able to do anything for her medical condition — this curse of perpetual menstrual bleeding that not only saps her energy, but makes her ritually unclean — he’ll do it through touch.

 

We don’t know much about her, other than she is ostracized from the temple and most likely poor. The text says she has spent all she had on trying to find a cure. Now, she comes to Jesus, hoping her health can be restored. An overarching goal to say the least, but in her mind this is her last opportunity before everything else about her life fades into insignificance.

 

You see, in all of this despair, she has this one bright ray of hope: spiritual and physical healing. This is what she wants most of all: to be whole. Oh, and, maybe one more thing. There’s a part of her that wants to be noticed. To be seen. Validated. To find someone that cares. 

 

People who have been homeless, living on the streets, will often say afterward that the most difficult part of their ordeal was feeling invisible. They’d look to passersby for help, call out to them even, but only a rare few would ever stop and look them in the eye. They’ve told me those moments felt dehumanizing, like they were no longer people. Just mere obstacles on the sidewalk to be stepped around and avoided.

 

The late theologian Henri Nouwen once wrote of an address he gave to a student group at Yale University. Many of these students came from privilege and would most likely return to privilege. They would graduate to become the leaders and professionals of the next generation. Yet, Nouwen told them, straight up, all their talent and triumphs would be meaningless if they failed to let their hearts be touched by the needs in front of them. Nouwen asked them a few questions:

 

“Why is it that we keep the great gift of care so deeply hidden? Why is it that we keep giving dimes without daring to look into the face of the beggar? Why is it that we do not join the lonely eater in the dining hall but look for those whom we know so well? Why is it that we so seldom knock on a door or grab a phone, just to say hello, just to show that we have been thinking about each other? Why are smiles still hard to get and words of comfort so difficult to come by? Why do we keep bypassing each other always on the way to something or someone more important?”

 

Once this woman manages to grasp the hem of his robe, something happens there in the street that’s more than a mere business transaction. Once Jesus stops everything to turn and look for the woman, eye meets eye. Heart meets heart. Soul encounters soul. Somewhere, in that brief moment of communion, a spiritual connection is established. Once the connection is made and the circuit complete, power rushes across the gap — and a human life is changed forever.

 

This woman had approached Jesus anonymously, hoping to retain her place among the silent numbers who dwell in the city streets. But Jesus won’t let her. She seeks a fleeting touch, something she thinks Jesus will scarcely notice, if at all. But he DOES notice. He calls out to her. He looks her straight in the eye and performs for her not one healing, but two. Jesus heals her of her anonymity. She will never be anonymous again. She is known. To him.  

 

How wonderful it would be if more people in our world could be healed of their anonymity! No longer starved for human touch. No longer marginalized and cast aside. No longer perpetual outsiders.

If only we felt confident to be like Jesus and beckon them to come out of the shadows. To reach out and touch them.  

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

 

Pastor Alan 



 Sunday, June 20, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Fourth Sunday After Pentecost B-Father’s Day:


The storm at sea in chapter 4, verses 35-41 of the gospel of Mark has always held a special place with me. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because I can SO identify with the disciples.

   

Jesus and the disciples have boarded a boat, and some others in their party have gotten into other boats. Jesus goes to the stern, places himself comfortably on a cushion, and promptly falls asleep. Just as quickly, a great windstorm arises with waves so high they were soon swamping the little craft, threatening to destroy it and all its occupants.

 

And Jesus sleeps on, completely undisturbed.

 

Now, remember, the disciples were veterans of this sea. They had experienced many of its storms. But this was different. This storm seemed more of a life and death matter. At first the disciples are frightened out of their wits, and then they get angry. How could Jesus sleep when their lives are in danger? So, the disciples awaken him. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” They just can’t understand how Jesus can sleep through a storm.

 

Jesus promptly rebukes the wind, almost as if it were an unruly, bratty child. Then he speaks to the sea: “Peace! Be still!” The biblical writer says that the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Now, having calmed the wind and the sea, Jesus sets out to calm the disciples. “Why are you afraid?” he asks. “Have you still no faith?” 

 

The disciples counter his question with another question. Just like typical children, eh? “How can you sleep at a time like this?” When Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid,” he could just as well be asking, “Why can’t you sleep?”

 

Good question. Why couldn’t they? These were men of faith. For heavens sake, what was their problem?? Didn’t they know who they were with?    

 

I shared recently with a friend that, during this pandemic and even until recently, I have had a terrible time sleeping. As soon as it gets dark and I’m trying to relax and drift off I find myself tossing and turning, bombarded with negative images and thoughts until I am so ill at ease and frustrated I have to get up to calm down. The doctor says its nighttime anxiety. Worrying about – well, LIFE.  

 

And, so, I can identify with the disciples. They needed sleep. They were probably as tired as Jesus was. It had been a long, exhausting day. But they were too frightened to sleep. They were afraid. Blinded by the storm raging around them. On the other hand, it was obvious Jesus wasn’t. Jesus was utterly confident of God’s care. 

You see, I’m not so different from those disciples. And I imagine many of you are the same. We fret and toss when we ought to pray, give thanks, and fall asleep. In truth, many of our worst fears fade away by morning. And the ones that don’t fade away? Well, we need to remember that, in truth, they are not so formidable and unsolvable when our God is involved. 

 

We need to learn how to sleep in storms. Because at one time or another all of us pass through storms. All of us get a fair share. No one can go through this life without dealing with some storms.

 

Keep this in mind, too. We Christians follow someone who was (and IS) Master of all of life’s storms. Galilee was no challenge to Jesus nor, ultimately, are the storms we face. The disciples wondered how Jesus could sleep in a storm. If you think about it, the difference between them and Jesus was the degree of trust Jesus had in God. Jesus knew that God was on their side, and that God could be trusted.

 

We, like the disciples, can trust the God in whom Jesus trusted, too. We are not alone in our boats, no more than those disciples were. 

 

If we pray and we believe we will all find our rest.   

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

(OH, and a very Happy Father’s Day to our dads!)

 

Pastor Alan



Sunday, June 13, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Third Sunday After Pentecost B

 

In today’s scripture from Mark 4:26-34, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who planted seeds, and then a parable about a mustard seed. 

 

When I was little, I can remember reading a children’s book version of the story of the farmer who was planning his garden so that he could have the best harvest ever. He plants the seeds, makes sure that there is enough fertilizer and nutrients and is careful about providing the right amount of water. And then he waits. And, after a while, he worries. He doesn’t see anything happening — no sprouts, no baby leaves emerging from the ground. He begins to get really concerned, and pace up and down by the rows of earth, mounded rows of dirt with “nothing showing and nothing growing” as the author puts it. He talks to the dirt. He coaxes the seeds to grow. He plays music for the hidden seeds. He does a little “harvest dance.” Still nothing. Exhausted and crestfallen, he lies down by his empty garden and falls asleep. When he awakes, he is thrilled to find row after row of baby plants, pushing their way through the soil and reaching up toward the sun. He jumps up and down filled with glee. “There!” he says with his chest puffed out. “I guess all of that worrying really did the trick!”

 

That was the punchline, you see, and even as a kid I got it!  

The farmer forgot that it wasn’t his worrying or his singing or his dancing that caused the seeds to flourish. After he carefully planted the seeds, he was asked to wait, trust and watch.

 

We forget very often that are not “in charge” of everything — God calls us to offer and to plant. And then we need to let go and let God do the mysterious, powerful work of God’s Spirit. And that can lead to unexpected benefits, a harvest even greater than the one we had imagined.

 

Ever plant a tulip or daffodil bulb in the Fall? How soon do they come up? That’s right. Not until the Spring. You see, patience is a prime ingredient of success. It will be months before any growth is seen. We must trust that God is at work behind the scenes. 

 

My neighbor shared how her nephew, many years ago now, was the shortest in his grade. He was completely frustrated with his lack of growth, measuring his height every day, hoping to catch up with his classmates – maybe even hoping he would suddenly sprout up and be taller than his mother and father. But his impatience only made him more frustrated and miserable, and it certainly didn’t make his growth happen any faster. He sulked around until, mysteriously one day, a growth spurt hit – and WHAM! He grew. BOY, did he grow. He’s now around 6’6. 

 

Growing comes in many forms. A similar dynamic can be true inside each one of us, and inside the people we care about the most. Sometimes we pray and pray for someone, hoping to witness positive change but with no apparent results. Does that mean God is absent? Or ignoring us? No, of course not. It simply means that God is working in ways that we can’t yet see.

 

Jesus’ simple parables encourage us to step out in faith — to do what we can in the planting process — and then trust that God is working in ways that we can’t always perceive but are powerful nonetheless. Even if our part is no bigger than the size of a mustard seed. We must be willing to take that first step. After all, the mustard seed wouldn’t have produced even a tiny shrub if the farmer had not taken the initiative to place it into the soil. We offer our gifts to God and trust that God will bless our efforts.

 

We are called to purposeful action despite how the appearances seem to us — so, go ahead and plant the seed. Don’t wait for a guaranteed result. Dare to step out in faith. Do the good deed. Pray for that person. Offer to do whatever you can, no matter how small or insignificant that might seem to you, or how long it will take. When we plant in good faith, God always surprises us with the results. Our efforts are never in vain — and who knows what we’ll end up with?

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan

 

  Sunday June 6, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Second Sunday After Pentecost

Ministry at St. Paul has always had its challenges. From personality conflicts and differing preferences in worship style and music, to changing demographics in our neighborhood, to an aging and dying church membership, to times that took a little financial creativity to make ends meet. Not to mention the evolving of our food pantry operation to better meet the needs of our neighbors in the face of economic change. All churches experience these fluctuations, though.  But, as I am famously known to say, “I REALLY wish they had taught us this in school.”  

 

But nothing – NOTHING – could have prepared the church for what the pandemic brought in 2020.  No one younger than one hundred and twenty, in fact, could have even prepared us for how the virus would stop the church in its tracks – if only momentarily. While I had my moments of self-pity and frustration in the beginning, I knew that we all had to find a way to continue to do ministry, even if on a scaled down, limited variety. Pantry operations had to be adjusted to protect the volunteers. Weekly messages from your pastor now had to be delivered by telephone each week. We kept going. Maybe a little awkwardly at first. But we didn’t give up. 

 

So, it’s all too appropriate that our scripture for today is from 2 Corinthians chapter 4:13 – 5:1, written by the apostle Paul.  Paul the spiritually called man. Paul the bi-vocational pastor. Paul the wounded messenger of the Good News. Paul. Someone I have not only long admired, but can find a spiritual connection with.   

 

Paul definitely had a heart for ministry. Paul came into his calling to ministry with great gusto and determination to make a difference in his world. But by the time he wrote the second letter to the Corinthian church, including our passage for today in chapter 4, Paul had experienced the kind of burdens and problems in ministry that I could only imagine in a pastor’s nightmare. Earlier in chapter 4, Paul tells of beatings and imprisonments, false accusations and grief. Most people would have given up and gone back to whatever they were doing before. Not Paul. He never gave up. “We are afflicted in every way,” he wrote, “but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed.” 

 

In today’s reading, Paul reveals exactly what it was that kept him going. He kept his focus on the Resurrection. That time when we will trade in our earthly “tent” for a “building” from God. He had the wisdom and ability to view everything he endured as a “slight momentary affliction.” He kept his eyes on the eternal glory to come. Paul knew that, in Resurrection, we would be renewed – in strength, in stamina, in spirit. 

 

He conquered the pain of beatings because of his faith in the glory of Resurrection. He rose above the shame and confinement of prison because of his faith in the glory of Resurrection. He held his head high despite false accusations because of his faith in the glory of Resurrection. When he faced physical hunger on his journeys, he fed his soul with the assurance of the glory of Resurrection. He kept putting one foot in front of the other in his ministry, because the glory of Resurrection shone like a beacon in the dark to guide him.

 

During these past 15 months, we – like Paul and those early Christians – chose to keep going and keep our eyes on the Resurrection. Even when tempted at times to give up on faith and on church, we hung in there. Emotionally and spiritually beaten down, and imprisoned by the pandemic restrictions, but we didn’t lose heart. Cynicism didn’t smother us. By the grace of God and a little spiritual chutzpa on our part, we survived. We made it through.     

 

Now, St. Paul will be opening back up for in-person worship on July 4th!  Hurray and hallelujah!! Thank you, St. Paul family, for your continued commitment both financially and in presence, for your continued spiritual determination and fortitude.

     

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

 

Pastor Alan

 

  Friday, June 4, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Special Announcement about Church Resuming:

Hello, St. Paul family and friends. This is Pastor Alan with a special announcement.

This past year has been a crazy, unprecedented time that none of us have ever experienced.  But as scripture has continued to remind us all, our God is faithful and sovereign. I’m so thankful that we serve a living God in whom we can trust. As David testified in Psalm 33, “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” (Psalms 33:20–22 ESV)

From the beginning of the COVID pandemic, your council president Dale Patterson and I have been diligently watching the CDC’s announcements as well as the local health department guidance. This has continued until recently when the CDC has made significant changes in their public policies regarding COVID precautions. So, too, your church leadership has taken note of Governor DeWine’s recent decision to completely lift the COVID restrictions here in Ohio. While many people are extremely happy and ready for the renewed freedom, I understand that there are others more apprehensive and guarded. But I must admit that I am personally elated with these changes. 

With the lifting of the state restrictions, the way has finally been made for St. Paul to reopen with a sense of safety and great joy!  On Sunday, July 4th, we will resume in-person worship in our Fellowship Hall.  As a precaution and to extend a courtesy to those who still feel apprehensive about group gatherings, we will be asking all in attendance to bring and wear your masks.  

As we welcome people back into the church building for corporate worship, we feel confident from these latest CDC announcements that we can now gather safely.  Many of you have received one of the available COVID vaccines. And we realize there may be individuals who have chosen not to get the vaccine. As a church body, I am asking that we all do our part and continue to social distance when gathering for worship. I am confident that as the percentages of vaccinated US citizens continue to climb, we can avoid further spread of the virus.

Please continue to be in prayer for your church leadership, that we will make wise decisions that honor God and demonstrate love for all people. I’m looking forward to seeing many of you on our first Sunday back. I am excited beyond words! If anyone has any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me directly at the church. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan

Sunday, May 30, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Trinity Sunday B Message:

The Sunday following Pentecost has traditionally been one in which the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is celebrated. Hence, today’s scriptural reading from Paul’s letter to the Roman church, chapter 8, verses 12-17. But, if you look at the reading from Romans (and I sincerely hope that all of you will take the time to do so), you’ll see that there’s not really any mention of the “doctrine of the Trinity” there. In fact, there’s alot of debate among scholars whether or not the Trinity is truly spelled out in scripture at all. But there are certainly a number of passages in the New Testament that speak of the first Christians’ understanding and experience of God as Father-Son-Holy Spirit. This teaching of one God, and the Holy Trinity, is the way the church has come to understand all of this in a coherent way.

 

Well, maybe not so coherent since a lot of us STILL struggle at times with the concept. 

 

One aspect of this teaching that I truly appreciate is that it provides a way of comprehending how we are brought into this parent-child relationship with God — that the Spirit brings us to faith in Christ, who is the eternal Son of the Father. As children of God, we are called into a community in relationship with the community of the Trinity. (Have I lost you yet?)

 

Through God’s will, we become adopted children of God. It’s God who makes this possible, of course, and in our reading today Paul points specifically to the role of the Spirit of God in this: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” At first that may not seem to clarify things very much because the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, seems kind of mysterious to us. It can help to realize that the Holy Spirit has sometimes been called “the bond of love” between God the Father and God the Son. What Paul is saying is that that bond has been extended to us. We have received not “a spirit of slavery,” (a bond of servitude) but “a spirit of adoption”.  A bond of love.

 

That is our status now: sisters and brothers of Jesus, the Son of God. And, Paul says, that means that we are also “heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” A good deal of the biblical story is packed into that “heir” language.

 

If anyone thinks God just suddenly stumbled onto this idea when he plopped Jesus down into our world, let’s remember that even back in Genesis, at the beginning of the history of Israel, God made several big promises to Abraham about him and his descendants, saying that they would be a blessing to all the nations of the world. The promise of that inheritance of Abraham echoes throughout the Old Testament. And in his letter to the Galatians (3:29), Paul argues that that promise is focused in one particular descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ. He is the heir, the one in whom all of the promises are fulfilled. And, Paul says in our text, we will inherit along with him.

Of course, when speaking of being God’s children the difference between us and Jesus is that he is “the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father” as it says in our Nicene Creed. With Jesus being the only Son of God we might jump to the conclusion that since he is the ONLY one who really has the right to address God as Abba, the word for “Father” in his native language of Aramaic, maybe we don’t have that luxury. Nope. Not according to Jesus. As he instructed his disciples — and us — how to pray, Jesus invites us all to share in that relationship. “Our Father, who art in heaven ....”

 

Paul adds that when we do that, when we cry “Abba! Father!” the Holy Spirit joins in and prays with our spirit — with us. It’s not that the Spirit does the praying instead of us, but that the Spirit inspires us to call upon God and guides us when we do so.

 

Well – there’s your Trinity Sunday mini-lesson. How wonderful it is to be reminded that this isn’t just a nice little man-made religion we can participate in on Sunday mornings. Nor is it all just concepts and doctrines and highfalutin rules and regulations for us to follow mindlessly as “slaves” to a belief. No. Trinity means relationship. A spiritual connection, and being brought into a place in God’s family all by way of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit who makes it possible for us to believe in Jesus as Lord. 

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan 


Sunday, May 23, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Pentecost B message:

On this Pentecost Sunday, I want to share with you a story I recently heard of a gentleman who approached the table at an outdoor food pantry. He produced a folded piece of paper from his pocket, and in a flurry of Spanish he handed it to the English-speaking volunteers. It was clear he wanted to know what the English words on the paper said. The volunteers gathered together, and with a combination of a few Spanish words and a lot of gesturing managed to tell him that the note was from a doctor and explained a recent visit. He nodded with understanding, but no one at the table was sure if his question had really been answered. He took some food and smiled and said in broken English he would be back next week. 

He came every week after that, and often had papers from his employer or his doctor for volunteers to read to him. And with each visit this game of charades took place to help him understand what his papers said. He had formed a bond of trust with these volunteers who cared enough about him to give him food and to spend an extra 20 or 30 minutes searching Google translate for the right words to help him with whatever presented itself that day.

Learning to speak another language, in order for someone else to understand something, is a difficult thing. But, even when a common language is shared, communication is not always guaranteed. In the past few years, we all seen people who speak the very same language talking past each other on social media, in the news and even in our immediate families. Speaking clearly is not easy. Listening thoughtfully is not any easier. These are learned skills that take hours, weeks, maybe even years of practice and patience and heart, and require a great deal of trust for meaningful communication to happen. 

In truth, almost anyone can learn to speak a new language, especially if they start young enough. But what difference does speaking make if there is no one willing to listen? Will fluency matter without a conversation partner? Do words have the same meanings without anyone to react to them?

On the face of it, we often think the most miraculous thing about the Pentecost moment, recorded in the book of Acts chapter 2, verses 1-21, is that the people suddenly found the ability to speak languages they previously did not know. Actually, in truth, the REAL miracle is that the Holy Spirit descended and drew others in to patiently listen and hear their language being spoken in this blaring and jarring fashion. 

On that amazing day, the Holy Spirit did not come in a quiet, private, personal moment of devotion. The Holy Spirit flew into that room with the volume turned all the way up, descending into a space full of people. The Spirit’s arrival produced a cacophony of noise and an astounding flourish of light and heat. It was a communal event where there needed to be speakers and listeners, givers and receivers. 

That Pentecost day must have been a noisy mess of people speaking over each other. But there were still people listening and ready to hear a message in their language. And unlike so many of the messages out in our world today, the message they heard that first Pentecost was one of God’s power and love, which they may have missed in all the noise had they not been listening. 

For speech to be communication and not just babbling noise, it must have heart. For someone to truly hear words there must be a bond of trust, and for there to be trust there must be a shared communal experience.  That is what the Holy Spirit brought to the early church community that first Pentecost.

Are we willing to strain to hear a message of love today? Are we willing to listen a little harder?

At that food bank table, I am sure no one was under any illusions that they had spoken meaningful Spanish to the gentleman in need. Hardly the fiery and loud Pentecost moment as described in today’s scriptures. And, yet – there were still the elements of a Spirit-filled moment. An oddly constructed bridge of communication that made all the difference in the world for one Hispanic man and table full of volunteers. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan

  Sunday, May 16, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Easter 7B Message:

There is something powerful about “last words.” To realize that as someone dies, there are certain things they want said and remembered as important. Last words take on an almost sacred aura.

When those words are personal, as in the case of a spouse, or father or mother, the words are not only profoundly important but also heart wrenching in their emotional power. At the moment of death, our last thoughts are often about family, loved ones or children. 

We remember last words. We write them in diaries and on the inside of family Bibles. Last words become part of the oral tradition of families. We remember what Grandpa or Grandma, Mom or Dad, said just before they died. Last words become the first memory we keep alive of those significant people who leave us when taken by death.

The Gospel of John records for us an elaborate narration of Jesus’ last words. Not so much the last thing he said, but more in the tradition of a “last will and testament.” 

In our gospel text for today, taken from John chapter 17, verses 6-19, Jesus says the last things his disciples need to hear. He prays for them and their mission. He prays for those who have heard his words, and for those who will hear his words in the future – just like you and I here today. Jesus prays for us!

But his prayer was more than just a prayer. The words Jesus spoke that are collected in this chapter stand as a great spiritual bequest. These are the words he has left to us as an inheritance. These were the things that were on his mind as he stood facing the cross.

It’s clear Jesus was thinking about what had already been done in his ministry. He says to God, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world.”

But just as Jesus saw clearly what had already been done, he also saw what was left to do. He knew his followers would face difficult days of challenge and doubt. He knew there would be advances and retreats. He knew there would be victories and losses.

Standing there with his disciples, he knew he needed to say some last words to them that would help them to deal with all that was about to come. Jesus prayed, “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”

In short, our work is in the world. Jesus leaves, but we stay. What he began, together we finish. In this his last will and testament, Jesus leaves us in the world to minister, to preach, to care and serve, to love and to forgive. We are promised no short cuts, no escape routes. We are in, and we stay in – until God says otherwise.

From my experience, the reciting of a last will and testament is usually bittersweet as we reflect on the loved one we have lost. But there is also gratitude as we realize that some of the last thoughts our loved one was having was about us. That is certainly true for Jesus and his last words. He was thinking about us and about what we need. He prayed for us: Sanctify them in the truth.

That’s a pretty churchy word, sanctify. We don’t use words like that too much in daily conversation. In its basic sense sanctify means to “set apart” or “set aside” for some special purpose. Jesus prays that God will sanctify us “in truth.” Jesus is the truth in whom we are to be set apart for special use. We are called to follow Jesus and complete the work he began.

This is our inheritance. This is what Jesus has left for us. It is ours to have and to treasure. But it is also ours to do, to tell the world the story of Jesus and his gift.

Like sharing the words of a father or mother on their deathbed, surrounded by family, using the last of their energy to say, “Tell my wife… tell my husband… tell my children I love them”. Here Jesus, who is facing death on the cross, is looking into the future and saying, “Tell them all I love them.”

That’s our mission. Our ministry. To share those words of Jesus with everyone. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan  


Sunday, May 9, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Easter 6B-Mother’s Day Message:


On this Mother’s Day, I can’t think of a better topic than the subject of love! 


In today’s gospel text from John, chapter 15, verses 9-17, Jesus really pushes the envelope with a sublime statement about the greatest love possible. And it bears repeating. After exhorting his followers to love one another, he says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” This puts real meat on the bones! Love is ultimately demonstrated by a willingness to sacrifice one’s self, not merely for a good cause but for the good of others. Of course, Jesus epitomizes this by taking on the cross and dying so that all who believe in him might live. Beyond securing life in God’s coming kingdom, Jesus’ sacrifice serves as the model of how we are to love – a life of love that’s all about having a Jesus-like love for people.


Perhaps what’s most profound in this definition of love is Jesus’ use of the word “friends.” We are not mere objects of God’s love. We are friends. Intimates. Jesus contrasts this with the imagery of servants. The Creator God does not view us merely as objects or servants to be deployed. There is a more personal relationship going on here. God loves us not as a master loves a slave, but as one person loves a true friend. This audacious love is a love that transforms and changes the world.


But most importantly, the love that Jesus describes calls for a response. Jesus shows that this is no little matter as he calls for obedience. Jesus links the practice of abiding in his love to the keeping of his commandments. But, this is not some bait-and-switch. Jesus doesn’t talk about love only to burden his followers with mere religious rules and regulations. Instead, Jesus is clarifying his call to obedience with the solitary call to love one another. 


Being in relationship with Jesus basically constitutes being a vehicle, a conduit, of God’s love to others. Following Jesus means living a life of self-giving love, as he did. Talk is cheap. But love in action – that is real. John captures this truth elsewhere by writing, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (1 John 3:18)


God’s love comes to us through Jesus on its way to someone else. We receive God’s love so that we can give it away to others. God’s mission is to extend his blessing, mercy and love to the world. He does this through the person-to-person contact of his people with the world. 


As his followers, we are to live lives marked only by love. But there is more in this text. As our world seeks self-pleasure, happiness and joy through consumerism and self-gratification, Jesus offers us his joy with the promise that his joy will bring us the highest and most complete joy possible. As author Madeleine L’Englewrote, “Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.”


We love because of the Father’s love for Jesus. We abide in love by keeping Jesus’ commandments. And the highest of those commandments is the command to love others. By abiding in love, we find our highest joy. 

Profoundly, we also bear fruit for God’s kingdom. This is love manifested in our world. The self-giving love of God radiates through us to the world so that others may come to know and experience God’s love for themselves.

Make this your prayer today, that the love of God that comes to us by way of Jesus will dwell in us and then be passed onto to others, fulfilling all that God intends for his creation.

 

Happy Mothers’ Day! 


I love you, St. Paul family.  I’ll talk with you soon.


Pastor Alan


Sunday, May 2, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message for Easter 5B

In today’s gospel text from the gospel of John, chapter 15, verses 1-8, the language Jesus uses describes something people in his day would have been familiar with – vine dressing. Tending the grape vineyards. Pruning away whatever is getting in the way of a tree producing good fruit. This language connected with the history of the people of Israel. In fact, vine language is quite common in the Hebrew scriptures.

In the second chapter of Jeremiah, God says this: “I planted you as a choice vine.” At least twice Ezekiel likens Israel to a vine. And Hosea calls Israel “a luxuriant vine.” So, in his agricultural language, Jesus was – if you’ll pardon the pun – plowing familiar ground here. But he switches it up a bit, and places himself at the center of the vine imagery. 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit…”  Jesus goes on to encourage the listeners, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”

Even those of us who aren’t farmers, or rose growers, or other grapevine tenders probably know this basic fact: that periodic pruning is a must! In the case of grapes, if a vine is going to produce good fruit, the branches that merely suck up energy without producing anything must be removed.

To us novices, pruning might seem unnecessary, maybe even painful and cruel. But as those experienced in tending plants will tell you pruning is necessary for maximum growth and plant health. 

But pruning isn’t merely something good for plants. We humans can certainly benefit from a little pruning now and then. Our lives can become hampered by things that prevent us from growing, maturing, things that might even harm us eventually.  

An example I always use is one involving my mom. God bless her. When I was about to start nursery school my mother suddenly realized that I was still very attached to pacifiers. Somewhere along the line my mother had failed to wean me from these little “comfort items” that I still very much depended on. I refer to it now as my toddler addiction-years. I absolutely refused to part with them. Now, my mom knew there was no way I could start nursery school in this condition, not to mention the damage they would eventually do to the alignment of my incoming teeth, so she set out to hunt them down, find them all and get rid of them. Pruning time! But there was a slight problem, you see. Her darling little boy had dozens of pacifiers stashed all over the house. She eventually had to follow me around to discover all of my hiding places. Pruned of my pacifiers! I was not a happy camper.

So, what in our adult lives is preventing us from quality “vine-time”?  What’s causing us not to produce good fruit? Is it mindless shopping to find bargain stuff we really don’t need? Or watching hour after hour of TV sitcoms or reality shows that, two hours later, we can’t remember? Is it that we surround ourselves with friends and work buddies, and neglect time alone with God?  What is it that prevents us from reconnecting to the main vine, that holy connection to God, the father? 

Just imagine what constructive and beneficial things we might be free to do if our lives were pruned a bit from those habits or time-consuming aspects that take up all the precious time God gives us, and wasting much of it on worthless substance. Imagine how our spiritual life might flourish if we spent a little more time with God in prayer, allowing him to prune and shape us. After all, a flourishing life is exactly what God wants for us. Jesus himself said he had come so we may have life and have it more abundantly.

But we can’t flourish if all that prevents us from remaining connected to the true vine isn’t cleared away, pruned and trimmed from time to time.  

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan 


Sunday, April 25, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Easter 4B Message-Good Shepherd Sunday


Have you ever noticed how an infant turns its head instinctively toward the sound of its mother’s voice?

 

Or maybe you’ve had the experience of being able to tell by the look on your spouses’ face that he or she is not feeling well?

 

Or has a really close friend, almost like a sibling, ever said to you, “I can tell by your expression that something is wrong”?

 

We know some people on a very superficial level — by name, face or reputation.

 

And then there are others — family members and close friends, for example — that we know on a deeper level. We know their stories and they know ours. We can read their facial expressions, or see it in their eyes. We can finish each other’s sentences.

 

In our gospel text from John 10:11-18, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Jesus knows us, and we belong to him.

 

One of the things I remember being taught since childhood is this: God cares for all creation, which includes every person. You and me. And not only does God care for each one of us but God knows us — really knows us.

 

One of my favorite Psalms, in its entirety, is Psalm 139. I call it the “God Knows Me” psalm. If you have never read Psalm 139 all the way through, do so. “O LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. ... For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

 

God created us. God formed us. The creation story in the book of Genesis tells us “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  I have often closed my eyes and imagined those divine, artistic hands carefully shaping the human from dust, and then bringing him close and breathing in the divine breath. Like a holy kiss.  

 

Jesus says, “I know my own,” and we can be assured that Jesus really does know us. Jesus knows firsthand what it is like to experience earthly temptation. He knows what it is like to lose someone close, and feel grief and sorrow. He knows what it is like to be rejected, even hated, by other people. At the same time, Jesus truly understands what it is like to feel joy, happiness and love.

 

But this kind of knowing is way beyond the superficial level. This is intimate knowledge. In this gospel passage from John, we see that the relationship of “knowing” goes much deeper. “I know my own and my own know me.” And not only does Jesus, the Son of God, know us — we can also know him. Personally. Intimately. Without barrier and distance. 

 

One way we know Jesus is through the Holy Scriptures. The New Testament contains stories of his birth, life, death and resurrection. The New Testament also contains Jesus’ sermons, parables and instructions about being a disciple. We see in Jesus the example of what it means to live faithfully as a child of God. We come to know Jesus when we spend time reading and studying the Bible. We can also grow to know Jesus when we share conversation with other believers.

 

But, most importantly, we get to know him as we spend time in prayer. When we come to know Jesus, we can hear his voice above all the other noise in the world. We can learn to listen for Jesus’ voice and follow him.

 

As followers, we are never alone. As our relationship deepens beyond the casual to a sibling-like closeness that God wants for all of us, we will know that we have that union through Christ with God always – through all the hardships and challenges that life may bring our way. Jesus IS the good shepherd, and our brother. He knows us and we know him, and we follow him. Relationship doesn’t get any better than that! 

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan 


Corrected: Sunday, April 18, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Easter 3B Message:


“I can’t un-see that ....” Have you ever said that to someone or thought it at some time? These days, it often refers to some stupid or inane thing that may show up in your email or on Facebook or YouTube, or maybe your I-phone. Someone forwards you a bit of video and you click on it. All at once you see something you immediately wish you had never seen, but you can’t really “un-see” it, now can you? And, so, you’re stuck with that image or idea or whatever it was that will probably hang out in your head for the next few hours, if not days or maybe longer. Like an annoying song stuck in your head, there’s no getting rid of it easily. 

I stumbled across this slogan in an I-phone ad recently that was talking about its camera features: “Further your vision and go beyond the ordinary. With 10x Hybrid Zoom, witness life’s vistas up close!”  I guess that’s what it’s all about these days. Witnessing life up close! 

In Luke chapter 24, verses 36-48, our gospel reading for today, Jesus introduces the disciples to a very similar concept. “You are witnesses of these things,” he says to his disciples right before his ascension. What did that mean for the disciples, and what does that mean for us today? What does it mean as followers of Christ that we are witnesses to the Resurrection?

Remember last Sunday we talked about Thomas, and his experience with the risen Jesus afterwards. This resurrection stuff is rather heady stuff to grasp. I suppose if we were back in Jesus’ day, and a close friend or family member had come back from the dead, we’d be understandably shaken and confused, too. You’d have to see it with your own eyes to believe, and even then, a lot of questions would have to be answered. 

Luke tells us it took three events for the disciples to finally believe Jesus was alive. In the first event Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and “other women” had gone back to the tomb with spices they had prepared for Jesus’ body. Of course, they found the tomb empty and ran back to tell the others all they had seen. But the scripture says their story “seemed an idle tale”, and the others did not believe them. (Luke 24:11)

A second event takes place on the road to Emmaus. Two men are walking and discussing what had happened in Jerusalem. As they talk, Jesus shows up and “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets ... interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) Later, as Jesus joins them for a meal, he “took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them. Then, the scriptures tell us, their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.”(Luke 24:30-31) The two men return to Jerusalem to tell the eleven disciples all the things that had happened to them. 

Even then, the disciples still weren’t convinced.

But then a third event occurs. While the Eleven were talking with the two men from Emmaus, Jesus stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. They thought they were seeing a ghost. “Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself,” Jesus says. “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” He shows them his hands and his feet. While they were “still disbelieving” he asks them if they have anything to eat. When offered a piece of fish, he takes it and eats in their presence.

The disciples are amazed, and believe. 

Then comes the clincher! “You are witnesses of these things.” Not, you CAN BE witnesses; not you SHOULD be witnesses; not you can CHOOSE to be witnesses. No. “You ARE witnesses.” They could not un-see what they had seen. And because of that, they had a responsibility for the rest of their lives to continue being witnesses. 

We are witnesses, you and I. It’s who we are; it’s what we are; it’s what we were made for. We are witnesses in all that we do every day. When people know we are believers, they will look to us to see if God really makes a difference in all aspects of our lives and in our faith.

So, what are we waiting for? Get out there and let your witness shine!   

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan 

 


 Sunday April 11, 2021- Pastor Alan’s Easter 2B Message:


What if a family member or friend were to tell you that they had just seen someone who had died up and walking around. Would you be inclined to believe them?  What about a group of aging high school classmates you Facebook with?  Would you believe their story, or would you tend to be like the disciple Thomas?  Would you have your doubts?  To be fair, the announcement might give me, your pastor, a moment of pause. And if the truth be known about the rest of us, well – there’s a little bit of Thomas in most of us.

 

History has not been very kind to the disciple Thomas. He has been called “doubting Thomas” so often that in the minds of many of us “doubting” has become a part of Thomas’ name. He is painted as being not as bad as Judas but certainly not up there with John and some the other disciples who kept their mouths shut. Hence, this is why we hear people tell us that we’d better not become a doubting Thomas. 

 

But is that really fair to Thomas? What do we know of this disciple other than the humiliating moment recorded in today’s gospel account from John chapter 20, verses 19-31? Have we examined the whole of Thomas’ life? And, perhaps more importantly, have we pondered what faith really is, especially taking into account our own?

 

Granted, the Thomas we see in the Upper Room is acting true to form if we’re comparing him to the Thomas who declared perhaps cynically, “Well, let’s ALL go so that we too can die with him!” when Jesus talked of returning to Jerusalem (a place where they had met much hostility). But despite his apparent cynicism let’s not forget, after all, that he did go with Jesus to Jerusalem that last trip. 

 

When we look at the overall picture of Thomas’ life, we see that despite his momentary doubts he did go into the field, so to speak. He didn’t run out of that upper room when Jesus came back and showed himself. He stayed with his community of believers. Sure, he stumbled but he got up again. Later, he not only went off to preach the Gospel as he was commissioned to do, but as church tradition maintains he died a martyr in India where he had brought the faith to others. So, doubting Thomas eventually became known to the early church as St. Thomas.

 

The truth is that we have all stumbled, but the question is whether we are willing to get up again as Thomas did, even when we have to put our pride away in order to stand up again.

 

Who are the doubters and who are the believers? And where do you and I fit in? Is it possible for a believer to doubt? Perhaps the prayer of the father who brought his possessed son to Jesus in the gospel of Mark 9:24 would be an honest and fitting prayer for all of us. The father said to Jesus, “I believe, O Lord. Help my unbelief.” 

 

We do have much in common with Thomas. We believe AND we doubt. We can say, “My Lord and my God!” but we may have our problems with some parts of his message. And it is not so unusual for us to believe in Jesus but have doubts, too. It’s all a part of the human experience.  

 

Moving from doubt to faith is not a once in a lifetime event. It’s likely that the stumble Thomas experienced in the Upper Room was not the last doubt that he ever had. There had to be a few times in his missionary journeys when he doubted the wisdom of what he was doing. 

 

Thomas’ completed faith did not come through a one-time conversion experience. And neither will it come to us in a flash. More likely it will be as it was for Thomas and the other saints of Christian history. It will be a journey. And, if on that journey we are honest enough to face our doubts, willing enough to get up and move through them and open enough to ask the questions and share the faith we DO have, we will come to believe in Jesus more deeply tomorrow than we did yesterday. And the day after, and the day after. 

 

Just as Jesus did not abandon Thomas because of his doubts but rather invited him to come closer, so too Jesus invites us. If he doesn’t mind our lack of perfect faith, we certainly shouldn’t. 

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

 

Pastor Alan


Sunday, April 4, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Easter Message:


If you want to win the Peeps contest, a word of advice: Don’t create the empty tomb.       

     

But what’s the “Peeps contest”, you askWell, if you open The Washington Post on Easter morning, you’ll find the answer.  As most of you already know, Peeps are those gooey, colorful fluffy chicks and bunnies made of marshmallow and they appear in the candy aisle of the grocery store each and every spring before Easter. Every year as a promotional The Washington Post has a Peeps contest inviting readers to create a diorama of a famous scene from history, pop culture or current events using Peep chicks and bunnies as characters. The winners are announced on Easter Sunday, and almost all the titles include a play on the word “Peeps.”

 

There are scads and scads of Peeps on display in this Peepscontest, showing a wide variety of scenes involving diverse groupsof – you guessed it – Peeple.” Which leads me to the conclusion that the story of an empty tomb would NOT be a good Peeps contest entry. Why, you ask? Well, mostly because – well, there’s nothing there. The Easter Peeps diorama would be an empty tomb display.

 

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of the Resurrection this way. When the Sabbath day is over, three women come to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared to anoint the body of Jesus for final burial. With the stone already rolled away from the tomb, they go inside and discover that the body is missing. They see a young man, dressed in a white robe, and they are alarmed. But he says to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”

 

Yep. Just as I said. There’s nothing to see. Rather disappointing if you’re expecting to find someone or something. Kind of like making an appointment with a doctor or a lawyer, and after rushing to be at the office on time, you’re told by the receptionist, “He is not here.” How much more satisfying it would be for us if Jesus were standing inside the empty tomb, in all of his resurrected glory, announcing, “Hey! Here I am! I have been raised!”

 

But I regress. About Peeps: The word Peeps refers to marshmallow chicks and bunnies, but it is also used, especially among millennials, to refer to friends or close pals, as in the expression “my peeps.” Someone might say, “I saw you with your peeps last night.”

 

Along these lines, this young angelic fella in the empty tomb says to the women, “But go, tell his disciples and Peter” — tell his “peeps” in other words — “that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” They flee from the tomb and say nothing, at least initially, because they were afraid.

            

Fortunately, this message does get out, and in the book of Acts we learn that Peter is speaking boldly about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He even delivers this message to a Roman centurion and his close friends and relatives, a group of Gentiles who are not a part of the people of Israel

 

“I truly understand that God shows no partiality,” Peter explains, “but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Peter has come to see that God does not favor one group over another, but instead accepts anyone who respects him and walks in his way. “You know the message he sent to the people of Israel,” Peter says to the centurion and his family and friends, “preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all.” 

 

Peter realizes that God has a plan that is far bigger than anyone could have predicted, whether they were Jews or Gentiles. 

            

While the story of the Resurrection might not be a good Peeps story entry, nevertheless it is the sweetest and best story we peepsof the world could receive. Jesus is alive and present with us today. Through the power of the resurrection, he is moving ahead of us, always ahead of us, showing us the way to walk as his disciples – excuse me, as his peeps – in the world today. And our job as his peeps is to testify that he is “Lord of all” through both our words and our actions.

 

Christ is alive and well, with a message of peace and forgiveness for all who put their trust in him. HAPPY EASTER! HE IS RISEN!

 

I love you, St. Paul peeps.  I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan


Friday, April 2, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Good Friday Message:

Good Friday is perhaps the most powerful and certainly the most significant episode in the story of our faith.  

And, yet, Good Friday is also a challenge for many, forcing some of us to even ignore the day instead of gathering on it or acknowledging it. We’d prefer to be ANYWHERE than in front of a wooden cross where we are faced with the stark reality of what happened one Friday 2,000 years ago. Oh, we may be able to handle Maundy Thursday, with the Passover meal and the Lord’s Supper, the washing of feet. It may get a little rough for us watching as the holy altar is stripped, all while we hear the penitential Psalms being read. And the silence. The silence of the sanctuary as we leave, knowing full well what happens the next day. 

It just so much easier to anticipate the glow of dozens of white lilies, beckoning us into the bright sanctuary on Easter morning than to sit in the gloomy, barren sanctuary on Good Friday. Good Friday is not easy. Good Friday does not seem good in the ears of those who hear the scriptural account of one who was mocked, beaten, stripped, nailed and crucified. Good Friday is not for wimps! Still, for many of us, we need the reminder. We need to go there again, and hear the account once more. We choose to enter into that darkness, and gather in the name of the one who suffered and died for our sake. 

In 1st Peter 3:18 (NLT), we read, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.”

There’s immense power in those words. They hold the key to the interpretation of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, a servant of God, who though he was innocent still offered his life in order for us to be made one with God. Jesus was sent to make atonement for the sins of the world. God witnessed all that was happening in the lives of children made in God’s image. God watched as men and women went astray, worshiping other gods and refusing to obey the one true God.  This cycle of sin could not continue. God had to do a new thing. And, so, God sent his Son. God sent his only begotten Son to bear our infirmities. God sent his only begotten Son to carry our diseases. To be struck down, wounded and afflicted for our transgressions and our iniquities.

Jesus was so self-giving that he was silent in the wake of what was to come. Jesus did not open his mouth in order to respond to the pain, affliction, oppression and crucifixion that he was called to experience. He endured it. He endured it for you, for me, and for the sake of the entire world.

While we have a hard time wrapping our brains around Good Friday, we certainly have no trouble at all understanding the notion of sheep that have gone astray. We’re quite familiar with people outside the fold of the flock. And we can ALL identify with ordinarily good people who are guilty of committing transgression after transgression. We know all about sin.  We don’t like to talk about it, but we understand it. We get that segment of this story that deals with sinners in need of salvation. What is harder to comprehend is God’s sacrificial love – a love that is poured out for our forgiveness.

Today we sit humbly, still and silent at the foot of the cross, staring in awe and amazement, wondering how God could suffer so much for our sake. We quietly reflect on a place called Calvary where nothing seemed to matter but our need of salvation. It just doesn’t make sense. We cannot understand how or why it works. We must simply trust the one who engineered this well-designed system of salvation, and believe.

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan 


  Sunday March 28, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Palm Sunday:

When I was little, I used to get mixed up with the Palm Sunday story. When my Sunday school teacher would ask someone in class to explain what Palm Sunday was all about, I would gladly volunteer: “Jesus is coming to Jerusalem, riding a BIG white stallion, and looking for trouble. People saw him galloping by and were amazed. You could hear them say, ‘Who is that masked man?’"

Yep, that’s what I would say.  

Bad guys are everywhere and Jesus has come to town to deal with them. I’d just about get to the point where the white horse would rear up and stand on his hind legs, and my teacher interrupt. “I think you’re talking about the Lone Ranger.”  

“NO,” I’d answer rather indignantly. “I’m talking about Jesus.”  

As I matured, I learned that this messiah WAS different. There was no white stallion. No show of power and strength. No William Tell Overture playing in the background. Instead, this king rode a humble donkey, an animal used for hard labor. 

I imagine I’m not the only one who has wanted to see Jesus as an honest-to-goodness super hero, come to take out the bad guys. In fact, the scriptures tell us that many in Jesus’ day DID expect him to be that kind of king and messiah. They were yearning for a conquering hero who would save them from Roman oppression, and usher in God’s kingdom where there would be peace and freedom for them, and for all of creation. People desperately wanted to experience Jesus as that powerful hero on a white horse. A champion! A mighty conqueror over the evil powers of Rome. 

But prophesy had foretold this one would be different. Zechariah 9:9 in the Old Testament proclaimed, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”. There would be no triumphal entry as many would hope.  

The writers of our gospels all knew of this prophecy. For them, it was a mysterious irony that would take time to unfold, to reveal the whole story God had prepared. But, it’s one of the hardest things about the Palm Sunday message for us Christians, even today, to wrap our heads around. These contrary images of power and glory alongside humility and passiveness: a king on a donkey, a throne that’s a cross, eternal life coming from a shameful, disgraceful death. It’s easier to ignore these images and join parades for “King Jesus,” belt out hymns filled with militaristic metaphors, and skip the whole passion narrative of Holy Week.  Many of us do, you know. We go from Sunday to Sunday, celebrating our king and pushing all the ugliness and horror that awaited him that week. It’s so much easier to go straight from “Hosanna” to “Alleluia”, ignoring that regretful turn to Golgotha and the cries to crucify him!

Yet, the story isn’t complete without the whole picture. Those unpleasant parts of the story that we’d edit out if we could. Jesus was no ordinary king riding on a donkey. Jesus had come to serve. He was a servant-king. One who would be burdened with the sin of all humanity. 

In his letter to the Philippians (2:5-8; NRSV), the Apostle Paul would later describe Jesus this way: “…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” 

Knowing the whole story benefits us. It teaches us how to adopt a like-attitude of servanthood. Just as those before us who have benefited from Jesus’ shedding all his power and glory to serve our needs, so we too are encouraged to be servants of Christ and continue to carry on his ministry of service. Just as Jesus has met us at our greatest point of need, so we too could learn to meet others at the point of their greatest need.  A lesson we so desperately need to learn.

I love you, St. Paul family.  I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan

Wednesday, March 24, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Lenten Journey Week 5 Message:

We humans are tinkerers. We like to mess with things, tweak ‘em a little in hopes of getting better results. Going too slow for your taste? Adjust your idle. Not getting to your destination quick enough?  Take a detour. If the journey isn’t meeting our expectations, just make a few adjustments.   

 

We have a real problem with taking things as they come. We very much dislike not being in control. And this is never more obvious than when we give God a situation that is out of our hands, then renege by taking it back and trying to manufacture or "fix" the results ourselves. In the end, because of our manipulation and tampering, we may discover that we’ve actually cheated ourselves out of a blessing that would have been ours had we just left well enough alone.   

 

I remember a children’s story some years back of an emperor in the Far East who was growing old and knew it was time to choose his successor. Being without child, he called all the young people of his kingdom together one day.  

 

He said, "It is time for me to step down and choose the next emperor. Because of my benevolence and grace and generosity, I have decided to choose one of you. Today, I am going to give each one of you a seed; one very special seed.  I want you to go and plant the seed, water it and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from this one seed. The one who brings me the best results and effort will be the next emperor!"  

 

One small boy in the crowd named Ling was thrilled beyond belief. He went home and excitedly told his mother the story.  She helped him pick out a pot and planting soil, and watched as he lovingly planted the seed and watered it carefully. Every day, at precisely the right time, he would diligently water the seed and examine the pot and soil carefully to see if it had grown.  

 

Three weeks passed. And there was news from the village that some of the other youth were seeing great progress in their plants. But in Ling’s pot, nothing ever grew. Four weeks, five weeks, six weeks went by. Still, nothing.  

 

And, then, six months passed, and still no plant. Ling felt like a failure. “I just know I must’ve killed the seed”, he lamented to his mother. “Everyone else has trees and tall plants, but I have nothing.”   

 

Finally, the year passed, and a royal proclamation went out to all the youth of the kingdom: “Bring your potted seeds to the emperor for inspection.” The sight of the crowd was astounding. All the variety of plants grown by the other youths. They were all so beautiful – all shapes and sizes, and some with blooms of amazing color.  As the emperor arrived with great flourish, he exclaimed, "My goodness, what great plants, trees and flowers you have grown. I am amazed at what I see.”   

 

As he eyed the crowd, he spotted Ling at the back of the room, shielding his empty pot. “You, boy, come here. What is your name?”  

 

"I am Ling," he answered meekly. The emperor reached under Ling’s chin and lifted his downturned face, and announced to the crowd, "Behold your next emperor!” The crowd gasped in bewilderment. How could the boy who failed to grow his seed possibly be the new emperor?  

 

"One year ago I gave everyone here a seed,” the emperor explained. “I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. Unbeknownst to you, I gave you all boiled seeds which would not grow. Now, all of you – with the exception of Ling – have brought me trees and plants and flowers. When you found the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Ling was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is your next emperor!" 

 

You know, it takes courage to accept what God has given to us as is, leaving the details and specifics up to God, trusting that he will supply all our needs for the journey without our tampering or manipulation.   

 

Proverbs 19:21 reminds us that, “Many are the plans in a [person’s] heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” 

We should always trust that God’s plans for us are the best ones.   

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan

  


Sunday, March 21, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

It was the Reverend Oliver Taylor at Wesley United Methodist church in Miami, Florida who broke the color barrier for me.  Reverend Taylor decided that our congregation, and all-white one located near downtown, was going to have a joint dinner with a local Cuban church, a mixture of black and white members, some of whom spoke broken English – and some who spoke none, a congregation located just a few blocks away. In fact, he had already set the date and invited them, he told us one Sunday morning.  I can still hear the deafening silence in that sanctuary as his words began to sink in.   

You see, the Cubans – particularly the “colored ones” as our older white members used to call them, were not particularly popular with many folks in our church, or in our neighborhood. Miami was still quaking and adjusting to the cultural shifts that were radically altering the landscapes and look of our neighborhoods. But Reverend Taylor was determined that we were to experience breaking bread with someone of another ethnicity or culture. While the idea most certainly ruffled feathers, and maybe caused a member or two to leave our flock, that night went off without any major upheavals or occurrences. In fact, I would say the evening was a smashing success. I even met a new friend named Raul.      

Reverend Taylor’s dinner turned in to more dinners. These dinners with others different from me were the unlocking of a door I didn’t know existed. I began to ask: How big IS our world? If God so loved the world that Jesus came to save it, how big is this world? Does the world include those people who frighten us by their differences? Does it include those whose skin differs in shade? Does it include different tongues and dialects? Well, there’s nothing in the scriptures that seems to shut anyone out on that count. And I was sure Reverend Taylor wouldn’t have invited those folks if he had thought they would be of any danger to us. If he was willing, and Jesus was willing to do it, then by golly, so should we all be willing.  

But, this invitation goes way beyond color and culture and all that makes us look different on the outside. This invitation is for those of us different from each other on the inside, too. Jesus’ draw of all people is for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly also, as my dad often said.  If, therefore, you are someone with a heart like open arms, then this is right up your alley. But, on the other hand, if you’re one of those who despise some particular person or people and have decided that God’s love can’t possibly include them — well, Rev. Taylor would say, your world is too small. God’s love is so great that whosoever will come MAY come. 

In the gospel of John, chapter 12, verses 20-33 Jesus says, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” – a sacrifice on the cross that was never meant to serve just one specific color, or culture, or group of people. Jesus had a much bigger crowd in mind. He said he would draw ALL people to him, and to eternal life. A death that would be a sign of God’s love for the world, and a sign of God’s power over death.  

And it’s also a sign to us. When we are willing to give up our all, stepping out of our comfort zone, welcoming others through our worship instead of insisting that only our favorite hymns and our favorite forms of worship be used, we are free to welcome those who were once outsiders and now wish to be a part of God’s family. 

The message of Jesus is for everyone, not just a limited circle of our “comfortable” friends. Not just people who look like us, or speak our language. Not just well-known insiders, but outsiders, too. At some point, our own ministries with each other, as important and fulfilling as they may be, must be reexamined so that our ministry to those outside our tight circle of friends takes precedence.  

I am grateful to Reverend Taylor for teaching me that it’s important that we welcome those different from ourselves, for the hour has come for us, as the church of Jesus Christ, to be raised up high so that all the world may see and God may be glorified. Jesus was raised on high to the view of the whole world on that cross. For us to be raised on high as believers, we must be prepared to sacrifice our opinions, our prejudices, our own way.     

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan 


Wednesday, March 17, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Lenten Journey Week 4 I’m not sure when the titles “nurse” and “doctor” took on new meaning for me. I think it was sometime last summer, as the COVID virus began to spike nationally, and the true horror of this pandemic was sweeping the nation. One morning I listened to the words of an RN on NPR radio describing the nightmare:   

(These are the words of Nurse Erin) Just walking into a room sometimes, you can tell as soon you pass through the door and hear the patient breathing fast that the situation is dire. Normally, someone breathes about 12 to 20 breaths per minute, but these patients are gasping for air, using all of their muscles about once a second. 

There’s a look on the face of this woman patient I’m about to assist in intubating. It’s a look of sheer fright. She knows it’s coming. I can tell she’s afraid. I take the time, put on my gear, go into the room, and I grab her hand.  

The first thing I do is get right at eye level. “Hi. My name is Erin, I’m here for you,” I say as calmly as I can. “I’m just a nurse. I’m going to take care of you. Do you feel me holding your hand? Can you hear me talking to you?” 

The woman looks at me and shakes her head, still gasping. 

Full PPE is required for interacting with patients because the virus is so contagious. For many of them, this is the only way they’ll ever see me. In a soothing voice, I say: “Listen to me talking to you, close your eyes. All I want you to do is focus on breathing. Slow — slow down your breathing. In through your nose and out through your mouth, just like you’re blowing out a candle. Nice and slow.” 

Fear is still in her eyes as she looks at me. Tears start slowly running down her face. We have to intubate her, but I already know how that ends. First thing we have to do is call family. I look to another nurse: “Do you have the phone number for the family?” 

“No,” she says, “I didn’t get the number. She was fine earlier.” 

I look at the patient as she lies in the bed, breathing too fast. “Do you have a cell phone?” I ask. She gestures to the bedside table and I see it. I grab it and touch the screen, but there’s some kind of lock. 

“Use your fingers and unlock your phone so we can call your family,” I gently tell her. Despite all the noise around us, I hear her say in a muffled voice, “My daughter.” I whisper to her, “You want me to call your daughter?”  

She nods yes. She can’t tell me the code. She can barely speak. She’s fumbling. She’s starting to lose consciousness. 

“Hurry, please tell me the code so we can call your daughter.” She keeps trying to unlock the phone, but it doesn’t work. “That’s not it, honey. Let’s try again. Slow down your breathing,” I say. 

She’s more afraid now, and her vital signs are dropping. I shout for the doctor and call for meds as now I’m trying to work her phone and get it to unlock.  But, it’s too late. We don’t have a number for the family, and we have to intubate her – now. 

I just hold her hand. “I’m right here with you,” I say. “I’ll take care of you. You’re going to be comfortable in just a moment. I’m right here with you,” I tell her. “Slow down your breathing. In through your nose, out through your mouth.” 

I learn later she didn’t make it.  

(Erin’s voice ends, and the interview is over.) 

With this nurse’s words still ringing in my ears, I think of all the frontline nurses and doctors working in hospitals around the world who have had a non-stop year of COVID.  Endless hours, mental and physical exhaustion. Illness. Death. I try to imagine that level of dedication and heartache and boundless energy it must take to be an ER or ICU nurse or physician during this epidemic. And commitment. Oh, the commitment!  

In the gospel of John 15:13, Jesus says: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 

A curious thought comes to my mind. What do you suppose Jesus would say if he stood in the midst of this, in the middle of the chaos, in the fury of the ward, as staff and doctors struggle to keep patients alive, rushing to intubate them, and holding their hands when there is nothing left to do?  What would he would say to these incredible individuals who dedicate their lives to this work?  I think I know. 

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”  Well done indeed. 

I love you, St. Paul family.  I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan

 

Sunday, March 14, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

Some of the bestselling books on the market today are those that focus on the purpose and significance of our lives. At some point, many of us will ask ourselves "Why am I here?" There seems to be a deep-seated need in each of our hearts to be useful and productive. And that is true whether we are the CEO of a multibillion-dollar corporation or a stay-at-home parent raising children, whether we're on top of the world or trying to find our way through a dark cloud of difficult circumstances. 

I remember a book I read some years back called “Gentle Mercies”, in which the author Hal Haralson told of his own embattled life filled with highs and lows that seemed only to be able to be experienced in extremes. As a pastor, he struggled with debilitating manic depression, and found himself increasingly unable to function – much less fulfill his ministerial duties. Sometimes he would go to work, tell his secretary not to disturb him, and then sit in a dark closet for the entire day. After years of wandering in a fog of emotional darkness, he was finally able to get the help he needed, and achieved some stability in his physical and mental disposition. He felt strongly, though, after his experience not to return to vocational ministry. Instead, God led him to became an attorney. 

As a country lawyer, he was able to minister to people whom he never would have met as a preacher. And because of the emotional struggles that he had experienced in his own life, his ability to empathize with these suffering souls was astonishing. As a defender of the weak and disadvantaged, he ended up having a profound and positive impact on the community in ways he never would have serving in a pulpit. 

Some people of faith might venture to say God allowed the realities of Hal's condition to prepare him for the work God had for him later in life. And that is the primary biblical truth reflected in today's passage from the book of Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 4-10. God is always getting us ready for something. In fact, our scripture is about all the things that God does in order to infuse our existence with meaning and purpose. 

In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul says that the whole salvation process is initiated by God because of his great love for us. It may seem difficult, maybe even impossible, for us to fathom God having a place for us in his “good works”, helpers in his creation process. But Paul says it’s true. We have been created in Christ Jesus for good works. In a nutshell, this is precisely why we exist, the ultimate answer as to why we are here. As God weaves together the great tapestry of creation, he uses each of us to be a part of that grand design.  

No matter what my life has been in the past; no matter what choices I have made, good or bad; God is able to use every experience, every circumstance and relationship for his ultimate plan and glory. Everything, in a sense, is an end in and of itself, and a moment of preparation for something else. Not one single detail out of whack. Sometimes in hindsight, in my own life, I can see how God used even the difficult events to orchestrate something beautiful, something that I never could have created on my own. 

In dark times when I have struggled with the "meaning of it all," especially when I can see no rhyme or reason to my life, no purpose, I have gone back to this portion of the passage and re-read the words:  

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” 

How completely and amazingly and lovingly God is involved in our lives, even though we may not sense him there. God, who is always there, including us in God’s holiest of work, and continuing to do so until we enter into the riches of his kingdom at the end of the age.  

If that is not love, I don’t know what is.   

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.   

Pastor Alan 


Wednesday, March 10, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Lenten Journey Week 3 Message:

 We like to think we have all the answers and everything under control.  There’s a certain undeniable sense of security found in our own presumptions.  We fancy ourselves the masters of our fate.  It’s a false, self-centered sense of security, to be sure.  But we do manage to glide through huge portions of our lives deceiving ourselves that we have managed to keep things safe and secure.

An intriguing quote I stumbled across from an Indian spiritual text declares that “he who knows, knows not; and he who knows not truly knows.”  That may sound complex and utterly confusing at first, but its meaning is simple: If you think you’ve got everything figured out, think again.  

For most of us there is nothing as troublesome or fearsome, even terrifying, as the unknown of our future.  What lies ahead.  Try as we may to predict or foresee what twists and turns our lives may take, or what specific situations we will encounter, we are most often met with vague guesses or supposes that equate to a shrug of the shoulders.  Our future remains masked and a mystery.  Not so unlike that Doris Day song of the mid 50’s:  

“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be; The future's not ours to see. Que sera, sera." 

The lyrics tell the story of a daughter worried about the future. She asks her mother - “will I be loved?”, “will I be cared for?”, “what will I be in the future?”  Fear of the unknown causes the daughter to fret over what she can’t see or know of how life will be for her.  Her mother, likewise not knowing, answers her honestly – if not in a bit of a seemingly fatalistic way.  Que Sera, Sera (which supposedly translates “whatever will be, will be.  The future’s not ours to see”).  Even as a child, these words haunted and troubled me. The mystery of an unknown future created an odd feeling inside. 

Some Christians deem the words to be anti-God or anti-faith, making life seem like a celestial roll of the dice, like a random crap shoot. I disagree. While I do profess faith in God and in Christ, holding tightly to the promise of eternal life, I DO NOT know the specific details of my complete life here in this world.  None of us do.  We don’t know what’s around the corner, how life will treat us. Will we find happiness, or love that blesses our hearts, fame and fortune and success? Or will we spend a life experiencing poverty, grief or sickness, or social persecution.  Even with that promise of eternity with God, despite our best efforts we cannot predict the future. We are blind to the details. Vulnerable and vision-impaired. And that thought can paralyze us with fear.         

I can remember back when I first came to St. Paul, I met a lovely soul named Gertie who was still in the early stages Alzheimer’s. Conversations with her were peppered with patches of clarity, crystal clear memories, mixed with periodic fogginess and a distinct inability on her part to always differentiate between reality and fantasy.  Despite all that, her spirit remained joyful and childlike.  

There was little denying that the disease was slowly robbing her of the ability to keep things in perspective. The boundary lines of time were quietly, subtly blurring for her. On those visits, I would find myself thinking again about that song of long ago.     

“Que Sera, Sera, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, Que Sera, Sera.”  

In those moments I was reminded that I have little control over the details of my future.  But Gertie also reminded me of the reality of God’s truth; of who God is and who I am.  No matter what lies ahead in the dark unknown, God is already there.   

Psalm 62: 5-8 tells us:  

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him. He alone is my mighty rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, O People; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.” 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan


Sunday, March 7, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

Here are two quick questions for you: What makes you angry? And, do you get angry about the right things? 

Today’s gospel lesson from the Gospel John 2:13-22 suggests that sometimes anger isn’t just necessary and righteous, it can also be the proper response to conditions on the ground. 

I get a little uncomfortable comparing my anger-motivator against Jesus’ sense of what justified anger is.  My personal guess is that my scale is often skewed and unreliable. Truly, though, righteous anger isn’t about us taking some personal insult to heart but, rather, finding offense in some systemic breakdown that affects our neighbors. For instance, anger about the imbalance of our public educational system and what we are offering to students is a justified anger. If our education system isn’t offering quality instruction across the board to ALL students, no matter their race, gender or economic status, then we have a right to be angry. If we think about it long enough, maybe that anger will motivate us to step up and volunteer to do something helpful – like petitioning the State Capital, or on a more local level offering to tutor individual students or contribute some way that makes up for budget shortages. We need a societal commitment to provide the funding and policies that will achieve that quality education for all. If we can’t do it financially, then a little elbow grease and individual stamina might be in order. Now tell me, do any of you get THAT mad?  

The same is true for almost any societal system you can name, perhaps starting with health care. If our current system isn’t working for everyone in a fair and equitable way, how about some righteous anger that stirs up the community and drives a group of us to look for systemic answers rather than simply helping on a one-on-one individual level, like paying for one person’s medical bills out of the goodness of our heart. While that latter response does help that one person in dire need (and I would never tell you NOT to do that), the former one and best way can be instrumental in making change that will help many people.    

In the Jerusalem temple, Jesus got angry not at individual money changers or dove sellers. Rather, he got angry at the whole system. His goal was to clear the decks and start again in a way that would honor God and God’s holiness, not mock it by cheating people as they tried to get access to animals to sacrifice to a God.  

He said to the dove sellers, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” And he reminded them of what that Father had said through the Prophet Isaiah: “... my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7) 

So, Jesus was angry about the right things. And he was trying to fix what he accurately diagnosed as a broken system that exploited poor and innocent people. 

In cleansing the temple, Jesus was putting anger into action on behalf of the downtrodden, the people being taken advantage of unfairly. 

If Jesus was angry about the economic exploitation of the poor, shouldn’t we be, too?  

Yes, but we need to be careful and not let that anger at systematic breakdowns turn into violence, especially against our fellow humans. You may think Jesus went too far in overturning the tables in the temple, but it helps to remember that he seems not to have injured anyone physically. He most certainly scared the daylights out of them.  Let’s consider it as a bit of dramatic street theater to make an important point. And, of course, Jesus was and IS the Son of God. I doubt seriously he had to worry about being unjust to anyone from a personal standpoint. His heart was right!  

For us, the point is to remember that sometimes anger is exactly the right response when we see systems that oppress the very people Jesus loved and died for. But once we express that anger, our obligation is to propose solutions and work for their adoption instead of walking away in a huff. Stomping off is anger wasted. 

Spot the things that would make Jesus angry. And, then, think of how Jesus would try to fix them.  (No throwing furniture, please!) 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.   

Pastor Alan  


Wednesday, March 3, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Lenten Journey Week 2 Message:

It’s difficult to be caught in the grey areas of life.  The “in-betweens”.  Not here, but not yet there. And it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that what we see is not all there is. We sometimes perceive things as whole-truth and complete reality, only to learn later it was just a small part of a much bigger picture.  

We’re short-sighted creatures with a taste and want for “definites” and “immediates”.  It’s difficult for us to live in a creation still being created.  We want things made plain – now.  Black and white.  No greys or opaques.  Give us yes or no.  No “maybes”. No “just waits”.  Our impatience is usually our tipping point, and proves to be much of our own undoing.  We want a finished product.  A masterpiece!  And because of our haste for pleasure, we end up rushing into things, assuming more than we know, and making snap judgments from appearances only.  Our eyes and our hearts often deceive us.  

I have a hard head. But once in a while, in those rare moments, truth can sink in.  I can remember stumbling onto a truth not so long ago.  I was admiring a piece of art; a beautiful painting created by an artist friend of mine. Urban art as I’ll call it. At first sight, I fell in love with the work. It possessed such a grace and beauty even as it revealed an urban grittiness all at the same time.  It captivated me. Like the metamorphosis of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, it showed an emerging perfection coming from something previously mediocre. An incarnation, if you will. God in flesh. That painting has never left my memory.   

But, with all of its beauty and grace and wonderful insight into something as holy as it portrayed, it lacked one thing.  It was NOT the artist.  Though it had the power to enrapture me and send me into a kind of euphoric haze when I gazed upon it, even tempted me to want to possess it so that I could have it forever to enjoy, it did not bear all of the qualities I admired in the artist herself. Oh, sure, there were glimpses of her in the work; and it revealed parts of her heart and soul. But it was incomplete. Not entirely her. The artwork paled in comparison to the actuality of her radiant inner beauty and spark.     

That "ah-ha" moment has since spurred me to reflect on other creations and other creators – both earthly and heavenly, and to examine the differences between the two.  A passage of scripture from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 1, verse 25 perfectly describes this place of sudden revelation and awareness I found myself in. “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…” 

During this Lenten journey, I have made a serious point of searching out and re-examining the Creator-created issue within myself and my world.  If I’m honest, I will see that though I am definitely a “work-of-art”, I am still far from being a perfect masterpiece and complete. My attributes pale in comparison to God.  So, too, are all the things and people in my life that I have, at times, naïvely regarded as my ultimate source of true happiness, security and comfort. These kinds of revelations serve to wash away preconceptions or misconceptions, and awaken us to a deeper and higher truth, so much so that we may find ourselves balancing momentarily between two worlds; one of Pseudo-Truth and the other a Reality Yet-To-Come.  

But, that’s what Lent is all about. Allowing ourselves to remain in that in-between space. It’s discovering that everything we see is still a work-in-progress. Not yet complete or finished. And as works of God's artistic hands, we are still neither “yes” nor “no”, but more “maybes” and “just waits”, transforming manifestations of God's inner beauty – but never God's full person.    

Above all, it is realizing that God is God, and we are not. It is NOT the art who creates the Artist. We can never capture all of the qualities and beauty of the One who creates us, nor can we ever possess God merely for our own satisfaction and benefit. It’s God who possesses US as glimmers of his glory. Masterpieces in the making.   

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan

 


Sunday, February 28, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

Back in the 1970s Burger King had their most successful ad campaign ever, focused on the phrase “Have it your way.” Remember the song that went along with it? “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us, all we ask is that you let us serve it your way.” 

I can assure you, the “have it your way” trend may have started with Burger King, but it certainly didn’t end there. Just about every restaurant lets you have it your way now. In fact, huge numbers of businesses strive to personalize their service to suit the public’s wants and wishes.  

Obviously, the public appetite for it didn’t originate with Burger King, either. Adam and Eve were the first to bite that apple of having things their way. And throughout history there are countless examples of people deciding, even demanding, to have things their way, at any cost.   

Today’s scripture passage, from the gospel of Mark, chapter 8, verses 31-38, marks a change of direction in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. He begins to spend more time in preparing them for his death and resurrection. He wants them to understand “that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Death on a cross.  

Of course, the cross in Jesus’ time was the ultimate symbol of shame and defeat. It was the Roman form of capital punishment that sought not only to kill the person but to strip them of every ounce of dignity on their way to death. Even the Romans considered the cross obscene, never to be mentioned in daily conversation.  

So, it’s no wonder Peter gets a little bent and begins to rebuke Jesus. I mean, how could this fate be true of Jesus? A part of God’s plan, or a part of what everyone thought should be a messiah’s future? Nonsense! 

But Peter gets a rude awakening. Jesus lays into him and says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” It’s a tough message to receive from your closest friend, that what we think is best is not always God’s way of thinking.   

Jesus calls the crowd and his disciples together. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 

This Jesus is shocking. He goes on to say if you want to save your life, you’ll lose it. If you lose your life for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the gospel, you’ll save it. 

When I hear those words, I must admit that “deny yourselves” has always been a difficult concept for me and, I expect, for most well-meaning Christians. Not a great selling point for a church to try to attract new members, either. Some form of denial, maybe, since this IS the Lenten season. Like most Christians, we’ve all probably dabbed a toe in the water at one time or another, giving up something for Lent. Just to see if we can do it.  

But a true Lenten denial according to this way of thinking, Jesus’ way of thinking, would be to give up all of our personal obsessions and desires. A willingness to separate ourselves from the world we are so attached to, a world that lets us “have things our way. Of course this charge from Jesus is not a demand, or commandment, or an order. Rather, it’s his invitation for us to imagine living a life of concern, altered and unfocused on self.  A life truly lived for others, all the time. Consistently. A life of genuine compassion for the suffering, a life of giving to those in need. Giving out of ourselves. Laying our life down literally for humankind. And for Jesus. 

This is the message we are to take away from today’s Gospel lesson. Every time we open ourselves to the needs of those around us – every time we actually take time to love someone who desperately needs our love, or every time we get out of ourselves a little and seek not what WE want but instead more on what the world needs – we get a little closer to what Jesus was talking about when he spoke of taking up your cross and following him. 

Our Lord invites us.  The accepting part is our choice to make. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan 



Wednesday, February 24, 2021-Pastor Alan Message: Lenten Journey Week One

 

One of the greatest classics of literature, largely ignored and forgotten today, is John Bunyan’s allegorical account of the life of a believer named Christian; the book is called Pilgrim's Progress.       

 

As a tale of journey, Bunyan's great gift of imagination and skill as a wordsmith helped craft a simple narrative to convey deep spiritual truth. His main character, Christian, who is on his way to the Celestial City (which is symbolic for heaven), is traveling along the King's highway with his friend Hopeful. Together they encounter many dangers and, by God's grace, they survive them all.  One such danger is when they stumble onto Doubting Castle, a terrible fortress of fear owned by a character called Giant Despair.  

 

The chapter of Doubting Castle begins like this:  

After a hard night's journey, Christian and Hopeful finally fall asleep. But, little do they know the place where they sleep is only a short distance from Doubting Castle.   

 

Early the next morning, when the owner and master Giant Despair awakes and takes a walk through his fields, he catches Christian and Hopeful asleep on his grounds. He demands to know why they are there.  

 

Startled by their abrupt arousal, they quickly explain that they are pilgrims, that they’ve lost their way. The giant bellows, "Because you have trespassed onto my land and spent the night in my fields, you must come along with me."  

 

Giant Despair takes them to his castle and puts them into a very dark, very dank, and very despicable dungeon. There, they lay for four days – no food, no drink, no light of day, or any human contact.   

 

Now, Giant Despair has a wife, and her name is Diffidence, the meaning of which is timidity, or fear. After the giant has locked Christian and Hopeful in his dungeon, he asks her what he should do with them. She advises her husband to beat them without mercy in the morning. And, so, he does.

     

That night he again asks his wife what to do. This time she suggests he encourage the men to kill themselves. He goes to the men and says, "You men know you will never escape from this prison. So why don't you make things easy on yourselves and just end it all – I'll even supply you with the knife, the rope, or the poison. It's your choice."  

 

The pilgrims decline, pleading for their release. But to no avail.  

Christian says to Hopeful, "Brother, what are we going to do? The life that we now live is miserable. For what it's worth, I don't know whether it is better to live like this or just give up and die. I think I would prefer death to life."  

 

But Hopeful is quick to respond, "Indeed our present condition is terrible, and death would be far more welcome to me than to live here forever, but let us remember the promises of our Lord. For God, the One who made the world, may cause Giant Despair to die, or cause him to leave the door unlocked, such that we may escape. Whatever the case, my brother, let us be patient and endure for a while, for I am confident that the time will come for our release."  

 

I suppose I don’t have to tell you all that they DO get out. 

Maybe the reason I love Pilgrim's Progress so much is because I can find truth and honesty in Bunyan's tale, similarities to my own journey to our Celestial City, heaven – God’s kingdom. I can relate to it because I, too, fall prey at times to Giant Despair, finding myself locked within the dungeon of doubt and fear. We all have our moments where we allow ourselves to remain trapped and mired in despair and hopelessness, because we have forgotten that we already possess the power of release. God’s promise of release.    

 

The Apostle Paul knew a little something about prisons and dungeons himself. He penned one of the most beautiful reflections to the church in Philippi concerning finding comfort and peace amid the difficult trials and painful sufferings. In his letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 12-13, Paul writes this: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (NIV) 

 

Can you endure your momentarily challenges?  

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.   

 

Pastor Alan 



 Sunday, February 21, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message

 

One of the benefits of Lent, albeit a rather uncomfortable one, is how it provides an avenue for us to reflect on our past mistakes.

  

I can recall a rather prominent politician, oh, quite a few years back now revealing to the public that he had had an affair, and subsequently a child, during his campaign. In some ways, it wasn’t much of a news story. As a nation we’ve been through similar revelations before, and this one seemed like just one more example of poor judgement and bad behavior by a public official. Still, the news was a real letdown to his supporters at the time. 

 

The former candidate put out a statement admitting to “a serious error in judgment” which he also referred to as a “mistake.” While many folks found his words lacking and, in their opinion, very inadequate he did acknowledge that he had conducted himself “in a way that was disloyal to [his] family and to [his] core beliefs,” and I believe that was at least a move in the right direction. 

 

One portion of the revelation stood out for me, though.  In his statement, he said, “In the course of several campaigns, I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly egocentric and narcissistic.”  

 

Now, assuming he meant that and was not just saying what he thought was expedient, the implication was that he now realized that he was not beyond reproach and responsibility for his actions, that his egotism and narcissism were not justified behavior. In other words, it indicated that he had learned something valuable from the terrible experience.  

 

It’s non-too-pleasant learning at such great cost to oneself and to one’s family, and it reminds us that we are not alone in learning some things the proverbial hard way – at great personal cost. Maybe some of us can identify with this, having spent probably more time than we would care to admit in the school of hard knocks. Or maybe some of us have watched helplessly as our children have trotted off all too eagerly to that same school, despite our protestations that they will regret it. 

 

The hard way, of course, is not the only way to learn things, and, in our better moments, at least, we would hope to absorb most of the things we need to know in life in an easier and less costly fashion. 

 

Psalm 25 contains one of my favorite prayers regarding our need for help in governing our steps in life: “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.”  

 

The first thing that strikes me about that petition is that the psalmist is probably not asking for knowledge. He’s not saying, “Hey, I need to know what the Ten Commandments are.” Nor is he most likely asking to know what God’s will is regarding a specific situation in his own life. Oh, there may have been other times when he did pray to know God’s will, but that’s not what I believe is going on here. 

 

No, I suspect the psalmist is praying to be made more “teachable,” that he be enabled to so internalize what he already knows about God’s ways that they would become the guiding force in the critical situations of his life. In other words, he’s asking that he learn on a gut level the things God wants him to know, and that he be able to learn them without having to attend that school of hard knocks. 

 

When it’s read that way, it strikes me that “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths” is a prayer ALL of us should pray, and frequently!  While having a general familiarity with scripture is good, helping us to know what’s right and wrong, there’s a real difference between having what I call “head knowledge” and a serious, heartfelt commitment to live our lives by what we know of God’s desires for us. 

But, don’t just take my word for it. Take a moment. Read Psalm 25, verses 1-10 right now. Allow yourself to reflect on the words.

  

Of course, we CAN always choose to continue on our own paths, learning things the hard way. But, wouldn’t it be much sweeter if we simply prayed, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths”?   

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan


Wednesday, February 17, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Ash Wednesday Message:

As I sit here reflecting on this Day of Ashes, the beginning point of our Lenten journey with Christ toward that ominous cross on Calvary, I can’t help but feel less than worthy to accompany anyone to that holy place much less our Lord and Savior.  

And even though our Ash Wednesday this year has us distanced from the church building and from each other because of COVID, I can still feel the ashes of regret and remorse creeping over my heart, in place of those missing physical ashes usually smeared in the shape of a cross on our foreheads. Despite that absence of physical representation, you can be sure I still know I have faults. I’m painfully aware of them. And in times of reflection and prayer, a myriad of lifetime mistakes come back to haunt me with images of faults and failure. 

But the humility of Lent is not about beating ourselves up. This is not a time for physical or spiritual abuse because of a lifetime of bad mistakes – whether it’s directed at ourselves, or even worse directed at someone else. Lent is a time for deep reflection and meditation, a time to converse with God, to review our past and to ponder the mysteries of our future.  It’s a time to take stock of everything that is “us”. Repentance means "a time for a change of direction, to turn around".  It's a time to ask God for help in correcting what CAN BE and SHOULD BE corrected.  It's a Psalm 51:10 moment: A time to ask God to renew a right spirit within us.   

In his spiritual exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola directed his followers to prepare for confession of sin by undertaking an examination of conscience and self.  The meditation that he recommended had this basic outline:  

1.       Acknowledge a grace in your life and, then, give thanks to God.  

2.      Examine and name your brokenness. 

3.      Ask God to heal your brokenness. 

4.      Imagine what form a sign of that healing might take and imagine living that way.  

5.      Give thanks to God for the present grace.  

On this very cold and wintry Ash Wednesday, we begin a 40-day Lenten walk and time of preparation toward renewed life, all perfectly reflected in the Easter promise of a new dawn – the spring promise of new growth.  "Truth happens to the prepared mind," wrote theologian Bernard Lonergan. Germination of seed is more likely to happen in prepared soil. And so, it is with a heart that is tender and able to receive God’s loving invitations to “come”. It’s a heart that is already well-aware of our short-comings that has the most to gain when we approach God with humility and remorse.  

In our Lenten devotional reading this morning, Henri Nouwen tells us that “prayer takes place where heart speaks to heart, that is, where the heart of God is united with the heart that prays. Thus, knowing God becomes loving God, just as being known by God is being loved by God.” (From “Behold the Beauty of the Lord”)   

So, let’s take upon our hearts the sign of the cross – with the ashes of self-awareness and the acknowledgement of our frailty of spirit and limitations of committed heart – and confess our sin, our a-part-ness from God, in order to prepare ourselves.  Our journey to enter the land God has promised to us, flowing with milk and honey, is about to begin.  

Let’s pray together:  Dear gracious God, create in us clean hearts, and renew a right spirit within us.  In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan 

 


Sunday, February, 14, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

Does anyone remember plastic on furniture? 

Back in the 1970s, a lot of families in Miami had a room somewhere in their house with plastic on the furniture. I always figured it was because of the hot and humid Florida heat that motivated folks to try and preserve their niceties. Of course, these formal sitting areas were ALWAYS off limits to us messy kids. Great care was taken to keep the room in showroom condition. 

Ironically, though, when a neighbor came over to talk they were typically escorted past this gorgeous room with the plastic-covered furniture to the kitchen for conversation over coffee or tea. We were told these rooms were reserved for special occasions. And because of this, they often sat beautiful but unused. For many families these sitting rooms became almost like shrines — beautiful and special, but with no practical purpose.  

Jesus doesn’t seem very interested in fancy digs or plastic-covered furniture, always clean but never used. He’s far more interested in something else. In today’s gospel text from Mark, chapter 9, verses 2-9, which focuses on Jesus’ transfiguration, Peter offers to mark the occasion of this special moment by building three dwellings or shelters — one for Jesus, another for Moses and a third for Elijah. Memorials or tabernacles, as they’re called in other gospels.  On the surface, it seems like a great idea. We moderns do the same thing. Monuments are erected to commemorate where battles have been won, plaques are mounted to show where our first church buildings once stood, and signs in certain parts of the United States show just about every place George Washington ever slept. In the Holy Land, there are signs telling visitors where Jesus taught, or where Peter performed a healing, or where Paul preached.  Even the traditionally recognized site of the Mount of Transfiguration, Mt. Tabor, is marked.  

To Peter, this moment on the mountain is monumental. Very! It solidifies for Peter Jesus’ significance, especially in the presence of Elijah and Moses, for it indicates to the apostles that Jesus IS the voice of God "par excellence".  And instead of Moses or Elijah representing the Law and the Prophets, Jesus should be listened to, surpassing the laws of Moses by virtue of Jesus’ divinity and filial relationship with God.   

But Jesus’ doesn’t seem to be concerned about that. In fact, he never even acknowledges what Peter has said. A voice from heaven interrupts Peter’s thought; then the moment is over as quickly as it began. Jesus is back to “normal,” and Moses and Elijah are nowhere to be found. Jesus appears completely disinterested in Peter’s declaration of him as the Messiah, or at least in the way Peter understands it in that moment. Jesus leads them back down the mountain, and back to work. 

I guess many of us have felt like Peter at times. We’ve had our special mountaintop experiences; attended a retreat where the worship was particularly moving, the speakers so inspiring and the presence of the Holy Spirit so thick that we never wanted to leave. Or we’ve been on a mission trip and felt so deeply connected to Jesus and our church family that we would have been willing to continue sleeping on the floor and working in the heat as long as needed. Moments where we sensed the majesty of Jesus, and we didn’t want it to end. 

Like Peter, we want to preserve those moments, build a place where we can hang out with Jesus, sitting on plastic-covered furniture to keep from spoiling the moment with the messiness of the world.  

No one will argue that mountaintop experiences are very important for our spiritual development. But – they’re not where we are called to live. While soulfully-spiritually pleasing, Jesus calls us to follow him back down into the messy world in which we live, to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who are struggling. 

Maybe this is Jesus’ way of urging us to take the plastic off our own spirituality, and not be afraid to get down into the muck of life sometimes. Invite those folks that we might not usually associate with into our space, where we can truly connect with one another – and with Jesus.  

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan

 


Sunday, February 7, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

If you ever plan on reading a gospel straight through, the one to pick is the Gospel of Mark. Why? Well, one reason is that you can easily read it in one sitting, in about one and a half hours. Honestly!  

As I mentioned to someone recently, if you are going to read a gospel, read Mark first. It’s the shortest by length, and uncluttered with a lot of details. Reading more like a newspaper account, it gets its point across with the least amount of words. 

Now, being more condense means some details of Jesus’ life we’re familiar with from other gospels might be missing. In fact, it seems strange that Mark’s gospel tells us nothing about Jesus’ birth. Instead, Mark begins its story when Jesus is 30 years old, and does so by throwing us headlong, full-scale, helter-skelter into Jesus’ entry into ministry in roughly a page and a half of our Bible. It takes up less space and time than a report on what happened to your favorite sports team over the weekend. 

So, why does Mark do this?  Well, we can’t read the author’s mind, but one gets the feeling that Mark can’t wait to get into the story of what Jesus was doing. It’s as if Mark were saying, “The world needed Jesus. People were waiting for him, whether they knew it or not.” Mark wants us to know it was a world in trouble, that needed a Savior. 

And Jesus came. He spoke eternal good sense. He brought hope, integrity and purpose to life — and clearly he cared, and so the needy ones came to him.  

In today’s gospel reading in chapter 1, verses 29-39, Jesus comes to the house of Simon Peter and Andrew, to Simon’s mother-in-law who lays sick of a fever. Jesus enters the sickroom, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. Mark tells us in a very matter-of-fact way that “the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”  

Soon, it is evening, at sundown, and we hear that the community begins to bring to Jesus “all who were sick or possessed with demons.” The good news spreads quickly. Soon, Mark reports, “the whole city was gathered around the door.” Mark hasn’t time to give us a detailed list of the problems and ailments; he simply says that Jesus “cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” We don’t know how many the word “many” designates, whether it is 10, 30, 50 or 100. Nor do we know all Mark means in the diagnostic report of “various diseases”. But clearly, it covers a wide variety of illnesses. Whatever the specifics, Jesus broke the power of such strange darkness and terror. 

This is an important scripture for us to read on this Sunday, especially as we approach the Lenten season. This scripture tells us, in pretty dramatic ways, why Jesus came. It moves us beyond the warm and lovely, sentimental Christmas story, and brings us into the world in which the adult Jesus came, a world out of joint, and why, therefore, Jesus needed to come. It shows us that Jesus often met with his Father in prayer – sometimes late at night and often early in the morning because he needed the spiritual  reinforcement to meet the titanic needs of our world. Where the gospels of Matthew and Luke tell us that God came to our world by way of the baby Jesus, and the gospel of John tells us that Jesus was with God, was in fact God as the Word, the One who would come to save the world, the gospel of Mark chooses to tell us the kind of world into which Jesus came. Mark’s gospel thrusts us right into the maelstrom of living — of villages where the sick are everywhere, and of cities where the demonic so often asserts itself, sometimes subtly and sometimes arrogantly. 

And it’s good holy reminder, with Ash Wednesday only 10 days away, that you and I — all of us who call ourselves Christians and who want so much to be worthy of that name — we’re the ones who represent Jesus in this world that is STILL so out of joint. We are the people who represent our Lord in a world that needs him just as desperately as it did 20 centuries ago, when he came physically to be among us. Surely, this is what Mark wants us to know. We are called to help in the healing of our world. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan 

Sunday, January 31, 2021: Pastor Alan’s Message:

When I was in church preschool, I can remember learning a poem (which is actually a hymn written by Charles Wesley). It goes like this: 

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,  

Look upon a little child, 

Pity my simplicity, 

Suffer me to come to thee. 

 

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb, 

In thy gracious hands I am; 

Make me, Savior, what thou art, 

Live thyself within my heart. 

 

Lamb of God, I look to thee, 

Thou shalt my example be; 

Thou art gentle, meek and mild; 

Thou wast once a little child. 

It’s easy for us to get lost in the meek-and-mild Jesus, and forget that he could be an edgy-Jesus, too. The Son of God, full of God’s authority. A take-charge kind of guy.   

I’m sure that’s what astonished the first-century crowds, too. Jesus wasn’t your average rabbi. Young and full of life. Not at all like the rabbis and scribes. Oh, I imagine the religious leaders of Jesus’ time were very learned and respectable men, no doubt about it. Stoic in their faith and in their knowledge of Torah. But I can imagine every Sabbath day was probably the same old thing: long quotations from the Law and the Prophets, with learned comments from long-dead scholars. Most likely what they said was generally true enough, applicable in their lives of faith. But dry. Dry as the desert! As a matter of fact, when their scribes and rabbis taught, people probably wondered at times if it even made a difference. Maybe even to Rabbis and Scribes. Readings as lifeless and dull as a modern phone book.     

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1, verses 21-28, it’s the usual Sabbath day crowd gathered in a synagogue at Capernaum. They were ready, I suspect, for another serving of the usual dryness. Limp and uninteresting readings. But today the teacher was a young rabbi from Nazareth, named Jesus. And as the people listened, the scripture tells us they were “astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”  

It’s hard to know exactly what the writer of Mark’s gospel means when he said that the people felt Jesus had “authority.” But with his synagogue attendees comparing Jesus to the usual scribes, I suspect that the difference that struck them was this: that when the scribes taught, they gave off the impression of it being second-hand information; an unenthusiastic spirit about them.  Maybe even lackadaisical in quality, even.  But when Jesus taught, he most likely sounded as if he knew from personal experience what he was talking about. No doubt Jesus brought a freshness to the readings. He breathed life into the dusty, old text. People brightened up as if hearing it for the first time.  

Now, as Jesus taught, there was a man in the gathering – a poor, bedeviled creature that the scripture says had “an unclean spirit,” and he interrupted the gathering with a loud cry. It must have been a startling moment. Everyone listening intently to this young teacher, not wanting to miss a single a sentence, when this strange, strained, anguished voice suddenly cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 

Under ordinary circumstances, you’d probably expect some sort of usher – or better yet, a team of ushers – to escort the man outside. Not this time. Jesus takes charge. He commands the spirit to come out of the man, and after a moment of violent convulsions, the man was suddenly and wonderfully at peace. 

Not so much the Gentle Jesus here, is he? Sometimes I think, with the many conflicting, bickering, “unclean” voices in our world today – many who claim to speak for God – it might be nice to have Jesus around to take charge and silence them. This Jesus who never questioned his calling or who he was; who maintained that authority with such confidence and assurance, and stayed so very close to the source of that power – always – keeping himself in constant communion with God.   

Yessirree, we could definitely use that kind of a Jesus today.      

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan 


Sunday, January 24, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the very first time I walked in the front doors of St. Paul. No, I don’t mean back in the Fall of 2007.  I’m thinking even earlier, by a year or so. Probably during the Spring of 2006.  St. Paul was the site chosen for the Spring Association Gathering of all the UCC churches in this district. I came to the gathering as a student, still in study. That was my REAL beginning with St. Paul.  I instantly fell in love with the church. And the food pantry. And with the pastor. The Reverend Dr. Herb Goetz. I loved everything about the church. Of course, at that time I had no idea that in a couple of years I would be graciously accepted here as the new pastor. Amazing! 

People are always interested in beginnings, in stories about how things got started. I tell my story every once in a while. Maybe because that “beginning” is particularly special for me.  

Beginnings ARE important, because they’re all about a new start. A new creation. A First! — kind of like getting your first car, or your first job.  Or the first time you went to your church. And – (sigh!) a first love! For we believers, the Bible’s stories in Genesis about how the world began, or the beginning of the church at Pentecost in the New Testament, get a lot of attention as powerful beginnings. New starts! 

Today’s gospel, the Gospel of Mark, chapter 1, verses 14-20, features not just one, but TWO beginnings — the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and a beginning of discipleship training for four of his apostles. Two very important beginnings, indeed.  

In this account of the call of those first disciples, Simon — later to receive the name Peter — isn’t given any more attention by Jesus than his brother Andrew, or James or John. But Simon does end up a big part of the story later on.  

Here, Simon is busy making a living as a fisherman, when along comes this Jesus-guy who is just starting out as an itinerant preacher and says to them, “Follow me.” Simon and Andrew just drop their nets and follow. There is no introduction, no indication that they knew Jesus previously. They just go with him. It’s like what happens back in Genesis (chapter 12, verse 1). There, God suddenly tells Abram (not yet Abraham) to leave home and take his wife and all his possessions and go to an unknown land God will lead him to. And Abram, without asking any questions, goes! No questions, no indications that Abram was wiser or more pious than his fellows, nothing. Scripture doesn’t mention any specific reasons that he would go. In fact, it says that when God called him, Abram “served other gods.” So, if that’s the case, why did God call Abram, you ask?  God chose Abram because God is God, and Abram obeyed because it was God who called him. It’s the same with Simon and the other fishermen and with others in the biblical stories. 

God initiates the action. And new life begins – with God’s call, which doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the virtues, or lack of virtue, of the person being called. The fact that God chooses some people — elects them, to use more formal language — may seem arbitrary and unfair. But those who are chosen by God are called to be witnesses for others. Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel, would end up being a blessing “to all the families of the earth,” and Simon Peter and his friends would eventually fish for people, to bring them to Jesus. God wants everyone to be saved. 

Who knows what was in their minds, Peter and the others, when they decided to follow Jesus. Maybe it was curiosity, or maybe Simon and his brother were tired of their jobs. Whatever the reason, they followed. 

I’m not even sure I know why I decided to accept that call to follow Jesus. But I do know this. It’s the most important invitation I’ve ever received.  

How about you?  Where are you at on your call from God?  

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan


Sunday, January 17, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

 

Did you ever wonder how our hearing works? What exactly is going on inside of your ear that makes what is said audible to you at any given moment? It’s an amazingly complex process. First, a speaker has to make sound waves using the vocal chords. Those sound waves travel through the air and hit your ear. That sound travels down the ear canal, and the eardrum starts to vibrate. That causes a chain of little bones to start to move, which knock into the cochlea, and the fluid inside the cochlea starts to move, which gets a response out of the hearing nerve, which transmits the message to the brain. Pretty amazing, wouldn’t you say?

   

Since there are so many different parts, and so much that could go wrong in the process, it’s no wonder that many of us have a hard time hearing, and even more remarkable that more of us don’t.   It’s possible, though, that even if we don’t have trouble hearing, we could very well have a problem listening. Very often, when we ask someone, “Did you hear what I said?” we are not asking if the eardrum vibrated so that the little bones whacked the cochlea. We’re asking if the words were processed and understood in the way we meant them. A failure to communicate is often cited as a major problem in relationships.  Frustrated partners will cry to one another, “You never listen to me!” 

 

In our reading from 1 Samuel, chapter 3, verses 1-20, it’s clear that little Samuel had no trouble hearing the voice of God calling him; he just had a problem understanding what was going on! We can’t blame him, really. Young Samuel didn’t have the kind of experience with the Lord that the old priest Eli did. Not to mention that the opening verse of the chapter even says that the word of the Lord was rare in those days.  

 

But scripture tells us that Samuel grew in stature and matured, physically as well as spiritually, and soon rose to prominence, replacing the aging priest Eli.  Samuel soon found himself leading the people of Israel as a judge and priest. His role as priest lasted until the time that Saul was made king, and then David after him. Samuel’s life proved that he had learned his lessons well — he had learned not simply to hear God’s voice, but to actually listen to what God was telling him and to take it to heart.  

 

How can we develop our listening skills in prayer? Well, cultivating a strong prayer life is critical if we’re to be good listeners rather than merely hearers only.  And, of course, it doesn’t help if our prayer life is one where we do most of the talking and only a little listening for God’s input. Many of us have grown up thinking prayer is sort of like a monologue: We talk to God, sharing our heartfelt thanks and offering up our petitions and requests. Done! we think.  But, prayer isn’t meant to be like that.  It’s really more like a dialogue, where we speak with God and the Lord speaks to us.  One-sided conversations in prayer don’t contribute greatly to our spiritual growth, no more than our human conversations with each other.   

 

As followers of Jesus, we all desire to do the right things and make the wisest choices. Yet, we are constantly being bombarded with the noise of the world all around us. There are so many voices telling us very different messages, and too often we find ourselves challenged and confused about what we should do in a given situation, or what is really the best way the move ahead. In these moments, we can seek God’s guidance through prayer. 

 

Listening in prayer helps us to center ourselves, hitting the pause button on all the other voices in our lives that distracts us. We wait on God in a time of silence, giving the Lord opportunity to speak to us. We focus our time of prayer on intentional, purposeful listening and allowing God to do the talking. 

 

But I’ve have never talked with God that way, you may say. Maybe you don’t feel as though you can, as if you don’t know God well enough. Remember, the young boy Samuel did not yet know the Lord either, and so he was not immediately able to recognize the voice of God when he called. But he learned. We can, too.  

 

Learning to quiet ourselves, and finding that peaceful center so that we can hear from the Lord is a great place to start. Using a devotional book, or the Holy Bible, is a great conduit to beginning the conversation. And, then – LISTEN. 

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan


  Wednesday, January 13, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Special Message:

 

The events of last week – particularly on Wednesday, January 6th – in our nation’s capital were horrific and unbelievable. Details about the event continue to emerge from daily reports from FBI and law enforcement officials. I am sure many of you, like myself, would have never imagined witnessing in real time the U.S. Capitol being taken over by rioters. As this group of angry protestors, some violent and destructive, sought to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College votes, I immediately received telephone calls and text messages from friends and colleagues calling for prayer and peace, with more than a few specifically condemning the siege of the Capitol by a violent mob. 

 

To date, five individuals have died as a result. 

 

The events of that day reveal the treacherous path of division and polarization that our country has embarked upon, especially in these past four years. As a number of my colleagues expressed with despair, we are very much in need of moral and spiritual regeneration in the public and political interactions that affect all Americans. We have watched through our tears this terrible assault on our democracy. It is so apparent our nation needs to embrace dialogue over division as it seeks to move forward. 

 

This climate of hate and political divisiveness that hangs over us points to how divided we truly are: not only by political parties, but also as members of different social-economic backgrounds; bitterly separated people of various races, families, church communities and denominations. The rage, fueled by undisciplined actions and fiery rhetoric from our nation’s leaders and representatives, and trickling down to our nation’s citizens, has damaged the social cohesiveness we have worked so desperately to create, leaving us with a somewhat broken democracy.  

 

Some of you have shared with me that you are not that surprised by these recent happenings. I must admit that I'm not as shocked as I should be, but instead am deeply saddened by what I see. As one of my clergy colleagues phrased it, "It's the fruit of a long and persistent, determined polarization in our American society." It reveals a level of depravity in our social discourse, and a lack of genuine concern for neighbor-over-self. We have also witnessed examples of what happens when religion is usurped, stolen for political power and used against others as a weapon rather than a sword of holiness and righteousness in the name of our common Creator. It is particularly disheartening that this is unfolding during a global pandemic, at a time when our nation should be seeking to come together. The images that have come out of this ungodly moment in our history reveal just how bad things have become.   

 

“You reap what you sow”, as our scriptures tell us.  

  

As we continue to grapple with what we all have witnessed over the past week, and months, and years, we must reflect on where we have been, what it is we stand for as a nation, and how it is that we've allowed our ourselves to sink to this level of coldness and disinterest in caring for one another. How are we to enact our faith in a moment like this? 

 

This is not who we are as Americans. This is not who we are as Christians, representatives of Jesus Christ.  In these troubling days we must recommit ourselves to the values and principles of our faith and our democracy, and come together as a united people as envisioned by our nation’s founders. This is a time to pray. To pray fervently for peace and for God’s protection and wisdom over our country, our lawmakers, and all those in harm’s way in the coming weeks and months.  

 

May God bless and guide all of us. I love you, St. Paul family and friends. I'll talk with you soon. 

  

Pastor Alan 


  Sunday, January 10, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

 

When it came to playing as a kid, I played hard. It wasn’t unusual for me to come home filthy and in need of a bath.  My dear mother would take one look at me, shake her head, and proceed to get the tub ready for me, and in I would go. Covered head to toe in mud or grass stains or whatever, there were times it would take a good half hour of scrubbing to get me clean enough to pass her sniff test. Literally!  

 

I always loved the rinsing off part. Dunk and up. Dunk and up. I’d sink beneath the surface of the soapy water and then pop up from the suds. “There’s my boy”, she would finally say with glee. “I recognize him now. With all that dirt I wasn’t sure.” Oh, I knew she was just kidding. She knew who I was, even at my grimiest and dirtiest.   

 

As I got older and learned how to take my own baths, she would still say as I came into the room, “There’s my boy. I recognize him now.” Of course, my identity wasn’t contingent on whether I had bathed or not, although I’m sure I was certainly more pleasant to be around when I had. No, my identity was always secure. I knew who I was and whose I was. My mother always knew me. And because of that acknowledgement, I knew who she was and that I belonged to her. I never questioned that connection.  

 

Oh, there were those times when I would get a little too full of myself, and she would ask, “Now wait a doggone minute – who do you think you are?”.  Even then, I rested confident that she loved me, even in my worst moments. I was her boy.  

 

“Who do you think you are?”  That question is full of meaning. And it automatically presumes an identity that carries with it certain expectations, as well as prohibitions. Besides reminding me of who the parent was, her question always reminded me that I was a part of the family with certain responsibilities and a role to fulfill.   

 

In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 3, verses 13-17, we hear of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is faced with the question, “Who do you think you are?” According to John, baptism was the outward sign that repentance had taken place. But John argued that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. Rather, it was John who needed to be baptized by Jesus. At Jesus’ own request John baptizes him as a way of marking Jesus’ personal and public acceptance of his mission, and as a way of identifying who he is and would be, not only to the people around him but also, in some interior way, to himself. 

 

It's difficult not to speculate about Jesus’ inner life. We can never be sure that we know anything about how Jesus felt, viewed or experienced the events of his baptism.  But just the fact Jesus came to John and proposed that John baptize him might indicate Jesus had already given this some thought. And if that’s true, then his baptism might be viewed as a pivotal moment in the forming and discovery of his purpose and identity. His baptism may have been Jesus’ moment of posing the question to himself, “Who do you think you are?” 

 

In the end, Jesus’ baptism serves to confirm, not only for Jesus but for us, that he is the chosen King. The Messiah. He is the promised One. His baptism is not so unlike an anointing, with God fulfilling his promise to enthrone a new king, with words of installation: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  

 

But the baptism of the Lord is also about our baptism. Jesus’ discovery of his identity and mission is also about the discovery of OUR identity and mission. Our calling as his followers is intimately tied to our acceptance of the idea that we have followed him into baptism. 

 

Our baptism identifies us with Jesus. To embrace baptism as our own means we have cast our lot with the one who was baptized with us. His calling becomes our calling. His mission our mission. His identity becomes the source for our own identity. Whatever other designations we’ve chosen for ourselves, or become attached to, are abandoned in favor of a new name – follower of Christ. 

 

Today, let us remember and give thanks for our own baptisms.  

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan 

 

 

  Sunday, January 3, 2021-Pastor Alan’s Message:

So much of our faith life depends on what we CHOOSE to do.  I mean, it’s not like we’re spiritual robots programmed to do and say everything God would have us do and say, right? So, on that I will ask you:  What if the wise men had decided to stay home? We listen to this story of cross-country travel every year, and when we look at the manger scene, we expect to find our turbaned travelers kneeling by the baby Jesus. The crèche would seem empty without them, just like a family picture wouldn’t seem right if some of our closest relatives were missing. But what if they had never arrived? Or what if they had considered taking the trip into the unknown but then decided that it was just too risky or too far or too complicated? What if the trip seemed too overwhelming or just too much trouble? 

If the wise men had stayed home all those thousands of years ago, they would have missed God breaking into our world. They would have lost the chance to witness the coming of the Christ child. If they had not dared to venture out into the unknown, they wouldn’t have encountered God in this new way. There was a miracle waiting to be discovered, but they wouldn’t have experienced it because they would still be safely rooted in their everyday routines back home. 

Or — what about this? What if the wise men had never looked up? What would have happened if they had never taken the time to scan the night skies or gaze up into the heavens? What if they were so busy with their lives, so consumed with their day-to-day activities or so worried about their pressing obligations or scholarly responsibilities that they never even noticed that shining invitation beckoning them to break out of their routine? 

On this Epiphany Sunday, we celebrate the light that shines in the darkness. That star in the night sky is a beloved symbol of Christmas and Epiphany. But it has to be noticed in order to be followed. If the wise men had not bothered to look up, they might have never known that there were signs and wonders beckoning them to come closer to their Creator. 

Epiphany is all about God being revealed in our lives, that “aha” moment when our eyes are opened, our spirits are touched and we discover something that might have been there all along but wasn’t yet apparent to us. It’s like searching all over your house for your keys and then discovering them lying in plain sight on the counter in front of you. In that moment, we can see what has been true the whole time. The celebration of Epiphany is an invitation to open our eyes — and our spirits — and look, REALLY look, for God. Epiphany reminds us that God wants us to discover him. God may place stars in the sky, and send angels to sing hosannas, and provide prophets to proclaim God’s presence. But we have to take the time notice. 

Where is God inviting each one of us to go? What is God urging us to notice in our lives and in the lives around us? Where is God beckoning us — in the life of our congregation? If it is true that the seven last words of a dying church are “We’ve never done it that way before,” this attitude of discovery and trying something new might be important for us to consider. Instead of seeking or serving God always in the same way, it might be time for us to try something new. 

We can learn so much from this ancient travel story. The wise men were willing to start on this journey of exploration despite not having specific directions to their destination. They were following a star, which might have been good for giving a general sense of direction but was a far cry from having camels outfitted with GPS. They had enough information to begin their journey, and then they trusted that God would continue to guide them along the way. 

The wise men are still encouraging us to step out in faith. 

On this Epiphany Sunday, we are invited to consider: When do we make an effort to search for God? When is God inviting and beckoning, and we don’t even take notice? Where is the Epiphany light shining in our lives, and we’re not even paying attention? When are there miracles in our midst that we are too busy to recognize? 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan  

 

  Thursday, December 31, 2020-Pastor Alan’s New Year’s Eve Message:

Tell me if I’m wrong, but the New Year is supposed to bring us a sense of hope, right?  The previous year with all its tragedies, problems, disappointments, failures, and sadness is now behind us, and a clean slate lies ahead. 

I grew up with those old New Year’s Eve images of the bearded old man with the sickle and the newborn baby in diapers and a top hat, all ready to go!  Those images taught me that the old passes away; the new comes. YAY!  With whistles and horns and parties, and probably more to eat and drink than we should have, we would usher in the new year.  And yet, beneath the gaiety and laughter, there was always that gnawing feeling – it’s all still the same; nothing’s really changed.  That’s especially true for this year.

In our present times, most of us are mentally and physically exhausted from all that 2020 has given us.  Most of all the pandemic that’s held us hostage since March. A challenged economy and lives shattered by unemployment, illness, maybe the death of a loved one. Moving toward the hope of a new year, past all this devastation, is done entirely on the fumes of what spiritual gas we have left. After a year of it, we feel drained.  

With so much left unresolved from this passing year, we’re also likely to be experiencing anxieties about this new year. Some may be wrestling with important decisions regarding a primary lifestyle change, something crucial to be done that will be life altering. Some may be dealing with a personal medical diagnosis that could pose serious implications on quality of life for you or a loved one.  For those who have had to deal recently with the loss of a family member or friend, they may be wondering if they can make it in the coming year without the presence of one who meant so much. Feelings of loneliness, fear of growing older, fear of what the future may hold. Some may wonder if their dreams will ever be realized, or whether the new year will be even more frustrating and filled with feelings of futility like 2020 was.  If you are overwhelmed, exhausted, and certainly not ready for a new year, you’re not alone. There are others who share your angst and apprehensions. 

Of course, when we feel this way the temptation is to stay with the familiar and the comfortable, to crawl back into bed and pull the covers up over our heads.  Stay where we are in the dark crevices of depression or defeat, of fear or foreboding, in the deep ruts of sameness, boredom, or lethargy. 

But Epiphany with its emphasis on a light shining in the darkness, reminds us that life continues on, that revelation and growth and new beginnings loom on the horizon, that new roads appear up ahead, new roads that will take us – if we choose to follow them – into new adventures, new challenges, new opportunities to be the people God wants us to be.  Epiphany reminds us that life continues on, even as one year ends and another begins; “one season following another,” as they sing in “Fiddler on the Roof.” 

Hey, remember that old children’s church song, “Rise and Shine”?  You know, “Rise and Shine, and give God the glory, glory…”   The prophet Isaiah tells the people of Israel to “Arise, shine; for your light has come…”  They no longer had to live in darkness – and neither do we.  Rise and shine, get up, begin again – there is more to come!  There are new roads to travel upon in this new year.  New things happening with God.  We can’t give into the powerful forces working against God’s loving call to us.  Apathy, lack of confidence, our physical or mental state from this past year, extreme caution or timidity – all of these tend to hold us back, creating in us a disabling, crippling, immobilizing fear to stay put and not heed the call to come out of the darkness.  

It’s true that we don’t know precisely what lies ahead for us. But God promises to be with us. God promises to uphold us no matter what! God promises to grant us victory over all our spiritual enemies! A Savior has come; Jesus!  He walks with us into the future, whatever it may be.     

This new year, let’s get up and get going. Let us rise and shine, knowing that it is God’s light that empowers the light within us. 

A blessed New Year to all of you!  

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan  


Sunday, December 27, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message:

We humans love celebrity’s, don’t we? We follow them in magazines and on entertainment TV shows. We go online and listen to their webcasts or read their twitter feeds or maybe a little gossip about their personal lives. We may even fantasize at times of having them as our best friend. Go ahead, it’s okay to admit it. We’ve all had our weak moments.  

Pick your favorite celebrity – perhaps a movie star, 0r a singer, or your favorite athlete, or book author. You choose. Now, how would you react if you found out that this person is going to be moving into your neighborhood?  Now, grant you, some of you might not be that impressed one way or another – but many would be. That news would be the buzz of the neighborhood. 

Now, imagine that this new neighbor comes knocking on YOUR door one day, and is going to make it possible for you to gain the status that he or she has. You too, with this person’s help, will become a star. A celebrity. You will be able to sing the song, shoot the basketball, drive the golf ball, star in the movie. Now, the excitement gets personal. This new neighbor is going to become your personal trainer, your coach, your mentor. Your most intimate confidant.  He or she is going to offer you a surefire way of becoming just like him or her. 

Now, what might you feel about this? Excitement? Hope? Happiness?  Of course, we’re just fantasizing here. Imagining. I mean, nothing like this is likely to happen to us, right? Well, maybe not exactly THAT way.   

Just two days ago we celebrated the anniversary of such an event. The Son of God coming into the neighborhood of our world. He became one with us and he made it possible for us to become one with him. Oh, I know, we’ve all heard the story so many times before that we can easily pack away the Christmas decorations without ever allowing ourselves to feel much of anything other than maybe nostalgia about the holiday. Maybe your feeling right now is more like relief that we are going back to a normal routine, hopefully in a more normal New Year, too.   

But let’s take a moment and immerse ourselves in the Bethlehem happening one more time before we move out of the holidays and into a new year.  

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul reminds us of what the implications are for us that Jesus moved into the neighborhood of planet earth. In chapter 4, verses 4-7, Paul says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” 

The consequences of this, I think, are far more reaching than becoming a movie star, a singer, an athlete or whomever else the world has come to adore. As Paul tells us, this is about becoming sons and daughters of God. This is about moving from a mindset and the status of a slave to some master, to a special relationship of being children of a loving Parent. Even more, this is not a question of children by birth but children by the choice of the Parent. 

From God’s perspective, we are sons and daughters with a divine inheritance. This is where the life of a son or daughter of God begins. It begins with living not as a slave, but as an heir of all that God wishes to bestow upon us.   

Much more than becoming a clone of a superstar. Or famous singer, or sports star or book author. It is about inheritance of the kingdom of God. An invitation to be sisters and brothers of Jesus, sons and daughters of God.  

For some of us, this is where we can ponder once more the awesome gift of a baby in a manger. A gift of a Messiah. A Savior. The best present ever!  

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan  

 

  Thursday, December 24, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Christmas Eve Message-The Christ Candle

 Since this is Christmas Eve and we’re all about the intimacy of the season, being family and all, I’ll let you in on a little secret: the Christmas Eve sermon is one of my least favorite sermons of the entire year! 

And here’s why. It’s not because I don’t love Christmas. OH, I LOVE CHRISTMAS!!  No, the reason why it’s my least favorite is because – well, I worry that I’ve said all there is to say about it.  Truly. That’s my reason. If I’m going to speak about something, I want to say something meaningful. Something fresh. I want to say something in a new way. You know, make it real, authentic. 

The reality, though, is this: I can sum up pretty much every Christmas Eve message I have given into three “don’ts”: 

1. Don’t be the innkeeper. When the love of God comes to your front door, don’t say there’s no room at the inn. 

2. Don’t limit Christmas to just one day a year, or one season. Make Christmas year-round in your heart. 

3. Don’t extinguish the light. Christmas is about the light of Christ coming into this world. Let that light of God’s love shine brightly within us for the entire year, not just at Christmas.  

That’s it. That’s every Christmas message I’ve ever preached boiled down to three bullet points. And I really don’t have a lot to add, because that’s everything I want to say about Christmas. Nothing changes, and there’s nothing new to say. 

But maybe…maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s the good news. Because the fact that the story never changes, no matter what, means that there is hope for this world. 

You know, it doesn’t take a highly scientific mind to conclude that 2020 hasn’t been a great year for a lot of people. There’s been a lot of sadness, a lot of anger, a lot of misunderstanding. And I keep hearing people say that they can’t wait for this year to be over. Boy, am I with you on that one! Advent is supposed to be all about Hope and Peace and Joy and Love. Like our candles on the Advent wreath.  

But lately when I think about hope, my mind shifts to people quarantined, isolated because they might have contracted the COVID-19 virus. Or to those individuals who have family members in ICUs and are feeling a little dry in the hope department.    

I think about peace, which makes me think about all the discord and hate and violence in our country, people who are so bitterly divided and seem utterly, defiantly opposed to any kind of truce or reconciliation, politically or otherwise.   

I think about joy, and then I realize how hard it has been for ANY of us to find joy this year – other than that sporadic, fleeting kind.  

And I think about love, and then I think those individuals marching on cities around this country, shouting racist and anti-Semitic slurs, and I think about how far we still have to go when it comes to loving our neighbors. 

And yet, in the face of all of this, the same words preached in this church last year, and the year before that, and all the years before that, by every preacher this church’s pulpit has seen, still apply.  

Two thousand years ago God looked down into a broken world and, despite the mess that we people had made of it, God loved us anyway. Love came into this world, not as a conquering army, but as a little baby; a new life that would alter our existence. 

The message hasn’t changed. God still loves us. God still chooses to come into this world. God still gives us light that is bright enough to overcome any darkness. And each Christmas we get the choice of whether or not to respond to that love. 

I pray this Christmas – for you, for everyone – that Christ’s light will shine so brightly that the missing Hope and Peace and Joy and Love that we thought 2020 had extinguished will burst forth and capture our hearts once more. Renew us. Rejuvenate us. Restore us.  We need a good dose of that Good News, for sure.  

I love you, St. Paul family. Merry Christmas! I’ll talk with you soon.  

Pastor Alan

  Sunday, December 20, 2020: Pastor Alan’s Message-Fourth Sunday in Advent-Love


It’s always about this time of year I start hearing different explanations to “what Christmas is all about.” 

 

Some say it’s all about families getting together. “That’s what Christmas is all about”, they tell me. Others insist “Christmas is for children.” A friend of mine proclaims it’s the food, particularly the cookies!  Others say it’s about parties, the shopping and gift-giving, or simply having the “holiday spirit”.  

 

It’s probably a little bit of all of that.  But, as your pastor I would be amiss if I didn’t add that I believe that Christmas is the celebration of the coming of Jesus, the Son of God coming into our world, and of course, no one would argue with me on that point. Theologians and scholars might add the word “incarnation.” What? Incarnation, you say??  Yeah, incarnation – you know, where God somehow manages to become flesh and join us down here. Coming in human form. Or as John, the gospel writer, put it, “The word became flesh.” 

 

Although incarnation is a highfalutin word, the concept is not all that difficult to grasp. But it does deserve a little thought and reflection, especially how it pertains to our modern-day lives.

   

The idea that God seems so removed from us, so far away, goes way back in scripture. In 2 Samuel, verse 7, we find King David, after having consolidated his kingdom and moving into a palace for himself, deciding that he’d like to build an impressive house for God as well.  David wasn’t so theologically naïve as to think that God NEEDED a physical dwelling.  But he did know that the ark of the covenant, that special box containing the tablets on which God had inscribed the Ten Commandments, was a unique symbol of the presence of God among the people. And at that time, the ark was housed in a temporary structure. (Actually, it was a tent.) 

 

David says to himself, “I am living in a house of cedar” (or better expressed: a luxury palace), “but the ark of God stays in a tent.” That didn’t seem quite right to David, so he decides to design and build a temple for God’s presence. 

 

Of course, Nathan the priest soon put a kibosh on that idea, telling David that wasn’t for him to do. In fact, God tells Nathan to tell David that God will build the house. By that, God was referring to the royal line or dynasty of David, which ends up being fulfilled in the New Testament by the coming of Jesus as a descendant of King David. Incarnation!   

 

The Christmas carol “Joy to the World” picks up this same theme: “Let every heart prepare him room.”  Incarnation! 

And Christmas reminds us of yet another “room” where God chose to dwell, at least temporarily — in the womb of a peasant girl named Mary. As the angel Gabriel told Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son.” And then, of course, God dwelt in that son, Jesus.  Incarnation, see?   

 

The concept and reality of Incarnation helps us to understand and even sense how near God came, and still comes. The Incarnation helps us to understand how to live the life God wants for us.  

 

Some time ago, back in the 1970s, a news story came out of the International Crane Foundation in Wisconsin about this rare, endangered female whooping crane named – now, I’m not kidding – “Tex”, who for some reason was more inclined to form emotional attachments with male humans rather than male cranes. Tex refused to perform the usual crane mating dance with a male crane, which was necessary for her to become excited enough to produce an egg. For years Tex’s keepers at the foundation tried different methods. On occasion Tex would lay an egg by means of artificial insemination, but none of them hatched. Finally, they tried another approach. They used artificial insemination again to impregnate Tex, but this time, the foundation director George Archibald, to whom Tex was very strongly attracted, moved into the pen with Tex, and in a way, became a crane — a human “incarnated” as a crane. Several times a day for six weeks, George and Tex did the mating dance together. That did it! Tex produced an egg that hatched, producing a live chick. True story!  

 

George taught Tex, just as Jesus taught us humans how to be the people God wants us to be.  

 

Incarnation.  Coming down for some up-close, personal time. Who couldn’t use a little bit of that right about now?

    

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan

 






Sunday, December 13, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message: Third Sunday in Advent-Joy


Have any of you seen Holman Hunt’s great painting, “The Light of the World”?  It’s glorious! A masterpiece. Truly an unforgettable work of art that shows Jesus, the Messiah, our Christ, as the Light of the World. 


In the painting, Jesus is wearing a heavenly crown of glory, this halo of light around his head. He’s also carrying a lantern. He stands in a neglected garden where weeds are thriving, at the door of a cottage. Strangely enough, the door has no knob or latch on the outside. And it’s terribly overgrown with vines. It’s clear that no one has opened this door for a very long time. Still, Christ with that glow about his head and lit lantern in his hand stands there knocking on the door. If you haven’t seen the painting, I encourage you to look it up on the Internet. 

 

I often wonder when gazing at a work of art what exactly the artist was thinking of when they painted the picture. What is the deeper meaning of the painting? What feeling did the artist want to impart on the viewer?  For sure, the message here is clear that Christ is indeed the Light of the world, and that he brings that light into dark and dreary places in our human existence. He stands ready to bring light to anyone who will pull open the door and let him in. But the latch has to be opened from the inside. Jesus will not force himself on the inhabitant of a home, nor on the heart of anyone. He waits, patiently, always listening for us to invite him in – although he does knock, repeatedly, gently and quietly on the doors of our hearts, urging us to open up.  

   

The painting brings to mind the passage in the book of Revelation (chapter 3, verse 20) which has Jesus saying, “Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.” 


In the Gospel of John, chapter 1 (our gospel focus for today), it speaks of John the Baptist’s as witness to the light. Those opening words, along with Holman Hunt’s painting, are surely relevant for us on this third Sunday in Advent when we consider the meaning of Christ’s coming, and seek to witness God’s “invasion” into our dark and broken, starving world. An invasion of love wrapped up in a special baby, a child who would grow up to become the Savior of the world. Savior, that is, if the world’s inhabitants – and we – choose to receive him. 


With so many distractions in our lives and in our world, it’s so easy to miss the truth of Christmas, don’t you think? We shop and we hop, we party and we feast, we buy and we share… but are we even thinking about or deliberately, intentionally welcoming in Christ, the Light of the world, who’s the cause of our celebration? The whole reason for the season, as they say? 


In this season of Hope, Peace and Joy, lights are everywhere. A former coworker and friend of mine who now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah sent me a Christmas card last year. The picture on it was of Temple Square near his home, at Christmas time. The temple’s grounds were covered in Christmas lights. They decorate its trees and bushes with literally thousands upon thousands of lights (actually, it’s one million lights to be precise. I looked it up!)  There are lights along the sidewalks and reflecting pools and hedges; they drape almost everything in sight with lights.

   

Yes, Christmas lights are a joy to behold, and they can fill us with so much excitement. Of course, the trouble with we humans is our tendency to become so mesmerized by appearances that we lose sight of the one true Light, Christ himself. We can be so captivated by the little lights that we forget to focus on the main Light. The Light of the world. 


We need to remind ourselves that as Jesus’ followers, as Christians, we are to be witnesses of the Light – just as John the Baptist was. This Light is evidence that God will not allow us to remain buried in the dreaded darkness without hope, without the true Light that brings life and joy to all who accept the incomparable gift of God’s love in the flesh. God’s gift of Christ the Lord, the Light of the world. 


Jesus is knocking on our hearts. Let’s all open the door and receive him with joy.

  

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

 

Pastor Alan



Sunday, December 6, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message-Second Sunday in Advent-Peace

 

How does one prepare for a new work of God? What does it take to “make the paths straight” as John the Baptist’s message tells us in today’s gospel account from the Gospel of Mark chapter 1, verses 1-8?  It’s a straightforward and uncomfortably simple message. But it is a vital message.  John calls on those who hear him to receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.

 

I was taught at an early age that we ourselves are instrumental in this process because WE create a spirit of receptivity in ourselves when we recognize our need to change or realign our lives in light of what God is doing.  Even secular thinkers recognize the need for change and re-evaluation at various points in our lives.  The 18th-century writer and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves; otherwise we harden.” The philosopher George Santayana said, “In a moving world, re-adaptation is the price of longevity.” All life involves movement. It is simple geometry. When we move or when our goals move, we can find ourselves going off course. The best illustration of this in our modern world is the use of the GPS navigational system to get us back on course. And God is our best spiritual GPS.

   

Our lives are never static. Change is inevitable. God continues to move forward to make love, justice, peace and wholeness the final verdict on creation. In our daily journey through this world, we make small and sometimes big choices. Some of these move us toward God; some of these move us away from God.  Our movement back toward God is repentance. This occurs when we recognize that we have gotten off course in our lives and we wholeheartedly desire to turn back toward him. 

 

In John’s day, he called his contemporaries to a radical return to God that included a tangible public witness of this return in the form of baptism. Baptism serves as an initiation into the ways of the Lord but also as a public witness to others of our intention to turn away from our old way of life and align with the good news of what God is doing in the world through Jesus. 

 

From this moment forward, our words and our deeds serve as tangible clues to the world of the good news.  

 

Remember, as we’ve mentioned before, John’s preaching to repent does not say we are to use our own will power to make necessary changes in our lives. If that were the case, we wouldn’t need God, or Jesus.  Yes, John’s message and call for realignment depend on a response from us, but the power for change lies in God alone. We can recognize our need, but only God can do the work.   

 

John’s rough look certainly pegged him as an outsider to be sure, but it also was a sign to his generation. His appearance was not a new look, but rather it brought to mind the great Old Testament prophet Elijah.  Elijah’s return was a signal that the beginning of the new era of God’s work had arrived. These symbols would have stoked the imaginations and expectations of the people of his day.  

 

But John’s words were even more explosive. 

 

John announces the coming of one even greater than Elijah. Of course, he is referring to Jesus. Whereas John has used mere water for baptism, Jesus will offer the Spirit. In other words, John is announcing a time of invitation where we can be fully immersed not merely symbolically in water but actually immersed in God. This is the good news. We are not alone. Darkness is not the final word. God offers us renewal. Are we ready to realign with his invitation? 

 

If you have experienced God up close, congratulations Give thanks and continue to remain open to God’s work in your life. Be open for the ongoing work of realignment as we serve as Jesus’ people in the world. But if you find yourself feeling far from God or even unsure about any of this, remember this: this remarkable Light has come to pierce the darkness. Don’t give up. The same God who sent John to call us back is still calling out to us today with the very good news about Jesus. 

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan  


Sunday, November 29, 2020-Pastor Alan’s First Sunday in Advent Message-Hope:

 

What does it mean to keep awake in Christ? That’s the challenge of Advent. There are at least three possible understandings of “keeping awake,” as Jesus and his disciples would have understood it: waiting, watching and tending the fire. 

 

For most of us, waiting is not one of our favorite things to do. In fact, waiting has acquired a bad name in our fast-paced society. Back in the early Spring, before the Coronavirus took over, I remember sitting in a hospital waiting room and watching the other people who were there for various reasons. They were buried in all sorts of mindless time-killing activities. Glued to the TV, or donning the MP3 headphones, or focused on their Smartphones playing games or texting. No conversation. No interactions. It was mind-numbing just to watch.  

 

The kind of waiting Jesus is talking about is not the annoyance of being delayed, or the boredom that comes with a life gone dull. It’s a purposeful waiting: the sort of waiting that pulls us to the edge of our seat that charges us with an eager expectancy.

  

Keeping awake is not only about waiting. It’s watching, too. Not like vegetating in front of the TV. It’s active engagement. An old meaning of the word “watch” — one we hardly use any more — is that of the Night Watch. In towns and villages of earlier centuries, one or more citizens were charged to stay up through the night, walking the streets with a lantern, looking for trouble or danger. A Night Watch member needed to be alert, so as to prevent skullduggery. (I’ve always wanted to find a way to use that word. LOL.) 

 

The doorkeeper in Jesus’ parable is like a member of the Night Watch. While the household sleeps, the doorkeeper must stay awake. The nearest equivalent in our society is maybe a night clerk at a hotel. Or a security guard. There’s not a whole lot for a night clerk or security guard to do — surely the hours pass slowly — but it’s crucial for these watch people to push back any desire to sleep in order to stay awake and watch.

 

So, too, in the season of Advent — watching must be continuous. The quality of attention is vitally important. Relax, and the master may return to discover us dozing! 

 

Yes, Advent is about waiting and watching. But there’s a third aspect of keeping biblically awake that’s nearly lost on us, because we live in such a technological society. This is the task of tending the fire. For us, fire is a mood-enhancer, an aesthetic feature to a room. A candle on a dinner table is a thing of beauty and grace. A blazing hearth on a winter’s day brings cheer. For us fire, in other words, is a luxury.  

 

In Jesus’ day, fire was essential to life. Part of the doorkeeper’s task was to keep a few hearth-embers aglow, to bank the fire and keep those coals alive enough to be fanned back into flame at a moment’s notice. And woe to the watcher who let the fire go out! 

 

These Advent Sundays, we light candles on the Advent wreath, to push back on the encroaching darkness that sometimes feels as though it will overtake us. In some primordial way, it’s still important for us to “tend the fire” during our Advent. There is the Advent wreath, certainly, but there are also other distinctive lights of the season that we employ. Just walk down any residential street between now and Christmas, and you’ll see lights — brilliant white and colored lights — everywhere. We are a society that seems to think it has pushed back the night with the bold power of its energy. Yet, still, beneath it all, there is that primordial dread of darkness and a dampening of spirits for some. Maybe it IS about that darkness that lengthens with each day. That darkness that we try to mask with our abundance of electricity and central heat. Or maybe it has something to do with our need for God, and the heartfelt yearning we’ve managed to superficially cover up with our independent natures, our individualism, and self-reliance. 

 

Keep awake this Advent, family. Wait for the coming of the Lord of life. Watch for the signs of his presence. Tend the fires of faith in the wee hours of the night. Keep them burning, for there will come a time when we will need to fan embers into flame, when the Master has returned.  

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan


Thursday, November 26, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Thanksgiving Message

 

This is not a normal Thanksgiving. It wasn’t a normal summer either, or Labor Day. It was not a normal Memorial Day or Fourth of July or school year. Nothing has been normal. Nothing IS normal.

 

We want so much to be able to act and behave as if everything is normal. Me, too. It’s hard. Every day of this pandemic has been hard. And Thanksgiving is no less challenging. I truly thought that by Thanksgiving we would be through the worst of this or past it. No. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

  

I miss seeing people. I miss hugging people. I miss dinners out with friends. I miss life as it was. I miss not having to be cautious and always on my guard. I suppose I could simply ignore the restrictions. Get together with others who choose not to quarantine or wear masks and instead risk infecting myself, and maybe in turn infect others, too. (After all, I do have those friends.)  But I don’t. I want to be smart about this. I want to be careful. Not just for my own sake, but for the sake of others.

     

It would be so easy to dwell on the negatives. On all that’s changed, on all I’m giving up to remain safe. Am I disappointed? Yeah, you bet. I feel like I’ve given up a lot. But, then, my heart really breaks when I think of those folks working the front lines of this battle. Those first responders who see and deal with, on a daily basis, the worst of this pandemic. Those selfless individuals who sacrifice – REALLY SACRIFICE – and go out day after day risking their lives so that many of us can stay home. Safe. Secure. At least more secure than they are.

  

I heard a governor address the people of his state recently, reminding them that there are first responders who have died to get them through COVID. Doctors who have died, nurses who have died, police officers and paramedics who have died, all to get them through COVID. That thought absolutely jarred me from a place of total selfishness. While I very often lament on MY losses, MY sacrifices, MY changed life due to the impact of this virus, I forget about those who went in during those early days, who continue to go in and face the monster head on, without hesitation, to do what needs to be done.  

 

It has completely altered my viewpoint of Thanksgiving this year. I have stopped griping about what I have given up. What freedoms I have had to relinquish temporarily. What inconveniences I have had to endure. Instead, I realize with fresh eyes how truly blessed I am, how blessed we all are, and how blessed this year’s Thanksgiving truly is.  

 

God bless those first responders, and God bless those essential workers who have continued to work so that we are able to have food on our tables, who have provided transportation for those who can’t drive, who have continued to bring us our mail. Our medications. Our necessities.  

 

This Thanksgiving, I also have a heightened awareness and a broadened sense of family, who IS my family – by definition it has changed exponentially, making me aware that my family is way larger than I previously considered. These people who sacrificed, who worked while many of us stayed home, they are family. Those first responders who risked life, gave their lives, they are family.

  

In truth, in reality, I haven’t lost anything this year. I have gained so much, in fact. I have so much to be grateful for. Friends and church family members who reach out to me, find unique ways to keep in touch, bring food and desserts to me at times, who remind me that they care about me even if we can’t see each other in person. Loving individuals who pray for me.   

Even with the shifts, even with the changes, this Thanksgiving (for me) is not all that awful. Of course, I can only speak for myself. And I am feeling extremely blessed. Most importantly, God has remained by my side 24/7 throughout this ordeal. And I have no doubt God will remain with all of us and will see us through this life crisis.

 

I love you, St. Paul family. Happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are, and however you are choosing to celebrate it. I’ll talk with you soon, on Sunday.

    

Pastor Alan


Sunday, November 22, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message:

 

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a dozen times. 2020 has GOT to be it! The end of the line! The BIG finale. On the brink of the Second Coming! 

  

After all, we have experienced a pretty awful year. The coronavirus with its 1.34 million dead worldwide. Not to mention protests and killings, earth quakes and floods and fires. Who wouldn’t feel at times that the end is got to be near?

     

On this Reign of Christ Sunday, we get the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31-46. It’s the final days of Jesus’ ministry on earth, shortly before his crucifixion and resurrection. In searing detail, we get a vision of what Jesus regards as the ultimate decider on our eternal destiny as to who is indeed “in” and who doesn’t make that most final of final cuts.  

 

Jesus speaks of unforgivable sin.  And he uses the imagery of sheep and goats.  We hear it as “sheep good, goats bad”.

   

So, what sets these goats off on the wrong trajectory toward a figurative — or, okay, literal, if you must — damnation?  Is it that they failed to recite appropriate creeds? Was their theology unsound? Was their view of the inspiration of scripture not sufficiently “high”?  

 

And how about these “sheep”? What is it that “saves” them? An enthusiastic “Here I Am!” to Jesus’ call?  Sound doctrine? An intimate knowledge of orthodox creeds and church history? How about an uncompromising conviction to convince everyone willing to listen that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God?

  

Well, according to this parable, the answer doesn’t depend on being theologically brilliant or good at Christian facts and trivia. That’s way off. The parable teaches that what “saves” us is our showing mercy toward Jesus when he presents himself dressed as “one of the least of these”. That’s what butters our toast. Our failure to respond to Jesus when he comes, as Mother Teresa put it “in his most distressing disguise”, is what ultimately condemns us. 

 

And the absolutely staggering part of all this is the fact that neither the sheep nor the goats have any idea what they are doing when they do — or fail to do — these works of mercy that impact their eternal destiny.  “Lord, when was it that we saw you ...?” each of them asks. Their Lord stood right in front of them, and they did not know it — neither sheep nor goats recognized Jesus when he was present and in need. “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry ...?”  

 

So, if we aren’t conscious of our actions, what is it that saves us?  What defines us as sheep? What invokes that saving action, that inner grace and spirit that causes us to reach out to one in such desperate need? What creates that moment where humanity and divinity can come together in perfect harmony? It’s compassion.  A genuine compassion; and not the self-made, self-serving kind that’s designed just to get us brownie points with God. What saves us is an unthinking, uncalculating compassion that is not consciously aware of what it’s doing. It’s a natural flow from the heart.

    

“Salvation” is not about sound doctrine, or correct opinions — and neither, strictly speaking, is it about good works. Salvation comes out of unselfconscious, spontaneous love — love even for those who seem unlovable. An outpouring of compassion in the face of relievable human misery. We can’t MAKE it happen. No amount of forced discipline in serving the poor in hopes of gaining “eternal reward” can make it real. Ultimately, what we must do, all we CAN do, is pray — pray for a spontaneous, unselfconscious love that wells up within us before we are even aware it’s there. Something that comes from a spirit love that so drives us to serve that it’s second nature — something that we can’t NOT do.

 

To be a sheep we must WANT to be sheep, to have a heart for it. Like Jesus did. Like Jesus does.  

 

Sheep or goat. Which one are you now? Which one do you want to be? 

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

 

Pastor Alan  

Sunday, November 15, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message:

 What would you do with a million dollars if someone just walked up and gave it to you? Out of the blue?

    

That’s kind of the premise presented in the gospel of Matthew chapter 25, verses 14-30. Jesus tells a story of a man who is going away on a journey. He summons three of his slaves and entrusts his property to them.  To one of them he gives five talents (a talent in today’s economy is worth about $400,000, so 5 x 400,000 = $2 million). To the second slave he gives two talents (worth about $800,000), and to the third slave he gives one talent ($400,000). Each one receives, according to the story, an amount suited to their ability. Can you imagine? Their master would return one day and require a reckoning and a return on his investment.

 

After a long time, the master comes home to settle accounts with them. The first slave had used his five talents by utilizing them as collateral in trading, and had made another $2 million. “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master,” the master says to him. 

 

The second slave had used his two talents in pretty much the same way as the first and receives praise from the master just as the first man had: “... enter into the joy of your master.” 

 

The third slave however, unwilling to take any risks, had dug a hole in the ground and hidden the master’s money. He said that having the money made him fearful, especially because he knew the master could be demanding. He had wasted the opportunity, with nothing additional earned. No gain.  

 

The master calls him “wicked and lazy”, and instructs that the talent be taken from him and given to the one with 10 talents. And he’s thrown into the outer darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Ouch!  

 

While this parable is about a master entrusting large sums of money to his slaves, the word “talents” has prompted people for many centuries to consider how God entrusts much more than just wealth to us. He also entrusts talents and abilities so that we can participate in the work of heaven.  

 

Not so unlike the “gifts of the Spirit” that Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians, chapters 12—14, if you think about it. Paul lists a number of these gifts and says they are all necessary for the body of Christ, the church, to function properly. He encourages the church – and us – to explore these gifts, and to discover that it is only when we utilize these gifts that the church reaches its full potential. 

 

Does anyone remember the news story several years back about an 8 year old boy who showed the world how something small could be transformed into something truly amazing, making a profound difference?  

 

The boy’s name was Myles Eckert, and he found $20 in the parking lot of a restaurant in Maumee, Ohio.  He considered buying a video game with it, but once inside the restaurant he decided to give the $20 bill to Lt. Col. Frank Daily, a soldier who happened to be dining there with his family. Myles walked over to his table and gave him the money, along with a short note that said, “Dear Soldier — my dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this money in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service. Signed Myles Eckert, a gold star kid.” 

 

Needless to say, the soldier was stunned and, of course, gave the money away. But that’s not the end of the story. When the news broke of the kindness of that 8-year-old boy, it prompted an outpouring of goodwill and money to a non-profit called Snowball Express that benefits children of U.S. soldiers killed in active duty. That $20 led to more than 2 million in charitable donations.  

 

I’ll bet that 8 year old boy never imagined that $20 bill could multiply like that. He simply gave what he had. Given that example, what are WE capable of?   

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

  

Pastor Alan 

Sunday, November 8, 2020: Pastor Alan’s Message:

The word “preparedness,” usually does not cause smiles. In fact, in today’s world we often use it in the context of “being ready for the worst”, and is often coupled with the word “disaster,” as in “disaster preparedness.” If you Google “preparedness,” the first things that come up are places that sell emergency kits, and the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) website, and blogs about how to stockpile supplies to survive a calamity. 

 

Preparedness often has negative connotations, but it can refer to being ready for something good to happen, too. For example, if you are out of work and you learn that a certain company will be hiring in a couple of weeks, preparedness could refer to buffing up your resume, learning more about the company so you can better explain to the interviewer how your skills can be an asset for them… and taking down those unflattering pictures of yourself that you put on Facebook. Yeah, those! 

 

Preparedness is the theme of the parable from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 25, verses 1-13, and I encourage all of you to take a gander at it.  

 

Jesus’ urgings to be prepared were heard by those early followers as a word to BE READY!  Remember, Jesus’ ministry occurred around A.D. 30. But the gospel of Matthew wasn’t written until much later, probably sometime after A.D. 75.  Those believers in Jesus’ time most likely believed his ascension and his Second Coming would happen in relatively quick succession, within their lifetimes. But by the time Matthew wrote the gospel, some of the early believers had died, and others were getting concerned because Jesus had not yet returned. I imagine s few even began to wonder if Christianity was even true at all. 

 

Waiting patiently for anything isn’t our strong suit as humans. It’s been 2,000 years since Jesus’ initial urgings to be prepared. The time between Jesus’ ascension and his eventual return is so vast now that we lost that “any day now” mentality and expectations early Christians had.  

 

Still, I believe it’s important to consider the question of the first-century Christians: “What does being prepared for his return look like?” If you think about it, it’s really a question about how we choose to live our daily Christian lives, in the meantime.  

For we Christians, preparedness is not about keeping an emergency supply of prayers on hand or stockpiling good deeds. It’s about living the life of the kingdom right where we are; the quality of life described in the Sermon on the Mount, and doing it consistently. Almost anybody can take one of Jesus’ teachings and do it for a little while. Being a peacemaker for a day isn’t that hard; but being a peacemaker year after year is another thing altogether. Turning the other cheek occasionally is do-able, but building a way of life on cheek-turning requires a deeper commitment. And spiritual stamina. It requires significant energy and spiritual preparedness. 

 

It’s easy to do anything on a short haul. But, being prepared for a longer wait, keeping that spiritual oil in our lamps filled and burning for an unknown duration?  THAT IS A CHALLENGE. 

Are we truly prepared to show the true level of our spiritual commitment?  There’s an interview online with a man who grew up around the Amish and co-wrote a book about the spirituality of that group. The interviewer asked him what followers of Jesus could learn from the Amish. The author responded: “We live in an instant society, and many Christians approach their spiritual lives that way… [They] look for quick, easy, painless ways to grow spiritually, and they often end up being disappointed with their personal results. The Amish point us to the importance of patient practice. They remind us that engaging in everyday — sometimes tedious — practices over long periods of time is the most trustworthy way to foster spiritual depth.” 

Living our commitment to Christ faithfully day after day is the way we fill our spiritual lamps, keeping them burning brightly so as to be ready for whatever God has for us next.  

 

Are you prepared?  

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan  

Sunday, November 1, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

Today is Memorial Sunday, our name here at St Paul for what other churches may refer to as All Saints' Day, or All Saints' Sunday. 

 

It comes the day after what we all are familiar with as Halloween, or All Hallows Eve. The word Hallow actually means 'Holy', to be recognized as consecrated, or set apart in a special way. And, so, 'All-Hallows Day' or 'All Saints' Day’ refers to the saints of the church — the holy ones.

 

The New Testament actually uses the word 'saint' 67 times, and is used to describe all those who are followers of Jesus, the people called to a life of holiness by way of his invitation to follow him. And this doesn’t merely apply to those of us who are extra-specially good. It applies to all believers; all who desire to know this God of love and forgiveness.

 

Now, you may ask, how did this church tradition begin? Well, in the early years of the church when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians, there were so many followers who died for their faith (the martyrs, we call them) that the Church set aside special days to honor them. In fact, in AD 609 the Roman emperor Flavius Phocas presented the beautiful Roman Pantheon temple as a gift to the early church, to be used as a place of worship. The statues of Jupiter and the other pagan gods were all removed and the Pantheon was consecrated for the purpose of remembering "all saints" who had died from Roman persecution in the first three hundred years after Christ. 

 

Eventually the date of All Saints Day was established by Pope Gregory III to be observed on one specific date – November 1st In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, it says that the holiday stands for “the unity of Christians of all ages, countries, and races in Christ, and the perfection of that unity in heaven.”  

 

So, does this designation of ‘saint’ apply to Christians today? The short answer to that is ‘yes’.  We as Christians are to reflect on our spiritual connection to past saints, and find inspiration in their stories of God's faithfulness in times of trials and tribulation. On the first Sunday of each November, we as a church are to remember those family members, our Christian brothers and sisters, who have inspired us, walked with us, and led us in our own spiritual journeys.  

 

Today, we of St. Paul are remembering five people from our congregation who left this earth between March of this year and today. Five precious souls who were as different from each other and unique as you could ever find. All with very distinct personalities, each one with unique gifts. Hearts that were full of love; a love that they willingly shared with others, with those of us who are left behind.  

 

Bertha Martin – a longtime teacher here at St. Paul. 

 

Eva Moore – also a teacher, and later secretary in the church office. 

 

Evelyn Brinkman – a member of the choir, and a supreme resident comedienne. 

 

Carolyn Bolin – a gifted teacher as well, and our wedding planner until her passing. 

 

And Coty Slayton – a recent addition to our church family whose youthful enthusiasm for God inspired me beyond words. 

 

It’s important for us, I think, to take time to cherish the memory of those who have died and who have gone before us. Regardless of their level of dedication or years of service in the church or age or whatever other qualifiers we may mistakenly apply to people, as if we needed to earn God’s love and welcome.  As we celebrate their memory we can know and be glad that they share with us in Christ's eternal kingdom.  

 

Let us all pray together:  Holy God, you have called witnesses from every nation and revealed your glory in their lives. Grant us the same faith and love that, following their example, we may be sustained by their fellowship and rejoice in their triumph; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  

 

St. Paul family, I invite all of you to check out our church web page as well as our Facebook page, and view the photos of our church altar now bearing the faces of those loved ones we give back to God with love and appreciation. Let us all remember these saints and all the other saints who have graced our lives, from birth until today, so that we may give God praise for their guidance, love and nurturing.  

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan

Sunday, October 25, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message:

When I was a teenager, I used to love to find shortcuts. I was a big fan of Cliff Notes. Remember those?  In truth, I’m probably not much different as an adult. But that seems to be the way of our society. We like things made simple. 

In the gospel of Matthew chapter 22, verses 34-46, a legal expert wants Jesus to boil down the Torah to just one commandment or law. The most important one of all.  It seems at first like a silly request, given the length and complexity of the entirety of the Hebrew Bible. But Jesus is not only up to the task, he goes the extra mile by also offering what he calls the second most important commandment. “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus says that the entirety of the law rests on just these two commandments.  

The first commandment that Jesus mentions, to love God with all your heart, being and strength, is actually part of the central prayer of Judaism, the Shema, found in the book of Deuteronomy.  

Now, this God of Israel was a God who loved the people unconditionally. The people’s responsibility, in turn, was to love this God with everything they had. Their love was not to be a bribe to get God to love them. It was, rather, to be a response; an expression of gratitude for the awareness that God loved them already. God loved them before anything existed. A divine love that was theirs for free and forever. 

Then, Jesus says we are to love others as we love ourselves. Here is what makes Christianity so difficult and a challenge at times because it requires each of us to love people who – well, sometimes aren’t even likable. As a Christian, I am obliged to see Christ, or at least try to see Christ, in every person I meet, knowing that each person, each creation, bears the imago dei (pronounced E-mog-o Day) — the image of God. And I mean every single person, no exceptions, whether that person is saintly or a serial killer. Or even a politician. None of that matters. All that matters is that he or she is human, a creation of God and that we must treat all people lovingly because of that truth. We are not to just like them. Nor are we to just tolerate them. We are to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

But, loving ourselves – and I mean truly loving ourselves in a healthy, non-egotistical and puffed up way – can also be complicated in and of itself. Loving ourselves does not mean putting ourselves ahead of God and it doesn’t mean putting the needs of others in second, third or fourth place. Instead, loving ourselves means recognizing that we, too, bear the image of God and that we are precious children of God, people whom God loves enough to die for. 

Do you ever stop to tell yourself that God thinks you’re valuable enough to die for? That, in a simplified way, IS the Christian message. What we are asked to do in return is to live lives of gratitude, lives that value the outcast, the rejected, the brokenhearted, the poor, the widow, the orphan — everybody. 

It’s no secret, too, that love can be painful. Broken relationships, or the loss of a loved ones. That kind of heartache, sorrow and anguish is possible only because we have first experienced love. A point may come when we have to ask ourselves whether the joy of love is worth the risk of pain. Remember, we’re not just referring to human love here. Or our love for God. We’re talking about God’s love – for US. It makes it much more bearable to keep in mind that this God who loves us so immensely is the same God who walks with us through our sorrow and grief, because God too has known sorrow and grief and promises not to leave us.  

That in itself is an act of love. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan  

Sunday, October 18, 2020- Pastor Alan’s Message:

 

As Election Day approaches, journalists are asking candidates a lot of tough questions. And they SHOULD ask tough questions, since our elected officials and leaders are public servants and need to be held accountable. But the questions asked are not always straight forward and honest in approach. For example, it would be fair to ask a senator up for re-election how he or she formulated their views and opinions on a particular bill they crafted or signed onto. But it would be a little unfair and misleading to ask, “Senator, why did you desert your allies and support a bill that betrays your party and our democracy?” 

 

That’s a “gotcha” question: one that is designed to entrap an interviewee, made to look like a question but actually designed to damage or discredit the reputation of the party being asked. It’s kind of like asking, “Tell me, have you stopped cheating on your wife (or husband)? Please answer yes or no.”

 

In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 22, verses 15-22, the Pharisees are laying a trap for Jesus by trying to get him to make a declaration about paying taxes.

 

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.” Man! They flatter him, trying to get him to lower his guard before they attack. Then they ask, “Tell us what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Now, if Jesus approves of paying taxes, he’ll offend those who are rebelling against the oppression of the Roman Empire. If he disapproves of paying taxes, he could be accused of disloyalty to Rome and maybe arrested. A “gotcha” question. It’s like asking “Do you support rebellion or do you support Rome?” Either choice can be used against him.

 

Of course, this ain’t Jesus’ first rodeo. He flips the choice back to them. “Show me the coin used for the tax,” he says. They give him a denarius, a Roman coin. Then, holding up the coin he asks, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answer, “The emperor’s.”  Jesus says to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus takes that “gotcha” question and turns it back on the Pharisees, slipping right out of their little trap.

 

But Jesus’ answers are never that cut and dry, you know. To this day it’s not clear that anyone yet has figured out precisely what Jesus was getting at. Some wise theologians say the passage is proof that God and politics should be kept separate. Others insist that the story proves faith and religion are a matter of the heart, and that Jesus doesn’t really care about what you do with your money. And some say the text is proof that Jesus taught that the law is the law, and our duty as Christians is to support the government no matter what. But I remain skeptical that any of these explanations fully capture the truth Jesus was expressing.

 

One thing is clear, though. By using the physical features of the denarius, Jesus brings to mind the words from the first chapter of Genesis: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26, NRSV). Maybe by using that coin he was pointing out that, as something of great value, we humans also have been made to bear the image of the ONE who we belong to, the ONE who loves us beyond words.   

 

Politics and government and money aside, even today we tend to forget the most important aspect of our being. Just like those Pharisees confronted with the question of human loyalty and the coin bearing the image of an earthly emperor.  It’s easy to picture Jesus flipping that coin in his hand a few times, and then maybe slowly looking up to stare into the eyes, confronting them with a question that would completely blow their minds: “And you, dear friends? Whose image do you bear?” 

 

Today, whatever we decide to “render unto Caesar”, or to our retirement fund, or to an election campaign, or the offering plate at church, there is one particular thing that we can’t afford to forget: that above all else we belong entirely to God. We may divide our time, and our financial obligations and our budgets. But we must never divide our allegiance.  Like that Roman denarius, or even our coins of today bearing the images of dead presidents, we too bear an image. The image of the Ultimate Emperor, God, who said: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” We must never forget to render unto God the things that are God’s – especially when that object of value and worth is ourselves.

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon!

 

Pastor Alan

 Thursday, October 15, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Special Message:

 

Hello, family and friends. 

 

I don’t think I have to express at this point what a challenging year 2020 has been. I can’t recall any classes that could or would have prepared me as a pastor for the challenges the Coronavirus and the physical distancing it has brought to our church and its members. So, if you're feeling overwhelmed, afraid, angry, especially after seven months of it … Well, I get it. So much is different. And, at times, it seems endless! 

  

And yet some things remain: the abiding love of God, the connections of friendship and prayer within our congregation, and our commitment to reach out in service to our neighbors through our participation with the food pantry. Several of you are dedicated volunteers who have kept the doors open and the operation running smoothly, and for that I cannot express enough how my heart swells when I think about it.  

 

And the ones of you who have stepped up and helped one another by staying in contact with other members, fixing meals and taking them over to one another while we are all shut-in.  Telephone calls to remind other members how they are loved and prayed for each day. All of these efforts are different ways of offering ministry, and I couldn’t be prouder of you as your pastor!  

   

But, ministry in a time like this depends on all of us. I want to thank those of you who have been faithful in your tithing and financial commitment to St. Paul.  I know many folks are struggling right now, and this year has created tight budgets.  This is true for St. Paul as well. At this point of the church calendar, we are usually in the middle of or finishing up with our Stewardship campaign.  This year has been drastically different, and we’ve lost our momentum on many operational things. With that, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that your financial contributions and gifts are what we depend upon to continue our faithful mission and ministry in this neighborhood. Your support is critical to our sustainability. 

 

I hope your circumstances will enable you to continue your usual contributions. If they have changed, please know I understand. If you find that you are able to make an additional gift or two beyond your normal amount that would be wonderful! Please know that your tithes, no matter what size, are deeply appreciated and they empower us to carry out our church’s ability to make a difference in people’s lives. 

 

I know that, together, we can support each other through this pandemic. Together, we can answer God’s call to mission and ministry, as a united church in Christ. And, above all, together we can remain spiritually united even when we have to remain physically apart. 

 

I love each and every one of you. Very much! I’ll talk with you soon, on Sunday.   

 

Pastor Alan 

Sunday, October 11, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

As you bring in the mail you notice an invitation among the bills. When you open it, you find that the daughter of a long-time friend is getting married.  
 
“Oh, my gosh”, you exclaim. “Jeannie’s getting married next May. That’s wonderful. I can’t wait to go. Dom and Susan will be there, and, oh, the Mitchells, and Tara and Bill and Ronnie and Mike – oh, I can’t wait to see all the old gang again! I’ve got to get this on the calendar NOW!”
 
But it isn’t always that way with us and invitations.  Other invitations come and maybe we’re not so excited about them. "Oh, no, Norm and Keith are having ANOTHER one of THEIR parties, don’t cha know. Remember the last one we went to … three people fell asleep in the middle of it. Nothing but a rehashing of the same old stuff, how things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be and blah blah blah… AND it’s on a Friday night, and we usually always do something with Eileen and Tony. Do we REALLY have to go to this party??" 
 
In Jesus’ parable of the wedding banquet in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, the invitations to the wedding banquet have gone out. The host is making the preparations, and has slaughtered an ox and prepared the fatted calves. This is going to be some special feast. 
 
Now, remember, people in Jesus’ day very rarely had the chance to partake of meat, because it was so expensive. So, you can imagine that serving a young calf was a rare treat. Given time, that calf would grow into a cow, which would provide a lot more meat. But rather than wait, the king has opted to serve it now, because this is a big event. A special occasion.
  
As they set the tables, the fruits and vegetables are prepared. The honey is ready. The hall has been decked out to the nines. The musicians have been hired, and now they bring their instruments into the hall. The feast is all set. All they need now is the guests to show up. 
 
The king sends out the servants to call those who have been invited. But as the servants go out with their announcements, everybody turns them down. Every single person gives some reason why he or she cannot come to the party. They all have excuses. In the end, their excuses come down to "Sorry, but I don’t have time," which really means, "I don’t care that much about this."
 
It’s true about us as well, I’m afraid. We make time for the things that are really important to us personally, don’t we? We prioritize our time and availability. Suppose someone says to us, "I want to meet you Tuesday at 10am because you have been left money in a will. I have a check for $2,000,000 to give you." Would you say, "You know, Tuesday doesn’t really work so well for me. Maybe another time." Heck, no, we’d clear our calendar for that meeting!  
 
When the king in Jesus’ story hears that all of his guests have backed out of his party, he’s a little upset. Okay, angry. He has made all these preparations – he has put a great deal of money into this party – and it’s all ready. What is he supposed to do now? 
 
So, he decides on a different approach. He says to the servants, "Go out to the streets and invite everyone you find. Anyone and everyone is invited to this party." The parable is even explicit about saying; "both the good and the bad" will be coming. Everybody’s invited. 
 
As a result, the banquet hall is full – and, boy, it’s a rag-tag crowd. Some executives, some street people, some are hungry and looking for a free meal, some are women of ill repute, some are political leaders, some are young students, some are old people. Great laughter fills the hall. Lots of people are getting to know each other, since its unlikely any of them knew each other before. Crossing social boundaries, breaking down barriers. There is a great deal of conversation. Nobody has ever been to a party quite like this before. What a joyful celebration it is, because everybody WANTS to be there! 
 
I so look forward to the day when we have a COVID vaccine, a time when our lives can begin to get back to some kind of less-than-scary normal. A time when we can resume gathering again; for worship, for meals, for celebration – because we WANT to be there. Want to be with each other. That’s the celebration I am so hungry for. Especially after these months and months and months of isolation. How about you? You won’t turn down an invitation like that, will you? 
 
I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 
 

Pastor Alan  

October 4, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

One of you shared with me recently that this pandemic has felt like a church killer, a “spirit buster”. No gathering after church on Sundays to eat and talk and laugh and visit like we used to, this person said.

It’s true. Since COVID came on the scene, worship is not the same now. It’s different. I have no allusions that my telephone messages compare to what we used to do. I get that. When we are accustomed to doing church in a particular fashion or a certain way, anything else seems foreign and not as fulfilling.  

I’m sixty years old now, and I’ve experienced many different forms of church worship in my lifetime. Different styles of song, formal dress, casual dress, big congregations, small congregations, young people, old people, brown, white, gay, straight, and everyone in between. But one particular worship experience a few years back truly changed my view on what worship could be, and SHOULD BE.

It wasn’t too many years after I had come to St. Paul that I was invited to visit a small storefront ministry on Cleveland Avenue called Crack House Ministries. To be honest, interacting with addicts and former addicts who were seeking God in the midst of their pain and suffering and healing was all very new to me. I had never had much exposure with people walking this particular life path. I remember parking behind the building and entering through the back door of the storefront-type room filled only with rows and rows of gray metal chairs. The room was hot and muggy from the summer heat. A simple, plain wooden podium faced the chairs. Big industrial-sized fans roared from either end of the room. No air conditioning. No fancy church windows. No hymnals. No musical instruments other than an old upright piano and a guitar. No bulletins, no Communion table or baptismal font, no electronic screens or projectors. The worship area felt ... well, stripped down. Naked church, I described it to myself. Rather stark and industrial and kind of disappointing, actually.

Okay, I’m spoiled, I know. For years I had been blessed to have comfortable environments to worship in. Beautiful churches with colored-glass windows depicting the gospels. Intricately carved wooden pews with plush cushions. And air conditioning. Not gloomy and barren and emotionally cold like this place felt. Not having a skid row feeling to it.

But as we began to worship, I suddenly witnessed and felt the most profound and authentic expression of faith I had ever experienced. Stripped of all the typical dressing and material adornments of religious ritual, and of the “free” life I was so accustomed to, the men and women in this truly holy space stood before God, bare and broken. They sang uninhibited to a simple guitar accompaniment. They listened to the scriptures. They opened their hearts to allow the words to sink in. Some wept. Some laughed. Some smiled. Some got up and testified. They spoke a truth that belongs to us all, but which is so easily hidden beneath layers of polite social correctness and fancy decoration. Nothing in this place was pretty or ornamental. No one needed that. What they needed was God. They needed a love that is inexhaustible, a self-value that is genuine, a purpose that is not self-centered, a freedom that is inherent. I was standing in the midst of human redemption, renewal, restoration. And it was as if I was experiencing true worship for the very first time.  

Learning to worship in another way, to experience God in a different light, in a new environment, can be earth-shaking. And soul stirring. At first, meager and disappointing, and then suddenly, WHAM! Profound and authentic. During these past months I have managed to accept our new way of having to BE church for the moment, maybe even embrace it and use it to deepen my spiritual commitment to God, and to all of you. Maybe eliminating, temporarily of course, physical distractions that in-person worshipping can bring is not such a bad thing. It helps us to learn to depend on other spiritual elements of worship and praise, to reorient ourselves in spirit.    

Learning, or relearning, the essentials of being God’s church in a different way, by being reminded of the sacredness of life and relationship with God. Are we getting it yet?  

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan 


October 2, 2020-A SPECIAL MESSAGE FROM PASTOR ALAN


During my years in school, preparing for life in the real world, I remember a passage of scripture that was shared with me by one of my professors at Asbury College in Wilmore, KY.  The passage comes from the letter to the Philippian church, chapter 2, verse 3-4 (ESV) and it goes like this: 


“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to [your] own interests, but also to the interests of others.”   

 

That passage has remained a favorite of mine and stayed with me for these many years, and it’s ended up helping me in making tough choices as a pastor and church leader. It has often reminded me that my calling as a pastor charges me with the responsibility of looking after “the flock”, to guard the wellbeing of each and every member of the congregation, physically as well as spiritually.  

 

But knowing this doesn’t always make my decisions any easier. I struggled mightily in March when the decision had to be made on how to respond to the COVID-19 virus. Unfortunately, they don’t teach you what to do in case of a world-wide pandemic. And much prayer on my part has happened in the months that have followed.    

 

With the Fall season upon us and temperatures beginning to dip, Dale Patterson, your council president and I, have had to reevaluate our position once again. Because of the ongoing pandemic, he and I have prayerfully decided to heed the guidance given to us by the UCC Association leadership as well as the office of the UCC Heartland Conference of Ohio to continue our physical distancing measures for the remainder of this year. This will mean that all in-person church services and use of the building and grounds for church-related activities and events will continue to be suspended. Worship services, meetings, and other events and activities will be held via telephone.  


We will continue to monitor the pandemic situation in Ohio, and should it become safe for our community to meet in person before the end of this year, you can be sure we will reassess this decision. We are just as eager as all of you to return to worship together, in person. Until that time the building will only be open for staff and volunteers performing essential church and pantry operations. 


Dear church family and friends, please understand and know that this was not an easy decision for your pastor or your council president. We have wrestled with the decision to go ahead and open, risking potential viral contamination in order to be physically in touch again, and we have repeatedly decided that the risk is not worth it. We love you all too dearly. Protecting our church family members is paramount in our motivation.   

 

We know how important worship is to everyone. I, along with our music director Scot Ashton, will continue to explore ways to develop worship opportunities via Facebook by way of video downloads. Unfortunately, due to a lack of technology we simply are not able to offer full online worship services as other congregations are. For that I sincerely apologize. Our desire continues to be that we remain a valid ministry in this community and to our members in the best way possible during these unprecedented times.   

 

This year has brought many challenges to St. Paul, and we acknowledge that this decisive action is heartbreaking and difficult. But it is NOT permanent. We thank all of you for bearing with us and continuing to financially and prayerfully support St. Paul as much as you are able. I encourage everyone to keep exploring new ways of worshipping God at home, and to increase your time in prayer. And while we may feel helpless and ineffectual in many regards, try to keep this one simple truth in mind:  As God’s children, we are far more than just a physical presence in this world. With the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we are also the powerful presence of God’s love – even in these challenging times.   

 

God bless you all and thank you for your patience, prayers and support. I love you, St. Paul family.  I’ll talk with you on Sunday.  


Pastor Alan

 


Sunday, September 27, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message:

 

On my way to the church early one morning this week, I got behind a big delivery truck that suddenly stopped, mid-block, to deliver a huge box out of the back. The driver and assistant were young, probably in their twenties, but honestly – the way they moved you would have thought they were my age. Anyway, I patiently waited for them to do what they needed to do. I mean, where was I going to go, anyway? I was behind them with no way to go around, and with our narrow streets and cars parked on both sides I wasn’t about to try and back up all the way to Bruck Street.   

 

I sat there. AND I sat there! I watched them struggling with this huge box, trying to figure out how they were going to carry it to the front door. It didn’t seem to weigh that much.  Just seemed big and bulky.  Awkward, you know? They finally managed to get it to the front door of the double. Then, they had to try and figure out how to notate it on their IPhone or blackberry or whatever it is they use these days to get customer’s signatures or confirmations of delivery. After another minute or two they come back down the walkway and head for the truck, closing the big door in the back first. And, now here comes the main point I want to make – the whole point I want to get across to you all – they both get into the truck.  Not a single glance my way, not one friendly hand wave to say, “Hey, mister, thanks for being so patient”, or a smile or ANYTHING. They just drive off. The end. Hasta luego, sucker.  I had sat there for a good – oh, I don’t know – maybe three, four minutes.  And NOTHING!  I tell you, these people today. Totally rude and ungrateful!! 

 

Of course, my poor attitude came back to bite me square in the cheeks later that morning, when I stumbled across a scripture passage from Luke, chapter 6, in a devotional.  And, so I have to ask you all this question:  If we could pretend that the words we have heard from a gospel reading had come from any other source than Jesus, what would we think of the advice he gave? In Luke, chapter 6, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who mistreat us and be merciful even as God is merciful! Now, if it wasn’t Jesus talking, wouldn’t we think this advice to be a little crazy? I mean, look at these rude kids I encountered. Or maybe it’s someone at the grocery store who rams us with a cart and then sneers at us, like it’s our fault.  Wouldn’t our natural reaction be to get even with those who harm us or at least to refuse to speak to them until they begged for forgiveness?  Or given us a friendly hand wave.   

 

Now, why is our tendency to respond that way so at odds with Jesus’ call to be merciful? Well, for one thing, Jesus has got a good heaping helping of God in him. Being his son, Jesus tends to reflect the qualities of his dad, which baffles us humans and annoys us sometimes to no end. This God that Jesus proclaims is not a god of retribution or just desserts. Jesus says that God urges us to “love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” 

 

Did I mention that Jesus’ way could be a bit annoying? But, Jesus says we are to be like God. We are to imitate the ways of God with others. As God does it, so must we do it. Some sarcastic people like to call this giving someone “a free ride.” Getting something without having to work for it. Undeserved grace. It’s free! 

 

Well, it’s true. More than anyone else, God does give free rides! And being recipients of God’s free rides – because who knows better than God how many times WE’VE ALL failed to acknowledge his goodness, his mercy, his patience with us – we being receivers of these free rides should strive to become GIVERS of free rides to one another. Challenged to be gracious in our interactions. More attuned to how much we are receiving God’s grace when we don’t deserve a compliment, a raise, a pat on the back, a seat on a bus, or a, “It’s okay. I won’t hold it against you,” response from someone we’ve hurt, but they give it anyway. By learning to appreciate all the times we have received free rides, we might be more inclined to give others free rides, as we become channels of God’s unmerited love and forgiveness. Be like God, gracious and graceful! 

 

The challenge from Jesus is clear. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful! Are we up for the challenge?

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan

 





Sunday, September 20, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


“It’s not fair!”  

 

Ever hear someone utter that battle cry?  It always comes after someone feels they have been treated unjustly and they demand that the injustice be corrected. If it’s a little child, they usually burst into tears and sob “It’s not fair” upon seeing another child, maybe a sibling, get a bigger piece of cake. Or, who knows, maybe it’s an adult who REALLY likes cake!  

  

In the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 20, verses 1-16, “It’s not fair!” is the cry from the men who had worked all day in the vineyard. And, to be honest, they seem to have a point. They had put in a full day’s work, toiling since six in the morning, working until six in the evening on a hot day — only to see those people who arrived an hour before quitting time get paid the same amount that the early birds had gotten.  Now, what’s the point of putting in a full day’s work when others get the same amount for “loafing”? It’s not fair! 

 

“It’s not fair!” 

 

We hear that same cry from Jonah. He had been sent by God to visit the wicked people of Nineveh, and God decides to spare them of any punishment for their crimes.  Jonah just KNEW that would happen, which is why he initially ran away from God’s instructions, which caused him to end up in the belly of a whale, smelling all fishy – but that’s another story.  God tells him to go to Nineveh to proclaim God’s judgment on them, and Jonah thinking they were so stubborn and rude they’d never repent figured it was a waste of time. But low and behold, what happens?  They do!  They repent, and God decides not to destroy the city.  So, Jonah, a little irritated at this point with God that he let them off the hook so easily says, “I just knew you’d do something like this, treating these lousy pagans like good religious people! It’s not fair!” 

 

We adults can be such immature brats at times, can’t we? 

 

The all-day workers in Jesus’ parable represent the good, religious people who had tried all their lives to be faithful to the God of Israel. They’d tried to obey the law of Moses and to do their duty. And, then, this Jesus comes along welcoming crooked tax collectors and prostitutes and saying that they can get into the kingdom of heaven after living lifetimes of ignoring God’s commandments. Now, how is that fair? 

 

Sometimes we may mutter something like this under our own breath, to ourselves in our own churches. We’ve tried to be faithful, worshiping regularly and taking on tasks to get things done in our church. Then we’re told about the first being last and the last being first, prodigals being welcomed, and the shepherd leaving the flock to go and find the one who got lost and wandered off.  You know, we want to be gracious and welcome sinners who have “seen the light” as we call it.  Had that awakening, that BIG epiphany.  But sometimes we think, “Doesn’t staying where we belong and doing what we’re supposed to do, coming to church and serving on committees or teaching children, doesn’t any of that count for anything?” 

 

Well, if Jesus had been talking about ordinary business dealings, like we humans conduct it, the owner in his story would be considered unfair and the workers would have a right to complain. In our 9-to-5 world, you expect that those who put in a full day’s work will get paid more than those who do much less at the same job, and Jesus isn’t arguing with that. The owner’s words in the parable — “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” — that’s not a justification for unfair labor practices.  Not by any means.  The owner of the vineyard is God.  The vineyard in the story is representative of the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus is teaching us that God’s kingdom is very different from how we humans operate on the economic fairness scale. If it were a matter of earning our way into that kingdom fair and square – HA! – nobody would get in.  All of us would be out of luck!   And that’s Jesus’ point, precisely.   

 

The kingdom of heaven is given to us freely, but not because we’ve earned it.  Complaining about what could be perceived as unfairness badly misses the point. God is much more than fair. God is incredibly gracious.  God is amazingly forgiving.  We’re saved by grace.  

 

So, while we aren’t working to earn our way into the kingdom of heaven here in our own churches, we ARE most certainly called to work.  We work out of gratitude.  Out of appreciation for all God has done for us.  All of us contributing our part, our gifts and talents, together, so that we can ALL share in the kingdom together.   

 

I look forward to working with all of you when we resume our “church work” in-person.  

 

I love you. St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan 

 



Sumday,September 13, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


There’s an old hymn that truly sums up what church and being a part of the Christian family is all about.  It begins like this: 

 

     Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love, 

     The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. 

 

These words perfectly describe the intended closeness that Jesus had in mind for those who love God and choose to follow his son for a lifetime. I emphasize “intended closeness” because in our modern world that conception can be rather difficult to imagine or achieve, wouldn’t you say? In John’s gospel (17:21) we find Jesus praying “that they may all be one”, a particularly special scripture to our United Church of Christ denomination. Jesus’ prayer focused on all who believed in him.  A prayer for all who believe in Christ’s vision for us today. A prayer for you and me. 

 

One look at our world, our society, even our church shows that we haven’t quite lived up to that vision just yet. It’s rather obvious. Will that prayer ever be answered, do you think? Well, all we can say is that it is definitely the desire of Jesus and God the Creator. But have we truly embraced that vision for ourselves in order to live into it as a reality in our own lives?  I wonder sometimes.

 

One of my favorite Mark Twain antidotes expresses it this way. He said: “I built a cage, and in it I put a dog and a cat.  And after a little training I got the dog and the cat to the point where they lived peaceably together.  Then I introduced a pig, a goat, a kangaroo, some birds and a monkey.  And after a few adjustments, they learned to live in harmony.  So encouraged was I by such successes that I added an Irish Catholic, a Presbyterian, a Jew, a Muslim from Turkestan, and a Buddhist from China, along with a Baptist missionary that I captured on the same trip.  And in a very short while there wasn’t a single living thing left in the cage!” 

 

The problem, of course, is our human inclination to sin. Yes, I know, it’s that BAD word; the one we don’t like to mention very much. The one that points the finger at our rebellion against God, which produces no small amounts of false pride, egotism, quests for power over others, and an unwillingness to seek unity and fellowship with those who differ greatly from us. 

 

It’s always painful when “the fellowship of kindred minds” breaks down and is no longer a reality. That unattractive part of our human nature flairs up and causes splits, bitterness, hurt feelings, and divided communities. We end up with broken congregations, and broken hearts and spirits. 

 

And, then, on a larger scale are the conflicts and battles that arise higher up between various denominations of the church. Even mentioning certain trigger issues that Christians disagree on can raise blood pressures and almost start holy wars, causing some to forget the words of our Lord who said, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”  

 

We can forget to sing with others outside our fold: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” We can forget to sing together of Jesus’ vision of a unity that can only be achieved by his intentions, by his spirit, by God’s design. Forget to sing of love. Sing it and live it. Intensely and sincerely. 

 

Dr. Karl Menninger, that brilliant and gifted psychiatrist, said once that “love is the medicine for the sickness of the world.” Now, who could argue with that? 

 

Genuine love has the ability to heal anger and meanness of spirit. True love can restore dysfunctional families to normalcy and health. Christlike love can bring about the healing of the nations of earth. God’s love can heal our spiritual sickness and bring about the healing of the Christian church so that once again those of other beliefs – or no beliefs at all – may be prompted to say, “See how the Christians love one another.” 

 

Yes, I know. It all sounds like pie-in-the-sky, wishful thinking, like the dream of a naive soul who is out of touch with reality. But we Christians are duty bound to believe in the love of God and in the responsibility to follow Christ’s teaching that we love one another. We must sing the song of love because that is the tune our Lord sang. 

 

Oh, how great is the fellowship of kindred minds!

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan


Sunday, September 6, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


The death of a dear friend or beloved family member is never an easy happening in our lives. Even in the best scenarios, where the death is peaceful and quiet, we still must deal with the loss of someone we felt an attachment to. For Christians, we can find ourselves torn between two realities; one being the emotional/physical battle in this world of letting go while spiritually wrestling with the conviction of knowing by faith they are not dead but living now in another place, beyond our ability to see or experience.

 

When we temporarily closed the church in March due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, I would have never in my wildest imaginings believed that we would lose 5 members of our church family in six months’ time. Eva Moore. Evelyn Brinkman. Coty Slayton. Bertha Martin.  And, most recently, Carolyn Bolin. All special people in their unique ways, all children of God, all – with the exception of Coty – a presence in this church for many years.  Each one beloved by the other members.  

 

One particular passage of scripture, from the book of Revelation, kept coming to mind as I received news of each individual’s passing. From chapter 21, verse 4:   “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  

 

I will gladly admit that I have shed many tears over the course of these past six months.  Coping with the new normal of social shutdown, and then on top of it having to say goodbye to these special life forces that, how can I put it – seasoned my life with joy and surprise so much of the time.  

 

Of course, there is the aspect that we don’t fully comprehend death. What’s it like when it happens? I don’t know. What will we see upon slipping out of this world and moving toward the light?  I don’t know. How will we feel in the process? Happy? Sad? Confused? I don’t know. Maybe this is why we avoid the topic, try not to think about it more than we have to. Maybe all of that unknown is more than we WANT to ponder.

     

There’s a poem that I have frequently used for the closing of memorial services, written by a pastor by the name of Henry Scott-Holland. It has given me great comfort in times of loss. It was actually written as part of a sermon in 1910. It goes like this: 



Death is nothing at all 

It does not count. 

I have only slipped away into the next room 

I am I and you are you 

Whatever we were to each other 

That we are still 

Call me by my old familiar name 

Speak to me in the easy way you always used 

Put no difference into your tone 

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow 

Laugh as we always laughed 

At the little jokes we always enjoyed together 

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me 

Let my name be ever the household word that it always was 

Let it be spoken without effort 

Without the ghost of a shadow in it 

Life means all that it ever meant 

It is the same as it ever was 

There is absolute unbroken continuity 

What is death but a negligible accident? 

Why should I be out of mind 

Because I am out of sight? 

I am waiting for you for an interval 

Somewhere very near 

Just around the corner 

All is well. 

Nothing is past; nothing is lost 

One brief moment and all will be as it was before 

How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again! 

 

While I may not be able to fully comprehend death, or know what lies beyond my earthly perception, I can say this: that I will continue to try my best not to fear death. Yes, my present body will perish, but will be replaced by a body in heaven that’ll never die. Though we are all mortal now, if we’re in Christ when we pass from this life to the next, we will be immortal; living forever with God and with Jesus in heaven (1 Corinthians 15:54)! And we will be in a place where there are no tears, no pain, and no suffering.  

 

Eva? Evelyn? Coty? Bertha? Carolyn? We’ll see you all at the party!    

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.      

 

Pastor Alan  

 




Sunday, August 30, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message:

 

It’s a curious thing, when God breaks into our reality in ways that baffle us.  It’s truly amazing how on-time these spiritual interruptions can be. If we’re not paying attention, we might miss or delay these grand moments.  And just one of those mystical moments happened to me recently. 


It wasn’t too long after we closed up the church at the beginning of the pandemic. I was a little down. Okay, maybe spiritually challenged is a better description. I felt lost. It was as if the sheep had been scattered. I kept telling myself that maybe this shutdown would only be for a few weeks.  

 

And, even though I knew I’d be here working my Huntington job in the safety of the church office 5 days a week, I also knew my time in the building would not be the same as when we all come together for worship.

    

I started taking a few moments in the morning, or maybe at lunch time, to just sit and reflect in the quiet peacefulness of the sanctuary.  It was during one these occasions when I was feeling particularly deflated in spirit, that I noticed something lying on the pulpit.  A small, light brown book.  I picked it up and examined it, wondering where it had come from, having never seen it before. “Strength for Service to God and Country”, it read.  A compact little devotional book.  I opened the front cover and noticed there was a dedication written in pen. 

 

“Presented to Herbert Kaufman, by Rev. Paul C. Kaefer”.  The inscription was dated December 3, 1952.   

 

Well, I recognized both names right away. Rev. Kaefer, as most of you know, was the longest serving pastor in this church, from 1928 – 1962. The other name, Herbert Kaufman, belonged to an older gentleman I had had the pleasure of meeting at a church spaghetti dinner my first year here. Mr. Kaufman, it turns out, is Anne Lehman’s eldest brother.  

 

I noticed the book’s ribbon page marker and opened it to May 3rd.  The devotional for that day was entitled, “The Helpful Presence of God”. The scripture for it was taken from Psalms 139, verse 7: “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” 

  

Then, I looked at the devotional itself. It said, in part: “In these words is revealed a majestic conception in which God transcends space and boundary lines, and becomes at home in all the world. It is natural for us to associate God with specific places like a house of worship, or a city in which we grew up, or a holy experience. We need to learn there is no place to which we may go but God is there, there is no experience in to which we can come but God’s companionship is possible.” 

 

The devotional closed with this passage from Deuteronomy 33:27; ‘The eternal God is thy dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’”  

 

Can I tell you, that short devotional took me by surprise. It spoke so specifically on how I felt in that moment. Distanced. Isolated. Sad, because I was unable to worship with everyone in our church on Sundays. Alarmed, because everything happening in our world, in our lives, was beyond my control. God had seemed anywhere but close by. But that little devotional reminded me that God is not just here at St. Paul in the sanctuary. God is not confined to this or that spiritual moment, or memory, or place. God as spirit is flying freely, everywhere.  

 

I put the book back on the pulpit, and felt a slight sense of security and reassurance come over me.  

 

I finally got the chance to speak with Anne Lehman recently about that little book I had found. “What book?” she asked.  

 

“The little brown devotional book I discovered on the pulpit. Your brother’s name is written inside. ‘To Herbert Kaufman, from Rev. Paul C. Kaefer; 1952’”. Anne had no clue what I was talking about.  

 

I asked Kathleen, our devoted housekeeper. She had no idea how the book had ended up there. Well, I certainly knew Mr. Kaufman hadn’t left it for me to find. Anne’s brother has been gone for quite a few years.  And Rev. Kaefer, even longer.  

 

Maybe it’s not for me to know how the book showed up, or happened to be on the pulpit that day. But, I do know this – I don’t believe in coincidences, or strange little ghostly happenings.  It can only be one other thing.  And, for that, I say “Thank you, God. I needed that reminder.” 

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.       

  

Pastor Alan

 

Sunday, August 23, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


Well folks, we’ve just recently passed the five-month mark. Five whole months since closing the church because of the virus. A member of our congregation, completely frustrated by the challenges of the COVID virus and everything it has affected including our church being closed, asked me by telephone, “Why doesn’t God just fix things?”  

 

“What do you mean, ‘fix things’?” I asked, wanting clarification. 

“I mean, look at the mess this virus has created,” this person went on. “Life just seems to be going to hell in a handbasket.  I want to believe that God has our best interest at heart, but it’s really hard when things are in such a mess. So, I want to know: ‘Why doesn’t God just fix things?’” 

Maybe some of you are asking the same question, muttering it under your breath. Go ahead, admit it. Or maybe you already have been asking, “Lord, when are you going to fix things?!” 

Jesus’ disciples once had the nerve to ask him the same question. Look it up, in Acts chapter 1. Jesus’ reply was both encouraging and discouraging, all at the same time. It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.”   

Now, it may not sound all that encouraging at first glance. But it does somewhat imply that one day, in the wisdom of his authority, God WILL fix things. God will wipe out all illness, sickness and suffering. Dry the tears from every tearful eye, cause wars to cease, and lead our world to turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.  God will bring about a time where poverty and hunger and injustice are no more.  In other words, GOD WILL FIX THINGS. 

But these words from Jesus are also a tad bit discouraging. The disciples wanted instant action, immediate resolution to their trials, troubles, and tribulations. Do you blame them? Unfortunately for them, Jesus informs them that their timetable and God’s timetable do not always coincide. In fact, they may be entirely different calendars altogether.  Yes, God will fix things – but only when God is ready.  

So, what do we do now while we are waiting for the “times” and “periods” to be revealed.  How do we live in the interim as we wait for God to fix everything that is wrong about this world? 

Now, let’s keep in mind that this pandemic hasn’t totally paralyzed us. There are present things we CAN fix. Things we SHOULD be doing. And we are to continue to manage those things to the best of our ability.  But for those other matters, the ones that are out of our hands, Jesus gives us only one word of instruction regarding what we are to do in the meantime. He tells the disciples that they will just have to wait. WAIT. Not exactly the kind of answer we want to hear.   

A teacher-friend once told me that the most hated word in the English language was the word NO! That may well be true. But I am sure that a very close runner-up would be the word WAIT!  Our culture is spoiled, prone to seek instant satisfaction and immediate gratification. We want what we want when we want it – and not a moment later. We hate waiting. We live in a world of fast cars, fast food, instant pudding, instant coffee, and microwave ovens. The last thing we want to be told is that we need to WAIT. 

But learning to WAIT is extremely important. Those who have learned to WAIT – especially when it comes to our faith – are people who have learned more about what it means to have faith in the first place. Waiting teaches us to hold on, to trust, to depend, and to rely upon God.  

No, it isn’t always a comfortable place to be.  Waiting seems passive and inactive.  Unproductive.  Unfruitful.  Even if we can’t change things, we usually figure it is better to just jump in and do something anyway.  But, sometimes WAITING is the only viable choice we have. Oh, and maybe a little PRAYING wouldn’t do us any harm, either. Sometimes WAITING and PRAYING is just where God wants us.   

Are you in a place of waiting now?  Are you finding yourself in a place where answers elude you?  Then, WAIT!  And, PRAY!   

Oh, and that business about God fixing everything? Don’t worry. He intends to. You just WAIT! 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan 





Sunday, August 16, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  

courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.  

 

Most of us are familiar with this quote. It’s appeared on posters and plaques, on laminated cards to carry in our wallets, on bookmarks, on web pages, and emails the world over. I can even remember it written on the chalk board of my Sunday school room as a teenager.  

 

It comes from one of the most popular prayers of the 20th and 21st century. It’s commonly referred to as the Serenity Prayer. Written by Reinhold Neibuhr (1892-1971), the prayer has been widely used in sermons and Sunday school groups. In the early 1940s, Alcoholics Anonymous began to use it in their twelve-step program. 

 

I recently decided, during this new age of the Coronavirus, to revisit the prayer. You know, to put it into the context of my daily life now.  Funny how something you are so familiar with can take on new life and new meaning when examined through the lens of different circumstances. 

 

The original prayer is much longer, and I hope all of you will read it sometime. You can Google it on the Internet. But, choosing to use just the abridged version of the prayer, like the quote above, I read and reread the words: 

 

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”   

 

Oh sure, that’s easy. I’m not one to complain if things change, or challenges come at me without warning. I can handle the unexpected with total grace and acceptance.  NOT.   

 

The truth of the matter is, I usually fall into the trap of trying to work harder at controlling my life and the situations around me. Micro managing to the nth degree. Can you identify? Or maybe for some of you, you’re more prone to just throw up your hands in frustration and totally give up. Either way, peace and serenity usually become very elusive and hard to find in that moment. 

 

I’m often reminded, either by the wise words of a friend or maybe a devotional I am reading, that falling back on my reliance on God is my only avenue to truly finding that peace and serenity I lose in moments of panic. Knowing I don’t have to “know the details” or have all the answers to my problem allows me the freedom to turn my concerns over to God and rediscover his peace. 

 

“The courage to change the things I can.”   

 

Being aware and knowing specific factors in my life are out of whack is one thing. The courage to act on changing those factors and taking the appropriate steps to make better decisions is totally another. I am not the bravest individual when it comes to taking steps to implement life-changing measures. Like walking away from unhealthy relationships, or choosing better lifestyle choices (eating, exercise, getting adequate sleep) – all the things that are necessary in order to live happier, healthier and longer lives. Without God’s strength to enable me, courage can be as elusive and hard to find as that earlier mentioned peace and serenity.     

 

“And, the wisdom to know the difference.”   

 

In this world of many choices and various paths to take, I know I am not equipped all by my lonesome to make the really heavy decisions. Wisdom that comes from prayerful discernment helps me to accept and follow through on what I know I need to do. Just knowing God is with me and guiding me, even in those most challenging and dark moments, helps me to make the necessary choices to reach the destination that’s best for me. God can guide us in all our decisions and lead us back into the light, if we just ask him to.  

 

I hope this little reflection enables all of you to reflect on this prayer, and seek to discover all the ways YOU can find peace and serenity, courage and wisdom, in these challenging days.  

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  

 

Pastor Alan


Sunday, August 9, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:


It’s easy to “love” God and have faith when all is well.  When everything is good, our love and faith aren’t being tested. 

Testing that comes through human suffering tends to shake us from our safe space. But it can also enhance and refine our love and faith in God. One pastor from my youth taught me that difficult and challenging times could be very fruitful spiritually. I’ve never forgotten that.   

While it’s hard to believe at first blush, I can look back now on my own losses and difficulties in life, and see where spiritual treasures showed up even in the midst of very trying times.  

A book I discovered sometime back, called “Learning to Fall: The Blessings of An Imperfect Life”, written by Philip Simmons, reaffirms that view for me. Simmons, a young college professor, husband and father was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, at age 35. Suddenly, he was forced to see his life through the lens of dying.  

In his book, Simmons shares this: “We have all heard poems, songs, and prayers that exhort us to see God in a blade of grass, a drop of dew, a child’s eyes, or the petals of a flower. Now when I hear such things, I say that’s too easy.” 

Simmons goes on to explain that the “greater challenge is to see God not only in the eyes of the suffering child but in the suffering itself…to thank God for broken bones and broken hearts, for everything that opens us to the mystery of our humanness.”   

He continues: “Don’t talk to me about flowers and sunshine and waterfalls: this is the ground, here, now, in all that is ordinary and imperfect, this is the ground in which life sows the seeds of our fulfillment. The imperfect is our paradise”. 

Can you see God only in good times? Or are you able to see God and believe even when the going gets tough?  

Let’s pray together. Dear God, when I get down, or angry or troubled due to difficulties I endure, help me to use that struggle as an opportunity for greater trust. In Jesus name, amen. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

Pastor Alan    


Sunday, August 2, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message


One of my favorite books as a child was Watty Piper’s "The Little Engine That Could", the story of tiny train engine that was able to overcome adversity and achieve success. 


Most of us smile at the story, with fond memories. We get it. But does the simplicity of the children’s story have the power to help us in our adult endeavors? When faced with a difficult circumstance, does it help if someone says, "Come on, you can do it! Remember the little engine that could"? 


Maybe. But sometimes the challenges we face are more daunting than simply pulling a heavy load over a big hill. Life for us is more like multiple heavy loads, and mountain ranges to cross. Having a "can do" attitude doesn’t always cut it.  


Jesus knew he was calling his followers to a difficult task. Living and sharing the message of the Gospel is a life-long challenge. Jesus also knew that there would be success and failure along the way for his followers. No matter how hard we try, or how skilled we are in our efforts, preaching and living the Gospel life is always a mixed bag. There will be times when we will succeed in our efforts, and there are other times we will fail miserably. 


It is important to understand this. We’re tempted to think that simply because we love and serve God that it guarantees our success, all the time. We think that by playing on God’s team and running God’s plays means we win every game. Nothing could be farther from the truth. 


Proverbs 19:21 (NIV) reminds us that “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” 

We will experience setbacks in this life. Our daily lives will not always be like a "little engine that could". But understanding the truth about our situation will help us work faithfully, and with realistic expectations. And always remember that where we fail, God ALWAYS succeeds.  


I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.   


Pastor Alan 


Sunday, July 26, 2020-Pastor Alan’s Message

 

This week the U.S. reached a grim milestone of 4 million Coronavirus cases, doubling the total number of infections in just six weeks. The U.S. death toll now exceeds 141,000 since the beginning of this pandemic in January.

 

We do not know, and we cannot know, everything about death and dying. But we do have, as Hebrews 12:1 attests, “a great cloud of witnesses”, some of whom have gone on before us and others who are still with us. Hearing what they have said in the face of, or when thinking about, death can help us in our faith. Here are two statements for us to consider:

 

The first is from Corrie ten Boom, the author of the book “The Hiding Place”, which detailed she and her family’s life in the Netherlands during the Nazi reign. The ten Boom’s actively resisted the German occupiers by hiding their Jewish neighbors to save them. The entire family was eventually arrested, and her sister, Betsie, died in captivity. Corrie survived the Nazi camp. As a strong Christian woman, Corrie had this to say about death: “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

 

The second statement is from Elizabeth Gilbert, an American author best known for her 2006 memoir “Eat, Pray, Love”. Her statement is this: “Faith is walking face–first and full–speed into the dark. If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; … it would just be … a prudent insurance policy.”

 

Even with that insight, life is still hard. Death is still a mystery. And yet we can still affirm our faith; we do so from this side of the cross, knowing that our Savior walked this road before us and invites us to follow.

 

What do YOU say about death?

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

 

Pastor Alan

 Sunday, July 19, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

 Defeat. I’ve heard this word quite a bit lately. About this pandemic, about our lives, about many things. Many years ago, a spiritual mentor gave me a passage of scripture to memorize. He said if I prayed and called on God to fulfill the promise of the passage, it would knock “defeat” out of my ball park — EVERY time.  Send it packing!   

What’s that scripture, you ask? It’s Isaiah 41:10:  “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Feeling defeated can send us into a tailspin and make us feel all alone, as if nobody understands what we’re experiencing. We can sink into that trap of self-pitying, too, that quickly becomes a security blanket for us; a way of hiding out when feeling overwhelmed.

Let’s look at Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you…” God tells us that we can have courage by remembering that we are never alone. God is always there. Whatever our feelings may tell us, the truth remains: God never leaves us nor forsakes us.

Then – “…Be not dismayed, for I am your God…”  You know, it helps to consider this ever-present God that’s talking to us isn’t an amateur, and is the same God who:

  • Parted the Red Sea
  • Helped his people to overcome impossible odds
  • Restored sight to blinded eyes, made the lame walk, and raised people from the dead

Truly, is anything too hard for our Lord and God? He promises to strengthen us, helps us, and hold us up. All on his power and might. Who else could promise us that?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, pull out your Bible and read Isaiah 41:10. And thank God that, with him, nothing can truly defeat us.

 I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan


Wednesday, July 15, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

Romans 12:12 tells us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

 

I was ten years old and really looking forward to Christmas that year! Why? Because I’d been tipped off that I was going to be getting a 3-speed bike to replace my old, small kiddy bike. I couldn’t have been more excited.

 

And then – the bottom fell out.  I contracted pneumonia three days before Christmas. I was very sick. On top of the pneumonia, my brand new 3-speed bike that I hadn’t even seen yet was stolen off our back porch. I was crushed.

   

Disappointments and losses are a part of everyone’s life. I know that. You know that. Unexpected happenings come along and kill our joy, and threatened to dampen our spirits entirely. This Coronavirus has been a game changer for ALL of us. Some of us have lost friends and family to the virus. Many folks are out of work, and unable to find replacement positions. Our lives are hampered and turned upside down. And fear of contracting this virus is always present.

 

For me, the hardest aspect has been not having worship together. I miss seeing everyone. Your council members and I had met recently, and even established a date in July to resume worship – carefully, of course, under this new normal. And, then – the COVID case numbers started going up again. And up. And still up.  It became clear to us we would not be able to open in July. 

 

I know that it is frustrating for all of you who wish to resume meeting together as a church family. I want that, too. But for the time being, amid these rising numbers, we all need to continue doing what we have been doing, but always with that hopeful eye on the calendar, Our day of gathering together again WILL come.

 

I encourage all of you to stay up-to-date and knowledgeable about this virus. Governor Dewine will hold a COVID update today at 5:30 pm on our local channels. Please watch.

 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

 

Pastor Alan


Sunday, July 12, 2020: Pastor Allan's Message:

A recent article in a magazine sparked the thought in my head that after what we have all been through these past four months, there’s no going back to normal. We may want to be back to normal, and pretend everything is back to normal.  But, it isn’t. Nothing is normal, and nothing WILL BE normal. Not now, not later. Maybe ever.

 

This thought may make us a little crazy, because we LIKE normal. We WANT normal. We don’t like change and being forced into new ways of having to exist and think and – well, you know. We want what we’re comfortable and familiar with. How it USED to be.

 

We’re kind of like the Israelites in the book of Exodus, chapter 16 who complained about their deliverance from slavery. Pulled from what they were familiar with, used to, and now out in the wilderness they began to long for the good ol’ days back in Egypt.  

 

Never mind that our own personal upheaval here has enlightened us in ways, maybe made us see things from a different view point. Recognize changes that need to happen. In the world. In our lives.

 

Becoming too comfortable.

 

You know, our appreciation for “comfort” and "familiarity" is sometimes the problem with us. Being comfortable and familiar means not having to think outside the box. We can keep focused on ourselves. The NORMAL routine. No outside factors to consider.  

 

But, this virus-experience has changed things. We’re aware now. More aware that we might have been before. Shaking up our “normal” causes us to see how distracted we’ve become from important things. Like family time. Like taking better care of ourselves, and our loved ones. We’ve had time to sit quietly in a remote place and watch a sunset, or sunrise, instead of rushing off to work. Taking us out of the daily grind for a while. Giving us more time with God. And prayer. A respite from being pulled deeper and deeper into an abyss of, truthfully, unimportant activity and focus.  


This pause, this rare opportunity to reset, has given us a chance come to a halt, re-examine our priorities, maybe even rearrange them. After all this, nothing can be or should be “normal” again. Because, normal and comfortable are NOT beneficial to us. Not really.


I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon. 


Pastor Alan Hicks


Sunday, July 5, 2020: Pastor Alan's Message:

This weekend, Americans celebrate freedom. The Fourth of July, our Independence Day — a day which marks the signing of our Declaration of Independence. Breaking free from the rule of England. Freedom is a blessing we hold dear and defend boldly.

In a country which is still to this day grappling with the concept of “freedom for all”, we as free people need to be reminded that freedom isn't free. In this world, someone always pays the price for people to be truly free. Consider the signers of the Declaration of Independence, all 56 of them. Did you know how much they risked for your freedom as an American?

Of the 56 signers of the Declaration, few survived long enough to enjoy the fruits of their efforts. Five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes burned to the ground. Two of them lost their sons in the Army; one had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 died in the Revolutionary War which continued to rage on until 1783. All 56 signers learned that liberty is so much more important than security, and for that they pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. They fulfilled their pledge; they paid the price, and freedom in America was born.

It's hard to imagine paying such a price so that others might be free. But then, we're reminded of the price Jesus paid for our freedom; not just politically for the moment, but eternally for all time. God in the form of his son literally came into our earthly predicament, to live our life perfectly, to die a horrible death, and to give us the eternal life he earned as a gift, received by grace alone, through faith.

When it comes to freedom, I pray that you yearn for the freedom that comes in Christ alone, more than any of the other freedoms combined. No other greater blessing is there. No greater freedom, either.
  
I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan





Sunday, June 28, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

Hello, St. Paul family and friends.

Even though we're only halfway through it, 2020 has been such a stormy year for many of us. Family deaths, a global pandemic, social imbalance and upheaval, and an economy thrown into turmoil. A world without peace.


Many of us have hearts filled with unrest and anxiety. An article I recently read said, "The dark side of human experience, and a global culture of hatred and chaos…have left many of us with post-traumatic stress symptoms…disrupted sleep patterns, irritability, difficulty sustaining attention, hyper-vigilance, and a general sense of vulnerability."


Everything happening at once. One big global societal meltdown.  We try to block it out. But we can’t escape it or wish it away.


It’s important to remember in these stormy times that we are God's children. Of course, that doesn’t make any of us immune to trouble or bad things. Not by a long shot. But, when I feel my heart is overwrought with turmoil, I silently tell myself that God is still in control. And in that moment of prayer, a sense of calm and peace will envelope me, reminding me that God loves me and has not forsaken me.


Psalm 91:4 (NIV) is one of my favorite scriptures for such a moment: "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart."  


I remember a story I heard once about an art contest in search of artist who could best represent peace in the midst of uncertainty.  The winning entry was a painting depicting a raging storm, trees bending in the wind and rain. And in the center of the picture, on a tree branch, was a tiny bird's nest, and a mother bird with her feathers of protection spread over three tiny birds who were oblivious to the storm.


That, I think, is my favorite mental image of God’s peace. As God's children, we can face the storms, knowing that we are sheltered by the Almighty no matter how strongly the wind blows.


I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.  


Pastor Alan

 

Sunday, June 21, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

Hello, St. Paul family and friends. Happy Father’s Day!

Scripture tells us in Psalms 68:5 that God is a father to the fatherless.

I’ve learned through years of ministry that not everyone can say they were fortunate or blessed to have a great father.  I personally DID have a great father. But his father (my grandfather) was another matter altogether. My father left home at 16 and lied about his age in order to join the Navy. That’s about all he would ever say. I later learned from my aunt Ethel that their father had been very, very strict, not one to openly show compassion.  

If you didn't have a father growing up; or you had a difficult father, or an abusive father, maybe a cold father who didn't provide the right kind of love or guidance; or if YOU are a father who is hurting today, not feeling particularly appreciated, I want to remind you of something. Our God is a great Father! He has promised that he will take care of you and that he will never leave you.

Psalm 103:13 (NIV) says that “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.”  Now, this isn’t “fear” as in the sense that he will beat us or abuse us. This is “fear” as in respect. He desires our love and respect. God wants to comfort us in our pain and trouble and hardship. When our hearts are broken, God the Father is our heart fixer.  

I’m an orphan now. My dad has been gone 31 years.  And yet, I know that I am not without a father. None of us are. Today, on this Father's Day, let's all celebrate our eternal God who is the father of the fatherless, and the fixer of broken hearts and dreams.

Happy Father's Day, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

 




Sunday, June 14, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

Black Lives Matter. That’s a phrase we have all heard quite a bit lately. In rallies across the country, in television interviews, and in news articles.

Some people take exception to the phrase. Not because they dislike black people, necessarily. They just feel that ALL lives matter, not simply black ones. As a Christian I think I understand what they’re trying to say. We should not put importance on one life over another, kind of like “God loves all people”. Right? ALL Lives Matter.

Growing up in Miami, Florida many of my childhood friends were brown skinned. This was normal to me. I saw my friends as equals. No less important than I. They were just as smart, just as energetic, just as funny, and loved by their families just as much as I was loved by mine.

Becoming an adult. though, shattered that innocent view of equality. I soon realized that my brown-skinned friends weren’t seen by the world around me as my equals, but as my inferiors. Less-than. Not as smart intellectually. This new-found awareness drove a wedge between me and my friends – for a time.

Romans 2:11 tells us that God shows no favoritism. All lives DO matter to God. That’s a no-brainer. But the world doesn’t always agree with God. Old prejudices die hard, too. Even today, in our society black lives are still regarded by many as not of equal value. Lower on the scale of importance. Oh, we may not personally feel that way. But our society does, by and large. Black lives continue to be discounted and disregarded, looked upon suspiciously more often than whites are, and given less opportunities to succeed. To many, black lives are expendable.

So, when we hear the chant of “Black Lives Matter”, we shouldn’t assume it means All Lives DON’T Matter, or that Black Lives Matter MORE. We should hear it, instead, as a cry for help – because in reality that’s what it is. Black lives are in danger.

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

Sunday, June 7, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

My neighbor Tom and I talked last evening about all of the happenings of this past week; the justice marches and protests, the looting and destruction happening everywhere. Tom asked me if there was a particular Bible verse that came to mind as I watch the news.

Several, actually, I answered. All scriptures that I had memorized as a child.

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”  (Psalm 34:14)  

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  (Matthew 5:9)  

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)   

And then there is: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” (Mark 3:5)  

These, I told him, were the scriptures instilled in me, the passages that come to me now as I watch cities burn; as I pray for peaceful protest; as I sympathize with people washing their eyes with water to remove tear gas, sharing pain remotely with families who have lost loved ones killed unmercifully. Yes, these holy verses represent for me the key to healing, to rebuilding, to reconnecting with others, remembering that God will in his time level the playing field so that we are all on one ground; all of us, no matter our race, our heritage, our faith.  God’s children.

They stop me from acting out with vengeful intent. They remind me that seeking God’s peace is paramount in importance, that we will only succeed in destroying God’s creation if we insist on having a divisionist mindset.

As I started to leave him, I remembered one more. From John 3:17; “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

Sunday, May 31, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:

The events of this past week have been horrifying and heart-breaking. As if our world didn’t already feel as if we’re in a tailspin, something else happens that grabs our nation by the throat and threatens to crush our spirit as a united country, and divide us EVEN MORE than we already have been.

As the riots in downtown Columbus and around the nation raged on Friday evening, I expressed to Scot Ashton by telephone our need to be praying hard as a united people. My words of prayer as he and I joined together in spirit were: God, give peace to the whole of your creation, as well as to each of us a right spirit of empathy and concern for others, and not just for ourselves.  

We have a choice. We can either allow the current climate to rip us apart, separating us not only from each other but from God’s intentions for his creation – or we can agree to band together in spirit, body, and mind to see beyond our differences of race, of culture, of political opinion, in life experience, in ALL the ways that evil powers utilize in an attempt to bring our human house crashing down. Let us all join together and pray for God’s peace, a HOLY peace, that will calm and soothe the anger, the fears, the suspicions, the hate, the divisive intentions that exist today. Let us believe, as God’s children, holding tightly in faith that God will hear our pleas for the healing of our wounds.  

Let’s pray together: Dear Gracious God, let the hearts and souls in your blessed creation agree to see that a right spirit of empathy and a compassionate concern for others is what you have always intended for this world.  Make us one, in you and in each other.  In Christ Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen. 

I love you St. Paul family and friends. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan  

Sunday, May 24, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

A professor of mine in Bible college used to warn us, “Don’t pray for patience unless you are prepared to learn them God’s way.” 

Most of us are lousy when it comes to waiting, whether it’s standing in long grocery lines, or finding ourselves stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  

Waiting can be miserable. A child waiting for Christmas to come. Or those long road trips that seem to take forever – with very few rest stops! Or teenagers counting down the days to get their learner’s permits to drive. Waiting can be a real test. Especially when it’s waiting for something we really care about.

For example, I’ve not exactly been a model of perfection in waiting for us to resume worship services. My closest pastor friends will tell you I’ve been downright unpleasant to be around.

Psalm 130, verse 5 says this about waiting: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (NIV)

My whole being waits! Boy, I can relate to that. Totally invested, longing for a sign from God, seeking that flicker of light in a dark unknown. That’s Faith-Wrestling, as my professor would say. The psalmist pivots back and forth between crying out to God, then being reminded of God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Yep, waiting is hard. Especially if fear creeps into our waiting. That makes our wait even more unbearable. We have to remind ourselves, like the psalmist, to keep our eyes fixed upon God who the source of our hope. Nothing is out of God’s reach. Especially the things we most care about.

I know we’ll get back to worshipping as a church again. It’s going to happen. I just have to -- wait a bit. What are you hoping and waiting for?

Let’s pray together.

Dear God, we cautiously pray for patience as we wait for those things most important to us. Keep us firmly grounded in your love and promises.  In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

I love you, family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

Sunday, May 17, 2020-Pastor Alan's message:

Hello, St. Paul family and friends.

Well, after months of isolation and sheltering-in-place, life is about to change again. Businesses that had been closed are starting to reopen. Restrictions are loosening up a bit. I’m already getting inquiries on when worship services at St. Paul will resume.

Everyone feels differently about this re-engagement in our world. Some are a little apprehensive, some are grateful. I must admit that I am cautiously guarded – but hopeful. It’s true that I would love nothing more than to throw open the doors of the church and resume life as it was. RIGHT NOW!   

So many people in our world seem to be throwing caution to the wind, forgetting all that we have experienced and learned in recent months. But, I know we can’t do that. There is still so much we don't know about COVID-19. We must be thoughtful and prayerful about reopening, careful to consider many details we’ve never had to consider before this pandemic. Life cannot be as it was, and neither can worship.

A passage from Romans caught my eye the other day. It said: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Soon, your church leaders and I will be meeting to discuss how to accomplish reopening, giving consideration to all the critical aspects of bringing our spiritual family back together. Social distancing will be a factor. Facial masks will be expected on all attending worship. Frequent hand-washing and hand sanitizer an absolute must.

Yes, change must happen. But, I know we can do this.  And we will need all of you to be a part of that new way of gathering and worshiping our Lord and God.

Please keep your church leaders and I in your prayers as we try to find a way forward. To all of you, in the meantime, we continue to say:  Be safe!   

Let's pray together:  Father, as we move to venture out into a different world, give us wisdom and caution in all things, remembering that wherever we go you will be right there with us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen. 

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan

Sunday, May 10, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:
Hello, St. Paul family and friends.

May 3rd would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. It hardly seems possible that she has been gone since 1998. I can still hear her laugh, and her soft but reassuring voice. I can feel her touch. But most importantly, I remember her heart and spirit.  

One of my favorite scriptures is found in the book of Proverbs: “Her children rise up and call her blessed...” (Proverbs 31:28, ESV) 

As a child, I didn’t always appreciate my mom. Her blessedness is most certainly more obvious to me now as an adult. Billy Graham once said that only God could fully appreciates the influence a mother can have in the molding of character in her children. He said, “The influence of a mother upon the lives of her children cannot be measured. They come to know and absorb her example and attitudes when it comes to questions of honesty, temperance, kindness, and industry.”  That influence mothers have over us is often missed in the moment.

So today, we honor our mothers – or maybe it is someone who has been like a mother to us. Maybe a grandmother, or a foster mother. An adopted mother. Maybe it was – or is – a woman who lives outside of our home, who God has blessed our lives with. Someone who serves as a mentor, an affirmer, a loving guide who helps mold our character and sets us on right paths when we need it.  

Let us think about these amazing women and their examples; their support, their humor, their counsel, their humility, their hospitality, their insight, their patience, their sacrifices. Most importantly, their faith, hope and love.

Yes, we rise and call our mothers blessed – because we realize how blessed WE ARE to have them in our lives.

Let’s pray together.  Dear God, thank you so much for our mothers who love us and bless our lives. May their influence be felt throughout our lives and throughout our world. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

I love you, St. Paul family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan



Sunday, May 3, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message:
I’m easily touched by examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Our television and computer screens are filled with images these days, from first responders, doctors and nurses, risking their lives to help others in this pandemic, to people of all ages using creative ways to reach out, to give of themselves to family or neighbors – even strangers.

My mother use to say that facing times of trials makes us stronger, that difficulties build character, boldness, and allow us opportunities to help others. She was right. There is something fulfilling about stepping up and facing the challenges in order to “do the right thing”.  

Scripture is full of examples of giving to others who are poor and needy.

But Jesus took it a step further, by showing us the ULTIMATE in giving:  In the Gospel of John 15:13 (NRSV), Jesus tells us, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The Message translation puts it this way: “This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends.”

How in this pandemic are we giving of ourselves? Are we actively putting aside our own interests in order to come up with ways to help others?  Like sewing masks? Or maybe cooking a meal for someone?  How about sending greeting cards or making phone calls?

There are a plethora of ways we can all contribute. Let’s get creative. I can’t think of a better way of dying to self than offering a gift of love to someone affected by this pandemic. What will you choose to do?

I love you, family. I’ll talk with you all soon.

Pastor Alan


Sunday, April 26, 2020-Pastor Alan's Message

Hello, St. Paul family and friends.


These days can be worrisome, wouldn’t you say? I love that our holy scriptures can provide a salve to ease that wound. 1 Peter 5:7 (NLT) says: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”

 

This scripture has been especially comforting to me this past week as I was diagnosed with the sudden onset of Bell’s Palsy.

 

These are strange days we are living in, enough to jar us from a place of security, and give us pause to maybe even question our God’s devotion to us. The Coronavirus pandemic seems all too real to us by now, especially since it has taken one of our family, a lifelong church member, from us. We can feel helpless, as if we have no control over what is happening day in and day out. Facing the dark unknown is intimidating and spiritually challenging.

 

That is why I say was are blessed to have the testimony of saints that have preceded us; writers who compiled holy inspired words we now call our Holy Bible. Promises from God that assure us this world and all that is in it, whether light or dark, is under the power of the Great Creator who cares for us so very deeply.

 

How remarkable! How glorious! No matter where we are in this world, no matter how helpless we may feel, no matter how removed from God’s protection we may think we are, God is forever there.  Present.  Loving us, guarding us, holding us in gentle faithful arms.

 

With that simple, short passage comes the reassurance I need to resist crazy thoughts of giving up or giving in. I hope you, too, will choose to hang on with me.

 

I love you, St. Paul family. Thank you for your prayers. I’ll talk with you soon!


Pastor Alan   

Sunday, April 19, 2020-Pastor Alan's message:

Hello, St. Paul family.  Have I got a little story for you!

 

A shopper at the local mall decides to stop for coffee. In addition, she buys herself a little bag of cookies and puts them in her shopping bag.   

 

Finding a seat in the crowded food court, she sits down, takes out a magazine and begins to sip her coffee. Across the table from her sits some man reading a newspaper.

 

After a minute or two she reaches out and takes a cookie. As she does, she notices the man reaching out and taking one, too. This put her off a little, but she doesn’t say anything.

 

A few moments later she takes another cookie. Once again, the man also takes a cookie. Now, she’s getting a bit upset.  But she still chooses not to say anything.

 

A couple more sips of coffee, and she takes another cookie. So does the man!  Now, she is fairly bursting with indignation. How dare this guy! Especially since there was now only one cookie left!  The man must’ve realized there was only one cookie left, too, because he takes it, breaks it in two, and gives half to her, eating the other half.  He smiles, tucks his newspaper under his arm and leaves. What a nerve!     

 

Boy, is she irritated.  What as obnoxious man. This has absolutely ruined her day!  She’s already thinking ahead of how she will tell her friends and family about this.  She hastily folds her magazine, opens her shopping bag to shove it inside and – what do you know? There, in her shopping bag, is her own unopened bag of cookies.

 

I like that story - it makes me think how I, sometimes, don’t always notice or appreciate God’s grace in my life.

 

Romans 5:8 describes God’s grace this way: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

 

Long before we are even aware, God’s is already loving us, extending his mercy and care for us. AND his grace.  

 

So, what have you taken for granted today? Maybe a little "thanks" is in order.   

 

I love you, family. I’ll talk with you soon. 

 

Pastor Alan

Sunday, April 12, 2020-Easter Sunday message from Pastor Alan:

Well – it’s Easter. Resurrection Sunday. A day when Christians everywhere exclaim with joy and authority, “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

Honestly, I have to admit that I am lacking a bit of that joy this morning. It’s an Easter that’s Easter, but not really Easter. You know?  It’s Easter, but not Easter yet. I just can’t seem to get worked up about Jesus’ resurrection when, frankly, I feel he’s still missing. (Or maybe it’s me that's missing.) There’s been no worship services to get me here. I guess I’m just one of those that needs the visuals.       

Actually. if we were characters in that first Easter story, what would our reaction be to finding an empty tomb and a stranger sitting there, telling us not to worry?

The gospel of Mark, chapter 16, tells us that Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb: “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”

This is kind of how I’m feeling now. A resurrection I’ve somehow missed.  I hear it’s happened, but I can’t witness it. No worship services. No music. Just me, myself and I – alone.  

I know many of us feel trapped in a place where Easter isn’t Easter yet.  Our Lenten/COVID-19 wilderness walk isn’t over. But to believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, regardless of when it happens on our liturgical calendars, is timeless. There’s no set schedule. We can celebrate yesterday, today, tomorrow, forever.  

So maybe our resurrection from this pandemic is still down the road bit. That’s okay. You can still celebrate. Right now. Right where you are. By yourself, with your family, or a friend.  

CHRIST HAS RISEN!

He has risen, indeed!

Happy Easter, St. Paul family! I love you all! 


Saturday April 11, 2020-Holy Saturday Message from Pastor Alan:

It’s Saturday. I am sitting in silence in our darkened sanctuary. No one else is here.  

What an odd Holy Week this year. This virus has taken away our getting together for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday. It’s heartbreaking. I’m still trying to adjust to this new normal filled with absence and isolation.

Holy Saturdays are traditionally spent reflecting on how the world would be without the hope of Christ’s resurrection. I find myself doing exactly that.  

Indeed, without the resurrection of Jesus, where would we be?  1st Corinthians 15:17 says: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…”  The disciples most likely spent their first Holy Saturday hiding in fear. Their world was now upside-down and uncertain.

This pandemic has changed our lives, our church life so dramatically.  “Easter doesn’t seem like Easter this year”, one member shared with me.  I agreed.  Yet, in a way, I know that this Easter is probably closer to what Jesus’ followers experienced in their day. We’ve been yanked from our comfort zones and forced to experience life and faith in a new way. With raw feelings. With different eyes. 

I think of Psalm 62:5: “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.”  But, I can’t help asking, “Will Easter come? Will we see resurrection?  When does this present darkness leave us and the light of a new day come?  When can we stop being afraid? When?”

A voice inside me quietly says, “It’s coming, I promise. Resurrection is real. God hasn’t left you. The story of Jesus isn’t finished. Not then. Not now.” 

I know we all feel we’ve lost so much. And, yet, have we truly lost what is most vital and important?   

Keep hanging in there, family. I’ll talk with you soon.

Pastor Alan



April 10, 2020-Good Friday Message from Pastor Alan:

I can remember my last Thanksgiving dinner with my mother. The woman who had nurtured me, feed me, taught me, shaped my thoughts and faith and, oh, so much more. And then, suddenly – she died. Gone. I remember that feeling of disorientation. That emptiness. That feeling of utter loss and devastation. I didn’t know at first how I would navigate my life.
 
I wonder if that is how the disciples felt at the sudden turn of events.  Jesus, there one day, sharing the Passover meal with his “children”, his followers, and then suddenly apprehended, arrested, and crucified on a wooden cross like a criminal. Gone. Gone too soon. How did the disciples deal with his sudden death?  How did they feel at the loss of a valuable friend? Brother. Father-figure. Teacher. Did they miss his voice? His words? His wisdom? His loving presence? How did they survive their loss? How do we survive after our losses? 

In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5, verse 4, Jesus tells us, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”.  I’ll tell you, mourning sure doesn’t feel much like a blessing in the moment. Good Fridays are hard stuff. Good Fridays are sudden, dark, and seem anything but GOOD.  

But Good Fridays also remind us that death is not the final chapter in life. For Jesus, for our loved ones, for ourselves. Because Jesus ultimately triumphed over death. And because of that, we can be assured that one day we too will live in a world without disease and sickness, without mourning, without cemeteries. Knowing that Jesus has overpowered death offers us comfort when we mourn.

I love you, St. Paul family. 
Have a blessed Good Friday!
Pastor Alan

Sunday, April 5, 2020- Pastor Alan's Palm Sunday Message:

Lent began just six weeks ago with ashes, and the remembrance that we are dust and to dust we shall all return. Palm Sunday marks our transition from Lent into Holy Week. 

As Christians we treasure our memories of church celebrations when palm branches were waved, songs of cheer sung by the choir, all to proclaim us followers of this great King. 

We all know the story. Jesus, this anointed king of David, enters the royal city of Jerusalem on a donkey. No powerful war horse, no king’s wardrobe of armor and fancy duds. No, he comes impressively.

His worldly monument to his victories would be erected a week later – not a stone arch, but a wooden cross.

With this COVID-19 virus, our Palm Sunday has become more than just a party of celebration and song; this pandemic has actually given us the opportunity to live into the story Jesus. We can all welcome him now with a more personal awareness of his love and humility – and his vulnerability.

In a recent message, Pope Francis noted that this pandemic crisis has exposed our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily lives, along with our habits and priorities.

If there is one truth that comes out of Palm Sunday, it is this: The path to salvation is most certainly not one of self-assertion, of relying on our own greatness, but instead through acknowledging our absolute dependence upon God.  Jesus revealed this by example during his final week upon this earth.

Let’s all remember Jesus’ example of humility and trust in God this Palm Sunday, and going into Holy Week. For it is ultimately our only way of surviving in this time of COVID-19, a tiny microbe that has effectively brought the world to its knees.

Keep well, family. And keep following the recommended precautions. Have a blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

Pastor Alan


Friday, April 3, 2020

In times when I am afraid of what lies ahead in life, I will often go back to the writings and thoughts of wise and learned Christians of the past. One of my favorites is Charles Spurgeon who lived and preached in the 19th century. Listen to these words of his that I found, so appropriate for our current times:

The joy of the Lord in the spirit springs from an assurance that all of the future, whatever it may be, is guaranteed by divine goodness; that being children of God, the love of God towards us is not of an inconsistent character but abides and remains unchangeable. The believer feels an entire satisfaction in leaving themself in the hands of the eternal and unchanging love. However happy I may be today, if I am in doubt concerning tomorrow, there is a worm at the root of my peace; although the past may now seem sweet in retrospect and the present fair or bearable, yet if the future be grim with fear, my joy is but shallow. If my salvation is still a matter of hazard and jeopardy, unbridled joy is not mine and deep peace is still out of my reach. But when I know that He whom I have rested in has power and grace enough to complete that which He has begun in me and for me, when I see the work of Christ to be no halfway redemption but a complete and eternal salvation, when I perceive that the promises are established upon an unchangeable basis and are in Christ Jesus, ratified by oath and sealed by blood, then my soul will have perfect contentment.

Family, our future is known by God. Completely. Sealed by His promises and unwavering in His devotion for us. Relax, and be at peace.

I talk with you all soon.

Pastor Alan

Wednesday, April 1, 2020-Pastor's Message:

According to an article in the Washington Post this morning, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering altering the official guidance to encourage people to take measures to cover their faces amid the coronavirus pandemic.  The new guidance would make clear that the general public should not use medical masks — including surgical and N95 masks — that are in desperately short supply and needed by health-care workers.  Instead, the recommendation under consideration calls for using do-it-yourself cloth coverings. It is thought this effort would be a way to help “flatten the curve”. 

 

With that in mind, here is a link to a cute and very brief video on YOUTUBE showing how to make a no-sew face mask made out of a handkerchief and two rubber bands. If you are even the slightest bit crafty, this should be a breeze! Even Pastor Alan thinks he can do it!  Enjoy!

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nE0EuDHMfZ4


Tuesday, March 31, 2020-Pastor's Message:

In the book of Philippians chapter 1, verses 3-6, the Apostle Paul writes: “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now.  And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” 

Three weeks ago, we announced that St. Paul would temporarily suspend our worship services and church meetings through the end of March. But with this pandemic, change seems to happen daily. As the expected peak of this virus is still several weeks away. we are slowly accepting the fact that we will in all likelihood not be meeting for worship until sometime after the month of April. This is a bitter pill to swallow.  Still, I know the day will arrive when we shall all gather in warm embrace, welcoming each and every member and friend back through the church doors. I encourage all of you to continue to find alternative ways in gleaning spiritual nourishment, through online streaming worship services as well as printed devotionals.  And I am hoping each of you is maintaining contact with your brothers and sisters in faith.   

I also need to say thank you to those of you who have faithfully continued your tithing. I encourage everyone to do your very best in keeping up with your financial support of St. Paul.  Your gifts and tithes help to keep our doors open so that the work of serving this community will continue.

Thank you for prayers and for supporting one another in these challenging times. And thank you for your generosity and participation in being the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors.  I miss each and every one of you, and I look forward for our glorious reunion in the near future.

God bless you all!

Pastor Alan 

Friday, March 27, 2020 Pastor Message:

I’ve been working out of the church office this past week, and had the chance to visit with some of the pantry volunteers.  (Oh, yes, our faithful pantry workers are still at it!  Can you believe it? Even during this Pandemic. I am so proud of them!)  I must admit that I am a little amazed at how many volunteers, especially in these days of uncertainty and fear, chose to be here to serve our pantry clients. I know I personally move with a little more caution these days, always wondering in the back of my mind if I’m doing anything that might be “unprotective”. I asked one volunteer if she gave any thought as to whether or not she was putting herself at risk, being out in the public and all. She smiled, and without a word she reached into her pocket and pulled out this small prayer card with a picture of Jesus on it. On the flip side these words were printed, in BOLD letters:  

TRUST ME!

Honestly, the words nearly knocked me off my feet. How beautiful and powerful those words were. I have thought of that moment several times over the past few days, and I wondered how many times I have feared and doubted in these early days of confinement and not knowing what is coming next. How about you?  

The truth of the matter is, these are very dark and scary days. Feeling as if we have no control over something can absolutely petrify us and shut us down.  But as those words “TRUST ME” immediately reminded me, we CAN trust Jesus and his words. Because he trusted our Almighty God, in whose hands we all rest.

If you are feeling anxious or alone in this time of darkness, FEAR NOT (as Jesus often said!), for we are neither alone, defenseless or without God’s love and protection.

I’m praying for all of you.  Pray for me also, and for your church family and friends. Remember, do not fear or be troubled. Our faithful God is still in control, even if it doesn’t appear to be so.

I love you family. I’ll talk with you soon! 

Pastor Alan


A MESSAGE FROM ST. PAUL UCC REGARDING THE COVID 19 VIRUS

 

Scripture tells us in Proverbs 1:5 that “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel…”

 

Dale Patterson, your council president, and I have struggled the past few days to acquire wise counsel regarding the COVID 19 virus, trying to determine our next WISE steps together as a faith community.

We have sought the wise counsel of folks connected to the Ohio Department of Health and various governmental agencies. And we also have sought the advice of our fellow churches within and outside the UCC. And we listened carefully as our Gov. Mike DeWine updated us at a press conference Thursday afternoon. After much consultation and prayerful deliberation, your leadership at St. Paul has made the difficult but (we feel) necessary decision to not hold public worship services for the remaining Sundays in March. Those dates would be this coming Sunday, March 15th, as well as March 22nd and March 29th


As much as we treasure and enjoy worshiping our gracious God with all of you, we must also look out for the safety of each and every member and friend of this congregation. It is my sincere hope that we will resume worship on Sunday, April 5th, Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy week leading up to our celebration of Easter. Our church office will continue to operate, and Heather and I will be available to answer any questions you may have.

 

I invite all of you during this downtime of Lenten reflection and self-care to utilize your devotionals for Lent, and to keep the citizens of this earth, as well as your immediate church family, in your prayers as we move through this unusual experience together. Remember, God is Still Speaking.  Keep heart, and know that you are loved.  God bless you.

 Pastor Alan   




All Are Welcome!
 
Photo Credit: Tracy Doyle Photography



Past Events:


Bagging of Blessing Bags

June 12, 2016

Pictures to come!

Pentecost Sunday 2016










 






 
 
JOIN US:
Pastor Alan Hicks


Worship Service
Weekly In-Person Services will resume July 4, 2021 in the basement fellowship hall through the summer

CONTACT US: 
St. Paul United Church of Christ
225 East Gates Street
Columbus, OH 43206
P (614) 444-1311
email: stpaulucc@live.com

To donate on Zelle or PayPal use: stpaulucc@live.com