The Cross As Embrace

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

Luke 15.1-3, 11-32

I have to beg the forgiveness from the teenagers among us today because I felt compelled this morning to share some research with all of you that explains a great many things for those of us closely related to the teens among us. Maybe you heard the story on NPR a couple weeks back, but it seems that teenage brains are different. It seems that scientists used to think that the human brain was pretty much completely developed by about 10 years old. But it seems now that new research is uncovering that a crucial part of the brain, the frontal lobes, are not fully connected yet in teenagers. Really? It’s that part of the brain that says, “Is this a good idea? What is the consequence of this action?” It’s not that they don’t have frontal lobes, it’s not that they can’t use them, it’s just that the connection’s a little slow. Parents, does that explain it? Is this something we suspected pretty much all along? One of those discoveries that we think, “Oh yeah, thanks for letting us know.”

Now teenagers, I’m not only going to pick on you this morning. Because unfortunately, for those of us who are not, well, teenagers any more, it seems that we have our issues too. It seems, according to brain researchers, that as we age, our brains get slower. Now there’s a news flash for you. It takes us longer to learn new information and longer to retrieve information that we’ve managed to store away. The connections get slower and slower, they seem to dry up. Alas, can anyone win? Either our frontal lobes are not fully connected or by the time they do get connected, they aren’t working so well anymore. You just can’t win. I’m particularly worried because I know some of you, a lot of you, tell me about your “senior moments”, but I’ve been having senior moments since I was about 20, so if it’s downhill from here, I’m in trouble.

But… this morning we are here not to talk about brain research. We are here to meet the Spirit. But this research provides an apt metaphor for our spiritual brain function. For when it comes to the neural connections of the soul, so to speak, when you do the research, for many, if not most of us, it seems as if the connections are, well, disconnected. Many times the frontal lobes of our spirits just haven’t been able to make the right connections with God’s spirit. We try but we just can’t make the leap. Or the connections we do make seem to go awry or lead us in the wrong direction, they lead us astray. And we struggle, we wonder where God is. We wonder the great whys of life and are not satisfied with any of the answers that we encounter. We sense something, but the frontal lobes of our spirits and God’s spirit just haven’t been able to make that connection. Yet.

And sometimes we are able to make that connection with God’s spirit, but over time or because of particular circumstances, the connection seems to slow down. We age and we struggle to learn new information. And we struggle to learn and assimilate new circumstances and new ways of thinking and believing and living. The old information that we have stored away is no longer easily retrieved. And we become disconnected.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • After all this time…

    Well, this is it my fellow followers of Jesus, we are returning to in-person worship at First Presbyterian Church. It has been fourteen long months of us learning to be a worshiping community in the best ways we could figure out (thank you Jesus, even for things like YouTube and Zoom). It’s been challenging for me as your pastor (I imagine Pastor Meg would say the same). It’s been challenging for all of you in faith and life and with family and friends. 

    But we’re going back to church, praise the Lord.

    Many things seem to be happening in our world at this moment. How are you handling it all? We’re opening the church doors again. There was a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial in Minneapolis. Many of you have your Covid-19 vaccinations. It’s Springtime and the tulips are starting to bloom. The Sandhill Cranes and other migratory birds are back in the valley. So how are we doing as we process all of this? How are you doing?

    Relief? Sorrow? Joy? Sadness? 

    All of the above?

    I’ve heard several phrases of late, including ‘pandemic pain.’ I’ve felt fatigued myself. But having received the vaccination shots, I am ready to be back in our church building with you praising the Lord together. With high vaccination rates among our church members and several safety precautions, Session has voted for our return to in-person worship. Details are listed in another article inside this edition, but our first Sunday back will be Sunday, May 9th, with our regular service times of 9 & 11 a.m.

    This worldwide pandemic is not over. Not by a long shot as I watch the news from places like India and Brazil, or even Michigan. But many of us have received our vaccinations and we are implementing some practices that should allow us to worship the Lord together, safely. And to be clear (I cannot say this enough), if you do not feel safe coming to church in the near future, please continue to worship from home. I will do my absolute best to make sure our worship live-stream allows you to connect with God and connect with the rest of us from the safety of your own home. We have purchased a small and simple (yet high quality) camera that will live-stream Sunday morning worship directly to YouTube. You have the option to watch it ‘live’ as we are worshiping or watch it at a later time that is more convenient for you.

    So, what might we expect on Sunday mornings in May when we go back? First and foremost, we will be together singing, praying, and praising the Lord. Hallelujah! There will be a few changes, of course. We ask that everyone wear a mask while in the building. We will not have indoor fellowship to prevent ‘grouping’ around the food. Both services will be in Bruner Hall (this is to allow for social distancing). We will initially space chairs out in groups of one, two, three, four, etc. (please find a group of chairs that matches your household). Our air handling system will be on during the service. We won’t use hymnals so that multiple people aren’t touching them each morning (lyrics will be in the bulletin and projected onto the wall). And finally, if you are feeling under the weather, we ask that you please be extra-considerate of your fellow worshipers and remain home.

    Every day of life is a new endeavor. The same is true for us in this process of returning to worship. May we prayerfully and carefully take actions that promote good community health, along with our spiritual health. Thank you for your patience with us, and I look forward to seeing every one of you, whenever that might be.

    —Pastor Derek

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