Paul’s Message: Steadfastness and Newness

BalloonInFallTake a look at our congregation. On one level, we have to celebrate many things that are, for the most part, abiding – things that haven’t changed for a long time. Our red brick building has been here since the twenties. Much of our liturgy comes from scripture and the early church. We enjoy potlucks like the church has had since Peter first said, “Thomas, pass the pita.” That steadiness is good. It reflects the abiding character and essence of God’s love. It is comforting to recognize that the steadfast love of the Lord is just that, steadfast.

But if you look carefully, change has also always been part of the church. In the 50’s, the building added a gym. Many different faces have come and gone. Different preachers have offered their thoughts and prayers. A praise band has added its joyful sounds to the organ in out music ministry. The gym has become a multi-use space that ministers to us and to many in the community. We have added Derek to our staff and he is doing wonderful new things. We are, I believe, discovering the significance of the gospel ever more deeply. It is inspiring and empowering to know that our steadfast God is ever and always “doing a new thing.”

Steadfastness and newness, two blessed sides of faith.

God’s vision for our congregation today also reflects both steadfastness and newness. As we have discerned it, our vision is to continue to offer the same grace-filled, hope-planting, justice-building, peace-fostering ministry that this church has offered since we opened our doors in 1878.

At the same time, we believe that God wants us to grow. God wants us to grow in faith, and grow in our outreach to the community and to the world.God has new things in store for us – a new era of ministry at First Presbyterian that reaches out to more youth and young adults, that guides more people of all stripes of faith, that heals the creation in profound ways; all this through the abiding gospel of Jesus Christ.

Fall is here – a new season. Fall is part of the abiding cycle of nature that brings new life. But before you get tot he newness of spring, you have to shake all the old leaves off the tree to make room for new ones to grow. In that spirit, we are having a capital campaign this fall. A mailing has been sent to all attending this congregation. Through the campaign, we want to shake off the leaves of debt that we still have from the last building renewal. We need to make room for new leaves. This is what the campaign is about.

Steadfast and new – this is what the gospel is. This is what we are. When you come on a Sunday morning or on any day for any church activity, we believe you will find comfort in the abiding gopel. At the same time, you will be empowered by a breeze of new, challenging,refreshing ministry. This ministry comes from God through you, and it is for you. It will bless you, and it enables you to be a blessing. We hope you’ll be a part.

Peace, Paul

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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