Paul’s Message: Crazy Times

AncientWallIn the Old City of Jerusalem, in the Jewish Quarter, they have uncovered part of a very old wall. It dates from the 8th Century BCE. About that time, Israel was besieged and afraid. In one moment, the there was a new and mighty coalition of neighboring nations aligned against them. Soon after, the mighty Assyrian empire was sweeping down from the north ready to run Jerusalem over. It was a crazy time. Isaiah tells us that “their hearts…shook as the trees of a forest shake when there is a wind.” (Is 7:2 CEB)

As we walked past this wall on my recent trip to Israel/Palestine, I could imagine the prophet approaching Israel’s king, “Ask a sign from the LORD your God.” (Is 7:11 CEB) The king would not, dared not test the Lord. Besides, he was focused on fortifying his defenses. Guess what, he gets a sign anyway–Immanuel, meaning “God is with us.”

How much things change, and how much they stay the same. We live in crazy times. Ukraine, Gaza, the Ebola Crisis, Ferguson–and these are just the headlines. Like Israel of old (and new), we are besieged and afraid. On top of that we are angry, confused, tapped out, exhausted, looking for answers and resigned to having none. Cable TV runs 24 hours, analyzing, rehashing, pontificating, spinning, selling, and we don’t get any wiser (you could make a good case for the opposite).

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like I’ve just about had enough. I want to retreat, ignore, repress, escape the crazy times. But Isaiah comes to us as we are inspecting our defenses and challenges us to ask the Lord for a sign. Dare we?

Church is a place (or it should be) where we get together and dare to ask the Lord for a sign. We dare to ask for a fresh discovery of Immanuel, God with us. Church is a place where, in the midst of crazy times, we pray, reflect, cry, ask questions, and support each other. We don’t agree on everything, but we agree on our need for Immanuel. We create moments of refuge with fellowship and refreshment. We celebrate the blessings of Immanuel in our lives and world with joy. We even take a crack, from time to time, at trying to figure out where Immanuel might take us. We sometimes give positive action a shot. Sometimes we dare to hope.

If you want to make sense of crazy times, if you want join with others who are trying to do so, if you want to spend time journeying to the depths of self, life, and Spirit, come on out. Truth be told, we need you, for you bring a little bit of Immanuel with you when you come.

September is the beginning of a new season. Classes are starting, the choir will be singing, the preachers will be…(well, you never can quite tell what they will be doing), and brothers and sisters will be worshipping and walking together in the midst of crazy times. It’s better together than apart.

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  • Affirmations of Faith

    On the last Sunday of October, ‘Mission Sunday,’ many of you helped us pack more than two hundred bags for a local school food distribution program.  Those bags of food went out to local schoolchildren, who live in food insecure settings, to keep their bellies full. The food we provided has the potential to ensure the schoolchildren are more successful in life and in their education.  In worship we sometimes use the phrase ‘Affirmation of Faith’ and then repeat a longstanding confession of the church, such as the Apostles’ Creed or the Brief Statement of Faith. I value reciting these affirmations, because they remind us of the core values we hold as Christians. But as I was thinking about this over the last few months, I believe that such mission work to the community around us is an even deeper affirmation of our faith by acknowledging Jesus’ call upon our lives, and then living out that ministry.

    I want to share information with you this month about another ministry which I believe is an affirmation of our faith. You have heard us talk about it quite a bit but may not know the details. For years now the Deacon’s Fund at First Presbyterian Church has provided financial assistance to those in our community facing immediate financial need that impacts their ability to live a healthy and productive life.

    There are social services around town, which provide supportive and meaningful resources, but there can be qualifications and restrictions associated with the access of those services. The Deacon’s Fund strives to offer judgment-free ministry to those who are facing financial challenges in life and helps people access these services.

    Barbara Troisi and Beth MacDonald are currently our two Deacon’s Fund facilitators.  They spend time each month looking at applications for assistance, and then distribute funds, which may involve multiple phone calls, trips to the store for Smith’s gift cards (useful for food or fuel), and various other tasks.  Prior to Beth and Barbara, other wonderful people contributed their efforts to this ministry: Linda Roberts, Tina Purintun, Kelly Rhea, Terry Brennand, Barbara Lutz (I am sure I have left a name or two off, please forgive me). Pam Riffe also makes contributions and supports people applying for these funds in her role as our office administrator.

    These are some of the ‘saints’ of the church. These are angels among us – superheroes, one might say – who make time in their lives to help others.

    The Deacon’s Fund recently received a large contribution from a couple in our community.  They are not part of our church, but they learned of our efforts to help local people through some friends who are church members.  They made this contribution to help those who are struggling to find sustainable and affordable housing. They wanted to make a significant contribution to help with housing issues and knew that First Presbyterian Church would be a wonderful avenue for those efforts. I am thankful for everyone who makes contributions to the Deacon’s Fund, small or large (most offerings to this ministry come in $10, $20, or $100 increments). Over the decades these dollars have helped hundreds of people in our community in moments of great need. This is truly part of the mission of the church, and one of the callings Jesus has placed upon us.

    Beth MacDonald is transitioning out of her role as a Deacon’s Fund facilitator at the end of the year (she will be plenty busy helping to organize and lead the Westminster Bell Choir). Thank you, Beth, for your efforts. This means we are looking for a new Deacon’s Fund coordinator to work alongside Barbara Troisi. If any of you would like to help, please let me know. If you have questions about this ministry, please talk to Beth, Barbara, or me. Beth has set up a nice spreadsheet to help keep track of funds received and funds dispersed. You don’t need to be a financial expert or math whiz to fill this role, only to have a caring heart.

    The ministry efforts of Mission Sunday and through the Deacon’s Fund are two of the wonderful aspects of First Presbyterian Church. Our calling as a faith community is certainly to worship and praise the Lord, but also to share the good news and make helpful, life-affirming contributions to the community and world around us. I pray that our ministry together continues to be vigorous.

    May the grace and peace of Christ be with you all,

    Pastor Derek

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