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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  • 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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