“You are dust…”

ashcross2On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent, we gathered at St John’s Episcopal. These services are always a blessing for me. I enjoy the opportunity to minister with my colleagues (Derek, Steve Sturgeon, the Vicar of St. John’s, and Scott Thalacker, pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran). We are unique in style, perspective, and tradition, but we also share the common bond of our calling. There’s always something that I learn from them.

I love the whole ashes on the forehead thing. I love smudging your foreheads, one by one, as you come forward. There is nothing that I am doing that anyone of you couldn’t do. But personally, it’s a profound moment for me because, standing there in front of you, I feel not only like a pastor, but your pastor. Can’t really explain it beyond that, but it’s special for me.

I also love the ashes on my forehead. It reminds me that we are all mortal, finite, flawed, and in need of God. That’s not a bad I dark thought. It’s a freeing one. It’s reassuring for me to know that I am not, nor do I have to be, the perfect anything. I am dust brought to life by and dependent upon divine breath – a creature of God’s creation. You are too.

Lent is a time to discover that again. When the weight of responsibilities and expectations (other’s and our own) become too heavy, when our hurts go too deep for us to heal on our own, when our energy and attention wane I when our wants take precedence over other’s needs, we could use a reminder: we are dust. Lent starts here, and then patiently and persistently prepares us for divine breath.

The world distracts us with tons of messages that tell us that we have to be self-reliant and super. In ways both overt and subtle, we often get the message that when we are not, we are bad. When we mess up, we are bad people, bad parents, bad children, bad workers, bad citizens, bad Christians. Lent reminds us that we are not bad, we are dust … in need of some divine breath.

You are invited to get ready with us. Join us in study, worship, fellowship, and mission. When all is said and done, you will discover God’s enlivening breath. That’s what this dusty old pastor believes anyway (I cling to this because I need that divine breath as much as you do).

On Ash Wednesday, Derek offered the Word. He told a story about a nun who was trying to focus on God by learning the discipline of contemplative prayer. In great frustration, she approached a teacher, telling him “I’m such a failure at this prayer! In twenty minutes of sitting I’ve had ten thousand thoughts.” “How lovely,” responded the teacher, “ten thousand opportunities to return to God!”

Derek was my pastor in that moment. He reminded me that though I may be in the middle of my ten thousand nine hundred ninety ninth distracted, dusty moment, it is but another opportunity to return to God. Dusty as we are, we are all invited to place our lives in the Divine’s hands so that God can breathe that life-giving breath on us once more. In your dustiness, may you find life, and that abundantly.

Peace,

Paul

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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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