Sometimes I get fixated on what is right in front of me and fail to notice what else is in the picture. This is literally true when I take photographs (though I’m getting a little better). The pictures I took in my early years at Pilgrim Faith with confirmands standing in front of the altar look like the cross is growing out of someone’s head. I never noticed it until the pictures were printed! I’ve also got carefully posed photos of our family in which we failed to notice that right behind us was a pile of junk waiting to be put away!
Often I see life that way too. Whatever crisis looms before me at the moment is all that I can see. It seems impossible. A little more distance or a little more time reveals that I in fact was able to deal with the crisis and that life went on and became good once again.
Having “Easter eyes” helps us to see the bigger picture. Jesus’ death devastated his followers. It was all they could see, even though Jesus had told them he would rise from death. Not until he appeared to them after his resurrection were most of them able to see the bigger picture Jesus had tried to paint for them. They got their “Easter eyes.” It is likewise hard for us to see beyond the situation right in front of us. We forget that we also have “Easter eyes.”
Our “Easter eyes” do not show us exactly what will happen next but they help us see that God is at work creating the rest of the picture. When we go through a difficult time and discover that God eventually reveals the good that is in the rest of the picture, it is easier to see with “Easter eyes” the next time and trust that the good we cannot yet see is indeed there.
I encourage you to participate in our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services. Contemplating Jesus’ suffering and death is painful but going through that trauma with him again every year helps give us “Easter Eyes.” It helps us to rejoice more fully on Easter Sunday and to live with hope on both good days and bad days.
Pilgrim Faith has been engaged with the local Muslim community for a number of years. We’ve had speakers and programs going back at least 25 years. We had Muslim families in our preschool and have welcomed them to our Bible study and food pantry. In recent years we have very intentionally engaged together in offering meals for the homeless and others in the community and in interfaith dialogue. We have grown in our understanding and appreciation of each other.
Some have asked why we do this. We do it because Jesus calls us to “love our neighbor” and Muslims are a substantial portion of our local neighbors. Because of cultural and sometimes language barriers it has been difficult for some to make friends with the Muslims who live in our midst. We have reached out in all the ways I named above to try to build bridges so all of us who live together can get to know each other. We have learned how very much alike we are!
The recent political climate has created a backlash of hatred and violence against American Muslims. We’ve heard our Muslim friends talk about their fear and our children’s classmates worry their families will be separated or forced to leave the only country they’ve ever known. It has been heart breaking to watch them go through this.
Several Pilgrim Faith members recently invited others who are concerned to come together and discuss how we can offer our support. We drafted a letter of support which many of you signed which we have delivered to The Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview. Some of us went and stood with other around the Mosque during their main weekly prayer service one Friday to offer our care and support.
We’ve done all this because God and Jesus admonish us to care for the foreigners in our midst, the strangers, the outcast, the persecuted and everyone. Jesus embraced Gentiles and Samaritans and others who were not of his own religion and extended God’s love to them. Very simply, we do it because it is what Jesus did and what he calls us to do. We hope to be the presence of Christ in all we do.
Our country is very divided right now. We’ve always had a wide variety of opinion in our nation and one of our cherished rights is the freedom to express differing ideas. That freedom is part of what makes the United States a great place to live.
We will always have differences about religion and economic plans and how to protect freedom and individual rights. The push for rights and freedoms has led to great tension and conflict in the past as some resist extending rights and opportunities to groups that have not had them. There is no mythical time in our past when everyone agreed and got along.
What has deteriorated in recent years is the practice of civility. Rather than engaging with each other to discuss ideas, policy and goals, increasingly people lob nasty personal attacks against those with whom they disagree. That makes it much more difficult to find a way to work together for our common good.
Our own United Church of Christ history provides a model for how people can work together. We are not a creedal church in which everyone is expected to believe the same thing. You do not have to subscribe to a specific creed to join our church. The UCC is a covenantal church. We agree (or covenant) to work together and walk together in God’s ways.
The focus is on working together on things that are important to us without insisting that everyone agree. There is room for others to work together on other things. Even in our differences we try to support one another and understand one another and welcome all. We can be civil and respectful because we value the other person even when we disagree with them.
I hope that we can regain the ability to have respectful disagreements with each other in our country. When we do that and actually listen to each other we often discover many areas on which we can work together for the good of all.
That respect begins with each one of us in all the arenas of our lives. We can treat everyone with respect and encourage others to do the same. We can listen to people with whom we disagree and try to understand their point of view. We may still disagree but we might also learn why they hold the view they do. And they might also learn something from us. It might help us move forward together.
This isn’t easy. It takes a lot of patience and self-restraint. It also holds great potential to help us find workable solutions to common problems. It is God’s way.
Every year brings new models of cars, updated smart phones and clever new Super Bowl ads. Did you know that God plans to upgrade you as well?
A lot of us go into each new year with good resolutions. I’m going to exercise more and get healthy. I’m going to tame my tongue. I’m going to help the homeless. Sometimes we even follow through on significant changes this way. Sometimes we stumble along the way and then try again next year.
There’s no end to the list of things most of us could do better if we just weren’t so human! Perhaps the place to start this year is to admit that we are human and seek some guidance from God about what is most important for this coming year.
God wants us to be kind and loving but God does not expect us to be perfect. If we focus too much energy on being perfect we’ll be of little use to God or anyone! Rather than perfect, God was us to be more kind and loving. It’s a journey.
So before you start making New Year resolutions, spend some quiet time with God and ask: what do you want to do with me this year? God has probably already been nudging you in some way. Listen to the nudgings and ask God to show you what to do about it. If you start to work on the very thing God wants to you do, amazing things will happen. Maybe even a new you!
The Apostle Paul says “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation!” [2 Corinthians 5:17] God creates a new me when I trust myself to Jesus Christ! God shapes and creates that new you just the way God wants you. And God patiently and persistently pulls forth the best from each of us.
May you go with God in 2017 and let God pull forth the best you!
Dark days are hard, whether they advance on us step by step as impending doom or pounce upon us with utter surprise when we were confident that all was well. Either way, we are never quite ready for times of fear, sadness, worry or despair. Such days call for deep reserves.
Each Advent we enter willingly once again into a season that begins in darkness so that we might learn anew how to live in hope while we wait and work for the days of light and love. It is tempting to skip the melancholy tones of O Come, O Come Emmanuel and the plaintive cries of Advent readings so we can move directly to the Christmas carols and scriptures that comfort and brighten our souls. That is a mistake because it is the faint glimmers of light in the darkness of early Advent that teach us how to live with hope in the dark times of our own lives.
We add one candle a week during Advent and one word of assurance per week so that we can learn to trust the glimmers of hope when it is still dark and to take determined steps toward peace when peace seems impossible. After those days and weeks of darkness the joy and love of Christmas are far sweeter and our faith is far stronger than if we had tried to leap directly to the full light of God’s blessing. Advent teaches us to keep hoping when the times are dark and to keep pursuing God’s dream of peace when we hear cries of hatred all around us.
Take heart from the candle of hope for that hope is rooted in God’s promise to be with us always, leading us toward a better future. Learn to deal with the darkness that comes your way by returning to God’s vision of peace and love. Trust God’s vision, for God will work through us to bring joy to full bloom.
The message of Christmas is that God broke through the darkness as one of us to show us what is possible when love is unleashed in the midst of hateful, hurtful times. God is love, God cannot be stopped, God will work through us to transform the world with love!
Have a blessed Advent as we move with God toward Christmas light and love!
Edward Hays said in the Great Escape Manual : “Perpetual gratitude toward people around us initiates habits of thankful prayer. It also starts a chain reaction of giving thanks, till our friends and loved ones and our whole world become imbued in grateful living.” When we practice thanks-living we are filled with happiness and we spread that happiness to other.
It takes time to cultivate a habit of thanks-living. I invite you to begin by using the chart below to give thanks in a different way each day of each week during November.
Way to Give Thanks
Show thanks to God by giving your time and treasure for God’s work
Give thanks for the everyday blessings of your life
Give thanks for someone else’s good fortune or blessings
Offer thanks for the ways God has helped you in the midst of trouble
Give thanks for those who serve, protect and help us
Express thanks to someone with a note or small gift
Live thankfully by making each thing you do today a blessing in some way
I think this will transform you. So often we give thanks for the same things over and over and fail to cultivate our thankfulness for the rest of life. This will open our eyes to even more ways of giving and living our thankfulness. May you be blessed in this practice!
Pilgrim Faith is a unique church. The world is much better because of our first 125 years! Pilgrim Faith connects us to God and nourishes our faith. Many find deep caring and friendship and welcome here. These are key reasons it is so dear to our hearts.
Beyond and above all that there is one thing that I think is the heart and soul of Pilgrim Faith. Our passion for and commitment to caring for people beyond our church is the true core our vitality. We want to help others, not just ourselves. We want to make sure that all God’s children (of all ages) have what they need. When someone is hurting we know that God hurts with them and we offer ourselves as the hands and feet of Jesus to do what we can to make it better.
We call it mission but it is not just the work of our mission board. That passion to help and care for others runs deep through every ministry of the church. Our children and youth and men’s group and women’s ministries all look for ways to help others. Our whole church pitches in for the pantry and PADS and CROP Walk and special offerings for various causes. We use our building to host groups that transform lives. We encourage our members in their own individual efforts to make the world a better place through literacy tutoring and interfaith dialogue and fundraisers for a whole host of good causes.
As we celebrate our first 125 years and launch into our second 125 years I pray that we continue to heed God’s call to reach out and go forth to a hurting world with words and deeds of love and hope. If a church isn’t facing challenges, it probably isn’t listening to everything God is asking it to do! If we keep listening to God and saying yes, God will show us how to do all and it will fill us with joy!
As we celebrate our 125 years of ministry and prepare to start our 126th, I’ve been thinking a lot about what our ministry should be as we go forward. We’ve moved from an era when church was something we invited people to “come and get” to a time when church is something we need to “go and take” to others.
I’m deeply committed to church as a “gathered community of faith that worships God and cares for one another and all who need hope.” We need our time with each other in order to stay focused on God and on serving others. But the number of “unchurched” is growing because many do not think that going to church will make a difference in their lives.
Jesus didn’t expend time and energy on getting people to go to church. He took the good news of God’s love to the people where they were. Those who were moved by God’s love then banded together as a church so they could continue to take the good news of God’s love to others.
As we move into the future we need to look for more and more ways to take the message and experience of God’s love to people out in the communities where we live and work. We can do that both individually and collectively. We can encourage one another to be present with family and friends and co-workers in ways that bring God’s peace and presence and well-being to them. We can also work together to carry a blessing out to the people, whether offering ashes-to-go at the train station, blessing marriages on the village green, holding Bible study in a local pub or sitting in Starbucks with a sign offering prayers for anyone who wants us to pray for them.
I think that the future of the church means less time trying to get people to come to our programs and events and more time spent finding people where they are and offering God’s hope and blessing. Every board and ministry group we have should think about ways we can do that. We don’t need to preach on street corners (that’s not us) but there are other ways (that do fit who we are) to “go and take” God’s love and hope to people who are hungry for blessing in their lives. Let’s keep asking each other: how can we do this? God will show us what we need to do!
In our Bible study this week we discussed why the writer of Ecclesiastes seemed to be so unhappy with his life. Again and again, he cited the things he had accomplished in his life and then concluded: “It’s all pointless.” Hard work, wisdom, houses, vineyards, beautiful garden, servants, silver and gold and other treasures – all pointless.
He seemed to feel so hopeless we felt sorry for him. “He’s so self-centered,” someone observed. Every statement began with “I.” There was not a hint of concern for or care of or connectedness with other people. No wonder his life felt so meaningless!
We all agreed that the unhappy guy needed to start thinking about other people. Do some volunteer work. Do something to help others. That’s where we have found meaning in our lives. It’s not just about us and what we can accomplish. The secret of happiness lies in caring about others and doing what we can for and with them!
That’s a big part of what we try to live at Pilgrim Faith. Thank you to all those who stepped up to thoroughly clean Gail Siwek’s condo prior to the start of her chemo treatments! Thank you to our young adults for stepping up to raise funds to fix the Pilgrim Faith front steps! Thank you to all who help with the pantry and PADS and Share the Harvest and literacy tutoring and serving on local government boards and as scout leaders and in civic clubs. Thank you to all who teach Sunday School and lead youth groups and lead worship and music and raise money and fix the church building and pray for those facing tough times.
All these things that we do for others is what makes us happy and gives our lives meaning and purpose. And all those connections with and care for others bring us closer to God, who is LOVE itself!
Feeling down or lost? Get up and do something for someone else! It will make you happy!
Just a year ago we gathered our Building Hope Today and Tomorrow Capital Campaign pledges so that we could make some much needed building repairs and improvements. We jumped into this ambitious effort to take care of our building so Pilgrim Faith can keep bringing hope to thousands of people with our many ministries. Look what God has helped us do in one year!
– $356,100 has been pledged for the Capital Campaign!
– $200, 882 has been received!
– We’ve completed the new roof!
– We’ve approved bids to rebuild the front steps and replace five sets of entry doors!
– Work continues on installing new windows!
Pilgrim Faith is alive and well, celebrating 125 years of building hope and preparing for 125 more! Thanks for all you have done for the Capital Campaign and for our many ministries! Many more projects await!
We are able to do all this because we continue to ask God to guide us. When God wants us to do something, God can use us to make it happen! It is so important that we continue to pray and follow God’s lead in pursuing ministries and developing new ones. Even as we celebrate this 125th year we are exploring new ministries and new ways to pay for all that God calls us to do. Keep praying! Keep listening! Keep responding to God!
Thanks for all you have done and continue to do for God! And if God moves you to make additional gifts for our capital campaign and/or church operating fund, those gifts are welcome because there is much more for us to do! Thanks be to God!