Choose Another Way

This Sunday, we celebrate Epiphany, the arrival of the wise ones bearing gifts for Jesus.  It’s one of those stories that we think we know better than we do.  The questions the text raises are many:

How many wise ones were there?  Where did they come from?  How old were they?  Were they all men? What did Mary and Joseph think when they showed up?  How long did they stay?  And what did Jesus think of those strange gifts?  What would a 2 year old do with a gift of myrrh?  What happened in their dream that they knew Herod was up to no good?  And what did they discover as they journeyed home by another way?

The story invites us leave behind our preconceptions and traditions, and hear it another way.  It invites us to listen as ones who are waiting for a sign, a light in the darkness.  It invites us to ponder, how might God be calling us to live or journey in another way?

With the celebration of Epiphany we begin a new Worship series, SAD: Spiritual Affective Disorder.  This new series invites us to ponder the darkness and discomfort of the season, and choose practices that lift up and enlighten our spirits.  This Sunday, come and choose another way.

I’ll see you on Sunday,

Pastor Heather

 

Hope…

I write this as I prepare for our Blue Christmas Worship, worship for those who are grieving, hurting, lost, afraid, frustrated, disappointed, or “just aren’t feeling it this year.”  It’s one of my favorite services of the year, because for me, it acknowledges that God is in the whole of human experience.  God is present when our hearts rejoice and when they’re breaking.

Sometimes we clean up the Christmas story so much it becomes nice, or sickly sweet, but lest we forget, it’s a story of human birth, in a stable, in an occupied land.  Jesus was born.  And his birth like every other human birth, caused his mother great pain.  It would have been messy, painful, and isolating.  And God was there.  The story of Jesus is a story of all the best and worst life has to offer, and the promise that God is in the midst of it all. Which gives me great reason to hope.

This Sunday, as we sing the fourth verse of Silent Night, we’ll reflect on what it means to sing with the angels “Alleluia’s to our king.”  What does it mean to worship a baby, God made flesh, who came to change us all, not by might, but by love?  Let us dare to hope, in the power of God’s love, to change our hearts and one by one, the world.

I’ll see you on Sunday,

Pastor Heather

Love

This week, the word of the day is Love, and it’s a really good word.  It encompasses so much in just four letters.  With some simple modification this noun and/or verb, can become adjective and adverb.  It can comfort, challenge, excite and inspire.  The word can raise your heart beat and soothe the soul.  It’s a good word, a powerful word, a transformational word.

Love. Consider all the people, places and things you love.  Consider the breadth, depth, and extravagance of God’s grace and love.55-19168-il_fullxfull-1409265151

Loved.  Ponder how very loved you are, by people and by God.

Loving.  Try to wrap your head around how  many ways God’s love is lived in the world. Try to number the ways you have expressed love for another person just in the last week–a hug, a gift, a blanket, food, notes, and on and on and on.

Love.  It’s a good word. And as good as it is as a word, it’s even better when it’s expressed, lived, shared.  This Sunday, we’ll sing love, pray as act of love, share love and more.  We’ll express our love for God and one another in word, welcome and more.  I hope you’ll be there!

I’ll see you on Sunday,

Pastor Heather

 

Where’s joy?

Looking for something?

Have you ever:

walked into a room, and find you have absolutely no idea what you were there to do?

lost your car keys, wallet, or glasses only to find them in your hand or on your head?

misplaced a valuable heirloom or keepsake?

spent awhile playing “spot the difference,” or hide-n-seek?

been in a between time, discerning your next move, call, vocation, steps?

Looking for something can be confusing, humbling, heartbreaking, infuriating, frustrating, exhilarating and sometimes it can just be fun.

Tomorrow, as our celebration of the 200th anniversary of “Silent Night,” continues we’ll explore what it means to look for joy to see what “glories stream” around us.   It seems fairly easy to look around at all that is wrong with our world, but what would it mean to look for reasons to rejoice?

I’ll see you on Sunday,

Pastor Heather

Calm and Bright

Imagine with me.  It’s Christmas Eve, and worship is drawing to a close.  The sanctuary dims, and a candle is lit, and people begin to sing, “Silent Night, Holy Night.”  Slowly the light is passed candle to candle, illuminating smiling faces and a few teary ones too.  I’ve celebrated Christmas Eve in my home churches in West Virginia, on both coasts,  the island of American Samoa, and in each church I’ve served.  And every time, I’m moved by the power of the simple moment, candle light and “Silent night.”  Could we create moments like that one in our homes and our daily lives more often?

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, a new year in the life of the church.  I just love a new year!  An opportunity to try again, to start fresh, to re-prioritize, all with a fresh blank slate.

So, as begin another year of life as followers of Jesus, what new practices will you try to draw closer to the reason for the season?  What if instead of filling every moment with hustle and bustle, we instead chose to pause, reflect, and pray?  What if instead of being busy, busy, busy we simply paused to be?

Our theme for the season is Calm and Bright: Celebrating 200 years of Silent Night.  Each week as we get closer to Christmas we’ll explore one of the verses, and remember together the real meaning of Christmas.  We will pause together, to remember who and whose we are, and what the gift of the season truly is: love incarnate.

Tomorrow, we’ll hear again that ancient promise of the prophet Isaiah,

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined…
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us…  Isaiah 9: 6.

Join us for the start of a new year, a new promise of God’s peace.  Join us to sing familiar Christmas Carols and ponder anew, God’s gift of love for you.

I’ll see you on Sunday,

Pastor Heather

Gratitude: good for what ails you

It was one of those Sundays.  The kind where everything that can go wrong, does.  And then, something else happens.  We had the wrong prayers printed in the bulletin, and wrong hymns projected on the screen.  Our sound system didn’t work.  The mics didn’t have batteries.  I don’t remember, but it wouldn’t surprise me to hear I tripped as I processed into worship.  I’ve blocked it out.  It was that kind of Sunday.

And it got worse…our lay reader for the day made her way to the lectern to read.  She sat down her Bible, ready to read.  Instead, it exploded.  Pages and pages fell to the floor.  Whole chapters and books fluttered to the floor.  All the notes and mementos she’d stuffed between the pages, they went too.  She looked up and said something like “Well that’s never happened before.”  I wished I could say, “Go in peace,” and call it.

I’d love to tell you I found some way to tie it all together into some example of God’s grace in the midst of human imperfection.  I didn’t.  That day I was a real-time object lesson in the importance of slowing down, taking a breath.  Instead I barreled on, trying to out run the mistakes.  It didn’t work.  I got to the end of our worship, made my way to the door, grateful that it was over.  I wanted to go home and wallow.  If nothing else, we could give thanks that this Sunday, we were done, and next week was a blank slate, a new opportunity.

As people left, we greeted one another, some embarrassed on my behalf, others sympathetic, others awkward in the raw vulnerability of it all.  And here came Janet.  Janet who could always find the moment when God spoke, the moment of grace, the moment worth acknowledging.  More than once she would find some blessing in worship that I might have missed, a moment when God was moving among us.   I knew, to my bones, that this Sunday, even Janet would be hard pressed to find something good to share.

As I looked into her face, Janet was smiling with tears in her eyes.  “Wasn’t it beautiful?” she asked, real joy shining on her face.

“Wasn’t what beautiful?”  I asked, thinking of the long list of less than beautiful moments.  It was embarrassing, frustrating, shameful.

She interrupted my self-critique.  “That moment when we were showered in the word of God.  Wasn’t it beautiful?”  She meant it.  She wasn’t trying to make me or anybody else feel good.  She was genuinely moved by a moment.  She didn’t see disaster, she saw beauty, God’s word showered on us all.  And she was grateful.

Gratitude can change everything.  It helps us refocus on all that is good, right, holy and just in the world.  It gets us outside our own little worlds of scarcity, shame, fear, sadness, anger, frustration and irritation and helps us refocus on blessings abundant and extravagant.  When we notice what God is doing, we spend less time worrying about our own faults and failure.  Keeping our eyes open for a reason to give thanks can change a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” into a sacred moment when we notice the showers of grace upon us all.

This Sunday, we’ll give thanks in word, song, prayer and praise!  Let’s give thanks for the Janet’s in our lives who open our eyes to see the world anew.  Let’s give thanks for God’s goodness and the blessings upon blessings showered upon us.  Let’s gather together and allow God to change our worry into gratitude, our mourning into dancing, and our sadness into joy!

I’ll see you on Sunday,

Pastor Heather

 

God’s heart

For more than a month, our church has been exploring what it means to get outside our own little worlds, thanks to a series by Marcia McFee.  One week, through the theme, “Break My Heart for What breaks Yours,” we were each invited to consider the pain of the world.  This week, it feels like so much more than a thought experiment.  How is God feeling as the people of Pittsburgh grieve, comfort, cry out, and gather?

Outside my own little world…gunmen walk into houses of worship and sacred space is shattered.

Why?

I don’t know. Nor do I know if knowing would help, or if that kind of hatred can or ever should be understood. I don’t know.

I certainly can’t explain the hatred or the violence to my children.  I don’t know why it happened.  But I can talk about pain, and grief, the cost of violence.  I can try, again and again, to model showing up to stand in solidarity with others.  I can talk about God’s dreams for a world where all children, without exception are safe, loved, celebrated.  I can talk about differences of faith and culture as opportunities for curiosity and conversation, not isolation, division, or hatred.

Outside my little world…there is hatred, but there is love too, and hope, and great, great joy.  All the stuff that is out there, is within me, and you, too.  We’re given the opportunity to respond to tragedy, to acts of violence, to oppression and exploitation by choosing more violence and hatred, or love, compassion, grace, and justice.

What can we do in the face of such pain?  We can pray.  We can show up at vigils.  We can check-in on our neighbors.  We can talk with our children about ways to choose peace and love.  We can speak up.  We can vote.  We can learn.  We can look inside our own hearts, noticing our own hard-heartedness, and asking God to soften us, to “break our hearts for what breaks Yours.”

I hope you’ll join me at the vigil on Thursday Night at the Cape Cod Synagogue.

Praying for peace,

Pastor Heather

Standing in Solidarity, Cape Codders from all backgrounds will gather at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1, at the Cape Cod Synagogue, 145 Winter Street, Hyannis, MA 02601. This interfaith gathering is in response to the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and other acts of intolerance, hatred and divisiveness.

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Imagine

Do you remember the first time your brain began to comprehend just how big the universe really is?  I was sitting in Mr. Streisel’s science class as he explained, one overwhelming detail at a time, how incomprehensibly big the universe is, how fast we’re hurtling on this beautiful planet, and just how tiny I am.  I couldn’t tell you a single word  he said or one specific detail he shared, but he captured the vastness in a way all the mobiles and posters, and pages and paragraphs of description I’d read simply hadn’t yet.

In that moment, I felt simultaneously awed, exhilarated, terrified, powerless and inconsequential.   And I loved it!  I wanted to laugh and cry and sing and scream all at the same time.  So with all the emotional maturity of a seventh grader, I put my hands up over my head like I was on a roller coaster and said, “Whee!”

Sometimes, if only for a moment, I get a similar feeling when I think what we, the people who call this planet home, are capable of doing for the good.  Yes, we’re capable of great hurt, but let’s save that conversation for another week.  Let’s pause the rhetoric, shush our inner cynic and if only for the day tear up our list of all that is wrong with the world.  For just a moment, lets consider our potential as a world community for good, for beauty, for love and compassion.

This Sunday, we’ll hear a reminder that God has given us each gifts for the common good.

Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful! -1 Corinthians 12: 7 (The Message)

Think about the sheer amount of gifts and talents scattered across our planet.  Or narrow it down to consider the skill and experience in our community.  Imagine what we could do, for the good of all, with your gifts and mine, your children’s’ creativity and courage, your neighbors’ ingenuity and practicality, your therapist’s compassion, your grocer’s wisdom, your physician’s insight, your contractor’s eye for detail, your bus drivers’ curiosity, your hair dressers’ wit, your coach’s encouragement and discipline.

Join me in a moment of holy dreaming.  Think what a difference we could make, what a beautiful impact we could create, if we all used our God given gifts to build up, to bless, to create, to heal and soothe and comfort.  How are you using the gifts God has given you to add beauty, love, and wonder to the world?  Or as Mary Oliver might ask, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I’ll see you on Sunday,

Heather

Need a little inspiration?  Or wonderful rabbit trails to follow through the world of Ted Talks and YouTube (tomatoe/tamahtoh)

 

Broken hearts

I love my spouse.  I hope that’s not terribly surprising.  Among the things I love: a quirky sense of humor and a quick wit, a love of reading, and a deep compassion for animals and children.  Among other creatures, one of our cats is a rescue from a flower pot where he’d been abandoned.  We’ve agreed, as part of our informal marriage contract, to skip episodes of our favorite tv shows that show children being hurt, and our family doesn’t watch animal movies when I’m home.   I know, how will they grow up properly without watching “Old Yeller?”  They can watch it anytime they want, as long as I’m not around to see it.

Beyond depriving my children of animal movies, there’s something that connects us about what breaks our hearts.  A cause or event that breaks both our hearts, makes us more likely to show up to volunteer for a cause, attend a event, or find ways to share childcare so one of us can be present.  Heart break motivates us as a team.

I think the same must be true of our relationship with God.  When we see the world as God does, we just might find hunger, poverty, violence, and any kind of dehumanization breaking our hearts.  What must God feel seeing a child going to bed hungry?  What does God feel surveying creation and seeing strip-mined mountains, a plastic trash island in the oceans, and hurricane after devastating hurricane?

This week we’ll ask God to “Break my heart for what breaks yours.”  Not to stay in a place of hurt, but rather to be moved to respond to the pain with what else, but love.  Not a love of infatuation, easy words and little else.  No, a love that reaches out with food for the hungry, comfort for the sick, companionship for the lonely, and care for this beautiful planet we call home.

I’ll see you on Sunday,
Pastor Heather

Outside My Own Little World

This Sunday, Wendy Lithwin will be leading our worship, and sharing her gifts through preaching as we celebrate Laity Sunday.  She’ll be exploring the text in Matthew 22, where Jesus is asked, “What is the greatest commandment?”  You know the answer, Love.  Love God, Love each other.

The answer is easy.  We’ve heard it since before we knew we were hearing it.  But to live it, oh that’s the rub.

This week, I’ll be in San Antonio for a conference, “Do No Harm.”  We’ll be considering what it means to love God and each other as we encounter boundary violations in the church.  What does it really mean to create safe space or brave space in our faith community?  How do we walk alongside survivors with compassion and grace?  How do we provide safe space to share our truth, to be heard, to be loved?  And what does it really mean to love a perpetrator: accountability, safety, compassion, grace.  And how do we create space in our communities for all, every last one of us to experience God’s love?   Jesus gave the answer quickly, but the living of God’s love, that takes a life time to learn.

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to Wendy’s gifted leadership and worshiping with you.

I’ll see you on Sunday,

Pastor Heather