Letter from Jana: February 19, 2017

Dear Friends,

I’m writing to share with you the news that the Bishop is appointing me to serve as the Executive Director of the GNJAC Stewardship Foundation beginning July 1st.

One of the principles of the United Methodist Church is our Connectionalism; we do not stand alone as a congregation but are part of a network of congregations that all work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Connectionalism has always been a part of my DNA as a UM and so to serve in the wider church of the Annual Conference it will allow me to fully live out one of the values that has been so important to me as a UM pastor.

Her letter continues here 

For the letter from Bishop John Schol, here. 

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Coffee with the pastors?

Are you interested in exploring ways to get connected and involved at Princeton United Methodist Church? Would you like to know more about what it means to be a member of our congregation?

If you have been worshiping with us at Princeton UMC, and are ready to learn more about us and opportunities to be in ministry with us, please join the Pastors for an informal time of conversation and sharing on Sunday, February 26 at 10:30 am or 12:30 pm, in the Library.

“Coffee with the Pastors” is meant to be a first step in discovering the basic beliefs, mission, and vision of our community of faith. Please join us on February 26.

RSVP to jana@princetonumc.org by February 23 if you plan to participate.

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Singing joy from around the world: Feb 19

A choir from Sumatera Utara, Indonesia will sing in a free concert at Princeton United Methodist Church on Sunday, February 19, at 3 p.m.

Building bridges through choral music…..Princeton and Westminster Choir College of Rider University welcome more than 800 choral singers from four nations and seven states to participate in “Sing ‘N Joy,” a choral festival and competition sponsored by Interkultur.

Everyone is invited to observe competition sessions, lectures and Friendship Concerts at no charge.  Seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Many of the events take place at Princeton High’s performing arts center.

On Sunday, February 19 at 3 p.m. Princeton United Methodist Church will host a friendship concert featuring these choruses: 

• ChildrenSong of New Jersey (Haddonfield, NJ, USA)
• Paduan Suara El-Shaddai Universitas Sumatera Utara (Sumatera Utara, Indonesia)
• Liberty North High School Choir (Liberty, MO, USA)
• Shanghai Jiao Tong University Choir (Shanghai, China)
• Vassar College Majors (Poughkeepsie, NY, USA)

Join the Joy!

 

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Life in Community

Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash – February 5, 2017 –  Isaiah 58: 1-12

As we as a faith community think together about what life in community means for us, I share with you this quote from a favorite author/thinker, Eugene Peterson. He says, “There can be no maturity in the spiritual life, no obedience in following Jesus, no wholeness in the Christian life, apart from an immersion in, and embrace of, community. I am not myself by myself.”

Each of the Old Testament passages for this month, Isaiah, Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Exodus speaks about God’s intentions around our living in community. This month we will explore what it means to live and serve as God’s people not just as individuals but also in community.

Looking about him at the needs of the homeless, the hungry and the oppressed, Isaiah could no longer keep still. The self-indulgent displays of sackcloth and ashes, he declares, are not acceptable to God! The only true way to observe a fast is by liberating the oppressed, sharing your bread with the hungry, and opening your own house to the homeless!

So let’s go right to the Isaiah text and examine it in a few different ways. At the literal level, and this may be the only time you ever hear me talk about a Bible passage literally, this passage is a prophetic encouragement to the people of God (1) to actively do justice for the oppressed and (2) to show mercy to the most vulnerable. The prophet lists these most vulnerable as the hungry, the homeless, and the naked, all of whom, he says, are “your own flesh.” By this last phrase the prophet relies on the teaching of ;Genesis. 1 and 2 all humans are bone of each-other’s bones and flesh of each-other’s flesh. The prophet understands that all humans are family, for we share a common ancestor. For the prophet, it is only sin that keeps us from acknowledging that we are family, and living as family.

The prophet says that doing such acts of justice and mercy will result in the rapid healing of the people of God. It will result in a renewed and improved relationship with God, in which God’s people communicate with God freely: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am.” God’s people will experience God’s presence.

To ponder an allegorical sense of this scripture, think of Christ’s own example of doing justice and mercy. This passage gives the people of God in the Old Testament an early glimpse of the heart and way of Jesus Christ, and it refreshes our vision of the same. In Jesus’ life and ministry we see him feed the hungry, defend the oppressed, he stands up for women’s right, he loves the outcast, the despised, the rejected, and the sinner, and calls on the rich and powerful to give their money to the poor. Similarly, by sharing in Christ’s merciful self-offering, we share in his merits, most especially in the eternal life he has merited.

With an eye to the moral sense of this passage, we find it right on the surface: we must do the works of justice and mercy the Lord’s prophet tells us to do, using Jesus as our example: both in the things Jesus himself did in the flesh, and in the ways Jesus’ way is multiplied before our imagination by the Christ-patterns of the saints.

Finally in the anagogical sense: Surprisingly, the inspired prophet says “your light will break forth like the dawn.” God’s light becomes our light, for the Church is betrothed to Christ. When we do acts of mercy and justice, we genuinely participate in the eternal and intelligible light who is the Holy Trinity.

Acts of justice and mercy, because they are acts of love, allow us to partake in the divine nature. Acts of justice and mercy are acts of worship, by which we glimpse the comforting presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we sense that “the glory of the Lord” is our “rear guard.” God protects us, and we glimpse God’s glory (behind us, guiding & protecting us) out of the corner of our eye, though we do not yet see God face to face. We should not miss the opportunity to give acts of justice and mercy to all, especially those in need; for we are most in need ourselves, and God has given us mercy and justification. St. Gregory Nazianzus reminds us that Christians do not just have altars inside church buildings; anytime we see a beggar, there is God’s altar, awaiting our offerings. Continue reading

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Welcome back, Tom Lank

Welcome back to Rev. Tom Lank!  He and his family return to PUMC on Sunday, February 12 so that he can speak at the breakfast served by United Methodist Men. His topic: United Methodist Volunteers in Mission. He will also preach at both services, on the sermon series topic “Life in Community,” based on Deuteronomy 30:15-20 

Tom is a United Methodist Deacon and a product of Princeton UMC, where he discerned his call to ministry as a layperson, and served on staff as the Associate Pastor from 2008-2010.   Tom led the mission trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo  that launched PUMC’s strong support for United Front Against Riverblindness. He currently serves as the Coordinator of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission program for the Northeastern Jurisdiction, covering United Methodist congregations from Maine to West Virginia to Washington, DC.  Tom, his wife Gretchen Boger, and their two children, Edith (11) and Alice (8) currently live in Philadelphia.

UMM cooks the tasty hot breakfast, and it’s not ‘just for guys.’ Everyone  is invited; a $5 donation is suggested.

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On immigration policy

“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, . . .

These words, written by poet Emma Lazarus and posted on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty have, for decades, welcomed the foreigner to the shores of our land.  They are words that have described the position of our country, a place that has welcomed the immigrant into a land of hope where a pathway to a better life could be found.

The words “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” sound very similar to a message that the church has proclaimed for generations:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.”
(Matthew 11:28)

The bishops of the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church offer this statement on immigration policy — and it comes with a prayer.  Link here to read this, provided by  Bishop John Schol of the United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey.. 

Here is another link to a prayer, this one for the immigrant and refugee. 

Refugee and Immigrant God, who came wanting to dwell among us.
Hear our prayers.  Amen.

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Sunday School: Not Just for Kids

In addition to Bible studies that meet during the week, two adult classes welcome newcomers on Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

The Contemporary Issues Class is starting a new study based on The Unwinding by George Packer. Through a series of glimmering short essays, Packer has put together a story of how wealth has concentrated itself in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, and the first decade of the 21st. “We meet every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in the Library. We welcome new class members,” says Charles Phillips.

The Heart of Faith class meets in Fellowship Hall on Sundays at 9:30. Led by Rev. Don Brash, it will study the differences between the Word as Jesus of Nazareth, the word as the preaching of the preacher, and the Word as the messages of the Scriptures. “We will explore the possible ways of understanding God’s relationship to the words of the Bible and the words of the preacher,” says Don. He is associate professor of historical theology at Palmer Theological Seminary. Everyone is welcome.

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God Imagines…..All Are Equal – 1 Corinthians 1: 10-18

Gerald C. Liu – 3rd Sunday After Epiphany,  January 22, 2017.

“I am Christ’s and So are You”

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that no matter who runs the United States, we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Year A, Third Sunday after Epiphany, modified by author.)

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

Well that sounds nice, doesn’t it? We’ve never had a disagreement in this church, have we? I remember at one of the parishes I formerly served in England, there was a weekend morning coffee gathering open to the public. It wasn’t quite as elaborate or hip as the Sunny After Dark coffee house. But it was a significant undertaking for a church comprised mostly of 60 and 70 year-olds. We were located on the “High Road,” which was a main shopping drag, not unlikeNassau St. We’d offer free coffee, tea (usually with milk and sugar) and biscuits (that’s Queen’s English for cookies) to people buying clothes for the kids or themselves or both, getting groceries, and taking care of any other weekend errands. And when everything was finished, as we were cleaning up, boy, if a single cup or saucer was placed on the wrong shelf, or the coffee maker or tea kettle were stored in the wrong cabinet, or if the chairs weren’t rearranged just as they previously were, (The church was small. So, we had moveable chairs in the sanctuary and used it for the social coffee time), you’d think that the world had ended. If anything was out of place, I’d get an earful from church members who were mad at the world.

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public, but for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists:Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.We are one nation, and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams, and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.

Though the language exaggerates for effect, we can probably nod our heads to the sentiment. Some of our heads may begin to shake, however, at the next line – “The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance to all Americans.” Those words and the occasion where they were pronounced make us want to do something. We have to do something, like Mayor Liz Lempert did when she joined the women’s march in Trenton, NJ yesterday. Maybe some of you were there too. In New York, where I live, there were reportedly 400,000 women, men, and children participating. Lempert told the Princeton Patch, “It is going to be more important than ever that people will stand up and be vocal about things important to them, and to use our collective voice to make a strong statement” (“Princeton Mayor to Participate in Women’s March in New Jersey” in The Princeton Patch, Anthony Bellano, January 19, 2017). Her speech isn’t empty. She isn’t merely saying what sounds good. Her appeal and action to empower social change gets at what Paul urges the Corinthians to do.

I Corinthians is a letter. It’s one of the longest in the New Testament. Paul writes it to a church he founded. He’s a seasoned minister at this point. He’s been proclaiming the gospel for about 20 years. He spent about a year and a half with the Corinthians and at the time of this letter, he hasn’t seen them for about three years. He’s in Ephesus. It’s as far away as Nova Scotia is from us. And even though he writes from a distance, there are pressing church problems that need addressing. We won’t get into the details today. Our focus this morning is his appeal that the Corinthians must unify.

Given all he’s been through with and apart from the Corinthians, when Paul makes an appeal for unity, he doesn’t speak from naïveté or blind faith. He isn’t articulating a platitude or wishful thinking.

He also isn’t just addressing the Corinthians. In verse 2 of chapter 1, he writes, “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” He’s writing to all of us, including Princeton United Methodist Church, nearly two millennia later.

Still, how do we receive Paul’s words as true, especially today? And how do we live into them? We’re getting close when we as a church believe and declare, “All are Equal.” But that kind of declaration can seem unreal too.

All are equal? Continue reading

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God Imagines…All Are Welcome

Rev. Catherine E. Williams – Jan 15, 2017 – Revelation 7: 9-17

“God imagines…” signals a divine reality – a reality that exists already as far as God is concerned, although not quite yet as far as humans are concerned. “God imagines” is an invitation to enter a divine space called the Kingdom or the Reign of God, a place that holds the substance of the things we humans hope for, and dream of.

Things like peace on earth, a welcoming, inclusive community, an egalitarian society, and the total harmony of all creation – these already exist in God’s vision. They are the future that people of God lean into as we go about daily living, but we lean in because we have been inspired by the divine imagination and touched by the divine Spirit in some compelling way. Ever so often we get weary and frustrated, as Jana reminded us last week. Something happens in the home, in the community, in the country or around the world that takes the wind out of our sails. We throw up our hands and throw in the towel – why bother? And then God, for whom this peace, and inclusiveness, this equality and harmony already exists, touches our hearts again through some divine encounter, and we are inspired once more to live and lean into that vision; we become convinced in some uncanny way that this is real after all, and worth pursuing. Such is the power of God’s imagination; such is the work of God’s Spirit in the world. Such was the work of the biblical prophets like John who wrote the Revelation, this book from which our lesson was read this morning.

If you want to see imagination on steroids, you’re welcome to read the whole book of Revelation. Oh it starts off pragmatic enough with letters to seven churches, commending or chastising them based on their faithfulness to God’s ways. And then we get to chapter four and all imagination breaks loose: thrones, heavenly beings, beasts and horses, and dragons. Imagery and metaphor converge upon one another with lightning speed and thundering volume – it’s all so compelling and awesome that books, movies, songs, doctrines, and forecasts of human destiny have all emerged out of this book. But the fantastic tone of the book of Revelation is nothing strange if you understand apocalyptic writings; they envision a just and rightful end to injustice and human wrongs.

When we read the various books of the Bible it helps to think of reading through a newspaper; we interpret what we read according the nature of the writing. So the advertisements, the sports pages, the advice columns, and the comic strips all belong in the newspaper, but we don’t evaluate the information in the advice column the way we evaluate the information in the comic strip. In the same way the psalms, the law, the wisdom literature, prophets, the gospels, letters, and apocalyptic writings all belong in the Bible, but we understand the poetry in a much different way than we understand the prophetic oracles. Apocalyptic writings like Revelation tend to be filled with graphic images of all kinds: from violence and wrathful judgment to peaceful restoration and harmonious resolution to earthly wrongs. It’s a desperate yearning for right to prevail and for wrong to be punished. I just needed to put that perspective in place before I get to today’s vision, which thankfully is one of the more alluring ones.

In Revelation 7 John entered into God’s imagination when he looked and saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice saying, ‘salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Rev. 7:9-10 NRSV) In these verses, John skips to the end of the cosmic book, so to speak, to give us a glimpse of a community shaped by God’s vision of inclusiveness. Let’s remember that this was God’s vision from the very beginning when he called Abraham. In Genesis, the book of beginnings, God promised Abraham that in him all the families of the earth will be blessed, and that his progeny of the faithful would be more in number than the stars of the heaven or the sand of the sea. I think we’re looking at them here in Revelation. This is what New Testament scholar Brian Blount scholar calls the “innumerable, international multitude” – people from every nation, every tribe, every ethnic group, every language.

The earthly ministry of Jesus also demonstrated this vision of inclusiveness. You may recall the repeated derogatory comments made by Jesus’ detractors regarding the kind of company he kept. His roadies were fishermen and tax collectors.  His groupies came from the palace and from the pub. He was playful with the kids and gentle with the mothers-in-law. Jesus told so many stories about this innumerable international multitude we see in Revelation. His version of “once upon a time,” was,the kingdom of heaven is like” These stories illustrated a reality that God imagines where the first shall be last and the least shall be greatest, and where everyone is invited to the great victory banquet – everyone!

This inclusiveness is part of the DNA of God we receive at our baptism and when we come to faith in Jesus Christ. The Spirit of God who grafts us into the church and who leads us to maturity works within each of us to develop this disposition of inclusiveness. And doesn’t our own congregational mission statement call us into this vision of God? We are a diverse community, joyfully responding to God’s love and growing as disciples of Christ by nurturing, teaching, reaching, and serving all people. It says right there on the front of your bulletin that all are welcome here: whatever your ethnicity, culture, nationality, faith tradition, age, gender, hair type, skin tone, educational background, profession or trade, sexual orientation, degree of physical ability, state of physical or mental health, whatever your political affiliation – ALL ARE WELCOME. Continue reading

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All Are Equal

 

As part of the “God Imagines” sermon series, Gerald C. Liu will preach on “All Are Equal” on Sunday, January 22.

An assistant professor of worship and preaching at Princeton Theological Seminary, he has degrees from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, Emory University, and Vanderbilt.  An ordained United Methodist minister, Gerald  is a minister in residence at Church of the Village, a United Methodist congregation in Manhattan.

He has studied in Germany, served as a minister in England, and did ethnographic research in Uganda for a contributed chapter for The Culture of AIDS in Africa: Hope and Healing Through Music and the Arts, Oxford UP).

Gerald’s text is Revelation 7:9-17, which begins with  …a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

and ends with

‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’[b]
    ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’[c]

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