Landscape of Lent: Cave

2014 4 6 stones box 2014 4 6 stones

In the story as told in the gospel of John, said Catherine Williams in her sermon on April 6, Lazarus probably  counted on Jesus coming to heal him. She imagined how he would have felt:

“You take to your fevered bed that night in hope. You rise next morning feeling frighteningly worse than last night, and you ask for news of Jesus. . . Now the sun has begun to set; Jesus is still not here. By now you feel yourself enveloped in a thick, dark cloud of disappointment, anger, fear, and abandonment. You wonder if this what death feels like…

Sometimes we feel abandoned, like Lazarus, Catherine said. She quoted theologian Gordon Lathrop’s book on the ‘little deaths’ we face in the course of living. Lathrop speaks of “moments of physical sickness or disability, or the moments of letting go, of moving on, or of facing failure, all of which can be described in metaphoric language as having something of death about them.”

To Lathrop’s listing she added: strained or severed relationships with living persons, mental and emotional pathologies, loss of employment or underemployment, loneliness, betrayal, and a host of other little deaths that begin to close in around us, cutting off our hope, our connections, even our faith, and leaving us entombed by circumstances beyond our control. . .

Near the end of her message, she pointed out that Lazarus’s name meant “God is my help,” and that he had no idea where, or how close,  his help was.

He only knew he was trapped in circumstances utterly beyond his control, and could see no way out. Which means that for the person in the cave, all I’ve said until now may mean absolutely nothing. But the fact that you are here in this gathered community of faith is symbolic of something hopeful. It symbolizes that you are part of a wider community that cares, and that believes the life of God has the power to destroy death, and that the light of Christ cannot be overpowered by darkness.

(The entire message is here.)

Altar design by Debbie Meola and photos are by Edem Timpo.

Landscape of Lent: Water

 2014 water altar The Landscape of Lent: Water

A Sermon by Jana Purkis-Brash

Sunday, March 23, 2014. 

Jana’s topic was the story in John 4: 5-42 about the Samarian woman at the well. For the complete sermon, click here.

Her conclusion:  Over and over again Jesus defied the rigid boundaries imposed by the religious and social leaders of his time. You can look at some of what he did in a contemporary context, and some of it will bother you and maybe even make you angry, as it did the Pharisees and Sadducees.

If Jesus were physically present today,

  • He would visit the Ukraine.
  • He would have dinner with prostitutes and drug addicts.
  • He would surround himself with people of poverty.
  • He would embrace and the Gay, Lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community.
  • He would call on us to pray for terrorists.

Jesus is alive today. And we are his body. We are his presence. We are called to have his mind, and to act as best we are able to discern as Jesus would. To ask and take seriously the question of what would Jesus do in our time moves us well beyond the wristbands that were popular years ago and into the often uncomfortable and sometimes socially unacceptable places where we acknowledge that all people of all nations, all cultures, all religions, all genders, all ages, all races, all sexual orientations, all incomes, all accomplishments and all sins are God’s own children and our sisters a2014 water jugnd brothers seeking the water of eternal life.

And that, my dear friends in Christ, is the most significant witness of all… the one you make. Drink deeply of the living water that Christ offers and share that life giving water with others who need it so badly.

Altar art by Debbie Meola, photographs by Edem Timpo.


The Landscape of Lent: Wilderness

2014 3 9 altar earhGod’s Word shows us that even life’s barren and hostile wilderness cannot separate us from God’s love and the destiny God has for us. That’s what ZhiHui Poh preached on March 9 in a Lenten sermon at Princeton United Methodist Church. His topic in the Landscape of Lent series was the wilderness — the wilderness in which the Israelites wandered, the wilderness in which Jesus was tempted, and the wilderness in our own lives.

He offered an inspiring message about how to think of “life’s wilderness” three ways — as part of God’s grace, as part of God’s discipline, or as part of God’s confidence in us. To continue reading, click here.

(The altar was designed for this service by Debbie Meola).

Youth Leaders for Service and Worship

Our young people will take leading roles in our church this weekend! On Saturday, March 29 at 6 p.m. they stage a fundraising dinner and auction for the Appalachia Service Project (ASP). Tickets for the March 29 dinner are $5, and all are welcome. Among the 2013 asp debbieitems on the auction block:  condos in London, England and Key West, Florida. The ASP program welcomes all teens of all backgrounds, church members and non-church members alike, to participate in this life-changing experience.

On Sunday, March 30, at 9:30 and 11 a.m., three graduating seniors — Alexander Birkel, Daniel Prakash, and Anthony Teng — will deliver the sermon.  Their topic in the Landscape of Lent series is “Mud.”

Sunday Schoolers from second grade on up will attend the 9:30 worship service. After all — soon it will be their turn to lead a Youth Sunday!

Then on the Thursday before Easter,  April 17, at 7:30 p.m., the youth choir and a string quartet will present Faure’s Messe Basse for the service of Upper Room Communion.

Come and support our youth!



The Landscape of Lent: Wind

2014 3 16 wind photo sanctuary Some of God’s best work happens in the midst of chaos and ambiguity, said Catherine Williams in her sermon at Princeton United Methodist Church on Sunday, March 16, 2014. The theme was “Wind,” and it was part of a Lenten sermon series on the elements. Here is an excerpt, and for the complete text, click here. The audio version is also available on

Some of God’s best work happens in the midst of chaos and ambiguity. I was never more aware of that than in my clinical pastoral exposure in the chaos of emergency rooms, in the ambiguity of the psychiatric floor, or in the limbo of the intensive care unit and its waiting rooms. As a terrified chaplain-in-training, despite my predilection for order and control, I discovered that some of God’s best work takes place in the midst of life’s disruptions.

May those of us today who are trying to live through situations of ambiguity and uncertainty allow the wind of God’s spirit to fill us with peace. Often in this place of peace we encounter God’s wisdom, God’s knowledge, God’s understanding, God’s perspective of the situation that simply had not occurred to us before, nor would ever have, had we not placed our trust in God.

So come Holy Spirit, blow upon our hearts this day.

Blow your healing breath where there is pain and sadness.

Blow like a gale where there is complacency and inertia.

Blow, wind of God, blow over our trampled, broken dreams and bring them to life.

Blow over our callous hearts and soften them for your compassionate use.

Blow over our broken families and breathe forgiveness into places of disillusion.

Blow over frail and dysfunctional bodies and cause a rush of healing life to flow within them.

Blow over our failed systems of justice and overturn the rampant corruption and fraud that oppress your people.

Blow over city streets filled with violence and crime; let your reign of peace exert a leavening influence in our families and schools so our children learn to love peace and hate war.

Come holy spirit, breath of God, may this Lenten season give way to the Easter of our lives where we are reborn and renewed from above…

in the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the blessed Holy Spirit, Amen

Windows Feeding Light into the World


Six stained glass windows from Canterbury Cathedral are on view at the Cloisters in NYC. They were crafted in the 12th century, 800 years before the beautiful windows at Princeton United Methodist Church were made. Yet despite the difference in age, the windows on Nassau Street share the same inspiring properties.

In the Middle Ages, said critic Holland Cotter in his review of the exhibition for the New York Times,  “Churches were conceived of as truth-holding boxes of light, but also as power stations, feeding light into the world.”

What an exciting concept! When we pass through the Sanford Davis Room, we see the awesome, huge “Let the Children Come to Me” window.

sd window

Now that window can remind us that the church holds the light of truth and that we can help “feed that light into the world.”

Noticing the “Let the Children Come to Me” window is particularly fitting for Sunday, March 3, when the Sunday School lesson focuses on that very story in Luke 18: 15-17.

One big difference between PUMC’s windows and those in medieval churches where the windows could be 60 feet above the floor: Ours are mostly at eye level.

As in medieval times, the light shining into our windows changes according to the weather and the time of day. Little Sam noticed that during the coffee hour last week. “Look Mom,” he said, “Just now, the light shone through Jesus’s face!”

Photograph of the Cloisters by Byron Smith. Photograph of the PUMC window by Patricia Hatton. The Cloisters exhibit remains through May 18, 212-923-3700.

Pride: Marathon Sermon Series on 7 Deadly Sins

Not all pride is sin, and humility is not self-abasement, said Rev. Don Brash, who preached on “pride vs humility” in the Marathon sermon series on January 26.

If sin is the act of disobeying God, he said, don’t fail to notice what comes before and what happens afterward.  Consider the state of the heart.

In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve wanted to be like God. Equality with God was something to be grasped.  What began in imagination and desire was the disruption of relationships.

Prideful desire plus disobedience led to self alienation in form of guilt and shame — blaming each other and the serpent.

Sin is an act that leads to disruption of true community. With its alienation, pride is the worst of the deadly sins. Insecurity results from alienation to the detriment of others.

Four kinds of sinful pride:

  • Intellectual:  the wry satisfaction from being the one who knows.
  • Moral: not committing the sin another is doing, not removing the plank in our own eye
  • Collective: justifying sinful behavior, as did the Nazis, for the sake of the nation
  • Spiritual:  leading to self righteousness, as when a preacher thinks he can speak for God

Healthy pride, in contrast, values self enough to care for oneself, according to C.S. Lewis. We can celebrate our victories but value the other team. Healthy pride builds community,  but sinful pride alienates community.

Christ is our model for healthy pride, as in Philippians 3:2-11

Walk with Christ.

Don’t look for equality with God.
Make a choice to make a sacrifice for the other.
Learn to love the other voice and the result will be harmony.


Anger: Marathon Sermon Series on the 7 Deadly Sins

Anger can’t be ignored, said Rev. Catherine Williams in her sermon on February 2, part of the seven deadly sins marathon series. Anger  raises more questions than can be answered. Then she proceeded to answer some of these questions.

As Martin Luther said, anger can be useful in giving us energy to accomplish something. As John Wesley said, all anger is not evil. But anger also alienates and it disrupts community.

So what do we do about an anger producing situation?

We can use the Biblical lament to channel anger. As examples, Rev. Williams quoted Psalm 137:7-9, written by the exiled Hebrews, and Psalm 22. When we are enraged by what life hands us — the anger expressed in Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” — validates our emotions. Somebody was praying what we are thinking.

We can also use anger to fuel robust activism, like Jesus when he attacked the money changers in the temple (John 2:13-17). We can fight any of a hundred unjust evils.

We can also take our anger and forgive. Forgiveness is a choice the forgiver makes without regard to the offender. When anger is sinful, forgiveness is its visible antidote. The forgiver — not the situation — is the primary beneficiary of this antidote.