Sermon “Rekindle The Gift”

On World Communion Sunday, October 6, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached a sermon titled “Rekindle The Gift.” The Scripture for the week is 2 Timothy 1: 1-14.

World Commuion DayDo you ever waver in your faith? Not sure what you believe? Are you perhaps feeling like your faith isn’t quite enough? Or maybe it’s not God you question so much as the church – or how people receive you as a Christian?

There’s the story of Tim, a young pastor struggling a lot about his faith. It seems hard. He looks foolish. He is perhaps tired of defending Paul in prison or Jesus Christ on the cross. If the resurrection is real and Christ has conquered death, why is life still so difficult? Maybe Tim’s been prosecuted himself. Or he is probably exhausted helping others navigate as well. In whatever way, it takes guidance, courage, perseverance, and patience to grow strong in faith.

In the Scripture, Paul knew Timothy’s sincere faith was a result of the godly influence of his mother and grandmother, who taught him the Scriptures. Here’s what he told him: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” Parents and grandparents are there to provide godly training in the home and pass their faith to the next generation. When we believe in God, we should encourage our children and grandchildren to keep believing and following Christ.

Combined Choirs World Communion Sunday

Many conversations show that a lot of people have a spiritual hunger, for they do not connect to something bigger or one another. That’s what Paul is doing here for Tim. He is rekindling the gift that is within. Remember Lois and Eunice and what they did for their family? We must pray and worship always, even in times of adversity. Prayer in faith is not something the world still understands. Jesus has destroyed death and brought life and immortality so we should not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord. But know that the joy of church and worship rekindle in us a gift, for which we must give thanks.

We don’t know all of where God is leading us, but we are and can be a witness. We need each other! Let us dismantle racism. Let the Holy Spirit give us the spirit of power, love, and self-discipline and help us remove the feeling of cowardice. We need one another’s differences, worship styles, biblical understandings, life experiences, questions. We need dreams of multiculturalism, sincere worship, and even more courageous conversations.

As we come to the worldwide Communion table, remember to be inspired. Be encouraged to connect with something bigger than ourselves. Learn to connect and have a greater love for one another as Christ himself did. “Guard the good treasures entrusted to you.”

The sermon is a podcast on this webpage under the category worship. Here is the link

For the complete video of the October 6 service, found on Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page, click here.

Sermon “Ages and Stages: Growing Up in Faith”

On Sunday, July 21, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached on the topic “Growing Up in Faith” from the sermon series “Ages and Stages.” Her sermon is based on the scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 13: 8-12. 

 

When has your life been disrupted or thrown off course? When have you fallen or failed, or hit a wall, in a way that you couldn’t keep on living your life the same way that you had been doing before? Maybe it was a time when you knew that you needed to run away quickly from the trouble in which you found yourself. When have you hit rock bottom? Maybe it was a time like Moses, when you were in fear and rage came welling up. Maybe your experience was something like David’s when your whole world came crashing down around you when you felt you had overstepped the bounds. Maybe there was even adultery and getting people in your way out of the way.

Maybe it was more like Job when you suffered a severe loss of everything you held dear. Perhaps it was like that of Peter. Walking on water with Jesus, only to find yourself plunging into the bottom of the sea. Maybe you were thrown to the ground like Paul, who was on a crusade to make the world a better place. Or was it like that of the prodigal son who found himself in a pigpen?  Or the older brother doing it right all along yet finding himself staying outside the party? Some have even suffered divorce, bankruptcy, and addiction.

This idea came from a survey I sent out in May asking for your response. Over half of the respondents expressed concerns for children and grandchildren and longing for intergenerational connection, not just within one age group or another. However, failure is crucial in our life of faith and being a mature Christian. Just like child growth and development, our faith has direction and movement – a trajectory. Life is going to present us with failures all around, no matter how hard we try. I grew up thinking that we were supposed to be perfect, and we could avoid failure and squash imperfections.  It turns out we are likely to stay on the path we are already on, even if we are going nowhere. Unless, of course, we have help and encouragement.

Many philosophers from Carl Jung, to Erik Erickson, to James Fowler, to John Wesley have written about the stages that we go through as human beings seeking a more mature life. But the person I’m going to be most indebted to today is Richard Rohr who stated that the spiritual life explains how we can very quickly get lazy and stuck in our path if we don’t have other people or other experiences that are helping us to move along this path. And Rohr uses an image that is called the ‘Two Halves of Life.’ Both ‘Halves’ are essential, and we cannot skip over the second ‘Half.’  Wherever you are in your faith journey or maturity is excellent.  You should celebrate and allow room for growth. 

But what happens is that immature leaders rise and immature groups keep our systems moving in these ways. What we need is a group of people, family, church communities, other communities that help us to see ourselves for who we are and help us to see something of who we can become and for this we need people who are further along on their journey than we are. Still, we require experiences of falling and failing as well as that community of people that can help us, when that happens, to see that there is something beyond that. Someone especially who can help us move from that deep dark place?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul presents this picture of love that is extraordinary and way beyond any one’s grasp, the kind of love that only God embodies. He is holding up a mirror to us showing us what we look like and opening a window into what God is doing in us and for us, saying “You are a beloved child of God and more.” Can you draw an image of what is your trajectory of faith and life and love? Can you feel God’s love interwoven into all of it even at the very worst time of your life? Then I invite you to name wise men around you, the elders in your life who have to help you see where your life is going to go – where you are being invited by God to go. 

Sermon “Come, Holy Spirit! Make us Resilient”

On Trinity Sunday, June 16, 2019, Pastor Jennifer Smith-Walz preached on the topic “Come Holy Spirit!  Make Us Resilient” from the sermon series “Revealing Resurrection.” Her sermon is based on the scripture reading “Peace and Hope” from  Romans 5:1-5.  

Pastor Jenny pointed out that people have many different responses to suffering, given that there are many kinds of people, different types of struggle, and many different circumstances. Some feel undone by their plight, others nurture a sense of victimhood; still, others feel shame, which leads to depression. She believes that the best option is to face our suffering, hold steady, grow more alive, wise, and hopeful.

She noted that we are suffering because of our faith in Jesus Christ and we should not get stuck in the suffering, introducing us to Luther Smith’s words “There are places in the human heart that do not yet exist. Then suffering enters in to brings them to life.”  She observed that suffering is the Holy Spirit moving in us and through us. Pain creates patience, which builds character, which produces hope. Hope then brings peace because, through the Holy Spirit, God has poured love into our hearts.

Paul teaching in the Roman Catholic Church expounded on suffering and the church’s response to it. Pain leads to endurance, and we must exhibit patience, which will build up our character for peace and hope. He tells us that suffering is something that all Christians are called to expect. The pain will come, especially if we follow Christ who gave himself up for us, suffered under Pontus Pilate, crucified, dead and buried. We are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  Even though we know it,  we sometimes go to great lengths to avoid suffering or make up all kinds of excuses for our own struggle and that of others. Paul tells us we shouldn’t. 

Up to 50% of our population has experienced some trauma in our homes, in school, in battle, in our churches.  Suffering can be physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental. Many people don’t talk about it. They simply don’t trust anyone, especially the church, to believe them. And so they find themselves in a world of the walking-wounded – alone, stuck, ashamed, depressed, hopeless. How then do we handle suffering when something happens to us? The church’s response is to rejoice in our sufferings.  

Paul encourages us not to waste the pain or struggle. In Peter L. Steinke’s words,  “We waste suffering if we gloss over, deny, avoid or neglect its message . . .  If however, we can learn from pain, it is not wasted, but a source of life and health.”  People ask, “How is pain a source of life and health when we are under assault?” Pastor Jenny gives four responses:  “When pain comes, denial and avoidance are a waste. We must either (1) look around for help – from God and/or from our community; (2) fight, (3) take flight from the struggle, or (4) go numb.

Paul’s message is that we must be immersed in God and in our community so that when suffering happens, we can look around and see our tribe and continue to see God’s love poured into our hearts as a gift from the Holy Spirit.  Our community does not deny or avoid suffering. It is full of people willing to share in our struggle or bond with one another. We should practice calling on God to receive the Holy Spirit, which makes us brave, brings us together, and opens us to one another so that when suffering comes, the Holy Spirit is already in us. And when we can’t see the other side when we feel afraid, shame or despair, we must remind ourselves that the Holy Spirit will overcome, and we can share burdens with and for one another. Paul promised us that the Holy Spirit will help us in our suffering. Pastor Jenny is, therefore, encouraging us to heed Paul’s promise and call on the Holy Spirit to make us resilient.

 Can we feel the Holy Spirit moving within us, pouring unconditional, eternal, everlasting love on us?  If we feel it, Pastor Jenny invites us to take time to share with someone how the Holy Spirit is working in our life. If we can’t handle it, we must still talk to someone. This Holy Spirit fosters love, faith, and trust.

At the close of the sermon, Pastor Jenny invited Larry Apperson to share his story with the congregation of how he overcame suffering.  Looking back on his life, Larry remembered one snowy night in Princeton, many years ago, when he cooked lots of soup and brought it to our church, wanting to feed hungry people in the area. After setting the tables and putting up the signs outside, he waited hours for people to show up, but no one came. For a long time, Larry suffered enormously from this disappointment. He had this great idea, but he couldn’t get it done.  Yet, he could not let it go. Ten years passed, several things happened. Then, with the arrival of a new pastor, things started to change. One phone call from a church that needed food daily. . . . And so the Princeton Cornerstone Community Kitchen Princeton Cornerstone Community Kitchen at Princeton UMC was born. Cornerstone Community Kitchen served its first meal on June 6, 2012, and in partnership with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) have since served 30,000 meals.  In Larry’s mind, he thought he had failed, but the Holy Spirit saw that this was a good idea and was telling him not to give it up.  Full of hope, endurance, patience, and not avoiding suffering, Larry has received God’s love through the Holy Spirit poured into his heart and overflowed to others.

 

 The sermon is podcast on this webpage under the category “worship.” Here is the link

For the complete video of the June 19 service, found on Princeton United Methodist Church Facebook page, click here.

 

Contemporary Issues New Topic, New Book – ‘Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists’

Starting Sunday, May 19, 2019, the Contemporary Issues class will be reading ‘Moral Clarity’ by Susan Neiman. 

According to its chair, Charles Phillips, “We chose this book because we wanted to discuss a contemporary philosopher’s thoughts on morality and compare them with our understanding of morality as based on our faith.” 

The introduction to this book, ‘Moral Clarity,’ stated: “Moral inquiry and political activism start where reasons are missing. When righteous people suffer, and wicked people flourish, we begin to ask why. Demands for moral clarity ring long, loud bells because it is something we are right to seek”.

Listen to Susan Neiman in her own words https://youtu.be/ABJSZk4HVvc 

The Contemporary Issues class meets on Sundays at 8:45 a.m. at the church library and precedes the 10:00 a.m. worship service so that attendees can benefit from both experiences

The subjects addressed are chosen by those who wish to attend, with a focus on issues that individuals, families, groups, and countries face in the world today. The group has lively discussions, and everyone can participate. 

All adults are welcome to join this weekly discussion group.

Sunday November 13 – Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash: Where Is Your Power? Isaiah 40:27-31, Ephesians 3:14-21

img_2202What a week this has been. I’ve spent a great deal of time listening to and caring for people. I have encouraged people to sit in and feel their despair, anger, sadness, hopelessness, fear, and uncertainty. We must allow ourselves to feel what we are feeling before moving ahead to action.

It has prompted me to think about times in my life when all seemed lost, and how I was able to claim God’s strength and power. As I think about difficult times in my life I think of a church burning down, a parsonage burning down, miscarriages, losing my mom over the course of 10 years to dementia, and in those same years my dad dying of cancer. My daughter eloping with a man she barely knew and moving halfway around the world. There were times in each of these personal situations that I didn’t see a way forward, I was hopeless and angry, fearful and despairing. One way that I was able to move forward was claiming God’s power and strength through scripture.

I grew up in the northeast when memorizing scripture was passé, thankfully as an adult I have learned scripture that sustains me. It was in the midst of a breast cancer scare a few years ago that I held tight to scripture and this week I’ve found myself doing same. (David/Ulanda has read two of those scriptures for us this morning)

For me these scriptures and some others strengthen me and help me to claim the power I need to move forward in faith and hope. Today I’m going to bring more scripture passages to play than usual; I hope you will hear the assurance these passages offer.

This morning I want to share with you a story that I hope will help us to think about where our power lies.

Once upon a time a man found the egg of an eagle. It had been abandoned for some reason by its mother, but as it was still warm the man took it and put it in the nest of one of his backyard chickens along with the other eggs that were there being brooded upon. After a period of time the eaglet was hatched, and along with the other chicks from his nest began to go about the backyard doing what the other chicks did. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He looked for the corn that the man would throw into the yard. He clucked and cackled as best as he could, and as he grew, he would, like the other chickens, thrash his wings and fly a few feet in the air.

Years passed in this way and the eagle grew very old. thOne day he saw a magnificent bird far above him in the cloudless sky. It glided majestically among the powerful wind currents, soaring and swooping, scarcely beating its long golden wings. The old eagle looked at it in awe and asked “what is that?” “That is the eagle, the king of the birds”, said one of his neighbors. “He belongs to the sky and to the high places. We belong to the earth, we are chickens.” The old eagle knew this was true, and so it was he lived and died as a chicken, for that is what he believed he was.

Do you think the eagle/chicken had the power to change? What held him back?

Think with me for a moment about the verses at the end of Ephesians chapter three: 20-21.”Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine; to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”

Do you have the power to change? What holds you back?

If you drew your power from God what could you accomplish that you aren’t doing now?

Can we believe in new possibilities for ourselves? Continue reading “Sunday November 13 – Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash: Where Is Your Power? Isaiah 40:27-31, Ephesians 3:14-21”

Sunday June 26. Resident Theologian Donald Brash “Tweeting the Message: Did we forget anything?”

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This morning we begin a new series of sermons on the one-liners we may read on people’s Twitter messages, or TWEETs. Twitter is one of the cyberspace ways that people stay connected. The question before us as we proceed weekly through this series is how do we stay connected to God, even with our more casual inclinations during the summer months

Today’s one line TWEET is, “Did we forget anything.

Jana thought, thinks I am well suited to address this topic. We won’t repeat that conversation here. Envision with me a family one hour into a ten-hour drive to their vacation destination. One parent turns to the other and asks: Did we forget anything? My own answer to this question is realistic: I assume that I did… Experience has taught me that I will have forgotten something. So far, I am glad to say, that something has not been a some-one.

thYou probably will not be surprised when I say that Jana is the queen of list makers, and advanced planners. She often brings on our trips what she thinks I might forget. So, when I need that item, and she hands it to me, I lower the volume of my complaining about the quantity and weight of her luggage. It’s an artful tactic that works for her… and – for us.

In Joseph and Mary’s day, planning ahead for a trip was not merely an operational preference made by disciplined people, like Jana: It was a necessity. Nothing could be wasted, and forgetting to take something needed could be fatal. Ancient journeys required careful planning. It was best to travel in groups, because rogues and brigands haunted some regions, despite the Pax Romana. There likely would have been discussions about who would bring what, and in what order they would walk or ride, where they would stop for the night, and who would take the first and second and third watches.

Let’s start TWEETING our responses to this week’s question: Did we forget anything? Not as likely if we made a list and started preparing early.

We forget more than things, and not only on vacations. I refer first to those many, many times each DAY when perhaps I should speak for myself – when I give credence to the phrase, “absent-minded professor.” You may be able to relate to some of the following examples, in question form, even beyond the stereotype of walking into a room and forgetting why you entered it. Do you look at your cell phone and wonder why you took it from your pocket or purse? Do you sit and stare at the icons on the phone hoping to remember the one you should press? Do you drive down the highway and, at some surprising moment realize you do not remember driving from point a to point b? Do you ever get a phone call from the bank asking you to return the canister to the drive-thru. (That may be just me. It was an embarrassing moment.)

youth sunday greetingOurs is a forgetful generation, and it is not just because some of us spend too much time with our minds elsewhere. We are drawn toward lifestyles that are mentally fragmenting. Television and radio, cellphones, computers and so much more are over-stimulating; and so, overwhelmed, we disassociate from the present, and we forget. I suggest that (I am working on this one now) in order to reduce mental fragmentation and enhance our focus on the here and now we may benefit from pausing, just pausing: perhaps before beginning our day in earnest, or between tasks, or in the evening, or all of the above. We read in the gospels that Jesus often went into the wilderness to be alone. He knew that rhythm is essential to nature. It is written in the fabric of this world. That we will benefit from taking a few minutes regularly to reflect on where we were, where we are, and where we are heading probably is in our DNA.

SECOND TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not as likely if we paused before we left. (SUBTWEET: Even less likely if we have included pausing in the rhythm of our days.)

Still beyond things and vacations alone: Forgetting has consequences both for individuals and communities. There are three journeys in our lesson from Luke’s Gospel, and they are interesting as they were motivated by community memory. I begin most days with a reading from the Christian Testament, the New Testament, if you prefer. I read it in Greek, which is the language of composition for most of its documents. I am not special in this: Many professors of theology are able to read an ancient language. When reading in Greek, I often discover something new to me, a detail I did not see before, one that both stimulates and focuses my thinking. Sometimes I relearn something I once knew. Have you noticed that life’s lessons are easily forgotten and must be relearned many times? Like individuals, a community with amnesia repeats the mistakes of the past. Just two generations from the holocaust, anti-semitism is on the rise again in Europe, along with anti-“otherism.” (Europe is a not-so-distant mirror.) Fascism is an expression of anarchy disguised as nationalist loyalty. Fear is the great enemy – the demonic force behind hatred and scapegoating.

ANOTHER TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not as likely if we are attentive to our lessons.

Forgetting is not always a problem. We need to be able to forget in order to make room for what our conscious minds can hold. On the other hand, some forgetting damages our ability to enjoy the present. Memories that are repressed sometimes contribute to our driven-ness, our sense of urgency and fragmentation, our diving in and swimming with very little if any sense of direction. Repetition compulsions (neurotic habits) are another subject for another day – I’ll not share any of mine today…

I WILL TWEET this much: Not as likely if we look for what we may have overlooked.

The first journey is about Jesus’ birth – a familiar story. Jesus’ father and mother traveled to Bethlehem. Upon their arrival, there was no place to stay, and Mary was giving birth. We may relate to their fear and anxiety. Some journeys include dramatic events: illness, hospitalization… we might substitute in Mary and Joseph’s case updated language. Instead of no room in the upper room, where guests were lodged, we might say there was no room at the hospital, no room in the maternity ward, or there were no medical facilities nearby.

TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not likely if we anticipate possible surprises along the way. (Of course, we cannot anticipate them all.) Still beyond things and vacations alone.

The second journey in our story was motivated by the covenant God is said to have made with Abraham, and detailed through Moses at the giving of the Law. The newborn male child would be circumcised as a sign of belonging to the people of the covenant: God’s chosen, God’s elect; and if he was the first boy, he also went through the rite of cleansing at Jerusalem; hence the journey [It is interesting that rites so essential to Jewish identity were set aside by the Apostle Paul. Christians typically believe that in this he understood the spirit of the law. There has been much argument over the centuries about the status of the law, even to this day.]

TWEET: Not a response to the question but an insertion – Remember why you went on the journey. (Don’t let arguing over the route spoil the trip.)

The third journey is the trip made by an apparently large contingent from Nazareth to Jerusalem for an annual festival. The journey was an annual event; perhaps this year Jesus’ coming of age also was celebrated. As we have heard it read, at the end of the festival the contingent began their return journey to Nazareth.th We read that Jesus’ parents, Joseph and Mary, discovered after a few days’ on the road that Jesus was not with other family members, as they had assumed. Can you imagine their panic? Perhaps theirs was a unique panic? Now, according to Luke, the parents had been through a lot of convincing experiences, enough to say to themselves, perhaps, something like this: “Dear God we’ve lost the Messiah!” What a Tweet that would be… going viral wouldn’t even begin to capture the power of that one.

I think, though, that they really were just worried about the boy they loved. I remember my parents, with five children, counting heads in order to avoid a personalized “yes” answer to today’s question: Did we forget any… one? Mary and Joseph returned quickly to Jerusalem and looked frantically for Jesus, only to find him astonishing the elders by his wisdom, which is evidence that this was his bar-mitzvah” year.

TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not likely if we keep our minds on what matters most.

The story of this journey is a little vexing. Jesus responded to his parents: “You should have known I’d be about my Father’s business.” Never mind he had worried his parents half-to-death.

Upon hearing, “Oh, I stayed behind to do God’s work,” I might have responded, “Maybe God will do your extra chores when we get home to Nazareth. It may have been that Jesus felt a tension at this, a tension we too encounter: to attend to the need of the moment, perhaps a mundane need in which people are depending on us, or to do pursue our calling, Do I leave my Sabbath moment in order to respond to the urgent, or do I stay? A word of caution: I have heard excuses that put a veneer of prayer on a matter that required action. Pausing, even if for prayer does not necessarily make holy things or holy people. On the other hand, not pausing to reflect and think and pray potentially leads to undiscerning commitments, and unholy alliances.

TWEET: Did we forget anything? Not likely if pausing leads to more meaningful and timely action.

thI have mixed metaphors with some license today. It’s been a fun frolic for me. Suffice it to say that we are on a journey, individually and all together. Love for God, love of neighbor, and a healthy love of self. On these commandments lie all the law and the prophets, that is also, all the memory of community identity and meaning. The fruits of the spirit are faith, hope, kindness, welcoming the stranger… against these there is no law.

FINAL TWEET: Above all – remember love – Love should be on our list! Then it will not be likely that anything really necessary will be forgotten.

Did you forget anything? Are we forgetting anything? This summer, let’s take the time for a second look at our packing list.

Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash: Healthy Spirituality: Inside Out – Joy and Sadness

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How can joy and sadness be spiritually healthy?

For many, joy and sadness would be an unlikely partnership. However, for Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash the exact opposite is the case. Happiness is healthy, so is sadness and both need to go together. She based her text on Psalm 139 and John 16:16-24 and concluded: “My prayer for us is that Joy and Sadness are woven together in such a way that we are spiritually healthy and that our joy is rooted. “

Inside-out-d150_13cs.sel16.101   Inside-Out-Joy-Sad

 There is a small part of me that is thankful for the blizzard last week. Let me explain. As I moved through the week preparing my sermon on Joy, I became more and more concerned that Joy and Sadness really needed to be together. In order to fully understand the healthy roles of these two emotions, they need to be brought together as a team. So because of the storm and canceling worship last week, I have been able to do just that. We will see how this unlikely partnership helps us as we seek to be spiritually healthy and whole.

A focus of Inside Out is the grounding of happiness. In a society that seeks joy in comfort, silliness, and diversion, Pixar presents a different picture of the full life. Being happy is not about eliminating or even minimizing emotions not named Joy. No one in history has ever succeeded with that approach. Inside Out refreshingly declares that the good life is not free from sadness or anger, but allows joy to live in a harmony with those other less comfortable emotions.

As we’ve mentioned previously the film enters the mind of a preteen, Riley, whose life has been disrupted by a cross-country move. The film’s brilliance is in embracing the brokenness we all face. We all experience it, and yet so few stories on TV and on the big screen help us process and endure it. In Inside Out, life is hard, but not hopeless. Grief and sadness are meaningful, even valuable experiences.

We see Joy as the irrepressible Pollyanna of the emotions at work within Riley—she flatly refuses to let life’s problems get her down and by extension, bring Riley down, so when Sadness comes on the scene during Riley’s infancy, Joy sees her as a problem to be overcome. As Riley grows, so do Joy’s frustrations with Sadness, particularly when she discovers that Sadness has the capacity to turn the glowing golden orbs of Riley’s happy memories sad by touching them. When Sadness causes herself and Joy—along with Riley’s core memories—to be sucked into the larger world of Riley’s mind, the two emotions must work together to make their way back to Headquarters and set things right.

It is on this journey through Riley’s mind that Joy begins to see the need for Sadness, and more importantly, comes to a deeper understanding of what joy really is. To this point, Joy has seen herself as a cheerleader—the one around whom the other emotions rally in order to help Riley make happy memories, leading (as Joy describes it) to perfect days, weeks, months, years, and ultimately, a perfect life.

Joy in comfort, in silliness, in sports can be happy for a time, but there are no roots, at least not strong ones. It’s fragile. One embarrassing moment in front of the class and it all comes crashing down. If life is about preserving that simple, child-like, playful happiness, then we’re all lost and helpless.

Eventually — and sometimes very early on — life removes its kid gloves — the unexpected move, betrayal, divorce, sickness, failure, loss. Life will steal a child’s happiness at age seven or seventeen or thirty-seven, and if we don’t have a plan for joy after sadness comes, we’ll be left frustrated, confused, and bitter. The film displays the futility of shortsighted, over-protective happiness.

The story begins with Joy frantically — though relentlessly cheerfully — micromanaging the team of emotions, striving to keep everything and everyone calm, predictable, and happy. The simplicity of a child’s life lends itself to lots of simple and repeatable pleasure. By the end, though, Joy cherishes and cooperates with the others, seeing their inevitable and even critical roles in Riley’s life.

Inside Out  grounds joy — which in and of itself sets it apart from so many other movies — but still leaves it rootless. The joy is real and even mature, but it’s not safe or reliable. It’s not made or even expected to last the stormy waves that will crash into our lives. When one island of personality falls — whether silliness or hockey or friendship — we’ll start building another.

The message of Inside Out says that joy in this life can be real even when mixed with darker, harder memories and experiences. The film creatively and effectively protects us from thinking life is meant to be easy, fun, and carefree. True joy, the kind that survives suffering and endures pain, is not cheap or easy. It’s laced — woven through and through — with sadness. So it is with Christ in an even more profound way. We are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,” and our joy is all the deeper and more enduring because of the grief.

Joy is a frantic (albeit happy) character trying to run the show. She vigilantly guards against Sadness getting too much time at the control panel and from touching any of the memories and turning them blue/sad.

Check out this clip where Joy tries to keep sadness in her place.

To continue, click https://princetonumc.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Rev.pdf for full text.

 

2nd Sunday of Advent: Regifting

In her sermon, “Regifting”, on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2015, Pastor Kaleigh Corbett explores fundamental questions of Jesus’ love in a world filled with hatred.

While it may not be appropriate to re-gift our Christmas presents, it is OK to re-gift the greatest gift of all – the love of Jesus. Yes, we are called to share his love with others especially in light of recent acts of terrorism around the world.

In the second scripture lesson for that day, Luke 1: 68-79, God sends John the Baptist, (whose birth like Jesus’ was also foretold by the angel Gabriel), as the forerunner to go and prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of the Lord.

We see promises made by God to his people – a reminder of our hope in the birth to come, and that hope never leaves us. The story of Zachariah would not be complete without that hope, as is the story of Mary.

When we share stories of people in the Bible we are regifting. For example, the story of Jesus being refused a place in the inn mirrors that of refusing asylum in our country to Syrian refugees. And yet, we are called to regift the love that God has for us when he gives us his son.

In the first scripture lesson for that day, 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13, we are told that we gain nothing without love and that love conquers all.

Advent heralds the coming of Christ into this world. Yet, how much longer must we wait for the Messiah to come and to renew our faith? We must, therefore, ask ourselves what we can do to bring hope, joy, peace and love to this world.

During this Christmas season we must begin to act by regifting the Christmas story. We will let ourselves feel at least some of the pain of those we consider our enemies. We will do our best to show each other the courage to act in love and justice in our particular life.

Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash: Spiritual and Religious

Did you know that more and more people are declaring themselves as spiritual but not religious (SBNR)?  In her sermon on November 15, Reverend Jana Purkis-Brash said that 70 percent of millennials describe themselves as more spiritual than religious. Yet some 55 percent of individuals rarely or never pray to God or attend service, don’t read the Bible or gather together. Religion and spirituality are not separate, says Pastor Jana, but are one and it is hard to have one without the other.

Gathering together is an important part of who we are and that is why people feel alone in difficult times in life when there is no community to gather with. Gathering with the community can be a place that offers us hope. In church we also receive the gift of a congregation that we embrace so we do not have to face our grief alone. It is God putting on flesh to walk that journey with us, she adds.

Pastor Jana reminds us in 1 Samuel 1: 4-20 that Hannah is not an SBNR but a member of an organized religion highly committed to spiritual practices who needs that help to continue on her journey. She goes to the temple, deeply distressed and weeping bitterly, pours out her soul to the Lord and feels God’s presence right there in the sanctuary.  As we seek to grow in spirit, Hannah is an example of a role model for us, as she says, “I have asked him of the Lord.” So also, we deepen our faith when we follow Hannah to the sanctuary.

Prayers are offered not just as a request for help but as an indication of people telling the truth about their needs. However, we must also remember that while God will answer our prayer, it is God’s will that is done, not ours.

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SBNR, religion, spirituality, Millennials, congregation, community, sanctuary, Hannah, faith, childless, grief, vow, prayer, Elkanah, God’s will, needs, sermon.

Rev. Catherine E. Williams: Beyond Death

Jebutterfly (1)sus said: I am the resurrection and the life.  Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. We honor the lives of those who have died in the context of Christian faith and hope, says Rev. Catherine Williams, believing that the resurrection is central to our faith, and it is ultimately the words of Jesus Christ that sustain this hope of eternal life beyond death.

Beyond Death was the topic of Rev. Catherine Williams’ sermon commemorating  All Saints Sunday, November 1, 2015. Among her references: Psalm 16:11, Romans 8, 1 , 1 Peter 1 and the Book of Revelation. Her thoughts, she said, turned out to be more of an extended reflection than a sermon.  She began with an anecdote. 

I had barely begun here as an intern in the fall of 2008; I was standing in the Sanford Davis room after the first service, scanning the room at my eye level when I felt a tug at my robe. I looked down into the sad eyes of a 4th-grader who without any introduction or small talk asked me pointedly, “Where is Mrs. Fullman now?” I scrambled through my mental Rolodex and came up with a Mrs. Fullman who had recently passed away, and who had given outstanding, compassionate leadership to this congregation. I stooped down. My eyes came to the level of those misty pools of brown in that chubby face. “Mrs. Fullman is in heaven now; she is with God,” I said. “Where is heaven?” she shot back. “Well, I said, “some people say it’s up there or out there. We don’t really know where it is, but we know that wherever it is that’s God’s home.” Slight pause…then,“Is that where my dog is too?” There was no escaping the tinge of hope in her voice. I had no dog in my Rolodex, and to be honest, had never given much thought to a theology of animals. In times like these there are two voices in my ears – the rational theologian on my left shoulder and the compassionate pastor on my right. Sometimes they both help me respond well to unexpected questions, but this time my theologian was quiet for a little too long, so following the pastor’s voice I said, “Oh yes, God made the animals and wants them to be with him after they die too.” My inquirer gave me a brief, satisfied smile and disappeared as quickly as she had appeared, leaving me to marvel at the sacredness of that encounter.

When it comes to the subject of life after death we all have thoughts and questions, even if we entertain them only briefly. But like this child, we grapple with these questions mostly in the context of personal loss. When we are about to lose or have lost a loved one, or when we are confronted with our own mortality, it is natural for us to begin thinking about what happens after we die. People have asked questions such as, What do we do in heaven? It sounds boring! Do we spend eternity with those we love or is it one endless cocktail party with millions of souls? Do we have a form in heaven or are we just spirits? What age will I be in heaven? If my mother is there will I recognize her? How good do I have to be to get to heaven?

I remember being with of one of our members the day after the doctors had told her that her body would only continue functioning for another day or so. As I settled in a chair by her bedside she looked me in the eyes and matter-of-factly informed me that she was going to die. How do you feel about that? I asked. She shrugged, “I’m okay.” Pause. Then, ‘how will it happen?’ she wanted to know. The theologian on my left shoulder began her spiel about how no-one really knows, and I had to put her on mute so I could better hear the compassionate pastor on my right shoulder. “It will be beautiful,” I assured her. “Jesus is waiting to welcome you home with open arms.” She nodded and smiled. I’m not sure whether she was humoring me or my answer really resonated with her, but right then in that room I could sense the unmistakable presence of God. I have to tell you that one of the reasons lately I have come to believe heaven is beyond death is because I have sensed the presence of God at so many end of life horizons – anytime I’ve had the opportunity to be with someone just before, at the moment of, or just after their passing, I have witnessed God’s reassuring presence in ways that are humanly difficult to describe. As one of our favorite Affirmations of Faith ends – in life, in death, in life beyond death we are not alone.

Today we commemorate All Saints Sunday. We honor the lives of those who have died, and we do so in the context of Christian hope. Hope has always been vital to the people of God. Our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah is filled with it. Thousands of years before Christ, God’s people learned how to hold on to hope in the midst of a pain-filled existence. Life on earth forced them to look for relief. One such relief was in their hope of a future day where God would vindicate them, deliver them permanently from their national enemies, and be their host around a rich feast of the finest bread and wine. Days of scarcity would be over as God’s abundance would overflow generously. The poetry speaks of God removing the shroud and sheet of death that had been cast over the people. A fitting image for many of our international neighbors today, particularly in the war-ravaged Middle East. The Old Testament Middle Easterners believed God would triumph over death, they declared God would feed them, wipe away all tears from their eyes, and bring them to a place of peace and wholeness in God’s presence. Hope has always been a cherished commodity of our faith.

And it is the writings of Scripture that have not only given birth to our hope down through the ages, Scripture has also fed and sustained this hope. In Psalm 16 the Psalmist sings that in the presence of God there is the fullness of joy. Romans 8 reminds us that it is not only humans who yearn for God’s ultimate salvation but the entire creation groans and waits to be liberated from its bondage to decay. In 1 Corinthians 15 there is a beautiful treatise on death that argues for the resurrection of our glorified bodies. In 1 Peter 1 the apostle fairly sings about this living hope of an ultimate salvation where there is even an inheritance kept in heaven for us. And the writer to the Hebrews puts another spin on this hope by reminding us that as we run this earthly race we are surrounded and encouraged by a heavenly cloud of witnesses that includes people who have died in faith centuries ago.

Then there’s the sublime poetry and prose in the book of Revelation. There the writer has a vision of the Holy City beautifully adorned. But even more than the splendor of the city – even more than streets of gold, walls of jasper, and gates of pearl, the most magnificent aspect of this vision is that it is the place where God dwells among mortals. And the place where mortals call home. When someone asks for my elevator response to the question where is heaven, I say, it is where God is, and where God welcomes the people of God who transition from this life to the next.

We really don’t have adequate language to describe eternal realities. But that doesn’t stop us from using the language we have – to dream, to sing, to reflect on an eternity with a God who loves, deeply, generously, and in whose presence we are forever moving towards wholeness and fulfillment. I prepared for this reflection with my Bible and my hymnal both open. It is no secret that the songs we sing from the base of our operational theology. When it comes to life beyond death we turn to such songs as Abide with Me, with its witness of God’s tenacious grasp on our lives, no matter what the circumstances of our death. We sing songs like When We All Get To Heaven, with its flat-footed assurance that heaven will be worth whatever it takes to get there. We lean on the Spirituals for their earthy yearning for that time when we can steal away to Jesus or be caught up in the heaven-bound chariot that’s swinging low. We might even turn to Natalie Sleeth’s Hymn of Promise that frames our hope in the cycles of death and life found within nature. Hymn of Promise is a hymn that identifies us as people of the resurrection when we sing “In our end is our beginning, in our time infinity, in our doubt there is believing, in our life eternity. In our death, a resurrection, at the last a victory unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.” Yes! we are people of hope because we are people of the resurrection.

The theologian in my left ear and the pastor in my right are unified that this belief in the resurrection is central to our faith, and to our hope. And it is ultimately the words of Jesus, the Christ, the one whose followers we are, it is those words that sustain this hope of eternal life beyond death. When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he had not yet been crucified. His raising of Lazarus from the dead was a precursor for what he was soon to demonstrate that life and death are a divine cycle where one yields to the other. Yes, there is much about this cycle that remains a mystery. Science has proved and keeps probing, making discoveries at a painfully slow rate. But what if the eternal realities are such that there are no instruments to measure them? We look through a glass dimly as we peer into eternity. Our finite human eyes don’t have the capacity to see into infinity. But our faith – our faith, given to us by God – our faith gives us the capacity to receive the words of Jesus who says, “do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. My Father’s house has many dwelling places, and I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me that where I am you will be there also.” Our God-given faith gives us the capacity to believe the witness of the biblical accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus who claimed I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. He asks us today as he asked Martha, Do you believe this?

May God grant us the faith of eternal proportions, faith to trust in a God who, in Jesus Christ, lived in death even as he died in life; faith to believe that in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, and we are not alone. Amen.