Monday, December 26, 2011

Gifts of Joy

As I have mentioned a few times, my congregation is AWESOME!!  I'm always amazed at how caring they are towards me and this Christmas is no exception.

My parents decided to come up for Christmas this year and multiple people have invited myself and my parents over to join with their family Christmas celebrations.  And even more shocking and wonderful is they had just small gifts for each of us so that we would not be the only ones without.  So on Christmas Eve at midnight I participate in a Brazilian feast and on Christmas Day I played nerf gun wars with some of other parishioner's grandkids*

I also received some gifts and I have to share the irreverent ones with you.
A little stuffed church, Holy Toast and a Jesus pen that came in a box that says "Join the Religious Write".  I also received two really cute heart shaped stockings with my dogs names on them and they are filled with dog treats.  (I need to take a picture of those).

But probably the best present was my congregation members making sure that Bob was able to be here for Christmas.  No they didn't chip in for a plane ticket for him and somehow get around all the visa rules he has right now,  instead he was sitting in his normal pew:

He is wearing a french beret and a scarf (not academic robes or dressed up like Martian Luther).  I first spotted "The Bob" (as I have dubbed him) while walking down the aisle while lighting candles during Silent Night (we do it early in the service during the 5pm worship) and of course started cracking up.  Silent Night is has laughter in it right?

So like I said: My Congregation is AWESOME!!!

*Side story that I have to share: the grandkids are from England and during the nerf gun wars would say over and over again in the politest of British accents "Becca, I'm going to kill you."  I think Doctor Who should make an episode where aliens invade young children's bodies and they say over and over again "Doctor I'm going to kill you."

Christmas Expectations

Christmas Eve was a wonderful yet crazy day for me.  Two worship services at 5 & 10, parents in town and I'm still coughing some - actually to the point that during the 5pm service I had to take an intermission during the sermon in order to drink some water to help with my cough.  

Below is my Christmas Eve sermon.  What are some of your Christmas expectations and your expectations for God?

There are a lot of expectations around Christmas.  We have expectations about what food we are going to eat.  About whose home we are going to.  We have expectations about what gifts we are going to get and the reactions from people who we bought gifts for.  We have expectations about the music we will hear.  The kids here are expecting there to be presents from Santa under their Christmas tree tomorrow and they are expecting toys and not clothes. 

Most of these expectations are because of traditions.  We based our expectations based on what we have done in previous years, the memories we hold most dear.  So what are some of your expectations for Christmas? 

Don’t you just love traditions?  They help form our expectations, but we have also made expectations because we make Christmas to be this picture prefect time of the year.  It is the most wonderful time of the year! And yet so often our expectations are not met. The cookies did not turn out exactly like how grandma used to make them.  The family gets in a big fight after dinner (and yet somehow we forgot that we actually have this fight every year).  We don’t receive the gift we were expecting or someone doesn’t like the gift we bought them as much as we thought.  A loved one is not able to make it home for Christmas. 

We even have these expectations with God.  We expect to come to worship and sing all the carols that we know and love.  We expect to have candlelight during Silent Night.  We expect to hear the story of Jesus’ birth.  And hopefully thus far we have meet those expectations. 

And yet we expect to go home, unchanged.  Maybe with some warm fuzzies or good memories, maybe with our favorite carol stuck in our head, but we don’t expect to be greatly changed by the experience.  But yet Jesus changes everything!

The shepherds weren’t expecting angels to come to them in the fields.  Mary wasn’t expecting to give birth in a stable.  Joseph wasn’t expecting to have a son who was not actually his.  And yet with Jesus’ birth all these things happened.

We don’t expect God to be a baby and yet in Jesus birth, God is there. We don’t expect the infinite God to become finite and yet in Jesus’ birth God is made flesh and blood.  We don’t expect the God of heaven to come down to earth and yet on Christmas God was made flesh.  We don’t expect the lowliest people hear this news first yet the angels came to proclaim Jesus’ birth to the shepherds instead of kings.  We don’t expect to see God in our daily lives and yet because of Jesus’ birth Christ lives in each of us.  We don’t expect that God would be willing to die for us and yet in Jesus a savior was given to us that loves us so much he died for us.  We don’t expect that God to come to us and yet in Christ, Emmanuel God is with us, here and out there in each and every day of our lives because Christ comes to us not just on Christmas but always, constantly.  And for that reason, maybe we should change our expectations, because Jesus changes everything.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sick, and still sick

Almost 3 weeks ago now I started coughing, at first nothing bad, just a minor cough every once in awhile.  But then it started to become more persistent and deeper, more in the chest.  And I spent pretty much the entire second week of Advent at home, in my pajamas, coughing with bronchitis.

While being sick during Advent as a pastor is never a good thing, I have been lucky that with bronchitis I was pretty much just coughing and tired but no sinus, nasal or stomach issues.  And my congregation has been wonderful in picking up some slack I've had or allowing other duties to not be pressing.

But being sick does have some advantages.  I've lost about 5 pounds and with all the coughing I've been doing my abs are probably the flattest they have ever been.   I was also able to finish my youngest niece's Christmas stocking in plenty of time to get it in the mail so she will have it on Christmas Eve.
I've also officially started my PhD project with the first 200 or so stitches done in one tiny corner of my canvas.

And now 3 weeks after those first few coughs and less than a week till Christmas, I'm still coughing, I'm still tired and my voice sounds horse.  Each day I'm feeling a bit better though I'm exhausted each evening.

Meanwhile I have a new appreciation for Advent waiting.  As we are awaiting the Christ child to be born and Christ to come again, I'm waiting to feel better.  And just like how Christ comes in our hearts, it is not a sudden thing, I know I will not wake up one day and instantly feel better, instead each day my faith grows stronger, each day Christ comes more into my heart and each day my bronchitis is getting a little better.

MMC: Christmas is almost here!

Good Morning Bethlehem

Thank you to everyone who made yesterday such a wonderful day.  I am always humbled by how much you all minister to me and yesterday was no exception as we had a wonderful sermon conversation and so many hands came together to make the church sparkle for Christmas.  

Christmas and New Year’s Schedule
Christmas Eve Worship:
 5pm & 10pm
Christmas Day worship: 10am – suggest your favorite carol as we celebrate Christ’s birth
New Year’s Day: 10am – come as you are as we ring in the new year with worship. 

Book of Faith Puzzler
The question from last week: What is John the Baptist’s relationship with Jesus?  A) Friend, B)Student-teacher C) Cousins D) Brothers
According to Luke 1:36 Elizabeth and Mary, the mothers of John and Jesus, are relatives (sometimes translated cousins).  This would make John the Baptist and Jesus second cousins. Congratulations to Aidan C for winning this week's puzzler. 

This week’s question:  What is the longest the season of Advent can be? A)24 days B) 25 days C)28 days D)30 days.  Get you answer to me by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing.

Yesterday's Sermon
As I mentioned earlier, we had a wonderful conversation yesterday about "What great things does God want to do through you?"  In case you missed it, you can read my written portion here

Those serving in worship
Thank you to everyone who has volunteered to serve in worship for Christmas Eve.

I could still use some help at the 10pm service, especially a communion assistant.  Please let me know if you can serve. 

Christmas Text
Saturday's gospel is probably one of the most well know stories from the bible, the birth of Jesus found in Luke 2:1-20.  What is your favorite part of the Christmas story?  What is your most memorable telling of this story - a Sunday School Christmas pageant, a movie, reading it on Christmas Eve with the family?  How can I retell this story to make it new to you?

Hope you all have a great week as we prepare for the birth of Christ.  
~Pastor Becca 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Great Things Through Me

One thing that I'm learning from having conversational sermons is that I cannot predict where the conversation will lead or how much I will learn from my congregation.

All week I have been wrestling with the question "What great things does God want to do through me?" as I have prepared this sermon based on the angel coming to Mary in Luke 1:26-38.  Quite honestly I have had a hard time answering that question.  Yet into today's sermon conversation when I asked that question, we ended up in a great discussion about living a life that proclaims Christ so that others may know him through us, feeding the hungry physically with food but also those hungry for attention.  There are multiple teachers in the congregation who all agreed and can attest to just being the person that asks about the kids day is a powerful ministry.  Or by visiting a home-bound person you often not only make their day but their week as they often are alone.  And these simple acts may not seem like great things but they are to the person being ministered too and all these little acts add up. 

These are things that I never thought of before today sermon, and yet ones that I'm still pondering and reflecting upon hours afterwards.  

Truly I am humbled after these conversations.  I am no longer the preacher but the one being preached to and for me that is a great thing.  

So what great things does God want to do through you?

Enjoy the sermon

This is again one of those bible stories that I just think the reaction of the people have been edited over time.  An angel comes to Mary, tells her that she is favored and the Lord is with her and she is just perplexed and ponders what this could mean?  And then the angel tells her she is going to have a son who she will name Jesus and he “will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and his kingdom will have no end.” And after hearing these words, within the course of a few sentences Mary goes from questioning how this could possibly happen to saying “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” 

I can pretty much guarantee that Mary’s reaction would not be my reaction at least not my initial reaction.  I would be more than perplexed and pondering what the angels words could mean.  I think terrified and in a flat out state of denial would be closer to my reaction. 

So if an angel of the Lord came to you and said that God wants to do great things through you, how many of you think your reaction would be to be terrified and flat out deny what God wants from you?  How many of you think it would be closer to Mary’s reaction of “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”? Would your reaction be somewhere in between.

We sometimes think Mary was able to respond this way because she was extraordinary, that she herself was born without sin through immaculate conception or that she was a perpetual virgin or that her body was taken to heaven through the assumption.  But Mary was just an ordinary person.  She was the wrong gender, from the wrong place, and the wrong economic class than one would assume that God would come to and yet God came to her.  And she said yes to God.

And we too and just ordinary people.  We are people who don’t live in a major city, none of us are on any lists as the richest people in the world, in fact, as far as I know, none of us would make it on any list for the richest people in our town.  We don’t have connections with major power players and yet God is coming to us.

God is coming to us because God wants to do great things through us.  God wants to make the world a better place through us.  God wants others to hear about him through us.  God wants the hungry to be fed, the homeless given a place to rest, the sick cared for, the widow and orphaned support, and imprisoned visited through us. 

So what great thing does God want to do through you? 

We have all the right to respond to this request by God with terror and denial because we are just ordinary people, but the hope is that we realize that God wants to do these things through us because God has found favor with us and the Holy Spirit will come to us and guide us and work through us for nothing is impossible with God. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

MMC: Advent 3

Good Morning Bethlehem

Is the anticipation for Christmas killing you or are you starting to dread that Christmas is just two weeks away?  Are you patiently waiting for Christmas to get here, chomping at the bit for it to arrive or trying to push it off as long as you can?  We are already in the 3rd week of Advent, Christmas is coming, it is almost here, and yet not yet here.  I hope that the next two weeks find you you excited and full of anticipation (and in good health). 

A Few Announcements
  • Poinsettia and wreath orders are DUE! If you have not yet gotten your order in call Becky P TODAY 
  • If you forgot your gifts for St. Luke's Life Works, please drop them off at the church or parsonage by Wednesday.  You can also call Ellen G
  • Confirmation is meeting on Tuesday at 6pm at the parsonage
  • Celebration Choir is rehearsing Tuesday at 7:45pm at the church. 
  • Help decorate the church inside and out! Next Sunday after worship we will be putting up the wreaths, decorating both the tree in the sanctuary and the one in the yard, putting up candleabras and more.  Please plan on decking the halls after worship.
  • Grow 2 Gather is meeting on Sunday at 9am.  We will be hearing about Jesus' birth and making a decoration for the church.  Please bring Christmas ads that you have received in the mail on newspapers as we will be using those for our craft.
Book of Faith Puzzler
The question from last week: What was the name of the angel who told Mary that she would have a child? A) Gabriel, B)Michael C)Raphael D)Uriel

In Luke 1:26-27 is says that “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”  Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to a son and name him Jesus. Congratulations to Heloisa H for winning this week's puzzler. 

This week’s question:  What is John the Baptist’s relationship with Jesus?  A) Friend, B)Student-teacher C) Cousins D) Brothers  If you know the answer or are willing to look it up, email me the answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. 

Yesterday's Sermon
If you missed it you can read it here.  Who have been Johns in your life?  Who are you called to be John to?  How have those people been John to you?  And how can you be John to other people?

Serving this Sunday & on Christmas Eve
The following people have signed up to assist in worship on Sunday 
Worship Assistant: Mark H
Reader: Cheryl M
Communion Assistant: Lillian J
Ushers: ________ & _________
Bread baker/bringer: __________
Communion set up & clean up: ____________
Offering Counter: Frank C 
Coffee Hour Host: M Family

And the following people have signed up to serve on Christmas Eve
5pm Worship:
Greeters & ushers: ____________, __________ & ___________
  • Isaiah 2:1-5: Ellen G
  • Luke 1:26-35 __________
  • Isaiah 9:2-7: ___________
  • Luke 2:1-7: ____________
  • Luke 2:8-14: ___________
  • Luke 2:15-20: __________
Communion Assistants: Cheryl M & Tori M
Prayer Leader: Mark H

10pm Worship
Greeter & Usher: _________ & __________
  • Isaiah 9:2-7 __________
  • Titus 2:11-14 _________
Communion Assistants: Lillian J & __________
Prayer leader: _____________

Please let me know if you are willing to serve this Sunday or on Christmas Eve - I would LOVE to have all the positions filled this week for Christmas Eve so next week I don't have to track down people who are willing to read, usher, pray, etc.

This Week's Texts
For our 4th Sunday in Advent we continue to prepare for Christ's birth, especially in our gospel reading Luke 1:26-38, where Mary is told by Gabriel that she is pregnant.  Mary is told that she has found favor with God.  Why do you think Mary was the "lucky" one to get to birth the Christ?  Do you actually think she was lucky or was she baring a heavy burden? Mary response by saying "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  How would you respond if you were told your life was going to drastically change and probably make your life difficult (at least in the short term) but it was all because God loves you?  

Hope you all have an anticipatory Advent!

Who Has Been John to You?

For yesterday's sermon I was inspired by one of the daily Advent devotions from Following the Star, in which it talked about people who have been like John, preparing us to hear Jesus' word.

Well since I have been sick all week, I freely admit I just stole that idea and was excited that we get two weeks of John in a row as yesterday's gospel was the story of John the Baptist from the gospel of John (John 1:6-8, 19-28).  

So who has been John to you?  And who are you called to be John to? 

Enjoy the sermon

John the Baptist came not to be the light but to testify to the light.  John came as the voice of one crying out in the wilderness “make straight the way of the Lord.”  John came not as the messiah, or Elijah, or even a prophet.  Instead John came so that people would get ready to hear the word of the Lord, to hear the word of Jesus Christ. 

John did this because people need to be prepared for the radical love, grace, and forgiveness that is Jesus.  Jesus’ message of unconditional love, grace and forgiveness given to all of God’s children was a radical message.  It still is a radical message.  One that is hard for us to hear. 

Many of us have responded to that message this way: What me?  God forgives me from all of my sins, that is impossible, I’ve done horrible things, God can’t possibly forgive me.  Or..I’m not significant enough to love, I’m a nobody, why would God love me.  Or…Why would God give me grace?  I haven’t done enough to deserve it. 

And we often respond this way because our hearts and minds have not yet been prepared to receive that radical message.  That someone like John has not yet come to us to testify to the light so that we can see God.  And yet we are also lucky enough that people have been preparing us to hear Jesus’ words, to see God since we were born.

Take a moment and think about the people in your life who have prepared and are still preparing you to hear Jesus’ words.  Parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, friends, spouses, children, coworker, that person in college who you had great conversations with late into the night.  There are many throughout your life you have been Johns to you, who have helped prepare your way so that you may see God.  There should be a notecard in your bulletin, on one side will you write down three of those people’s names. 

And we are also called to be Johns to other people.  To help prepare their way so that they may see God and hear Jesus’ words, Jesus’ radical message of love, grace and forgiveness.  On the other side of the card, will you write down three names of people you can pray for, talk with, support in their journey with Christ.  It doesn’t mean you have to give them a lecture about why they should believe, instead tell them that you are praying for them and actually do it, talk to them gently about your faith, support them in life, invite them to worship, encourage them during times of hardship.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

MMC: Advent 2

Good Morning

It is hard to believe that we are already in the second week of Advent.  And that Christmas is coming and Christmas is coming quickly.

A Few Announcements
  • Wreaths and Poinsettias order forms are due!!! Please contact Becky Pirron (203-644-4208) ASAP to get your order in. 
  • Senior Lunch is Wednesday at Noon. We will be meeting at Plain Jane's (208 Greenwood Ave, Bethel)
  • Council meets after worship this Sunday
  • Grow 2 Gather meets again on Sunday Dec 18. Please bring in and Christmas advertisement you have to help us make a decoration for our church.
Book of Faith Puzzler
The question from last week: Today is the first day of the new church year.  Each year the majority of our gospel readings come from a different gospel.  Which gospel will we hear the most from this year? A) Matthew B) Mark C) Luke D) John
This year the majority of our gospel readings will come from Mark, however since Mark is the shortest of all four gospels, we will hear a lot from John as well, especially during the Lent and Easter seasons. Congratulations to our winner Nancy B. 
This week’s question:  What was the name of the angel who told Mary that she would have a child? A) Gabriel, B)Michael C)Raphael D)Uriel  

Send me your answer by noon on Wednesday to be entered into this week's drawing. And looking up the answer is not cheating, it is encouraged.

Yesterday's Sermon
If you missed it, you can find the sermon here.  How do you see Jesus' story still unfolding?

Serving this Sunday
The following people have signed up to serve in worship this week.  
Worship Assistant: Ellen G
Reader: Nancy B
Communion Assistant: Lillian J
Ushers: ______ & _______
Bread baker/bringer: ________
Offering Counter: ___________
Coffee Hour Host: Heloisa and Mark H

Also people are starting to sign up to serve during the Christmas Eve Worship services
5pm Worship
Greeters and ushers ___________, _______________ & ________
Readers (up to 6 people) ____________, ____________, _________,____________, ______________ & __________
Communion Assistants: Cheryl M, Tori M
Prayer Leader: Mark H
Worship Coordinators: Nini C & Becky P

10pm Worship
Greeter & Ushers ___________ & ____________
Readers (up to 3) ____________, ___________ & _______
Communion Assistants ________ & ________
Prayer Leader: ____________

If you would like to volunteer in one of the ways that is currently not filled, please let me know which position and service you are volunteering for. 

This Week's Texts
The first reading is Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11.  Isaiah says that the Lord will bring comfort to those who mourn and deliverance to those who are oppressed, yet this time of year is very difficult for those who mourn and are oppressed as all the movies, tv shows, stores and radio remind them of memories of love ones or of what they do not have.  How does God still bring comfort and deliverance in the midst holiday and Christmas festivities?

The second reading is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24.  Paul concludes his letter to the Thessalonians with a few simple instructions: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,  & give thanks constantly.  When is it easy to rejoice, pray and give thanks?  When is it difficult?  

The gospel reading is John 1:6-8, 19-28. We again hear about John the Baptist, this time from the gospel of John.  John is asked by the religious leaders "Who are you?" and he says he is not the messiah, or Elijah or a prophet but the one calling out to prepare the way of the lord.  If someone was to ask "who are you?" how would you respond? Are you one preparing the way of the Lord? Or are you someone who needs to be better prepared yourself?  Or are you both?

Hope you all have a great week!
Have an Anticipatory Advent
~Pastor Becca

This is Just the Beginning

Yesterday's sermon was on the gospel for the day Mark 1:1-8, or more specifically Mark 1:1 "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."  It is a strange opening line, one that has puzzled scholars for generations.  

Oh and I'm not completely avoiding John the Baptist, we get him again this coming Sunday so I'm sure he will actually appear in my sermon next Sunday. 


Either our gospel reading for today and the entire gospel of Mark has the lamest opening line of all times, or there is something truly remarkable happening. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 

What story begins with “this is the beginning of the story”?  They don’t.  They begin with “Call me Ishmael.”  Or “It was the best of times it was the worst of times.”  Or “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”  Good stories catch you from the start, from the opening line. Not “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

How does that draw you in? 
Well maybe it not until the end of the story, the end of what was written that you think back on this opening line.  Does anyone know how the Gospel of Mark ends? 

The Gospel of Mark ends with the empty tomb.  Not with the appearance of Jesus.  Not with Jesus ascending into heaven.  Not with great power and joy.  The Gospel of Mark ends with the two Marys, May Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus, going to the tomb, finding the stone rolled away, an angel sitting there telling them Jesus has risen and it ends with the line: “So the women went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 

So as oddly as this gospel begins, it ends just as oddly. 
So maybe Mark is actually trying to tell us something else.  Not that “I’m going to start telling you a story now” or “hey listen up this is the start of my story.”  But this, the entire story, is just the beginning!  Jesus’ life on earth is just the beginning of the good news for us.  Jesus’ life on earth is just the beginning of how Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who is present in our lives.  And the entire Gospel of Mark, the entire 16 chapters of scripture is just the beginning, just page one, or a remarkable story about good news of Christ in our lives that still continues today.

Christ is still active in our lives.  This story still continues.  New pages are being written each day.  New members of the body of Christ are being added to daily as people come and are baptized with the Holy Spirit.  The body of Christ is still being strengthened and added to as we confess our sins. 

This story has not yet ended. 
How do you see this story of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God still being written?