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Daily Devotion – October 29, 2017
10.29.17

For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 

1 Thessalonians 1:8

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

We are living images of God and of Christ indeed.  Wherever we go, whoever we talk to and however we speak we represent God.  We are testimonies of our faith and belief in who we believe God to be.  Paul, in the opening to this passage, is thankful for “the work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  He commends the conviction and perseverance of those working to bring the good news to the people of Thessalonica.  It because of their willingness to trust in the Holy Spirit and her work that Christ and the love of God spreads “in every place.”

What kind of image of God are you representing today? Do you believe in a loving and merciful God and are therefore a loving and merciful person? More importantly, what do you believe about God and how do you live that belief each day?  It only takes a mustard seed of faith, a glimmer of hope to bring God’s light and love to one another.  Once hope gets a hold of us, the possibilities are endless to how far it will reach.

Prayer:

God be with us.  May we become living images of Your love so that our friends, our neighbors, and our communities.  May we know the good news that You have given to us. And may it spread to the far reaches of the world. Amen.



Daily Devotion – October 27, 2017
10.27.17

Devotion by Julia Shiver

1 Thessalonians 1:4-5

For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love

Loving God, may we always be known by the love you have graced us with.  Amen.

Peter Scholtes, 1968



Daily Devotion – October 26, 2017
10.26.17

1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Devotion by Lynne Buell

Our attitude regarding life tends to form our future.  If we see the imminent days, months, and years ahead with dread and dismay, we’re more than likely going to live in constant fear and anxiety and shrink from an existence of wellbeing.

As I continue the road of my faith journey, I become more aware of prophets’ accounts of upcoming events.   When I did a little research about 1 Thessalonians, one of the events mentioned was The Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  No one knows when this will happen, but God does.  In the meantime, throughout the Bible we are told how to live according to God’s will.  So basically, the question I ask myself is:  If Jesus comes back during my lifetime, how will I be judged?  The truth is, I am a better person now than I was 7 years ago.  But then again, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Prayer:

Loving God,

I am turning to you for help and taking time for self-reflection, because I want to be a better person in the future than I am right now.  Amen. 

 

 

 

 



Daily Devotion – October 25, 2017
10.25.17

See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”   

Exodus 33:21-23

 

Devotion by David Burns

As part of my current spiritual discipline I am ending each day keeping two lists: one, is a list of moments in the day when I was aware of God’s presence and the other, a list when I was more aware of God’s absence.  I am looking for evidence of God.

I think that is what Moses was looking for, too.  Given the monumental task of leading the children of Israel into the promised land, Moses wanted some concrete assurance that God would be with them on the way.  He had already seen a lot – more than most of us, I think – and still he was asking God to give more evidence.

God agrees to let Moses have a look-see, but even as God shows Godself, God remains partly unseen.  “You can see my back, but not my face,” God says, knowing full well it is the face Moses really longs to gaze upon.

Most of my God-sightings are closer to God’s backside than God’s face.  I find myself saying, “I think that might have been God, but it could have been someone else.”  Or, “There is definitely some resemblance, but maybe my eyes/heart/mind is playing tricks on me.”   Or, “Something quickened my heart, made me say, “Yes!”, filled me with love and peace. That could be God.”

Apparently, God is not interested in removing all doubt.  Maybe that keeps us awake and attentive.

Prayer:

Our good and gracious God, we long for even more signs of your grace and goodness.  Give us what is necessary to be made whole.  Amen.

 



Daily Devotion – October 24, 2017
10.24.17

Exodus 33:12-23

Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, you have said to me, “Bring up this people”; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.” Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.’ He said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.’

The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

Moses shows the uncertainties of leadership. He wonders if he is doing the right thing by taking his people out of Egypt. He wants assurance from God that he is doing the right thing.

It is one thing to make decisions for oneself. But it is another to take a leadership role and make decisions that will affect others. For Moses, his decisions will have utmost consequences. It may lead to everyone’s freedom and a brand-new life, or they may get lost in the wilderness and perish. So, Moses is seeking reassurance from God.

When we take a leadership role, sometimes we are not certain of our decisions either. Sometimes we seek the counsel of others who have led before us. At other times we ask those whose lives will be affected. All of those are good ideas. The more input we get to a problem and the more alternatives we can see as solutions, the better will be our decision. Like Moses, we should turn to God for guidance. Because when seen through the eyes of a loving Lord, the solution can only get better.

Prayer

Dear Lord, whether we have formal organizational responsibility or take on responsibilities on our own, let us seek Your guidance with the decisions that we make. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.



Sermon: “Where’s Jesus?” (20th Anniversary of Becoming ONA) [10/22/17]
10.23.17

“Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  It was fun last weekend at Pride to take note of Caesar’s things and the God’s things.

I signed up for Pilgrimage’s booth Sunday afternoon.  I had Allen let me out at 10th and Spring and walked from there to the park.  During the parade.  It took a while.

On my walk, I saw that Caesar was well-represented at Pride.  The city had used garbage trucks to block off streets for the parade.  At each blockade was an armed APD officer.  The presence of law enforcement and those garbage trucks made me feel safe.

I also felt safe as I made my way through the thousands of people lining the north side of 10th Street.  The claustrophobe in me would have preferred a few less thousand people per square inch, but slogging through all those people, I felt perfectly safe.

The only time I didn’t feel safe?  When I approached Peachtree and saw the signs.  “Judgment is coming.”  “All potheads, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, whoremongers, and liars are hell bound.”  “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?”  I saw the street preacher, his face bright red, yelling into the portable sound system.  Yeah.  It was a church group.  I’m guessing Westboro Baptist or a Westboro wanna be.

There at 10th and Peachtree, you know what made me feel safe?  It definitely wasn’t that church group.  What made me feel safe was the presence of the Atlanta police.

And Jesus.  Yes!  Jesus was there, too.  He had long hair, was wearing a white robe, sandals, and, of course, a rainbow stole.  People lined up for selfies with Jesus.  How heartening to see Jesus just chilling, hanging with his peeps, mugging for the camera right in front of those hateful signs and angry preaching.  And how telling that, at 10th and Peachtree, Jesus chose not to be a part of the church.

Finding Jesus in the world today can be a little tricky, can’t it?  I mean, you’d expect to find him in the places that call themselves Christian.  Jesus Christ; Christian churches, right? Sometimes, though, Jesus seems more content to hang out in other places, with other people.

The Pharisees’ question to Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson is an attempt to find Jesus…. mostly, so they can put a target on his back.  Matthew tells us the “Pharisees plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said.16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians.”  Why the Herodians?  Herod was the Jewish person appointed by the Roman government to keep watch over the Jewish population on Caesar’s behalf.  Among many responsibilities, the Herodians made sure the Jewish people paid taxes to Caesar.

What the Pharisees are doing here is manipulative in the extreme.  They’re asking Jesus to choose between religious and civil law, to choose God or Caesar.  Choose God, he breaks civil law.  Choose Caesar, he breaks Jewish law.  It’s no-win any way you look at it.

Seeing through their hypocrisy, Jesus calls the Pharisees—appropriately enough— hypocrites, then gives the best non-answer in all of Scripture:  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”  Basically, Jesus tells them to figure it out for themselves.

We’ve been wrestling a lot in the last year over the relationship between our faith lives and our civic lives.  Negotiating those relationships as an individual is hard enough.  Negotiating them as a community is an even bigger challenge.  That’s why we have a special prayer time.

Jesus’ Caesar-and-God statement reminds us that the relationship between our faith lives and our civic lives is dynamic–which means that each informs the other.  Sometimes, as citizens, it’s necessary to speak out and take action to preserve and protect the rights of people of faith.  And sometimes, what’s going on in the world cries out for people of faith to pray, discern, speak out, and take action as people of faith.

That’s what this congregation did 20 years ago.  In 1993, in response to a play at Theater on the Square that referenced a gay character, the Cobb County Commission passed the so-called  Family Values Resolution.

In response to that civil–and unjust–action, this congregation began the process of becoming Open and Affirming.  December 7, 1997, the vote was taken and Pilgrimage UCC became the first UCC congregation in the state of Georgia to become Open and Affirming.  Cobb County might reject LGBTQ people and families, but this congregation of Jesus’ followers would not.

When I interviewed to become your pastor in 2001, the Search Committee–chaired by Frank Hyland, who I still miss–said very clearly, “We’ve voted to become Open and Affirming.  We want our next pastor to help us live into that reality.”  That’s what we’ve been working on together for 16 years now.  I am so proud to have been part of this work with you.

So, what’s next?  Where is Jesus now?  In the mid-90’s, Jesus was in the process of discernment, then of voting to become ONA.  The last 20 years, Jesus has been in the process of living into our ONA identity.  Where is Jesus leading us in 2017?

Might it be to mentoring other congregations as they become ONA?  Chestnut Ridge Christian Church at Post Oak Tritt and Johnson Ferry has just voted to become ONA.  Might we partner with them?  Might we become more active with other ONA UCC churches in the Atlanta area, like Decatur UCC and Kirkwood?   I’ve heard that when the new legislative session begins in Atlanta in January, a new version of the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill will be back in play.  Might Jesus be calling us to some sort of action in response to that?

Twenty years of living into our ONA identity is terrific.  It is appropriate to celebrate, to renew our ONA covenant, to eat cake.

But then what?  What might it mean for us to continue living into our ONA identity?  Where is Jesus now?  How do we follow Jesus now?  How do we act others into wellbeing in Jesus’ name now?

I had another experience of Caesar’s finest this week.  As you know, my mom was in the hospital last weekend.  I had to go down to get her out of the hospital and get her settled at home.  She’s doing very well now.  Thank you for all your prayers and good wishes.

For those who don’t know, my mom lives in Gainesville, Florida.  It was an interesting week in Gainesville.  Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer spoke there this week.  Wanting to prevent what happened in Charlottesville from happening in Gainesville, a large law enforcement contingent convened in Gainesville last Thursday.  The cashier at the Burger King at I-75 where Mom and I had breakfast (She was tired of hospital food.) said that since she’d arrived at work that morning she’d seen at least 200 law enforcement vehicles from all over the region drive by.  Once again, I found Caesar’s contingent reassuring.

As you’ve probably heard, protesters outnumbered Spencer’s people by a large margin.  As I left Gainesville on Friday morning, all was well again.

In reading about Thursday’s events in the national news, I got an unexpected glimpse of Jesus among the crowd of protesters.  I’ve begun to wonder if that glimpse of Jesus might give us a glimpse of where to find Jesus as we continue living into our ONA identity.

A short video focuses on Randy Furniss of Idaho, head shaved, t-shirt covered in schwastikas, blood trickling down his chin from a blow just received from a protester.  In the video, an African American man in dreadlocks, approaches Furniss, hugs him, then asks:  “Why don’t you like me, dog?”

Aaron Courtney, is a 31-year-old high school football coach in Gainesville.  He said he wanted to show Furniss some love.  “I could have hit him, I could have hurt him . . . but something in me said, ‘You know what? He just needs love.’”  The hug may have been a small act, but Courtney thinks it can speak volumes.  “It’s a step in the right direction. One hug can really change the world. It’s really that simple,” he said.

Courtney hadn’t originally planned on attending the protest.  But when he received a state of emergency notification on Monday ahead of Spencer’s planned appearance, he decided to do some research.  “I found out about what kind of person he was and that encouraged me, as an African-American, to come out and protest.” Courtney said.

After almost four hours, Courtney was about to leave when he saw Furniss causing a scene in the crowd.  “I had the opportunity to talk to someone who hates my guts and I wanted to know why. During our conversation, I asked him, ‘Why do you hate me? What is it about me? Is it my skin color? My history? My dreadlocks?’ ” he said.  Courtney repeatedly asked Furniss for an answer, only to be met with silence and a blank look.

Exasperated, Courtney asked Furniss for a hug. He was initially reluctant, but as Courtney reached over the third time, Furniss reciprocated, wrapping his arms around Courtney. Courtney said, “And I heard God whisper in my ear, ‘You changed his life.’ ”

“Why do you hate me?” Courtney asked Furniss one last time. “I don’t know,” came the response.  For Courtney, that was a good enough.  “I believe that was his sincere answer.  He really doesn’t know,” Courtney said.  (Washington Post, October 21, 2017)

Where is Jesus in 2017?  Where is Jesus leading us as we begin our third decade of being an Open and Affirming congregation?  Whose lives might we change simply by loving them?

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2017



Pilgrimage UCC, Marietta, Georgia ONA Covenant, 10/22/17

This morning at Pilgrimage UCC, we re-affirmed our ONA covenant.  Here’s the text of the covenant along with a picture of the mat we all signed.  The mat will frame the text of the covenant and we’ll display it at the church.  As you’ll see in the pic, the rainbows showed up today!  Thanks be to God!

 

Pilgrimage United Church of Christ

Open and Affirming Covenant

July 2017

 

We, the people of the Pilgrimage United Church of Christ, Marietta, Georgia, guided by the love of Jesus Christ, celebrate the diversity of God’s creation. As such, we seek to practice extravagant welcome and radical inclusion. Through this resolution, we declare publicly that which we have been, in fact, practicing as a congregation since its inception. We are an open and affirming congregation. We are called to act as agents of reconciliation and wholeness within the world and within the church. We know that our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender family members are often scorned by the church and devalued and discriminated against both in the church and in society. We believe that such practices are incompatible with the gospel. We commit ourselves to caring and inclusion of people of all sexual orientations, genders, gender identities and expressions, relationship identity, and romantic preference identity.

 

Further, we declare ourselves to be a congregation that is open and affirming to all marginalized groups. Thus, we affirm, honor, care, and support

people of every race, including bi- and multi-race people,

people of every ethnicity and nationality,

people of any socio-economic status,

people of all ability levels.

We strive to be a place of unconditional love that inspires all people in our community and beyond.

 

To keep this covenant, we will practice its tenants in ways that include but are not limited to the following:

  • Welcome all people who enter into our community
  • Be intentional in using inclusive language throughout our community and in our hymns
  • Be inclusive in worship practice by encouraging persons to share their talents and energy in worship, ministry, mission, educational programs, and leadership of PUCC
  • Invite all voices to speak and participate in decisions affecting the congregation
  • Actively and publicly celebrate diversity through acknowledging histories and displaying pride flags, for example
  • Support and celebrate relationships, partnerships, and families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people
  • Practice non-discrimination when hiring church staff and contracting for goods and services
  • Condemn acts of violence, be it homophobic, sexist, racist, religious, or otherwise directed toward a particular group of our world-family
  • Support the work of the Open and Affirming Task Force to work with the congregation and its council and committees to implement the covenant statement in the life and ministry of Pilgrimage United Church of Christ.

 

(Resource: Open and Affirming Covenant of the Edgewood United Church of Christ, February 7, 2010)

 

 

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Daily Devotion – October 22, 2017
Psalm 90:1-2
1.  Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world,from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Reflection by Darlene Wagner
The logical, left-brained side of my mind becomes overwhelmed when reflecting on this passage. “Before the mountains were brought forth” implies a distant past preceding the formation of Earth herself. For an “infidel” such as myself who believes that Earth is at least 4 billion years old, the immense timeline of the Divine Spirit is dizzying. Only through my emotional, non-logical connection to a many-named, mostly, but not exclusively, female Divine Energy can I begin to live a life of faith and service.
Invocation to Divine Mother composed on the Bering Sea
In deepest adoration unto you,
Eternal Mother, may each atom of
my being praise that One Essential Fount
to all existence purely same with you!


Daily Devotion – October 21, 2017
10.21.17

Psalm 106:3

Happy are those who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times. 

Devotion by Anne Mooney

I like to think that I am a good person, but more times than I care to admit, I find myself saying and doing things I am not proud of.  I make selfish choices, flippant comments, and fail to act or speak with compassion.  When I realize my careless behavior, I feel ashamed.  I am not happy with who I am and as a result I want to isolate and disconnect from my community.  Like the Psalmist, I feel happier and more content when my actions are just and fair to others.

I wonder just who is able to do righteousness all the time, but perhaps the writer simply meant this as a reminder that we would be happier if our actions were more loving.

Prayer

Dear God, Thank you for always loving me.  Help me to show your love to others in all I do.  Help me treat others with fairness and compassion.  Amen

 



Daily Devotion – October 20, 2017
10.20.17

Psalm 106: 2

Praise the Lord!
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

Curiosity got the better of me and I couldn’t resist reading the next 46 verses or the entire 106th Psalm and decided afterwards I should stick to the first verse. The remaining verses are all too reflective of current times.

So, how do I interpret this beginning verse? It seems simple on the surface, give thanks to the Lord for He’s good and His love will be there for you. Sounds great, right? The key is giving thanks to the Lord and I, and I am sure others, can’t always find the time in their busy lives to give thanks.

As I began to think about this passage on another level, I thought to myself, there are other ways to demonstrate or “give thanks” to God, other than just prayer. Although prayer is important, it is after all, an intimate, one-on-one conversation with Him.

That brought me to a night last week. It was dark when I walked out of the office and checked to make sure the front door was locked. As I started down the sidewalk to the parking lot, I noticed an African American man and his two companions walking toward me. It looked as if they would pass and we’d both be on our separate ways.

He stopped, however, and in a very self-assured voice, he said, “Sir, sir, I am sorry to bother you but my family and I are in need of help.” He went on to explain that they were from out-of-town and had found a room for the night, but were short $30. He pulled out his wallet and said if I wanted to I could check his papers, as his wife and son stood in the background.

I thought to myself, I don’t have $30 in cash on me. Anyway, how do I know he’s telling the truth and I’d really like to get home, and …silence. “Sir,” he said again. “Can you help us.” I hesitated and finally said, “If you and your family would like to walk with me to my bank, I’ll withdraw the money from the ATM.”

So began our journey, as we walked together down the street and I asked him where he was from and he said, San Francisco. He talked of the neighborhood he grew up in and I shared the fact that my two adult children lived there and how expensive it was. We laughed, we talked more of things we shared in common and those we didn’t. His wife and son didn’t utter a word.

We arrived at the bank and unfortunately, we had to wait for another customer, as he fed dollar bills into the ATM. They sat on a bench just behind me. At last, the other customer completed his business and I entered the vestibule and the glass and metal door locked behind me. I hesitated for an instant, thought twice, but went ahead with the transaction. I felt in my heart I was doing the right thing, a good thing.

I walked out and handed him $40. We said good night to one another and went our separate ways. As I stood waiting on the curb for the light to change, I heard him say, “Sir, thank you. I won’t forget this.” That was reassuring. I believed him. And I looked up into the night sky as I headed toward the parking lot and thanked God. I had just shared the Lord’s goodness with this man and his family. Through this act of kindness, I feel that I praised the Lord and demonstrated… His steadfast love endures for ever.

Prayer

Dearest God…

I know in my heart that I am not always the best disciple, but in those moments that I am, it is my way of saying thanks for your goodness and love for they will truly endure for ever.  Amen