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Daily Devotion – January 20, 2018
01.20.18

Psalm 62: 7

On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

 

Reflection by Monty Wyne

In these uncertain and troubling times, it’s nice to know God has your back. These are angry times. Many times hate overshadows love and understanding. Drowns out reason and compromise. Makes the world feel like a dark and overwhelming place. Where is the light, I’ve asked myself?

 

And then, this morning, I discovered an email in my inbox. It was from a trusted friend. We go back to the Vietnam era, also dark times. We were on the other side. Both second lieutenants in the Air Force. We were the enemy, the scapegoat. Reviled versus honored and respected.

 

I was going to delete the email because I was so overwhelmed with work. But for some unforeseen reason I opened it. The first thing I saw were the words Good ol’ Charlie Brown. As I scrolled, and my eyes moved down the page, I stopped. It said, Remembering Charles Schulz. One of my heroes. And then I saw the Header: THE WISDOM OF PEANUTS. There sat Snoopy and Woodstock, “Never Forget To Smile,” read the caption.

 

I continued to scroll. Next came Charlie Brown and Linus, sitting on a bench, forlorn. “Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening. It just stops you from enjoying the good stuff,” read the caption. And then came Charlie with Snoopy hugging him, “I don’t have time to worry about who doesn’t like me…I’m too busy loving the people who love me.”  God, I felt great. I was smiling ear to ear.

 

I scrolled on! There was Charlie and Snoopy once again. Snoopy hugging him with all his might and the caption drew a tear, “I love the kind of hugs where you can physically feel the sadness leaving your body.” This was light in the darkness. This was love. This was hope. This was something I almost dismissed because I was too busy to take the time.

 

Well, there is no doubt in my mind that God is my mighty rock and my refuge. And I take comfort in that. Or as Snoopy put it, ”When my arms can’t reach people who are close to my heart…I always hug them with my prayers.”  So that’s my devotion and my prayer. And I’d like to leave all who read this with one last thought. Click on the link below.

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=Remembering+Charles+Schulz+the+Wisdom+of+Peanuts&client=firefox-b-1-ab&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj6p4uz6ObYAhUDRa0KHWRJDiUQsAQIOg&biw=1600&bih=788



Daily Devotion – January 18, 2018
01.18.18

Psalm 62:5

My soul, wait in silence for God only,

For my hope is from Him.

 

Devotion by Molly Broderick

In my old, ratty Bible (my kids just laughed when I called it that). OK, my old, well-used Bible, I wrote the word “expectation” in the margin of this verse with an arrow pointing to the word “hope.”

Expectation is a good word for hope. But boy do I get disappointed by expectations a lot! I expect my kids to obey me. I expect my husband to always be sensitive and meet all my needs. I expect the weather to be nice. And on and on. I have a lot of unrealistic expectations.

But when I hope in God, when I expect good from him, I receive! Hope in God is never misplaced. In fact, hope in God is the only sure and realistic place for my hope and my expectations. Even when my expectations are not met in the short term, I have hope that God is making all things new and will bring peace to the world one day.

My Rock and My Salvation, my hope and expectation is in You. May I always trust in the goodness of God.

 



Daily Devotion – January 17, 2018
01.17.18
Psalm 139:16-18
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them-they are more than the sand;
I come to the end-I am still with you. 
 
Reflection by Janet Derby
 
Uncertainty is one of the most difficult aspects of changes in our lives. Whether we are changing jobs or moving or dealing with a difficult time, it seems that once a determination about our direction is established, the change becomes a little easier to accept. The psalmist believes that though we do not, God knows our future. Perhaps that can be a comfort to us in times when we are unsure of the future.
Prayer
All-knowing God,
Help me to trust that whatever is coming my way, you will be with me and guide me. Amen.


Sermon: “Listen!” (Epiphany 2; John 1:43-51) [1/14/18]
01.15.18

Lately here at Pilgrimage, there’s been a lot more talk of feeling “called” to do something than of simply filling slots.  Instead of—“Since no one else will do it, I guess I will”–people are saying, “I think God is calling me to do this or that.”  A case in point is our new VP, Trudy Stoddert.  Here’s what Trudy wrote me in an email.

I am super. freaking. nervous. When Matthew started asking about folks being interested, I had a thought to do it, then I was like “You (roller derby word) lunatic. You’re already stretched so thin …you don’t need this.”

Then, every time Matthew got up during announcements and said he was still looking for someone, I kept feeling that pesky tug on my heart that we all know who’s doing the tugging. But I still tried to ignore it. I always over commit myself and I’ve got so much going on; I wouldn’t do the position justice.

Then I stepped down from my chair position with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.  Then a month later I stepped down from my Board of Directors position with Atlanta Junior Roller Derby.

Then Matthew made another announcement and after church I found my feet bringing me over to him and my mouth opening and saying “Hey, I might be interested.” And honestly, I almost slapped my own self right then and there…what the Sam Hill was I thinking?? But then another person overheard me saying that someone would have to take over the communications chair and they poked their head into the convo and mentioned that they might be interested in that…or at least doing some of the communications stuff so I could vacate that position. That was the next sign that this was what I was supposed to do.  So I told Matthew I would think about it over the holidays.

Then I asked Ben to chat with me about what to expect as the VP and then as the prez (gulp).  He offered his confidence in me and offered to help me as much as possible when I become the prez, so that sealed the deal. I emailed Matthew the next Monday.

I have a lot to learn about the UCC in general and PUCC (historically and such) so I can go into the prez position with enough knowledge to be a responsible leader.

And man, am I still super nervous.

When I asked Trudy if there was anything in the statement she’d like me to edit before making it public, she said, “Just tell them you edited it to make it more sermon-appropriate, because we all know Trudy is really an old drunken sailor disguised as a middle-aged mother.”

************

By virtue of our baptisms, each of us is called by God to use our gifts in the community.  In fact, that’s why we have the gifts we have–so that we can use them to build up the body of Christ.  So, how do we figure out what our gifts are?  How do we hear our calling?  As Trudy’s story demonstrates, if we want to hear our calling, we’re going to have to listen.

Trudy listened to all kinds of things as she discerned her call to the VP position.  She listened to Matthew’s announcements; she listened to the needs of the Pilgrimage community; she listened to her own needs in terms of commitments—and her penchant to over-commit.  The thing to which she listened most intently was the strange stirring inside her, the force that took her feet where she hadn’t planned for them to go.  Our Executive Committee is now fully-staffed because Trudy listened to God’s call in her life.

It’s been a joy to watch you make your plans for the pastoral transition.  It’s also sad and a little surreal not to be involved in that planning…but mostly, watching you plan for Pilgrimage’s future and seeing how engaged you are in that process makes me very happy.  It makes me especially happy that Cathe and Tom will be joining Pilgrimage today.  Who joins a church when the pastor is leaving?  Visionaries….people who are able to see that a church is about so much more than its pastor.  Church is about a community acting the world into wellbeing in God’s name.  Tom and Cathe today are answering that call.

So, by virtue of our baptisms, we all are called by God to engage in the important work of acting the world into wellbeing.  In order to hear God’s call to us, we have to listen.  And while old-drunken-sailor-middle-aged-mom-roller-derby-goddess-new-VP Trudy Grenon Stoddert has given us a terrific example of how to listen to God’s call, it’s not always easy, is it?  Sometimes, there’s so much static on the line, it’s nigh on impossible to hear God’s call.

So what causes static?  What prevents us from God’s call?  For one thing, we might find the idea of “listening to God’s call” strange or hard to understand.  Or we might find our lives too busy to listen.  Or we might not believe ourselves important enough or gifted enough for God to even notice us, much less to call us to some specific task.

There’s another source of static that’s kind of hard to own up to…it’s the thing that gets in the way of Nathanael hearing Jesus’ call in today’s Gospel lesson:  prejudice.

When Philip comes to Nathanael, excited about his encounter with Jesus, in not-so-nice language, Nathanael reveals his prejudice –“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Program note:  I wrote this next sentence before Thursday’s news cycle.)  Nathanael’s regionalism–perhaps even racism–blinds him to the good that might come from the person reared in what he considered to be a backwater of the region.  Jesus persists and reminds Nathanael of something we’re not privy to.  When that happens, Nathanael’s tune changes completely.  ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’  Suddenly, Nathanael is able to set aside his bias and hear Jesus’ call.

The connection between today’s Gospel lesson and this week’s comments by our president couldn’t be clearer.  Old-drunken-sailor words used playfully by a middle-aged-roller-derby goddess is a completely different thing than our nation’s president crudely denigrating entire nations of people because of the color of their skin.  As fruitful as exploring the connection between today’s Gospel lesson and this week’s events might be, I invite us instead to hear today’s Gospel lesson in the context of our life together as a community.

So…what’s creating static in God’s attempts to call you?  Is there any static on the line in God’s call to this community?  Are there biases?  Are there prejudices?  Who have you already written off as a bearer of God’s message to you?  Who in this community aren’t you seeing?  Who aren’t you hearing?

In his short book outlining community life, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer identifies the “ministry of listening” as a key aspect of community life.  Isn’t that great?  The ministry of listening.  (It’s not inconsequential that this section is preceded by one called “the ministry of holding one’s tongue.” J)

Bonhoeffer writes:  “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them.  Just as love to God begins with listening to God’s Word, so the beginning of love for the community is learning to listen to its members…”

God is creative.  And playful.  God speaks to us through all kinds of people.  If we write some people off from the get-go, though, it doesn’t matter how loudly God is speaking through them, we aren’t going to get the message.

As you seek to use your gifts to build up this community, through whom might God be calling you?  As you as a community discern God’s call for you in the coming weeks and months, through whom might God be speaking?  What might happen if you open your minds and hearts to someone—or someones—you’ve never before considered being a bearer of God’s word?  What might happen if you recommit yourselves again to the ministry of listening?

Listening to you all these last 16 years, God has said some crazy things…

Ric Reitz:  “What about stained glass windows?”  My response:  “We aren’t a stained glass window church.”

Chris Shiver when we were gluing glass to the mosaic cross:  “I could engrave words on the glass.”  My response:  “No.  I don’t think so.”  Ric Reitz, when I told everyone to fill in all the remaining blank spaces with glass on Palm Sunday that year, “But isn’t God still speaking?”

Holly CothranDrake:  “Let’s start a Joys and Concerns page on Facebook.”  My response:  “Oh, no.  I don’t think that will work.”

Julie Binney and Janet Derby at separate times.  (I’m still trying to decide if that was a coordinated effort. J):  “Hey, Kim.  I heard about this great program called Family Promise.  Do you think we might participate?”  My response:  I’d already thrown the Family Promise materials in the trash.

Based on this list, it sounds like you all might do very well if I just get out of the way!  J  Seriously.  You are some of the most authentic, compassionate, creative people I have ever known.  Your gift for hospitality is astonishing.  I have no doubt—no doubt—that God has great things in store for you.  And because I have learned so much from listening to you, I have no doubt that you have much to learn from listening to each other.  God isn’t just speaking TO you, God is speaking THROUGH you to each other.  Want to know how to find the way forward on this next leg of your journey?  Listen to the still-speaking God.  Listen to the tugging inside you that we know who’s doing the tugging.  And listen to each other.  Who knows?  God just might have some more crazy things to say.

Image result for listen with the ear of your heart

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

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2018



Daily Devotion – January 15, 2018

Psalm 139:1-6

 

You have searched me, Lord,

    and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

    you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

    you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

    you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

    and you lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

    too lofty for me to attain.

 

Reflection by Ellen Green

The week after my wedding, I did something that I felt terribly guilty about afterward. I came home distraught and my wife held me while I cried. Naturally, she wanted to know what had upset me. At first I didn’t tell her what I’d done. I didn’t want her to think less of me. Eventually, though, I decided that I wanted and needed her to know. I was in a difficult place, and when in came down to it, I didn’t want to go it alone.

Sometimes I act the same way with God. When something in my life feels ugly or broken I want to hide. Of course, God knows about it anyway. And being open to God when I’m at my worst means that I don’t have to be there alone. God knows us in our fullness and walks with us toward wholeness.

 

Prayer

Intimate Knower, steadfast Friend, witness my faithfulness and my struggles today. Hear the confessions of my heart and let me rest in the promise that you will never abandon me. Amen. 

 

 



Daily Devotion – January 13, 2018
01.13.18

Mark 1:6-8

 

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

 

Reflection by Janet Derby

 

John must have commanded a lot of attention with his clothing and diet. It seems a bit odd that those are the characteristics that came to be recorded. Yet, John also must have had a tremendous gift for preaching as well. I doubt that people flocked to the desert merely because of his habits. The other gift that John clearly had was that of humility. It would have been easy for him to bask in the spotlight, but he knew that it was vital for his followers to understand that Christ was coming. As we head into a new year and a time of transition at Pilgrimage, it is a good time to consider our own gifts. It is also a time to acknowledge the gifts of others and the power of God to work in our midst.

 

Prayer:

 

Gracious God,

Thank you for the many gifts you give to each of us. Help us to recognize our role in furthering your realm. Amen.



Daily Devotion – January 11, 2017
01.11.18

Mark 1:4

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

 

Devotion by Laurie Spencer

Spoiler alert!  I struggle with the meaning of baptism.  So of course I get this particular phrase in Mark to publicly ponder!

When I was 14, just before my confirmation into the Congregational church, I was baptized. I remember a large Long Island church located down the street from a famous shopping strip called the “Miracle Mile”.  I remember the white dress I wore as I walked slowly down the aisle by myself to meet the minister at the baptismal font. I went through this because as a young girl raised in a Christian Science church, I was not baptized. When my mother decided to take me over to the Congregational church, this baptism was required before I could be confirmed with the rest of the teens in my RE class.

Since many churches baptize babies, not everyone remembers their baptism.  Clearly many Baptists experience their baptism fully conscious of the decision and meaning. And John’s adult followers had a similar experience.

But I can tell you that even at 14 years old, I did not have a clear understanding of what it meant to repent and confess my sins. It took decades for me to glimpse the meaning of my baptism. And still I forget and must remind myself that there is a covenant between me and God.

I wonder how many of the people that showed up to John in the wilderness really understood what was the promise of baptism? I venture to guess that thru the ages, many, including me, have struggled with the meaning of baptism and continue to ponder the balance of faith and skepticism.

 

Prayer

Father, Mother God, thank you for loving me through a lifetime of ignorance and stubbornness.  Let me remember to follow your example and pass on your steadfast love to others.

 



Sermon: « It Was Enough » (Mark 1:4-11–Baptism of Jesus) [1/7/18]
01.08.18

So…our time together is drawing to a close.  We’re about to enter a strange new world–the world where I am no longer your pastor.  February 1, I will start learning a new congregation; you’ll begin the adventure of discerning who God is calling to be your next pastor.  Several of you have told me—I’ve appreciated your candor—“I don’t like change.”  I hear you.  Change is challenging.  Things we thought we always could count on suddenly disappear.  Or, according to some of you, abandon you.   So much of life goes so fast and changes so quickly, it’s nice– and important–to have at least a few things that are steady, dependable, certain.

In the midst of these UN-certain times, what can we do?  How can we navigate this new terrain when we can’t feel the ground beneath our feet?

One thing that helps transitions go more smoothly is good administration.  If processes are outlined clearly and followed, it reduces a lot of anxiety.  In our process of preparing to move, I find that when I get a little overwhelmed by it all, it helps to measure things–furniture, room size…cats.  Or to make charts.  Or to nail down one more detail.  In times of transition, tending to the nuts and bolts is key.  We are blessed by amazing leadership on Council right now.  You can rest easy that they will handle all the administrative pieces of the transition with competence and grace.  And we are glad to have Marie Bacchiocchi, our Interim Conference Minister, with us today.  She will provide administrative oversight from the denomination.

But good administration isn’t only the responsibility of Council and the Conference.  In order for the community to remain strong and do the important work of discernment, it’s vital that every member of the community continue offering your gifts—your gifts of presence, your gifts of service, your gifts of money.  If you pull back, if you withhold your gifts, if instead of being an active participant in the transition, you decide to wait and see how things turn out, the community will suffer.  And–if you sit out the transition–I can guarantee you aren’t going to find the end result of the discernment process satisfying…. because you’ll have had no say in it, right?  If there’s one thing I hope you’ll remember from my tenure here, it’s the understanding that church isn’t something “they” do; it’s something “we” do together.  Even when it’s hard, a church whose full membership is fully engaged is a strong church.  You are a strong church; you’re growing stronger all the time.  Even now.  Especially now.

So, how do we navigate new terrain when we can’t feel the ground beneath our feet?  We tend to administration.  But that’s true for any group facing change.  Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of a resource unique to communities of Jesus’ followers facing change:  our baptisms.

The story is familiar.  Jesus has been born, grown up, and probably worked for his dad.  Then he hears the preaching of his cousin John and something within him stirs.  One day as John is baptizing people in the Jordan River, Jesus comes and asks to be baptized.  John says, “Um, Cuz, I think you’ve got this backward.  I should be baptized by YOU.”  Jesus assures John that he—Jesus—is right.  He is Jesus, after all.  John relents and baptizes Jesus.

It’s as Jesus emerges from the baptismal waters that he hears the words, “You are my child, the beloved.  With you I am well-pleased.”  In a moment, as we do every year, we’ll renew our baptismal vows.  If you choose to come up and receive a blessing, you will hear these words spoken to you.  “You are God’s child.  You are loved.  With you, God is well-pleased.”

Image result for baptism of jesus picture

Do you ever have trouble taking those words in?  Do you ever have trouble believing you are loved by God, that God is well-pleased with you?  Yeah.  That’s why we renew our baptismal vows every year.

In a little over a month, Lent will begin.  The Gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Lent will be the story of Jesus’ time of temptation in the wilderness.  I understand why the stories are separated liturgically, but when read together, they tell a deeper—and fuller–story.  Mark tells us that immediately after his baptism, God’s Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.  So, God says, “I love you!  Now, go out in the wilderness and fast for 40 days.”

Which isn’t as harsh or counter-intuitive as it sounds.  Sometimes, the best way to see what we’re made of is to be tested.  Many of you have shared with me how much you have learned from your own times of testing.  Through the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship… You’ve reported that living into your new context gave you tremendous clarity about who you are and where you’re headed.  It was painful, yes.  Excruciating.  But when you emerged on the other side, you knew better than ever before who you were.

That’s what happened with Jesus.  Through his testing in the wilderness, displaced from all that was familiar, Jesus got clearer about who he was as God’s child and Messiah.  Think about it.  When nothing changes, faith atrophies.  If we can trust our context to provide what we need, why trust God?  When the familiarity of our context is snatched away, though—which is about to happen to all of us—when our context changes, we have to find something else to cling to.  When Jesus’ context changed, he clung to God.

Now that our contexts are changing, we too will need to cling to God.  As Sr. Joan Chittister has said, “God is the only lifeline that life guarantees us.”  (8)  There’s no doubt that during this time of transition, we will be tempted…  We’ll be tempted to try to control things ourselves, we’ll be tempted to follow after anything but God, we’ll tempted to let ourselves be overwhelmed by anxiety… Oh, yes.  Times of transition are tempting, testing times.

But if we trust in the one thing that is certain in life—the God of love who wants only to act us into wellbeing—if we cling to our lifeline, if we stay open to learning all we can during our sojourn in the wilderness, if we use this time to reconnect with what is most important, to practice living without things we think we can’t live without but in truth don’t need at all…if we cling to God and stay open to learning, our wilderness experiences will help us gain new clarity about who we are as God’s children and as God’s feet and hands in the world.

So, I understand why the liturgical powers that be separated Jesus’ baptism from his experience in the wilderness.  For this moment of our respective journeys, though, seeing the two events as parts of a single story will be more helpful.  Because what sustained Jesus during his time in the wilderness?  What reminded him of his lifeline to God?  What grounded Jesus when everything changed?

The thing that grounded Jesus, the thing that reminded him of God’s deep and abiding love for him, the thing that kept him connected to his source of strength and life, was his baptism.  Jesus’ baptism was enough to sustain him during his time in the wilderness.  It sustained him through his loneliness.  It sustained him through every temptation.  It sustained him through his despair.

Jesus’ baptism also strengthened him for the work that was before him—the work of revealing God’s hopes for the world, the work of being God’s hands, feet, eyes and ears in the world, the vital work of acting the world into wellbeing in God’s name.

Our baptisms also will sustain us through our times of transition.  Our baptisms will remind us of God’s love for us.  Our baptisms will strengthen us for the vital work—for you here in Marietta and for Allen and me in Asheville—our baptisms will strengthen us for the important work of acting the world into wellbeing.

And so, as we seek to reconnect to our loving God, our source of solace and strength, our lifeline… after a moment of silence, I invite you to join me in renewing our baptismal vows.



Daily Devotion – January 8, 2018

Genesis 1: 1-2

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Reflection by Duke Yaguchi

I usually read Genesis and what God did during that entire “week” of creation. However, in looking at just the first two verses, it begins very simply. There was nothing before God. So I’m left to wonder, why did God create the devil and evil and pain and misery? Couldn’t God just have stopped with the “good stuff”? Why not simply have heaven on earth? Wouldn’t that have been simpler, less complicated and better for everyone?

If that were so, we would only have prayers of thanks and joy. The world would be full of love and peace. I could live in such a world. Couldn’t you?

Prayer

Dear God. I don’t understand what or why you’ve created what you have created. I don’t know if I need to understand it all. I look at the world in wonder and awe. I’ll do my best to preserve and protect what you have created. In God’s name I pray. Amen.



Daily Devotion – January 6, 2018
01.06.18

Matthew 2:11-12

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Devotion by Lynne Buell

As my faith journey continues, I find myself questioning some of the minor (or maybe not so minor) details of scripture.  For example, what did Mary do with the extravagant gifts that the three wise men presented during their visit?  After doing a Google search, I read a few commentaries about possible uses for the gold, frankincense, and myrrh that Mary took advantage of.  Each scenario made perfect sense to me, and each situation alluded to Mary being a penny-wise, thrifty, and logical woman.

Jesus is our gift from God; a gift that should be cherished and praised throughout our lifetime.  God presented Jesus to us to make us happy, to love one another, and to turn the world into a peaceful place where we all can live freely.  Let’s extend the happiness to everyone we encounter beyond the Christmas season, beginning with today.

Prayer:

Gracious God, I thank you for this day and for your never-ending love.  Amen.