Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday.

It does not always feel so holy.

Jesus, yes still set apart…but in a tomb. The disciples – suffocated with grief from the day before.  The State – sated with its violence.  The world – left wandering, picking up the pieces, and looking for the leader of its next mob.

It’s hard for many to imagine what that day was like.  We remember history through the lens of the resurrection – an event which had yet to chan

ge the history of the universe the day after the crucifixion.  This is not a privilege or a bias, but a participation in the reality we are blessed to receive.  We should remember it this way. Loves open arms swallowed death and offered eternal life for all and any who choose to follow the Way of the crucified carpenter.  In no way do I ever want any to forget the empty tomb, to re-enter a world wA rusty pile of Chains, | Flickr - Photo Sharing!here Jesus did not seem victorious.

Still, the chains of such a dark day clank through the centuries to today. Billions have heard of the name of Jesus.  Still, many do not believe.  For them, Jesus remains in the tomb.  Or rather, his remains were once in a tomb if such a person could ever be believed in.   Sin still reigns.   Good is invented by the tribe and speaks the language of violence to overcome evil. One might as well survive the agony.  They have not heard nor seen the power of the risen Lord and the Holy Spirit.  The Messiah remains a myth. 

The good news of Sunday morning has not landed.  People desire illusions more than reality.  Pain and longing for a broken world – sated by
 
needles and drink,
 
power and money, 
 

sex and violence, 

security and comfort,

convenience and control, 

rage and entertainment, 

distraction and destruction, 

rebellion and order, 

religion and tribe, 

prestige and pride –

self-imposed holy Saturday shackles suffocating us, stifling us, sending us downstream away from the eternal springs of Sunday’s salvation;

 
damned deeds of deadening desires gathering the darkness, dimming, disregarding a building, devastating deluge devoid of deeper deliverance –
 
 
the weight of the waves winding and working until washing out in waterfalls of waste wrecking us, whisking us all away from a world transformed.  
 

 

A world already transformed in the good news of the empty tomb, needing only its inhabitants to turn towards the dawn of the new beginning awaiting at the empty tomb.

 

Love still reigns in Jesus even if the world still does not recognize the uncoercive power of the empty tomb.

 

As we wait for that final day when the holy Saturdays of this world retreat from the dawn of the second coming, may those who know the joy of the resurrection be a light for those who remain in the darkness.

 

Look for the light tomorrow, He is risen!


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One Year In

One year ago, on March 12th, Governor Holcomb banned all ‘non-essential’ gatherings of 250 people or more.  The day before, March 11th, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic.  The NBA cancelled its season that same day.  Travel was severely restricted.  In Indiana we had our first recorded case on March 6th and first announced death on March 16th.  Our state basketball tournament and the March Madness were cancelled in between.  That day, Governor Holcomb ordered all bars and restaurants to close. Do you remember?

Here at Central we had our last service before going online fully March 15th.  The world continued to close down from there.  Do you remember how it felt? 

We were able to open our childcare again in May and our in-person services that final Sunday.  We opened with the same masking requirements which were then imposed upon us on July 27th by the governor, requirements which still remain.  And then there were the million changes in our own stories… Do you remember how it felt? to first hunker down and hear the reports roll in? to see life as we know it change in a few short days?

This Sunday marks one year since we last gathered without masks.  In that 365-day span, we have lost so much, seen so much, and felt so much.  The losses are not just in the millions around the world and thousands around the state who have lost their life.  They piled up in relationships severed by distancing, moments lost to cancellations, and a year’s worth of anxiety and unknowing.  What losses have you endured…

The losses remain in our memory.  The scars formed will go nowhere soon.  But the scars tell the deeper story.  The story of loss, yes, but also the story of fighting and healing.  This past year has also been a year of new beginnings and renewal born out of the necessity of the pandemic.  Grieving our losses helps us see that those moments are seen by the light of those redeeming moments which carried us along to this day.  Friendships rekindled over zoom and facetime.  The smallest of gestures reminding us of love at just the right moment. Neighbors now known because the crazy busy has subsided.  New endeavors begun because…well, nothing else was going on.  Babies were born, baptisms were held, celebration found a way, and God is still good.

Feeling again where losses have wounded, does the pain subside long enough in your scars to see the broader tale?

I think of Paul and his letter from prison to the church at Philippi.  His suffering has brought him near death and into deeper contemplation.  He reflects on his time pursuing life in a different way before knowing Christ,

   “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

   Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Friends, there is good news.  We have reached our lowest levels of infection and hospitalization since June.  Vaccines are becoming widely available.  And Jesus still reigns as our Resurrected King.  Here at Central groups are beginning to gather, beginning to minister to one another and our neighbors.  We will still wear masks and take precautions in singing, but we are finding a way.  Central will do whatever it takes to be God’s gathered body, following Jesus,  sent out by the power of the Holy Spirit, for the transformation of the world.

Let us press on to the calling God has for us.  We are not alone in our pain.  Hundreds, thousands of those who surround us have been broken in the same way.  Let us rise and shine his glory well to many in the year ahead.  We know not what it will hold, only that God has been faithful through the losses of this pandemic.

This Sunday marks one year since we last gathered without masks.  What will we say one year from now?

To God be the glory…

Yours in Christ, Pastor Joseph


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40 days to a renewed you! Part 2

You can read Part I HERE

God says, ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10).  This sounds great, especially on Saturday morning before the children rise. But in the church today a question immediately rises inside, ‘How does this work if I am supposed to also follow Jesus (and work a job and provide for a family and go on that social media perfect vacation and keep the house clean and…)?’  Even the questions make me want to turn off the computer and lay down for a nap.  How do we be still in a doing world? 

Lent has traditionally been the time each year for many Christians to better connect to such truths and work this out.  Yet in last week’s post, we questioned whether the Lenten diets were not just extensions, sometimes, of the same self-help improvement practices seen in the rest of culture.  So, If not to improve yourself by the prepared fasts, studies, and good works, then what? Why Lent?  What’s the point if it doesn’t help me? 

And there is the rub. 

Me. 

Lent is not the problem.  It is a traditional season held dearly by the church for hundreds of years.  It’s a time of preparation to receive afresh the good news on Easter morning.  There have been wonderful practices tried and explored which have brought many deeper into their faith, closer to God, and therefore more powerful in their Kingdom work. 

Lenten practices become the problem when I make them about me.  Let me share a few such blunders from my past.  One time I gave up certain foods and found myself on the scale marveling at how much weight I loss because of the fast I chose.  Another year I found myself wondering at how much I fasted and others had no idea.  Another time, I finished a study and just knew I now knew all I needed to know about the book and could help others if only they knew how knowledgeable I was.  How does it go…’pride goeth before the fall.’ 

These short comings came clearly into sight in the months following the end of Lent.  Back to ‘normal’ I resumed the old diet and put back on the weight, stopped the study group and lost the relationships, and found there was a whole lot I did not yet know about the book of Colossians (much less what I forgot).  It was good for a season and several blessings abounded, but ‘MY’ efforts fell short for I was concerned mostly about ‘MY’ benefit.   

Back to Psalm 46:10.  The verse goes on to read, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”  How is God to be exalted and known? Through my fasting or righteousness or studying or short-term commitments?  No.  It is through being still and knowing who God is.   

Yes, knowing God may come through fasting and studies and good works and more.  But, if I am not still first – if ‘I’ do not yield to the ‘I am’- then the exact same activities bring not knowledge of God but rather exaltation of my self. 

It is like any diet we have ever tried.  They all work exactly for what they are designed for.  The problem is that we use the trendy diet so that we can justify our return to a prior diet once we got our desired result.  And then repeat. Constant motion.  Exhausting motion. 

Being implies a constant state. Being still means giving up on deciding whether we should do what God says. It means giving our whole efforts and attention to God.  It means resting in the completeness of God’s good work.  Being still means knowing you can do no thing now, or in the next 40 days, to be any more loved than you are now.  Being still allows us to know God. 

Will we fail in our efforts ahead?  Yes.  Let Grace abound and be still. 

Be still and know God loves you despite all you do.  God loves you when you rebel against Him.  God loves you when you turn towards him.  God loves you in the fast and in the feast, in the ignorance and the knowing.  God’s love abounds beyond our imagination!  It is God’s love which claims you, adopts you, and renews you.   

Being still leads to knowing God.  Knowing God means hearing his will and doing for God rather than ‘me.’  This doing brings ongoing blessing for you and the many around you. 

May this Lenten season be such a time of renewal for you. 

In Christ, 

Pastor Joseph 


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40 days to a new you! – Part I

Have you ever hoped for more in life? Tired of that same old routine?  Want a new body for swimsuit season?  Then Lenten practices are for you!  Just follow the directions listed on the package, add water, and voila – everything is awesome!!!! 

Or so we are promised.  Reality often tells another tale. 

Self-help, positive-thinking, short-cut peddling, elixir-of-life pills built so much of our American way of life.  They are everywhere.  The advertisements and products and processes may change over time (and rapidly it seems of late), but the promises and cheerleading remain.   

Happiness!!!  (DISCLAIMER: just after that next purchase, like, swipe, mantra, or 3rd step; DO NOT NOTICE the people who cannot afford this prescription; and please ignore the list of side effects in small print) 

We accept these in their pervasiveness.  Constant expressions appear in social media ads, bookstore sections, television shows, print media, and water cooler conversations.  It’s no wonder so many of us struggle to free ourselves from the doomed journey where the promised end seems always around the next bend in the prescribed road. To pursue happiness is the way of American life. 

It’s no wonder this thinking has crept into the church.  Just take this study and you will know everything!  Just read the whole Bible and all will finally be well!  Just say a prayer and there will be no more problems! Just go on this one trip and know the world is now right for your efforts!  

Lent has become a hotbed of this frenetic, transactional activity.  Just give up ______ for 40 days and finally – peace.  Only, life still happens after lent. And often peace is not found in the messy, ever after.  Then, full of broken promises and empty of short-term relationships, Lenten participants cast doubt upon and create distance with the church…or even God.

It’s no wonder so many of us have given up trying anymore. 

But what if this was not a bad thing?  Maybe not for the same reasons…but what if we all stopped trying?  What if we gave up trying to improve ourselves during Lent?  What if we give up trying to figure it all out, and instead be still, letting God just love us?  What if we just listen, say yes to Jesus each day, and follow where He goes?  What if we all stopped trying and just started doing what Jesus asked of us?  What would happen? 

It might just be the greatest journey ever. 

And who knows, Lent might be a mere 40 days towards a renewed you.

 

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Joseph

 

tune in again next week for Part II


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HOW JOHN COLTRANE SET HIS SPIRIT FREE

Greetings from Madeleine, your Minister of Music!
I pray that February is bringing you a time of peace and spiritual reflection as we quickly approach Ash Wednesday, the season of Lent and Holy Week. I pray that you all are practicing good self-care as we continue to experience the COVID-19 pandemic. I wanted to share an article I found recently about one of my favorite jazz artists: John Coltrane. Coltrane was a deeply spiritual man who overcame addiction and felt compelled to use his life to help others. Read on to learn more. I will leave you with this brief prayer: Dear Lord, May we feel the grace of You during this time of darkness and uncertainty. We know You are here, that You love us, and that Your son died for us. Through You, all is possible. Thank you, Lord.

Amen.

 

HOW JOHN COLTRANE SET HIS SPIRIT FREE

Written by Matthew Gindin and originally published in The Wisdom Daily on 7-2-2018 

God breathes through us so completely… so gently we hardly feel it… yet, it is our everything. – John Coltrane 

As I write this, “Both Directions At Once” a newly released lost John Coltrane album from 1963, just dropped on Spotify. It’s named after Coltrane’s famous comment that he played like someone “starting a sentence in the middle, and then going to the beginning and the end of it at the same time … both directions at once.” What Van Gogh or Picasso or Monet were to painting, Coltrane was to music. Some might say “to jazz”, but because his relevance is not just limited to a genre (great as the jazz tradition is), speaking that way might unintentionally belittle him. Van Gogh was an oil-based painter in the post-impressionist European tradition, but we usually just call him a “great artist.” He belongs to the whole world- he accomplished something human. Coltrane too was such a “great artist”- practicing in the medium of sound, not vision- creating forms of beauty, emotion, harmony, dissonance, and transcendence, which had never been heard before and, not only were unthought of before him, but are difficult to imitate after him. It is not just for his music that Coltrane is fascinating, but for his successful battle with the scourging addictions that wounded or felled other jazz talents of his time, and for his spiritual consciousness, courage, and bold adventurousness. He was also an eminently philosophical musician whose work came to express a spiritual vision. Coltrane was born in 1926, the same year as Miles Davis, the other jazz titan of the time and the person who did more than anyone else to put Coltrane’s name on the map. In the 40s and 50s, Coltrane was a solid, competent saxophonist called upon to play with rising greats, most notably with Davis, while he found his own voice. That voice was almost silenced by addiction, however, as he struggled with heroin use and binge drinking. In 1957, Coltrane was fired from Miles Davis’ band for showing up disheveled, smashed out of his mind and barely able to play. Coltrane set his mind to getting clean and getting himself together, and once free from his chemical demons, Coltrane began the career of the man we now think of when we think of “John Coltrane.” In the 1964 liner notes to his album, A Love Supreme, considered one of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded, Coltrane wrote: During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD. The realization Coltrane was trying to articulate is explained in the liner notes: NO MATTER WHAT … IT IS WITH GOD. HE IS GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL. HIS WAY IS IN LOVE, THROUGH WHICH WE ALL ARE. IT IS TRULY – A LOVE SUPREME – . Highlighting the spiritual message of the album, toward the end of part one, “Acknowledgement,” Coltrane plays the same melodic riff in every key. Lewis Porter, the head of the master’s program in jazz history and research at Rutgers University-Newark, told NPR that “Coltrane’s more or less finished his improvisation, and he just starts playing the ‘Love Supreme’ motif, but he changes the key another time, another time, another time. This is something very unusual… he ends up playing this little ‘Love Supreme’ theme in all 12 possible keys,” says Porter. “To me, he’s giving you a message here. First of all, he’s introduced the idea. He’s experimented with it. He’s improvised with it with great intensity. Now he’s saying it’s everywhere. It’s in all 12 keys. Anywhere you look, you’re going to find this ‘Love Supreme.’” A Love Supreme was recorded in one day, the music coming together with little direction from Coltrane as the intimate group of seasoned musicians played together. It is the hinge between Coltrane’s more accessible work between 1957 and 1964, and the sonically fearless and no-holds-barred experimental work that followed. Albums like Coltrane (1957), and Soultrane (1958), released after he freed himself from his under-the wagon years, showed him possessed of a distinct voice and virtuosic talent. Giant Steps (1960) and My Favorite Things (1961) showed constant evolution as Coltrane developed incredible melodic depth and pushed his soloing into more and more experimental realms. As music critic Mark Richardson wrote of that period, “He wasn’t just covering ground, he was accelerating.” Coltrane became known for his “sheets of sound” style, releasing lightning fast cascades of notes as he played through, over and around the sonic structures of the piece. His soloing sounds like a spirit bird canvassing the chords, trying out every possibility of note, looking for a way to escape the structure and soar free. Atonal, dissonant, and shrieking sounds would begin to pour out of Coltrane’s horn more and more as he looked for a way to play himself right out of the world, dragging the music, sometimes literally kicking and screaming, behind him. A Love Supreme, which has sold more than a million copies and is the second most popular jazz album of all time, showcases such incredible passages of saxophone flight amidst soundscapes of great sweetness, depth, and wonder. The concept of the album had arrived in Coltrane’s mind as an intuitive whole one morning while meditating. As he moved into more challenging territory musically, he was also pushing past more commonplace spiritual boundaries in America to explore Buddhism, Hinduism and new age thought. “I believe in all religions,” Coltrane said. “The truth itself doesn’t have any name on it to me, and each man has to find it for himself.”

Coltrane’s spiritual trajectory was heavily influenced by his second wife, Alice, who he met in 1962. Alice and John married in 1965 after Coltrane officially divorced his first wife Naima, who was the inspiration for the famous track named after her on Giant Steps. Naima and Coltrane remained friends until his death. Coltrane met Alice in 1962 and they married in 1965. After Coltrane’s death in 1967, Alice became a swamini (female swami) and opened a Vedantic ashram, dedicating the rest of her life to teaching and priestly duties as well as music. Between 1964 and 1967, Coltrane released experimental albums like Meditations, Ascension, and Om where he largely abandoned traditional musical structures and tonality. He also worked on the stunning Interstellar Space, a duet with drummer Rashied Ali which wasn’t released until after his death. The soaring emotionality and fierce, transgressive playing on these albums would inspire decades of avant-garde musicians. “There is never any end,” Coltrane wrote in the 1965 liner notes for Ascension. “There are always new sounds to imagine: new feelings to get at. And always, there is a need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we’ve discovered in its pure state. So that we can see more clearly what we are. In that way, we can give to those who listen, the essence–the best of what we are. But to do that at each stage, we have to keep on cleaning the mirror.” “Once you become aware of this force for unity in life,” wrote Coltrane in the liner notes for 1965’s Meditations,”You can’t forget it. It becomes part of everything you do… my goal in meditating on this through music however remains… to uplift people as much as I can. To inspire them to realize more and more their capacities for living meaningful lives.” What is striking about Coltrane is not just his modeling of rebirth after catastrophe and his years of soaring into new spiritual and musical skies, relentlessly going beyond what most people would understand or consider “safe.” It’s his belief, as shown in the quote above, that in doing so he is uplifting people and inspiring them to “realize more and more their capacities for living meaningful lives.” Coltrane is sharing his own ascension. He is inviting the listener into the joyful, chaotic collaborations of his later albums, where the horns sound more like birds coming together in wild flight than hip, controlled improvisations. His albums sound at once like the travel journal of a mountaineer and like a model for free community. Speaking about the relationship Coltrane saw between his music and what was happening in the world of the mid- 1960s, so marked by social change, racial strife, and burgeoning liberation movements, Coltrane told Frank Kofsky in a rare interview from 1966, “Well, I think that music, being expression of the human heart or the human being itself, does express just what is happening. The whole of human experience at that particular time is being expressed. In any situation that we find in our lives, when there’s something we feel should be better, we must exert effort to try and make it better. So it’s the same socially, musically, politically, in any department of your life. I think music is an instrument. It can create the initial thought pattern that can create a change, you see, in the thinking of the people. I mean I want to be a force for real good. In other words, I know that there are bad forces. I know that there are forces out here that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be the opposite force. I want to be the force which is truly for good.” In his fierce modeling, through his life and music, of his heartfelt quest for both personal and collaborative freedom, Coltrane is an artist who still points the way.

 

 

Some Reminders/Announcements:

Tuesdays at 10:00AM: Weekly worship service/virtual fellowship opportunity from Madeleine’s home in Brookville, Ohio. Streams live from Central’s Facebook page.

Wednesdays at 12:15pm: Weekly Musical Meditations from Central’s beautiful sanctuary. Reflective music played on pipe organ or piano. Streams live from Central’s Facebook page.

Special Musicians Needed: Central United Methodist Church is very blessed to have wonderful new cameras, microphones and other recording equipment in our sanctuary. We are in need of more special music for upcoming worship services. This could involve singing, playing a musical instrument or something else entirely (poetry, dancing, etc!). If you have interest, please contact Madeleine at Madeleine@richmondcumc.com.


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Chasing Interruptions

The world keeps on turning.  Pandemic, New Year, chaos at the capitol, and still the days go by.  Standing here in 2021, we are survivors who know well the hits keep on coming.  The best laid plans turn to dust and wash downstream amidst the never-ending cascade of interruptions. For a moment, we lash out at the current and the chaos.  For a moment, we desperately dive into the frothing frenzy to grasp at each former plan and controlled conception to put it all back together again.  Only, we find ourselves soaked, carried into unfamiliar waters, and exhausted.

What if we were never called to chase the interruptions raining down upon us?

What if we were called to raise our eyes when our preset paths became impassable?  God calls us to himself amidst the storms of life.  He offers divine presence, the calm in the storm. Not only does he comfort and protect, God also guides us to ways of living this present life here and now.  One such way is leaning in, consuming and meditating upon the eternal Word of God.  Thousands and millions of pages of spilled ink will be published about the past year, the current trend, and future prognosis.  God offers to us something which transcends.  He invites us to grow roots that go down deep.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
that person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers. 

Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon. ~ Psalm 1:1-3

Being in the word, carves out anchors for our soul which nourish us in the living waters of life.  We become fixed in our calling and flexible enough to bend when the wind blows.  We reach deep into the storehouse of wisdom so that we are always relevant and yet not cut up by wild interruptions and following trends.  Most importantly, we produce regular seeds for the next generation to prosper.

My prayer for us all this season is turn towards the word of God in 2021.  That we may find the waters which sustain through whatever may come with roots which go down deep.  And maybe, we will see how the interruptions call us to pause and remember our true callings.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.” ~ Isaiah 55:7-13

Shalom,

Pastor Joseph


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Christmas is Coming

Dear Central Family,

The ides of December are upon us.  Advent wanes, decorations shine brightly, hearts brim with joy and expectation, yet the coronavirus concerns blanket us at every turn.  I have been impressed at Central’s ability to maintain vigilance in loving our neighbors through the 3w’s (Wear a mask, watch your distance, wash your hands) while keeping hope alive through connection.  Please keep reaching out to your fellow members, friends, neighbors, and family.  We will get through this together.

Psalm 30 keeps coming to mind as I think of this pandemic season, ‘sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning!’  The news of the vaccine comes as our country and the world are experiencing record high levels of infection.  We must keep fighting and not grow weary though the hour grows late and temperature drops.  This moment reminds me of being in the woods in the early morning before a hunt.  We would often strive to get there at least a half hour before daylight.  I remember marveling when I was younger at how cold it got just before the sun rose.  In preparation we wore layers and yes, often wore masks.  When the sun finally peeked over the horizon, there would sometimes be a wind as though the very breathe of God was saying good morning and warming all the world.

Friends, I yearn to toss my mask aside and embrace each of you in the warmth of celebration, but that hour has not yet come.  Let us continue on for a little while longer knowing the one who holds the future in the palm of his hands holds us in these moments.  As I have said and will always offer here at Central, if you do not have a group of fellow Christians to turn to regularly and intimately, please call us in the office and we will get you connected.  We need one another in these times.

We are still open at 1425 East Main for you, for your groups, for space to bring yourself before our God, and for any who wander in.  We are still asking for those of you who can to attend our worship services virtually.  It has been good to read your comments and join with you in the after service Zoom gatherings each Sunday.  We want to be sure there is plenty of space for those who do not have such access and our new guests to be able to distance effectively in worship.  To this end, we are offering a fully virtual Christmas Eve family service at 4:30.  Our candlelight service will be both in person and livestreamed at 8:00pm.  Candles are available in the office and in the parlor for you to bring home ahead of the service if you do not have any at home.  You are welcome to tune into both online or go back watch the other later in the Christmas season.  If you are planning on attending at 8, PLEASE REGISTER HERE so we can ensure enough space for all to distance effectively.

Ultimately, this will indeed be a very strange Christmas.  Let us not lose sight of the ‘reason for the season.’  Jesus came into a world groaning for relief and salvation; dimmed by oppressive darkness and empirical shadows.  Maybe, as so much of the cultural and consumeristic aspects fall away this year, we might find ourselves surprised and overwhelmed at the joy and love Christ can still bring in even the darkest and most isolated of moments.  I want to leave you today with Psalm 40 which spoke deep into my heart this past week.  I pray you find in it a prayer to sustain you.

 

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

 

Happy are those who make
    the Lord their trust,
who do not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after false gods.
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you.
Were I to proclaim and tell of them,
    they would be more than can be counted.

 

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
    but you have given me an open ear
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me.
delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

 

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
see, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
I have not hidden your saving help within my heart,
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

 

Do not, O Lord, withhold
    your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    keep me safe forever.
For evils have encompassed me
    without number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head,
    and my heart fails me.

Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
    Lord, make haste to help me.
Let all those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who desire my hurt.
Let those be appalled because of their shame
    who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”

 

But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God.

 

In Christ’s love,

Pastor Joseph


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Take Heart

Friends,
Greetings in the Jesus’ powerful name!  I am so thankful for all of you.  I am reminded of Paul’s words to Rome, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.” Hearing of your faithful prayers, ongoing studies, and merciful works makes me overjoyed in calling Central home.  And still God calls us to a brighter tomorrow.
We remain in extraordinary times.  Our prayers are with you and yours over the gatherings, travels, non-gatherings, and zoom calls this Thanksgiving weekend.  We are doing a great job of practicing the 3 W’s (Wash your hands, Wear a mask, and Watch your distance) here at 1425 E Main St. – please keep this up wherever you go in the coming weeks so we can do our part to keep numbers low as we are riding this wave of cases into December.
At Central, we are again asking those of you who are able to please join us in worship virtually at your homes.  We are hoping these measures along with what we asked last week, will keep allowing enough space for those who cannot worship from home comfortably to still gather well.
I know these are hard times as our memories carry before us past years and the many gatherings we have grown accustomed.  The laments in Scripture are full of such cries – yet they all find their way leaning into both God’s future promises. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) We may not be able to do what we once did, but we still have the same call – to give glory to God and follow Jesus wherever he calls.
And so knowing your love, I remain excited about our work at Central to transform this world.  Though we are distributed throughout Wayne County and Ohio, we can be like yeast in dough or seeds spread broad.  In our homes and in our conversations, we can daily attend to our prayers, readings, conversations, service and more.  We on staff look forward to continuing conversations about how we can further resource discipleship in our homes.  We can grow in Christ while apart so we can shine brighter when we all gather together.
My prayers are with you, and I hope to ‘see’ you on Sunday – both in the service and on Zoom following.
 
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Joseph

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Greetings in the name of Christ!

Friends, it has been truly humbling to pastor here during the pandemic.  Central has been courageous, flexible, gracious, and faithful as we have navigated the rough waters of 2020.  You all have answered the call again and again while encouraging us in the office throughout the good and the bad.  You have a great staff here who, from their faith in Jesus, cares deeply about you, this community and our role in the midst of it all.

We appreciated the response to last week’s post.  Our numbers were in line with the Governor’s guidelines and everyone was following the 3 W’s.  Please continue this vigilance as well as staying home if you are in isolation, quarantine or have any of the symptoms.  It gives us hope for the coming weeks – for the waters seem to be churning and boiling again.  We are blessed with a large space in which to gather, yet we are going to put in some more measures to ensure we can continue to be open for ministry for the months to come. 
  • If you are able to worship comfortably from home, please do so.  We look forward to ‘seeing’ you online Sunday morning as we create more space for a distanced service in the sanctuary.
  • We will be dismissing service from the front and not recessing to the back.  This will further reduce groups congregating in the hallways and under the portico for conversation. Please continue to have your conversations to the side or outside (still at 6’ please).  Pastor Jen and I are available throughout the week for conversation.
  • Our Children’s and Youth SS classes are going virtual.  Please email Pastor Jen for a zoom link.
  • Throughout the week, we are asking groups who are able to go virtual and that any gathering of 10 or more to reserve space in either the Fellowship Hall, Sanctuary, Gym, or Choir Room.        
  •  If you gather with more than 2 households from out of town over Thanksgiving, please stay home on the 29th and invite any remaining guests to join you in online worship.

We realize these measures will make Sunday’s service mostly a virtual gathering, but we will remain open for those of us who are unable to worship online and to receive those God may still send.  Ad Council has discussed guidelines for suspending services if the cases continue to climb in our area over the coming weeks.  This will be assessed week to week and communicated clearly if we reach them in the coming weeks.  

Ultimately, we are called to be a people formed after Jesus’ example who show Christ’s love to the world.  This is true when we gather and when we are sent out into our neighborhoods.  We are all impacted by this pandemic, but we cannot be paralyzed.  Let’s not let Sunday morning be the only time we think about others.  We are the ones called for such a time as this.  Please continue to reach out, zoom, call, donate, email and converse (physically distanced) to those you love and those God places on your heart.  And above all, pray. Though the darkness may gather, God’s light overcomes through his promises and people.

Remember Psalm 46…

 

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
 though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

 The Lord Almighty is with us;

    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

With God, we will get through this together.

Yours in Christ, Pastor Joseph


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People of Truth

Wash your hands, wear a mask, watch your distance and together we can slow the spread of infections.  Simple reminders with potentially profound results.  We could also add eat well, exercise, and educate yourself about ways you can build up your fitness and immune system before it ever comes to be tested.  Simple truths we are free to respond to.  Simple truths which some feel free to reject.

Followers of Jesus, the one who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, claim a relationship with Truth which is personal and dynamic.  This intimacy allows us the freedom to act within reality through the revealing light of Jesus.  Desires, falsehoods, harmful responses, and distorted facts do not have to enslave and trip up those who walk in this light.  Over time we begin to see clearly how the freedom to walk in this light means giving up the right to walk on the other paths which lead away from God’s truth and love.  Over time our faith leads to action which leads bodily engagement with all of our lives.  Over time, this leads to character which always responds with love and truth from our God to our neighbors.  In this moment, this means acting with love four our broader community.

There is some confusion about best practices and what the data all means as our community wrestles with the coronavirus. There is not confusion about the increased number of cases in our county and our state.  There is not confusion about more people dying.  Let us remember Paul’s words to the church, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Let us be a people who respond with love to our neighbors by creating spaces which care about them.  This includes not just proclaiming the truth of the Gospel but also not spreading misinformation. This includes minding all of the bodily lived out responses during this pandemic we can manage.  This means owning that the freedom to love our neighbor comes by bearing the responsibility of sharing public space and seeing our connections.

Here at Central this means continuing to follow the 3 W’s. This means staying home if any symptom or exposure has occurred.  This means making sure longer conversations with others here on Sunday morning occur outside (still at 6 feet please) or in areas to the side of the main flow of people.  This means checking out worship online some Sundays to keep our spacing possible. We still want to see each and every one of you on Sunday…and it is still good to socialize (physically distance) and gather – we also want to be sure our witness aligns with our love of neighbor.  So if you are able, say hello from online and chat with some of our new guests there while we work together to keep our coronavirus count down and keep our doors open. Continue to be awesome at checking in with one another throughout the week and offering encouragement.  And above all – pray…for all of us.

Friends, we are in troubled times, but we have a rock and we can endure.  We know the end of this story and the hope of Jesus’ victory (John 16:33).  Let us continue to love God, to remember the truth of his goodness the promises he has for us, to discipline our bodies to live this abundant life, and to be a people of Truth who love our neighbors well.  This morning a song from many years ago came on the radio as I was dropping the kids off to school.  I hope it speaks to you as it did to me this morning.

 

Shalom,

Pastor Joseph


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