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Thoughts from Pastor Dan

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?” –Luke 7:39-40a, 44a, NRSV

 

“Truthfully, who are you?” I asked him.

“I’m someone who’s confused just like everybody else,” he replied.

It was a one of those pastoral-care-by-text-message-exchange moments.  I was trying to get to the core of a problem by getting to the core of someone’s identity.  When we strip away the labels placed on us, the titles and nicknames given to us, the perceptions projected onto us, what’s left?  In the eyes of our God, everything is left; and everything is all that matters.

 

In our Sunday School class last week for our high schoolers, one of the youth stood up and held a sign I’d prepared for the lesson that read in bold letters, “LESS FORTUNATE.”  I asked the group, “When you think of people who match that description, what adjectives come to mind?”  The responses ranged from the simple to the specific: sad, disheveled, poor, LGBTQ, women.  Then I asked, “What adjectives would you use to describe people who use that phrase—‘less fortunate’—to define others?”  Another keen range of responses.  We were getting to the point that such phrases used to define human beings do more to hinder our understanding of each other than to help it when, ironically, those phrases are meant to simplify our perceptions of others.

 

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Dear Church Family,

 

 

The bumper sticker said, “Dance.  Sing.  Laugh out loud.”  A refreshing message to read in a line of cars dropping their children off at school.  It brought to mind the instructions written to Timothy about what to do before anything else, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone.”

 

Supplications, intercessions, and thanksgivings are types of prayers.  A supplication is a request.  “Dear God, I pray that my mind would be clear and my body calm for this meeting I’m having with my supervisor today.”  An intercession is a prayer interceding on behalf of someone else.  “Shepherd God, I pray for my siblings of color, Black women and men, for their mourning to receive comfort and their bodies to be protected from physical harm upon seeing the video of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed Black man, being killed for no apparent reason on the side of the road.”  A thanksgiving is a prayer of gratitude.  “Gracious Provider, I thank you for the day set before me and all of the challenges and blessings that may come with it, and for the sustenance in my body, the clothes on my back, and your overflowing love in my heart with which and by which I meet this new day.”

 

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Dear Church Family,

 

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.  –1 Timothy 2:1-2, NRSV

 

This morning, right after I dropped off my daughter at school, I realized that for the last few days I’d fallen out of a spiritual discipline: I’d been forgetting to pray.  Usually whenever I take my daughter to school or watch my son walk out the door to catch the bus, I say prayers of gratitude for the day set before them and the opportunities and challenges awaiting them, for their protection, safety, and guidance in the steps of God’s guidance, and for the teachers and everyone in their care to have calm, courage, and compassion with each passing hour.  I try to say these things—these supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings—for everyone, not just for my children who have my heart.

 

That’s not always easy.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Today’s midweek devotional is a call to action. 

 

When a lawyer asked Jesus during a public conversation, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with a story that we know as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37).  A widely accepted moral of that story is that we are required to help people no matter who they are, where they come from, or what their circumstances may be. 

 

The Winter Clothing Drive underway at the church right now might be a good example of that moral.  Warm clothing, sleeping bags, blankets, and even toys are being sought to donate to Syrian refugees living in a UN-sanctioned camp in Jordan.  The hopeful recipients of these gifts are people we will probably never meet on this side of eternity, and about whom we know nothing on a personal level.  Still, we are neighbors.  “They” are our neighbor.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9b

 

Like many who loved everything from The Producers to Stir Crazy to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I’m remembering Gene Wilder this week.  The actor, writer, and director died Monday at the age of 83.

 

Wilder was terrified of the Frankenstein movies when he was a boy.  Years later as an adult comedy writer, Wilder was hungry for material to give his agent, who had just picked up two other actors named Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle.  Wilder returned to his childhood fears, tapping into them for creative insight.  He parodied the films that once paralyzed him with fear by envisioning Feldman as a goofy court jester and Boyle as a clunky monster who would be more hilarious than horrible.  What better way to get over your fear of Frankenstein than by putting him in a tuxedo and having him do a little soft shoe while singing “Putting on the Ritz”?  The result was a timeless comedy that came out the year I was born.  I still quote Young Frankenstein, and I still laugh every time I do.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely…He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” –Luke 14:1, 12-14, NRSV

 

Luke’s gospel, more than any other, highlights the importance of food sharing, banquets, and parties (which is a big reason why Luke is my favorite gospel).  At this dinner gathering, Jesus is the unlikely guest giving some even more unlikely advice: “When you host a meal like this, don’t invite the usual suspects.  Instead, invite those who are typically out of sight and mind for you, mainly because they are out of sight and mind for our society.”  Potent counsel from the guest for whom are called to make room in our hearts and minds each and every day.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Today’s midweek devotional is offered by Rev. Mary Wilson, Pastor of Church of the Savior, Austin.  Along with other clergy and laity from the churches that attended the National Youth Event with our Friends Church youth group, Rev. Wilson paid a visit to the standing memorial at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on July 28th.  She shared her reflection on that sacred morning with her local Hill Country News, our UCC’s South Central Conference e-newsletter, and today with our Friends Congregational Church family.

 

I recently attended a national youth event in Orlando, Florida.  Although not particularly convenient, I took the time with three other adults to visit the Pulse nightclub, site of the single largest mass shooting in our history. 

 

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Today's Midweek Message is from Rev. Dr. Don Longbottom, our Designated Conference Minister for the South Central Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Rev. Longbottom will be preaching this Sunday,  Aug 14, 2016.   Don't miss this opportunity to meet Rev. Longbottom.

Here's a little more about our new Designated Conf. Minister

 

 

Dare To Forgive: A Devotational

 

I love the story of the little boy whose dad happens to be a minister so he is well versed in scripture.  The boy and his mother have been shopping and little Mikey has been misbehaving.  You know the drill.  Demanding this and that, running off, being a general pain.  They are driving home and little Mikey, sensing mom’s displeasure says.

 

“When we ask God to forgive us, He does, doesn’t He?”

“Yes God forgives.”

“And when God forgives us, He buries our sins in the deepest sea, right mom?”

“Yes, that is what the bible says.”

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Today’s midweek devotional is from Sunday’s (7/31) sermon, “Withholding What We Believe,” which reflects on the youth group’s experiences at the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ’s National Youth Event (NYE) last week in Orlando, Florida.

 

The theme of NYE was “Believe.”  At our first worship service, the youth were invited to answer this simple question: What do you believe?  Here are some of the responses they tweeted in response… 

I believe we are loved unconditionally.

I believe that God created and loves all people, and all means all.

I believe life is hard but we can get through it.

I believe youth are not the future of the church.  Youth are the church right now!

I believe that I am more than me.

I believe that Black lives matter.

I believe that despite all the problems that happen today, the world is still a good and beautiful place.

 

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Dear Friends Church Family,

 

Today’s devotional originally appeared in Saturday’s “Faith and Values” section of The Eagle

 

The stranger sat on his motorcycle in our church parking lot, never taking his helmet off.  From inside the building, I watched him aim his Smartphone at the church and then busily tap on the device.  After a few minutes, I walked outside to approach him.  The stranger looked up at me apprehensively.  “Are you playing Pokémon Go?” I asked.  He squinted happily.  “Yeah,” he replied.  And from there the two strangers, who otherwise might never speak to each other, had a friendly conversation.

 

Our church is a “Pokémon Gym” on the newly released, location-based game, where players find virtual creatures in the real world.  It’s brought a slew of Pokémon players our way; unlikely guests from all walks of life.  Yet, thanks to a virtual reality game, here we are: strangers engaging each other in actual human conversation across our societal differences.