March 31, 2015

Worship

Join us as together we praise our Creator on Sunday mornings. [Scroll down to view older posts.]

PUCC Lenten Journey – Day 42, March 31

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Uncomfortable
by Emily C. Heath, 

The Congregational Church UCC in Exeter, New Hampshire

“We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger…” 

- 2 Corinthians 6

On my first day of preaching class back in seminary the professor read this passage. And then he said, “That’s what the first Christians endured in order to preach the Gospel…you’ll probably survive this class.”   

Sometimes we contemporary Christians make the mistake of thinking we have it rough. We have to compete with Sunday morning baseball games and yoga classes. Our pews aren’t full the way they were back in 1950. Our kids can’t even sing “Silent Night” at school anymore! Some even say that modern American Christians are being “persecuted.”  

Except, really, we modern American Christians are pretty darn comfortable. And don’t tell your angry uncle who is railing against gay marriage and political correctness at Easter dinner this, but calling yourself Christian in our culture is one of the easiest things you can do.   

That’s too bad, because the church actually doesn’t do very well when things are easy for it. Look back at nearly every time the church has been on the wrong side of history: the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, slavery, gay rights. What do those things have in common? When each happened, the church was in a position of having great strength and influence in society.  

But on the other hand, look at the times churches got it right: Black Christians in the Civil Rights movement. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany. Oscar Romero standing at the altar. They were hated, targeted, outnumbered, and sometimes they may as well have signed their own death warrants. But they were being the church in a way few of us ever will.

The church does not thrive in comfort. The church thrives when it is being called to the messy and painful work of transforming the world. Why? Because that’s when we are witnessing to the One who transcends all the injustice of the world, and who gives us strength to teach a new way. 

Prayer: O God, please make the church uncomfortable enough to once again do our best work. Amen.

PUCC Lenten Journey – Day 41, March 30

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Holy Week always carries weird feelings and competing claims for me. What shall I spend my time doing? Should I be more inward or outward this week? Shall I engage in outreach or live the introspective life? Do you feel different during Holy Week? How is it a week like none other for you?

 

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And

by Mary Luti, Interim Pastor, Wellesley Village UCC, MA

 

“In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35

 

At her denomination’s annual meeting, a social justice activist listened impatiently to a keynote address about spirituality. She was heard to mutter, “The world’s in flames, and the bliss-ninnies are doing guided meditations.”

 

In her view, the spirituality types were several singing bowls removed from the real world, clueless about root causes and systemic solutions. You want to pray? Do justice. That’s real prayer. Want to linger over Scripture? Take Matthew 25. Then get to work. Enough with this navel-gazing.

 

Meanwhile, the keynoter was wondering why the social justice types always seem so grumpy, so touchy. They have an air of fatigued arrogance about them, she thought, as if everything hinges on them – world peace, an end to hunger. They can’t sit still for a nanosecond because maybe, just maybe, the next action or petition will be the thing that finally fixes everything.

 

Jesus puts his body on the line all day. In the wee hours he prays. He never separates inseparables. For him, the kingdom comes by wonder and strategy, protest and ecstasy, imagination and politics, beauty and programs, service
and solitude, rallies and gratitude, resolutions and praise.

It’s not about the soul’s silence versus the noise of the street, the sanctuary versus the subcommittee. It’s not even about finding a balance or making equal time. It’s about yielding our whole selves – every gift and skill, picketing or praying – to the Living One, in the sure and certain hope that, with us

and without us, the kingdom comes, pure gift beyond dreams.
 In prayer and action, O God, we hope in you. In you alone. Amen.

PUCC Lenten Journey – Palm Sunday, March 29

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THE STORY OF PALM SUNDAY — as told for the young

by Andy King
Matthew 21: 1-11

 

Jerusalem’s past had been quite a blast
when David was monarch and splendid.
But centuries had gone since David passed on,
and God’s blessing seemed to have ended.

Jerusalem’s streets had seen happy feet
taking people to great holy places.
A place it was now of deep-furrowed brows,
on saddened and wearisome faces.

Rome, you recall, had control of it all,
and its soldiers could be pretty scary.
A grumbling noise might upset Caesar’s boys
so the people had learned to be wary.

How Jerusalem longed to sing happy songs
that would celebrate their story;
They dreamed and they prayed to give a parade
for a new David marching in glory.

Then came a year when they got some cheer:
there was a man to whom people pointed.
Of him it was said he could raise the dead -
he just might be God’s anointed!

A carpenter’s son, he’d become someone
with words that could set hearts singing;
His caring stand for woman and man
had the title “Messiah” now ringing.

“He’s coming straight to Jerusalem’s gate,”
the folks were excitedly saying;
“Let’s get out there in the open air
and show the Romans for what we’ve been praying.”

They cut branches down and handed them round,
a symbol of joy and praising.
And they lined the way for Jesus that day,
palms and voices ready for raising.

Jesus, meantime, had his followers find
a young donkey on which he could ride.
He’d come to that place to show God’s saving grace,
that God’s on the sufferer’s side.

Loving and meek, no power would he seek,
as he sat on the donkey so humble.
Soon enough on that road he’d be bearing a load:
a cross that would cause him to stumble.

So in Jesus came, and the strong and the lame
tossed their palm leaves and shouted their praise.
“Hosanna!” they cried. “The King has come by!
Hosanna! God grant us new days!”

Hosanna’s like “God saves”, and what Jesus gave
was the way that God’s love makes that happen.
So lift your up your palms, get your happy smile on,
and be ready for singin’ and clappin’,

Because every day can be Palm Sunday
when you know that Jesus is near you:
Give praise to God, from the sky to the sod;
shout “God saves!” so all folks can hear you!

Hosanna!

PUCC Lenten Journey – Day 39, March 28

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Tomorrow is JHLTB3 … because Jesus Has Left the Building is back by popular demand. PUCCers talk about this all year long! Putting our faith into action feels right and good. The church exists for mission! Jesus lived so that we could feel the love and care, connection and grace of God. What God asks us to do is to share these same gifts with others.

 

For several years we have been engaged in varied worship experiences on the fifth Sundays of the year. Many moons ago, when we looked at the calendar and noticed that one of 2015’s fifth Sundays was going to be Palm Sunday, we hesitated. Some of us said, “We can’t do that.” Others said, “How perfect! What better way to enter Holy Week than to echo Jesus’ actions!?”

 

We hope that you will join us as we wave our palms and celebrate Palm Sunday at 8:30am tomorrow then follow in Jesus’ footsteps as we feed people, bless children, discover the stranger, provide healing, support and encourage those who are struggling, focus on personal faith journeys, honor ancestors, appreciate and enjoy nature, and more – including a few options to worship in a different context, reflecting on another tradition/culture/language during Lent and discovering ways that worshiping a higher power transcends our differences.

 

See additional inspiration for JHLTB3 below….

 

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THE CHURCH AND MISSION: Quotations to Stir Heart and Mind

by Samuel Escobar


THE CHURCH exists for mission, and … a church that is only inward looking is not truly the church. – Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission

JESUS CHRIST is God’s missionary par excellence, and he involves his followers in his mission. – C. Rene Padilla in Missiology

JESUS SENDS US into the world, as God sent him into the world. … In other words our mission is to be modeled on his. Indeed all authentic mission is incarnational mission. It demands identification without loss of identity. It means entering other people’s worlds as Jesus entered ours, though without compromising our Christian convictions, values, or standards.
- John Stott, The Contemporary Christian

THE CHIEF ACTOR in the historic mission of the Christian church is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the director of the whole enterprise. The mission consists of things that the Spirit is doing in the world. In a special way it consists of the light that the Spirit is focusing upon Jesus Christ. – John V. Taylor, The Go-Between God

GOD HAS BEEN calling out from the world a people for Godself and sending people back into the world to be servants and witnesses, for the extension of God’s  kingdom, the building up of Christ’s body, and the glory of God’s name. We confess with shame that we often denied our calling and failed in our mission by becoming conformed to the world or by withdrawing from it. Yet we rejoice that even when borne by earthen vessels, the gospel is still a precious treasure. - From The Lausanne Covenant

ANY LONG-RANGE vision for missions must include not only the planting of new churches but also the renewal of old ones. The former without the latter eventually leads only to lands full of dead and dying churches. The birth of new congregations is no guarantee that they will remain spiritually alive. -Paul Hiebert in Exploring Church Growth

NO FACT of history is more amazing than the spread of the influence of Jesus. – Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity

THE GOSPEL is global good news. Thinking globally, God acted locally. The gospel is good news about personal, social, ecological, and cosmic healing and reconciliation. It is good news to the whole creation-to the whole earth and in fact to the cosmos. – Howard A. Snyder, Global Good News

THE CHURCH must be one because a fragmented church is not much help to a fragmented world. – Justo L. Gonzalez, For the Healing of the Nations

All quotations found in Samuel Escobar’s The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone (Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective); InterVarsity Press, 2003.  

PUCC Lenten Journey – Day 38, March 27

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Another thing to ponder during Lent has to do with our mentors – where we find them (or do some of them find us?). What are the questions we ask them? What are the questions they ask of us? Our mentors often share things with us that we can’t receive right away. Journaling can be a great way to capture what is said and later live into it. Has this ever been your experience? You may want to do some writing this weekend about mentors, questions and answers.

 

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Psalm 107:1-16 (see below)

 

“Ngaka — out!” 
 I cannot recall exactly how many times I was put out of religion class as a youth. I was going to a catholic school for girls, l’Institution Immaculée Conception. The sister who taught the course thought of me as an instigator for asking too many questions. Students were not supposed to be inquisitive in religion; we were to listen and memorize. I always had a hard time committing to memory concepts that I could not understand. 
 

And I could not comprehend how Jesus was seated at the right hand of God if nobody had ever seen God. I yearned to talk with God in my own voice since I could not feel in my heart most of the prayers we were taught to recite. 
 I got to the place where I really disliked my weekly religion course and by the same token I began to resent God for “getting me in trouble.” 
 Then, Sister Rose-Marie came into my life. She was not troubled by my inquiring spirit. She welcomed my questions and she encouraged me to write down as well as to voice aloud my own prayers. She did not pretend to have all the answers; she kindly shared from her own experience. She accepted and loved me. She knew I was thirsty and hungry for knowledge about God. To this day, I can go to Sister Rose-Marie for open heart God-conversations. 
 She continues to listen and to remind me to journal. Her love has been a tangible manifestation of God’s steadfast love. Her presence in my life started me on the journey that allows me to stand firm today and declare: “O give thanks to God, for God is good.”

 

- Iniva R. Ngaka

 

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Psalm 107:1-16 (NRSV)
 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;

   for his steadfast love endures for ever. 
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
   those he redeemed from trouble 
and gathered in from the lands,
   from the east and from the west,
   from the north and from the south. 
Some wandered in desert wastes,
   finding no way to an inhabited town; 
hungry and thirsty,
   their soul fainted within them. 
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
   and he delivered them from their distress; 
he led them by a straight way,
   until they reached an inhabited town. 
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
   for his wonderful works to humankind. 
For he satisfies the thirsty,
   and the hungry he fills with good things. 
Some sat in darkness and in gloom,
   prisoners in misery and in irons, 
for they had rebelled against the words of God,
   and spurned the counsel of the Most High. 
Their hearts were bowed down with hard labour;
   they fell down, with no one to help. 
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
   and he saved them from their distress; 
he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
   and broke their bonds asunder. 
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
   for his wonderful works to humankind. 
For he shatters the doors of bronze,
   and cuts in two the bars of iron. 

 

PUCC Lenten Journey – Day 37, March 26

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We focused on Nicodemus earlier this season. Yet he continues to revisit me as I ponder the ways that he was in deep conversation with Jesus and how I can be too – such a Lenten thing!

 

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Early in his story of life with Jesus, the writer of John’s gospel recounts a conversation Jesus had with a local religious leader, Nicodemus. The conversation was shrouded in secrecy: Nicodemus came to Jesus in the middle of the night, desperate for answers. The thing was: this message Jesus was preaching had found its way into Nicodemus’ heart and mind, and its presence had him feeling deeply unsettled. He suspected that the gospel Jesus was preaching was about to turn things as he knew them on their heads.

 

Why would John frame his gospel with a story of a frustrated faith leader, suddenly scared and unsure about a religion he’d practiced his whole life? I think it may be because John wants us to know that if we’re serious about following Jesus, everything that feels comfortable and safe is likely to shift. Jesus describes it to Nicodemus as being “born again.”

 

This phrase, while co-opted in our modern culture, was for Jesus in that conversation a metaphor for a painful, messy, new start. Nicodemus just couldn’t seem to get his mind around this metaphor – or maybe he did understand it but just couldn’t see how he himself might undergo such a huge transformation. Maybe we can’t imagine that for ourselves, either.

 

Life and faith can get comfortable for us, but anytime we take the risk of conversation with Jesus, we can be sure that we’ll be invited, over and over again, to a deep and fundamental reorienting of how we live in the world.

 

God of transformation, keep inviting me out of comfortable places, into the possibility of transformation and hope. And, give me the courage to say yes to your invitation.

 

- Pastor Amy, Riverside UCC/ABC in NYC

PUCC Lenten Journey – Day 36, March 25

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Another thing that people take a serious look at during Lent is how they earn and use their money. Here is a fine reflection – and challenge – from our old friend, Mike Piazza.


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Happiness and the Way We Use Money

 

Professor David Meyers did a six-year study on the sources of human happiness. One surprising thing that he discovered was that people who win the lottery are happier than those who don’t, but only for three years. After the third year, their happiness declines until, six years after all their dreams come true, they are less happy than the average person living below the poverty line.

 

Dr. Meyers concluded, “Once you meet your basic needs, nothing you can buy can enhance the satisfaction of your life.”

 

He might be right, but there are thousands of witnesses every day that try to convince us otherwise. Billboards, television, radio, and Internet ads all try to convince us that if we can run faster we can buy more and at last be happy.

 

The threadbare cliché says, “Money can’t buy happiness,” but I’m not convinced that is completely true. It has bought me pleasure by enabling me to acquire things that I have enjoyed wearing or using. Mostly, though, money has bought me happiness when I have used it to buy something that I knew someone else wanted.

 

It makes me happy to buy things for those I love, but the greatest and longest lasting happiness comes from money I give or use to buy others things they cannot afford for themselves but need: food, clothing, shelter, or healthcare.

 

Money CAN buy happiness, but not if you spend it on yourself.

 

- Rev. Michael Piazza

April 2015 Worship Notes

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26513_427436149477_3796541_nApril 2 | Maundy Thursday | 7:00pm
Scripture: Exodus 12:1-14; Maundy Thursday Gospel Lessons via Mark & John
Message: Remember and Refill
Theme: How does this covenant connection with God sustain us as things turn and as things in our own lives blur our memory and drain our faith?

April 3 | Good Friday | noon prayers (Historic Sanctuary)
Scripture: variety of Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament Lessons
Message: Reflect
Theme: We will sing, pray and ponder the intensity and importance of Good Friday. This is a contemplative worship service.

April 3 | Good Friday | 7:00pm | New Sanctuary
Scripture: Psalm 22; Psalm 139:1-18; John 18 and 19
Message: Reflect, Relent and Redeem
Theme: What does it mean to be steeped in this kind of violence and pain? How does it effect and change us?

April 5 | Easter | 6:00am Service | Cemetery behind Historic Sanctuary
Scripture: John 20:1-18
Message: Return and Restart
Theme: The women go the tomb in the garden where they believed everything was ending…but that is not how the Holy works…Time to restart!

April 5 | Easter Sunday | 9:30 & 11:00am worship
Scripture: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Mark 16:1-8
Message: Reunite and Revive
Theme: Meeting Jesus again – the violence and fear did not disperse the love and light for long…Where do our lives go from here?

April 12 | 9:30 & 11:00am | Youth Sunday
Scripture: John 20:19-20; John 21:1-14
Message: Life Bursts Forth
Theme: Our response to Easter and New Life of Spring…in music, singing, dance, poetry, drama and more with our youth!

April 19 | 9:30 & 11:00am
Scripture: Psalm 4; Luke 24:36b-48
Message: Remind, Reclaim, Rebuild
Theme: The disciples are reclaimed as belonging to this movement. They set out to rebuild what they thought had faded away.

April 26 | 9:30 & 11:00am
Scripture: Psalm 23; 1John 3:16-24
Message: Reopen and Refine
Theme: Taking a look at some of our historic/traditional words and ways for present relevance and applicability.

PUCC Lenten Journey – Day 35, March 24

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Prayer-of Doubt; of Love

by Rayla Stewart Hogue

Special to The Daily Statesman

 

Lent, a time of reflection, of examination, of giving up the baggage of the past to make room for what is to come; is hard to understand.  It’s easy to give up something for Lent-desserts, sodas, eating fast food, or whatever.  The hard part is giving up patterns of doubt, fear, defeat, prejudice, hatred, failings . . . the things we hide from the light of our lives.

 

We run from what we fear.  We run from the truth we don’t want to see.  We run from the cost of love.  Yet, our Lord ran from none of these.  Our brother, Jesus, walked this earthly life touching lives all around him-willing to bear the cost.  He knew what lay ahead.  He knew the cost.  He knew the payoff . . . forgiveness, reconciliation, and true love.

 

It seems our world explodes around us with hurt, pain, violence, and destruction.  People die . . . because of the color of their skin . . . because of their faith . . . because of fear that they are different than what we think they should be.

 

Running from the fears that pursue me

I pant as fear pours from my pores

Leaping, hurdling, skirting the edges . . .

Constantly moving in hope to evade those who wish me harm

Their words assault my senses, my confidence, my being

Am I who they say I am?

Am I a person of no worth?

Am I worthy of love?

I pause . . . resting . . . listening for their disparagement

All I hear around me is the sound of my own fear

I hear silence between my gasps for breath

Slowly, ever slowly the quiet grows

Glancing from place to place I fear the accusers

While quiet slowly wraps me in loving arms

Calming in the silence a quiet voice resonates

Its strength and love flows within me                      

I still myself and listen

You are my child . . . I created you for love, for good

Love as I love you . . . touch others in my love

Stand with the least . . . stand with the lost . . . stand with all

Embody my love . . . embody my grace . . . embody my heart

Peace filled my soul

Fear faded

I turned and faced the accusers . . .

And loved them

 

God, teach us to love.  Teach us to look beyond our differences to what we are created to be . . . your children . . . your light . . . your love.  Help us to stand with one another; to stand up for one another.  Teach us to look beyond what we see or have been taught to see to the soul of each person.  Teach us, to love.

 

[Rayla Stewart Hogue is a native of Dexter, MO.  She is a wife, mother, writer, musician, and minister of the UCC.]

PUCC Lenten Journey – Day 34, March 23

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One of my favorite female Catholic voices is Joan Chittister. 
Do you have a list of individuals from faith traditions, cultures, political affiliations, generations other than your own that you appreciate? Make your list and work to fill in the blanks if there are any….
 Here are a few pieces from Joan that challenge and inspire me.
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I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.
 

The question is not, do we go to church; the question is, have we been converted. The crux of Christianity is not whether or not we give donations to popular charities but whether or not we are really committed to the poor.
 

Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scrapping the sludge off a life turned slipshod. Lent is about taking stock of time, even religious time. Lent is about exercising the control that enables us to say no to ourselves so that when life turns hard of its own accord we have the stamina to yes to its twists and turns with faith and hope. Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be.
 

Compassion is not sympathy. Compassion is mercy. It is a commitment to take responsibility for the suffering of others.
 

Imagination begins when it’ s raining too hard to go out and play and you become really absorbed in something you would never have thought of doing had the sun come out as usual. In which case, thank God for the rain.
 

Darkness deserves gratitude. It is the alleluia point at which we learn to understand that all growth does not take place in the sunlight.

 

To be contemplative we must remove the clutter from our lives, surround ourselves with beauty, and consciously, relentlessly, persistently, give clutter away until the tiny world for which we ourselves are responsible begins to reflect the raw beauty that is God. 

 

The symbolic evidence of women’s invisibility in the human race is most clear perhaps in her suppression, her camouflage, her negation even in language. Women are subsumed, excised, erased by male pronouns, by male terminology, by male prayers about brotherhood and brethren, even and always by exclusively male images of God. The tradition that will call God spirit, rock, key door, wind, and bird will never ever call God mother. So much for the creative womb of God; so much for “I am who am.” So much for “Let us make human beings in our own image, male and female, let us make them.” What kind of spirituality is that? To take the position that using two pronouns for the human race is not important in a culture that has thirty words for car, multiple words for flowers, and dozens of words for dog breeds is to say that women are not important.