December 5, 2018
Advent is upon us! What Christmas traditions and preparations do you enjoy or fondly remember? Getting a Christmas tree has been a fun tradition for my family and we will now drive 250 miles to be able to carry on this tradition with our adult children. The holidays carry a lot of traditions and memories for most of us making it a time of great meaning, but also increasing the potential for stress and loneliness. Life changes and high expectations can make it hard to experience the deeper meanings of the holiday season. The good thing is – there is good news!
The good news of Jesus’ birth centuries ago continues to resound today in a world that still needs hope. This is what we sing carols, decorate trees, give gifts and send cards to celebrate. The birth of God’s love in a completely unexpected way shouts an audacious hope not defied by skepticism or confined by nature. Christmas hope allows for new perspectives and possibilities even in the most difficult of times, because it was born from God’s unconditional love.
It is from knowing this love in the gift of Jesus that we can become grounded in hope despite where we are in our life journey or the state of the world around us. Being emboldened by God’s love to nourish connections with God and others empowers us to be who we are created to be: People in loving connection with the world. With this in mind, I challenge us to prepare for Christmas in two ways:
- Spend at least 15 minutes each day with God through prayer, Scripture and devotional readings.
- Perform an act of kindness out of the ordinary each day.
By connecting with God and others more deeply may we be inspired to shape the world with God’s audacious hope and Christmas love.
November 1, 2018
I know in our society we often don’t think from a ‘commandment’ perspective. We would rather hear suggestions and have the freedom to determine for ourselves how to live. However, we are willing to acknowledge there are laws we need to observe in order to enjoy our freedom. In our fractured society we can lose sight of the fact that we are called to be so much more than ‘legal’ or following the status quo. As people of faith we are given commandments, not just suggestions, on how to live that express the “more” God calls us to be.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is he answered, ““The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Note these are not suggestions – they are commandments. They are divine rules on how we are to be present in the world. First and foremost, we are to be grounded in our love for God. This is not optional. Secondly, springing from our love for God is love for others. As we know from the story of the Good Samaritan, our neighbors are any people we come across. Our neighbors are not confined to the people who live by us or who are like us or even the people we like. So many of us know this, but do we live it?
With compassion and sadness we express our grief over senseless acts of hate based violence that touch our world such as recent shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue and at a store in Kentucky. In 2017, 29 transgendered individuals were violently killed and this is just one more statistic that illustrates the brokenness and lack of care present in our world today. We know it is not right to treat other people in such ways and our hearts yearn to console and support those who have suffered or lost loved ones because of hate and discrimination.
While we separate ourselves from people carrying out such hate crimes, we really need to look at our own behaviors, attitudes and responses. All of us tend to categorize people, but Jesus teaches us to look beyond differences and similarities. By what we think, say and do, do we reflect Jesus’ commandments of loving God and others? Is this what people can see in our personal lives and congregation? May we look beyond the categories we tend to put people in and respond as beloved people of God who love God and help all of our ‘neighbors’ know they also are beloved.
September 27, 2018
At a time when there is so much turmoil in our society and world we need to remember hope. As we learn from our faith in a God who works beyond the mystery and brokenness – there is always hope. Hope for a better day. Hope for a better world where the dignity of all individuals is honored and held with care. In our connection with others through the strands of God’s grace, we can share the warmth of God’s mercy and keep our eyes on the hope of a better world. The following is a powerful prayer written and shared by Rev. Shari Prestemon, our MN Conference Minister:
A PRAYER FOR GRACE & MERCY ON THIS TENDER DAY
All-knowing and ever-loving God, on this day in our nation when so much is at stake for so many, pour your abundant grace upon us:
*On those who step with shaky feet into a spotlight they never wanted, to speak of memories they wish they could forget;
*On those who will listen and question and determine, that they might seek truth with care and compassion and place people before politics;
*On a nation gripped by division, on a democracy vulnerable to decay;
*On all those for whom this moment brings trauma and old wounds ripped open and raw.
O God, have mercy upon each one. May your truth, your justice, your will be known, even and especially amid this turmoil of our own making.
In the name of the Christ who taught us a more excellent way. Amen.
(Written by Rev. Shari Prestemon, Minnesota Conference Minister UCC, 9/27/18)
With our hearts firmly planted in grace, together we can grow hope and work towards a world that reflects the dignity of God’s beautiful creation.
July 17, 2018
When I spend time with our youth I always come away with hope. Hope for our church, community and world, because they bring such fresh perspective on life and positive attitude about service. At the end of July I had the privilege of being with 16 of our wonderful youth and 4 adults on a mission trip through Urban Immersion in the Minneapolis area. Each day we prayed and shared inspirations, had meaningful conversations and laughed together. We served at various non-profit organizations and were immersed in learning about poverty. The maturity and wisdom our youth showed was amazing. One of the most inspiring things I witnessed over and over by our youth during the week was their ability to take down walls between people, to build relationships rather than separating. Some examples include:
· Our youth interacted with kindness and respect while helping refugees, recovering addicts, homeless individuals and others whose lives are so very different from theirs.
· Our youth initiated conversation with a youth group that arrived mid-week and recruited them for a game of kick ball at a nearby park. While playing kick ball a couple of our youth invited two kids from the neighborhood to join in the game. Seeing the joy on those kids’ faces was wonderful.
· Despite the 7 year age span of our youth, they interacted beautifully and I did not see any youth being left out of social opportunities.
Our youths’ actions inspire the following question: What are we doing to model taking down walls between people? Our world has become so divisive making it all the more important to follow Jesus’ example of connecting people rather distancing them. I pray the seeds sown during this mission trip continue to grow and spread throughout our congregation and into the world beyond.
April 4, 2018
Easter blessings to you! I pray wherever you are in your life journey you know the hope of our Savior who demonstrated the power of God’s love to break free from the confines of death. The Easter story so beautifully illustrates that even in the depths of grief and brokenness we can find hope in God’s love. According to the Gospel of John, Mary’s experience at the tomb and in the garden with Jesus shows the stunning transformation of knowing God’s resurrection love in the midst of great loss. While Mary’s encounter with Jesus was very personal, she was tasked to share the good news with others. The hope and love was not to be contained for self- preservation, but shared for growth. May we embody Christ’s hope and love as Easter people with a faith that stubbornly refuses to absorb all of the world’s doubts. Please let us know if there is some way we, as a faith community, can help you know God’s hope and love, because we care!
March 22, 2018
During Lent we have looked at pieces of Jesus’ journey while asking: What do we need to let go of and what we need to hold onto in order to live spiritually healthy lives? Some of the things we have learned include –
What to let go of:
- Focus on materialism
- Exaggerated pride & self-sufficiency
- Whatever separates our hearts, minds, and souls from God
- Exclusiveness and stereotypes that separate people
- The myth that life is easy and we need to strive towards the ideal perfection
- Need to understand and explain everything
What to hold on to:
- Our need for God
- Openness to new ways God is at work
- Building community
- The grace and purpose Jesus offers to us
- Faith in God
The lessons God gives in the Bible on what to let go of and what to hold onto extend far beyond this list. What do you need to let go of and embrace to experience God’s presence more fully and to be a more positive presence in the world? What do we as a congregation need to let go of and embrace to more powerfully radiate God’s love in Jesus?
February 14, 2018
What has changed your life? I bet you can think of a multitude of experiences and people that have influenced your life and shaped who you are today. Take a moment to think about the good things that have really had an impact on you. Take a moment to think of the things that were challenging or sad that changed your life. How does the beauty of your life reflect the many influences over time?
In Scripture we are often reminded that our faith is to be a prominent force of change in our lives. Jesus’ journey demonstrated this in many ways as he walked among ordinary people needing to be healed and empowered for good. Faith changes that help us experience God’s mystery, glory, and love can bring great peace, strength, compassion, and courage into our lives. Being intentional about our faith and our relationship with God is an important factor determining how much we are influenced by faith.
Faith changes do not happen for the sole purpose of enabling us to live healthier lives, but so we can bring about social change as well. We as a congregation of people living out our faith in a God who rejoices in the wellbeing of all God’s creatures, can make a difference. We can be intentional about who we are despite the many influences outside of our control. We can change the world in positive ways, especially if we are willing to be changed by God’s love and the needs of others. So maybe the question to ask ourselves is not “what has changed us?” but “how will we change?”
January 23, 2018
Have you enjoyed your nice warm home this winter? There have been plenty of cold days I have appreciated having a safe, warm place to escape from the winter weather. This is something our Social Justice Ministry Team was mindful of as they developed a 2018 strategic plan focused on promoting safe shelter for people who do not have any. I am excited about the plan, and will be even more excited as we start to see our work helping others find safe, warm shelter. Do you have any ideas or inspirations? Please let our Social Justice Ministry Team know. Are you already participating in an effort to provide shelter to others? Let the team know this as well, so we can support your work. As we all know, it can be a cold world out there, but with generous hearts and hands we can make the Northland a warmer place for all!
January 3, 2018
New Year blessings to you! I hope that during 2018 we experience God’s hopeful presence in a myriad of ways. May we, despite the continued chaos and brokenness of today’s world, discover new ways to bring God’s gracious love and peace into our own lives and the lives of others. When we get discouraged because there is so much more needed than what we can do may we become more grounded in our faith to persistently bring goodness into the world. As Mother Teresa said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Let’s work on filling an ocean!
December 20, 2017
Merry Christmas and God’s blessings to you!! This year on Christmas Eve we celebrate worshiping in our building for 100 years. Our Christmas Eve celebration at 5:00 pm will be filled with music, meaning, and joy.
In his 1917 Christmas message to Pilgrim members when the new church building was dedicated, Rev. Charles Thorp wrote, “The Christmas season, with its joyful message of the Eternal Love revealed in the coming of the Christ-Child brings wondrous relief to our war-clouded world. We renew our loyalty to the Prince of Peace and pledge every sacrifice until the war against barbarism shall be won and peace on earth through good will toward all (people) shall prevail to the ends of the earth…. In Christ we see the Father giving Himself, for humanity. And we, who follow the Christ, shall give ourselves, to live and proclaim the Christmas spirit, by daily lives of radiant faith and simple righteousness.” (Taken from the bulletin of Christmas Sunday, December 23, 1917 Dedicatory Morning Service.)
It is inspiring to witness faith enduring through a difficult time in history and amazing that his message given 100 years ago is so relevant yet in today’s world. I am thankful for all of the people in Pilgrim’s history who have lived out their faith so we can continue to do so today. I am also thankful for everyone who currently lives out their faith at and through Pilgrim to radiate God’s love, hope and peace in Jesus. I pray that as we enter 2018 we carry with us a deep knowing of God’s presence and a desire to generously do God’s work bringing these wonderful Christmas gifts into the world. God’s joy and peace be with you!