October 16

I am so very grateful for your kind words and gifts this past Sunday to mark Pastor Appreciation Day. It is such a joy to minister together! Thank you especially to all who offered special “words.” They are truly humbling and greatly appreciated.

This week I want to share something with you that I’ve heard several times recently. I’ve often heard that if you hear something more that once, you need to pay attention. After worship, each of the past three Sundays, different people have come to me commenting on how well we have been singing as a congregation. Each person offered words of affirmation about how our congregational singing has enhanced the worship experience for them. Then, during the week, additional people have stopped by the church to offer the same words. Isn’t it incredible how voices lifted to God through song can have such an impact? Let’s keep singing together as we are reminded of the words from Psalm 100 - “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.”

Pastor Jane

October 9

We continue this Sunday in our series What Disciples DO – a look at the importance of our faith practices. This week we will talk about the importance of family, as we learn from the story of Timothy, his mother Eunice, and his grandmother Lois, found in 1 Timothy, chapters 1 and 3. Because of their faith and how they shared it, young Timothy grew up to be a man of faith and leader in the early church.

Recently I came across an article that speaks beautifully of the importance for parents to make their faith a priority in their families, written by Megan Breeland Woodham of First Steps Ministries. Where to begin? I believe this is a start! What about you?

Take your kids to church.
Make the effort. Wake them up early. Fool with the belts and the buckles and the fancy hair bows. Endure the sleepy, grumpy faces and the misplaced shoes. Run around like a mad woman gathering everybody’s everything and trying to get out the door on time. Hop to the car with a shoe in one hand and your make-up bag in the other. Give those babies a pop-tart and some milk and let ‘em eat it in the car. If it’s raining, get wet. If it’s cold, get a jacket. If you’re tired, go tired. But take those babies to church. You know why?

Because Jesus is there.

He’s there. And He’ll meet them there. And you too, Mama.
He’ll be there in the sweet smile of their Sunday School teacher as she greets them into their room. He’ll be there in the goldfish and the apple juice and the filling of their little bellies and hearts. He’ll be there in the hug from a sweet friend and the encouraging smile that assures you that they “just barely made it” too. He’ll be there in the sacred words read from the Bible speaking truth to their little impressionable hearts. He’ll be there in the worship and the raised hands and the watery eyes and whispers of praise.

So take them. Carry all of their Bibles and drawings and toilet paper tube creations. Sit by them in worship. Open your Bible and open theirs. Show them how to find the scripture the pastor is preaching from. Show them how to worship. Explain to them why God is worthy of worship. Let them see you laugh and cry and praise and study. Forgive their wiggles and paper rustles and know that they’re listening even when it seems like they aren’t. Ask them questions and answer the ones they ask you. Introduce them to Jesus. Tell them of His greatness - his power - his faithfulness. Tell them with your words and show them with your life. Tell them what he’s done for you and how you’ve been changed by His grace and forgiveness and goodness and love. Tell them how they can be too. Point them to Jesus. Over and over and over again.

Take your kids to church. They’ll love it there. It’s the only place where they can go and just be themselves. They don’t have to “be” good enough or smart enough or athletic enough. They don’t have to perform for approval or achievement. They just get to go and hear how much God loves them. Just because they’re them. Just because God created them, they’re valued. Wanted. Their worth isn’t based on the grades they make or their ability to throw a curveball. It’s not dependent on their performance or skill level. And they need a little more of that, don’t you think? A little more grace and a little less pressure. A little more love and a few less demands.
Take them to church. Before you take them to the ballfield or the dance studio or the gym. Before you take them on vacation or to grandmas or to the backyard to play. Take them to church. Let them know it’s a priority. Show them it has eternal value. Let them see you set aside schedules and extra-curricular activities and work and busy-ness to be present with the Lord in His house. I promise you won’t regret it. I promise you it won’t return back void.

Take them to church.

Pastor Jane

October 2

Sunday is World Communion Sunday. This year at Union, we will be celebrating by using bread from other cultures and by having other cultures represented in the communion table setup. I would like to share with you some words about this very important day from Illustrated Ministry.

“World Communion Sunday is celebrated every year on the first Sunday in October. Though it started in a Presbyterian church in the United States in the 1930s, it is now an ecumenical event recognized by different denominations across the globe. This Sunday celebrates our connections to one another.

When we participate in communion, we come to our own places of worship, drink from the cup, and eat the bread provided by our own churches. But Jesus tells us that every time we take communion, we also connect with him and everyone else gathering for communion. Within this ordinary act of our regular lives, we glimpse the Heavenly banquet where all will sit at one table together.

On World Communion Sunday, we recognize and celebrate that while we may show up to different churches on Sunday mornings, and while we may come from different traditions and even live worlds apart, we are still one family bound up together in the love of Christ. World Communion Sunday is about acknowledging our identity as one family. As a family, we are called to share what we have with each other, care for one another, and be in relationship amid our differences. This is such an important message to hold in this present time of much division.”

Pastor Jane

September 25

This Sunday will be the final sermon in the Unraveled series. We have looked at stories in both the Old and New Testaments, that have spoken of times of Unraveling in the lives of Biblical characters, and in our own lives. Unraveling of vocation, justice, dreams, shame, plans for our children, and the mind are just some of the topics we’ve explored. This week: When Everything Has Fallen Apart.

Have you ever had a time in your life where it felt like literally everything has fallen apart? Family, job, money, health….the list could go on and on. As you’ve probably guessed, we will be exploring this topic through the lens of Job. I would encourage you to read his entire story found in the Old Testament book of the same name. Job lost all his oxen and donkeys, sheep and camels. All his servants were killed. His seven sons and three daughters are killed in a freak accident. He is covered with hideous boils and festering sores. And, his wife and friends speak harshly against him.

Even in the midst of all this, when his life is unraveling all around him, Job still worships God. We will be looking at chapter 28 this week, where Job speaks of wisdom. In Job 28:28 we read, “”To fear God is wisdom.” The Hebrew word for “fear” is yirah, literally translated as “awesome.” True wisdom lies in breathless reverence for God’s mystery and presence.

When Everything Has Fallen Apart, can we still trust God’s presence in every situation? That is true wisdom.

Pastor Jane

September 18

For my article this week, I would like to share with you some words from artist Hannah Garrity. You will see her artwork on the front of the bulletin on Sunday. In this week’s sermon we will be exploring the story of Legion, found in Mark 5:1-20. This is a healing story, but one that is met with derision by the crowd, not joy.

Pastor Jane


BEGGED TO LEAVE
(JESUS HEALS LEGION, A MAN POSSESSED BY DEMONS)

Equal.jpg

Have you ever seen the illustration of equity vs. equality? There is a young child standing next to a young teenager and an adult. They all wish to see over a fence. In the description of equality, they each get a box that is the same size. The adult now towers over the fence, the teenager can see, but the child is still unable to see what’s on the other side. In the depiction of equity, they each get a different sized box. Now, all of their heads are peering comfortably over the fence. Why are we afraid of equity?

In the land of the Gerasenes, Jesus shows us what it looks like. He provides healing for an outcast of society, the man shows gratitude, and he evangelizes. This sounds like a moment we would rejoice in. Instead the townspeople beg Jesus to leave. Do they fear scarcity? But we know that God provides in abundance. Do they fear grace? But we yearn for God’s grace. Do they fear for their safety?

Why do humans fear the radical grace of God? Why did the people of Gerasene fear Jesus? We laud Jesus’ work in the gospel as the work we must replicate. We teach our children to think of what Jesus would do. However, time and again history shows us that when we truly work toward the embodiment of the gospel, humans interrupt the work. Humans killed Jesus.

© Hannah Garrity - a sanctified art

September 11

We are drawing close to the end of our Unraveled sermon series. This week we will explore a question that has haunted parents throughout time. What do we do when our plans for our children unravel? Whether we admit it or not, as parents we often have a dream or a plan as to how we envision our children as adults. We guide them through school, encouraging them toward their favorite college. We get tutors for standardized tests, extra coaches for the athletes. It goes on and on.

But, what if all our plans are for naught. What if these well laid plans unravel? This Sunday we will attempt to answer these questions through the eyes of Moses’ mother found in Exodus 1:22-2:10. This well-loved story shows the depths of a parent’s love. I hope you can join us.

-Pastor Jane

September 4

If you were in worship this past Sunday, you will remember the sermon came from Jeremiah 29, the story of the Israelite’s exile in Babylon. We talked about God’s message to them – to live fully in the new situation, to build houses and settle down, to plant gardens and eat what they produce, to marry and have sons and daughters. In other words, God was telling the people that even though these will be very hard years, instead of fretting and complaining, they were to settle in and live. And then God offered a promise found in verse 11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” God said, I will always be with you and I have a plan for you. God will always be with us. We will never be alone. What an amazing promise!

During communion following the sermon, we heard a beautiful piano piece, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical, Carousel. You must admit, this is an unusual piece for communion, but it was just right for this past Sunday! Why? Because in a round-about way, it spoke of God’s promise to the Israelites and to us, that no matter what, we will never walk alone. That God will always be by our side. I encourage you to look up the lyrics of this song and you will quickly understand just how perfect it was.

Each week we are blessed with the music of Gina McKinney. She is thoughtful in her music selection and in her playing. She selected this piece because after reading the scripture passage, she automatically knew the theme of my sermon and selected accordingly. Each week she does the same thing. I am thankful for Gina’s quiet service every Sunday. Please join me in offering your gratitude. Thank you, Gina.

-Pastor Jane

August 28

Capture 2.JPG

Do you have dreams? As a child, did you dream of making the team, or making the Honor Roll? As you grew up, did you dream of going to that perfect college? What about as an adult? Did you dream of the perfect spouse, perfect job, perfect home, perfect children?

If we are honest with ourselves, we all have dreams – some visible, and others hidden. But what do you do when it becomes obvious your dreams will not come to fruition or perhaps that your dreams will be deferred. Our scripture this Sunday (Jeremiah 29:1-7) tells the story of the Israelites during the Babylonian exile, when they were taken from their homes, lost their identity, and seemingly lost God.

You would think that the prophet Jeremiah would tell them to fight to get back home; to do everything they could to reclaim their land and their heritage. Instead, his message was startling – settle in, build homes, and plant gardens in that foreign land.

Could God have the same message for us when our dreams are deferred? Where does God dwell when we are uprooted? What does God say to us when our dreams unravel? I hope you will join us on Sunday and we explore these questions.

August 21

As we continue in our Unraveled series this Sunday, we will be learning from the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and her encounter with Jesus found in John 4:1-29. Using this story as a background, we will explore the topic of shame. Have you ever considered that some of your life choices, or even the understanding of your own worth come out of an underlying of hidden sense of shame? Often we are not even aware of this, but it can pervade every part of our lives.

In 2012, author Brené Brown released one of her many best-selling books entitled Daring Greatly, which explores the topics of vulnerability and shame. She describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” We all live with shame, some of it seen, but much of it hidden. We are a lot like the Samaritan woman. I hope you can join us Sunday as we explore this topic through her eyes and through the eyes of Jesus.

-Pastor Jane

August 14

We continue our Unraveled series this Sunday, returning to the Old Testament where we will follow the story of Moses and Pharaoh, as Moses tries to obtain justice for the Israelites. We will focus specifically on Exodus 5:1-2 and 7:8-23, but I encourage you to read the entire story found in Exodus 1-12. Moses tries to obtain justice for his people, but Pharaoh refuses. How can this ancient story speak to people of faith today? That question will be our focus this Sunday.

Listen.
I have a story to tell –
A story of a God who longed for justice.
A story of a God who pushed back the waters to make dry land.
A story of a God who would not take “no” for an answer when it came to the safety of God’s own.
For God’s people were suffering.
God’s people were crying out.
God’s people were shackled and bound by oppression.

So God said to Moses, “Speak.”
“Let my people Go.”
And Moses spoke –
Over and Over again.
Moses stood up for justice,
But over and over again, Pharaoh said no.
Power said no.
The path to justice is never easy, is it?
The path to change is never a straight line, is it?

Capture.JPG

So like Rosa, who sat on the bus, and Martin who had a dream,
Moses kept trying.
God kept speaking.
Moses kept listening.
Hope kept breathing.
And when power tried to unravel justice,
The people kept dreaming.

God longed for justice.
God still longs for justice.
So let us worship God –
For human injustice will never be strong enough to unravel God’s dream that all might be free,
And all might know love.1

1 Sarah Are. A Sanctified Art. Unraveled. Liturgy for Exodus 5:1-2; 7:8-23.

Image by Lauren Wright Pittman

-Pastor Jane


August 7

“Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he….” Did you grow up singing that song as a child? I remember how fun it was to sing it with my friends, complete with motions that mimicked him climbing up that tree. When Jesus says, “Come on down, for I’m going to your house today,” we all shouted those words at the top of our lungs. It was a fun, happy, almost bucolic scene.

But, is that truly what happened? Did Zacchaeus jump up in that tree, hang from the branches to see Jesus, just to hop down and take Jesus home, with a big cheer from the crowd? This Sunday we will explore this question about Zacchaeus from his story found in Luke 19:1-10. As you read, I encourage you to think about questions that might open up some other possibilities.

Zacchaeus had a job that enabled him to profit from a corrupt economic system that allowed and encouraged him to rob and defraud those on the lower rungs of his society. Because of that and his ill-gotten wealth, he was not welcomed or wanted by most people. How did Jesus change the people’s perception of Zacchaeus? How did Jesus’ generous and loving welcome invite him into community? And, fitting with our theme of Unraveled, how did Zacchaeus live into a new life when his vocational life unraveled? One of the most beautiful parts of Zacchaeus’ story is how he responded to his unraveling with joy.

We will ask some of these same questions of ourselves this week as we look at vocation. We will also explore how we, like Jesus, can open up opportunities to welcome others who find bits of our their lives unraveling. I hope you will join us.


-Pastor Jane

August 1

It is wonderful to be back from my time away and I would like to thank all those who served as leaders in my absence. The gift of a sabbatical is not one I take lightly, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

And now, we enter into a new season. School is starting and with it we move back into our fall schedule at church. In another place in this newsletter, you will see a partial list of some of the events coming up over the next few months. These opportunities provide a chance for us to build our faith community – through relationships, fun, service, Bible study, and worship. I hope you will make a point to be a part of those things that will feed your soul.

In worship, I will be preaching a sermon series during the months of August and September called Unraveled. You will see the schedule of sermon offerings on the front page of the newsletter and on one of the large posters in the outside hallway.

In our unraveling, sometimes life surprises us with a new beginning we couldn’t have imagined. Sometimes we need God to unravel us, for we long to be changed. This sermon series will explore 9 stories of unraveled shame, identity, fear, grief, dreams, and expectations. These are stories where God meets us in the uncertainty; unraveling our plans—and us—into something new. Each week we will also sing a new hymn text that dovetails with the theme of the day as our Invitation Hymn. I encourage you to take in these words as you sing, hearing God’s voice in them.

It's a new year. I am filled with anticipation for what new things God has for the Union family in the upcoming months.

July 31

This Sunday I will begin a new sermon series on the topic, Unraveled, looking at biblical stories of people whose lives have unraveled in both joyous and devastating ways. This Sunday, we will hear from Sarah – as her story unravels from heartache, to surprise. Her story, along with that of her husband, Abraham, is found in Genesis 18:1-5 and 21:1-7.

Beginning next week, each Monday I will post the upcoming Sunday’s biblical text on social media and ask you to respond. What are some things the story triggers in your mind? We can have a conversation on Facebook, or by email or text if that suits you better, or even in person. Some questions you might ask as you are reading – What has unraveled in this story? How does God respond to Sarah’s and Abraham’s disbelief and doubt? How does God respond to us when we are closed off to newness?

Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes of this passage, “Laughter is a biblical way of receiving a newness which cannot be explained. The newness is sheer gift – underived, unwarranted.” What might it look like for our disbelief to unravel into joy?

I look forward to worshiping with you on Sunday as we explore these questions and as we celebrate Homecoming 2019!

Sabbatical Update - July 10

I am so thankful for a church family that values a pastoral sabbatical. During these weeks, David and I are spending some time away at Chautauqua Institution. Since we are about half way through our time away, I wanted to share a little with you about what we have been doing.

Several of you have asked about what Chautauqua is. Chautauqua Institution is an educational center and ecumenical community beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State, where approximately 7,500 people are in residence each week. We are here for three of this summer's nine weeks. The Institution was founded in 1874 and each day includes academic subjects, lectures, music, and worship among many other offerings. There are individual denomination houses and I have been to the Disciples House and David has been to the Baptist House.

Our days have been filled with long walks by the lake, daily worship, lectures, concerts, and rest. During the first two weeks, we have seen a play - The Christians, and opera - The Barber of Seville, a movie accompanied by the symphony - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and enjoyed Diana Ross in concert. We have heard the symphony multiple times, have celebrated July 4 in grand fashion, and have heard daily Interfaith Lectures in the Hall of Philosophy.

Each week has a special theme and all the programming for the week is centered around that subject. Last week's theme was Uncommon Ground: Communities Working Toward Solutions. Each event sought to answer questions like: What conditions must exist for communities to engage one another, and who needs to be at the table? What’s possible when there isn’t a shared sense of community? Do differences need to be bridged in order for solutions to be found and sustained?

This week is sponsored by National Geographic and is amazing. The afternoon Interfaith Lectures focus on What Archaeology Tells Us About Biblical Times.

I am so grateful for this time away to rest and rejuvenate. Thank you so very much.

June 19

This will be my last Midweek article for a while. Early next Wednesday morning, David and I will be leaving town as the first days of my sabbatical begin. I will be away for four weeks, and I am so very grateful for this time to rest and regroup. Many of you have asked, "what exactly is a sabbatical?" I'd like to take some time this week to explain it to you.

Many people hear the word sabbatical and often think of the academic world, where it is common for a professor to take a full year of sabbatical time after seven years of teaching, dedicated to research, travel, and writing.

The word sabbatical comes from the word sabbath, the Biblical day of rest, found in the creation story of Genesis 1. "And on the seventh day, God rested." In Leviticus 23, this idea is expanded from one day a week, to a full year of sabbatical, where not only were the people commanded to rest, but also not to plow their fields or work in their vineyards. A year for the land to lie fallow and rest.

Why am I taking a sabbatical? In simple terms, to rest, renew, learn, and grow. This summer marks the end of five years of ministry at Union. There are four specific things about myself and about pastoral ministry that I've learned over these past five years.

I have learned that my calling requires spiritual vitality. I have found that it is extremely hard for me to have the needed time each week to devote to prayer and study. A sabbatical will provide that type of focused time.

I have learned that the nature of pastoral work requires a great deal of emotional work - caring for a congregation that you love - work that never takes a break.

I have learned that David and I need some time together, as our callings have kept us apart for the majority of these five years.

I have learned that it is healthy for the church for me to step away. As I was told recently, "you like to be in charge," I have come to realize even more, that it is vitally important to empower members of the congregation to lead in ministry. A sabbatical provides intentional time for that.

Author Ruth Haley Barton says, "we are starved for rest, to know God beyond what we can do for him. We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself." She shares the story of a friend who told her, "Ruth, you are like a jar of river water all shaken up. What you need is to sit still long enough that the sediment can settle and the water become clear." I, too, see myself in that river water and am eagerly anticipating the time and space to become clear.

This Sunday I will be preaching from 1 Kings 19, the story of Elijah, It is a beautiful story of Sabbath Rest, where Elijah finds God, not in the noise and busyness, but in a still, small voice. May we all allow ourselves the quiet to hear that same voice of God.


-Pastor Jane

June 12

This Sunday is Father’s Day – a day we give thanks for the men who have been instrumental in our lives. What makes a person a good man, a good father? There are hundreds of books that try to answer this question, none better than the Bible itself. This Sunday, I will be preaching from 1 King 2:1-4. These verses contain King David’s last words to his son Solomon - instructions on how he should live as a man after the death of his father. What do you think David told his son? And, is David’s advice equally good for men today? I hope you will join us on Sunday as we explore these questions.


-Pastor Jane

May 29

This Sunday we welcome our Regional Minister, Rev. Denise Bell, to Union. It was five years ago that Denise came and preached my Installation Service and that many of you met her for the first time. Her dynamic voice and love for the church is evident every time I am with her. I know you will welcome her and hear her words with great enthusiasm.
 
Denise is here because this is the Sunday that 18 of our church members will be in Puerto Rico. At the very same time you are in worship at Union, the mission team will be worshiping in the Canovanos community, with the congregation of Bautista Villas de Loiza church and their pastor Elsa Rivera. I know that you will continue in prayer for us as we travel and for this church family, where our ministry will be based. We look forward to sharing our experiences with you on Pentecost Sunday, June 9, when we return.

- Pastor Jane 

May 22

This Sunday during worship, we will continue our walk through Acts, looking at a story from Acts 16:9-15. These verses tell of a unique calling that Paul received, summoning him to Macedonia to share the gospel with the people there. Paul, speaking in verse 10 says, “we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God has called us to preach the gospel to them.”

“God has called us to preach the gospel to them” - this verse speaks to the very heart of why, in just 10 days, the Mission Team will be leaving for Puerto Rico. We are going, not for fun, not to see a new part of the world, but to share the Good News, the gospel, with the people there. God has called us!

Will you join us during worship on Sunday as there will be a special time of commissioning? There will be a focused time of prayer – that God will open doors to share the gospel, that we will all stay healthy, and that people’s hearts will be open? Thank you, Union Christian Church, for your prayers and blessings, and for this amazing opportunity.

-Pastor Jane

May 15

This week marks the end of the school year for Oconee County schools. For many of us, summer vacation seems a dream of years ago – when we were children. But there is something to be said for a change of life rhythm that the beginning of summer offers. This beautiful poem by Ted Loder offers a glimpse into how this season might unfold for us. A season that he reflects on in Let Me Live Gracefully.
 
Thank you, Lord,
for this season
       of sun and slow motion,
              of games and porch sitting,
                     of picnics and light green fireflies
                            on heavy purple evenings;
and praise for slight breezes.
It’s good, God,
as the first long days of your creation.
 
Let this season be for me
       a time of gathering together the pieces
              into which my busyness has broken me.
O God, enable me now
       to grow wise through reflection,
              peaceful through the song of the cricket,
                     recreated through the laughter of play.
 
Most of all, Lord,
let me live easily and grace-fully for a spell,
       so that I may see other souls deeply,
              share in a silence unhurried,
                     listen to the sound of sunlight and shadows,
                            explore barefoot the land of forgotten dreams and shy hopes,
                                   and find the right words to tell another who I am.

- Pastor Jane