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 

May 8

The Puerto Rico Mission Team is working hard to prepare for our upcoming trip. We are in the final few weeks before departure and as we approach our time of leaving, we ask for your prayers. In the recent monthly May newsletter, I shared a prayer need with you and would like to repeat it this week in the Midweek. We have eighteen missionaries going on this trip and I would like to ask if you would volunteer to be a prayer partner for one of them. By doing this, you would “join” us on this trip as co-missionaries with us. 
 
It would work like this: you would receive the name of a person that you would covenant to pray for. Part of the prayer piece would include writing them a short note for each of the days they are away (7). On the Sunday morning prior to leaving there will be a time of commissioning the missionaries during worship. You would come and stand with them as an additional means of support. If you are interested in joining us as missionaries and being a part of this important piece of the mission trip, please let me know. You can select a specific person, or you can be assigned a person.
 
I hope you will join us in prayer. I look forward to hearing from you.

- Pastor Jane 

May 2

For the past several months you have been supporting the Puerto Rico Mission Team as we’ve endeavored to raise the money needed for a trip of this sort. You have donated items and money. You have procured auction items and purchased auction items. You have given “over and above” so very generously, and we all thank you. Now we come to the last four weeks before we leave, and we will spend this time planning for our mission. Once a week for each of the next four weeks, the team will meet – putting together VBS programming and supplies, learning how to do prayer walks and building community relations. We will talk about our construction opportunities. We will learn how to write our own faith story and how to share it.

While in Puerto Rico, we will be serving in the Canovanas community, with the Bautista Villas de Loiza church and Pastor Elsa Rivera. We ask for your prayers for this church and community and their openness to hearing the good news of Jesus.

Now we come back to you for help one more time. We have eighteen missionaries going on this trip and I would like to ask if you would volunteer to be a prayer partner for one of them. By doing this, you would “join” us on this trip as co-missionaries with us.

It would work like this: you would receive a person that you would covenant to pray for. Part of the prayer piece would include writing them a short note for each of the days they are away (7). On the Sunday morning prior to leaving there will be a time of commissioning the missionaries during worship. You would come and stand with them as an additional means of support. If you are interested in joining us as missionaries and being a part of this important piece of the mission trip, please let me know. You can select a specific person, or you can be assigned a person. Those going on the trip are:

Cami Allen
Joyce Beckwith
Julian Beckwith
Jackie Byrd
Jim Butler
Patti Clark
Dewey Collins
Hannah Collins
Kelly Hansford
Nancy Belle Hansford
Jenna Hood
Kathy Hood
Jane Hull
Rose Mary Martin
Annette Saul
Larry Saul
Dustin Wall
Gary Wall

Thank you, Union family, for you love and prayer support.

May 1

This Sunday will be a special day! We will honor our two high school graduates – Turner Pascoe and Anna Ambartsumian. They will be sharing with us during worship and you will want to be here to support them. I know you join me in offering thanks to them for the years they have spent with us at Union. Their contributions to worship and the choir have been wonderful!

Our sermon on Sunday tells the story of Saul’s conversion on the Damascus Road. Following our theme of Surprise! you would think that his experience is the Surprise! for the week. And, that is true, but there is another person in the story who also experiences his own Surprise! I encourage you to read Acts 9:1-20 to prepare and let’s talk about how God can Surprise! each of us.

- Pastor Jane

April 24

What a wonderful Holy Week and Easter - filled with both fun and spiritually meaningful events. I am so grateful for the many, many people who worked so hard to make them all possible! The Maundy Thursday Labyrinth was walked by over 40 people who shared how profound the experience was for them. On Easter Sunday, between the Sunrise Service and our 11:00 service, over 150 people worshiped the Risen Lord. It was a beautiful Easter, and now we move on. But, to what?

Did you know that the church season of Easter lasts 50 days? From Easter Sunday until Pentecost, this season is actually longer than the 40 days of Lent. Over these next 50 days, we will be talking about what it means to be “Easter People” as we look at surprising acts of God occurring in the Early Church. Our text for these six weeks will be the Book of Acts. As we explore the journey of surprises in these texts, we will be encouraged to welcome an unpredictable God and to expect the unexpected.

This Sunday we meet Peter again (our friend from our Wednesday Lenten Bible Study time), as he once again has a significant turnaround. The text is Acts 5:27-32. I hope to see you on Sunday as we look for God’s bountiful surprises!

- Pastor Jane

April 17

We are in the midst of Holy Week – a week that causes us to run the gamut of emotions – from deep, dark sadness, to extraordinary joy.

Tomorrow, Maundy Thursday, from 10-2 and 4-7:30, our church Labyrinth will be available in the Fellowship Hall. As a part of the traditional, quiet walk of a Labyrinth experience, you will also be able to walk the Stations of the Cross, enabling you to move with Jesus on his way to the cross. Ann Weems speaks of these days in her poem No Dances.

There are no dances for dark days.
There is no music to bellow the pain.
The best we can do is to remain
still and silent
and try to remember the face of God…
and how to kneel
and how to pray.

And then on Sunday, we will find ourselves filled with the joy of the resurrection. “He is not here. He is risen.” Outside, at 7:00 am, we will greet the sunrise as we remember the women who found the tomb empty that first Easter morning. Following an Easter breakfast, we will return to Easter worship at 11:00.

I hope you can be a part of all these offerings, this Holy Weekend.

Again, from Ann Weems, Easter

Just when I thought
there would be no more light
in the Jerusalem sky,
the Bright and Morning Star
appeared
and the darkness has not overcome it.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

- Pastor Jane

April 10

There are so many exciting things going on at Union these days. Preparations for our upcoming mission trip are in high gear as we have already had one very successful fundraiser, and are anticipating another one this Saturday at a church-wide yard sale. The building is alive with voices - those bringing items for sale and others pricing those very same items. We have had our usual Soup and Bible study sessions these past few Lenten Wednesdays. Our annual Easter Egg hunt is coming the day before Easter, Saturday, April 20, at 4:00. There are so many good things happening!

And now, we are about to enter Holy Week and our call is to move away from the busyness, to slow down, and be present for what God would have for us. There are several ways to do this. (1) If you have been reading through The List, Holy Week is the final week of reading, as we end with the glorious promise of Revelation 21 and 22 on Easter Sunday. My prayer is that you will continue to hear God’s voice speaking to you through the readings. (2) Perhaps you have moved through the season of Lent using the paper chain, filled with activities and readings for each day. My prayer is that this tool has guided you toward a more intentional Lenten season. (3) Finally, on Maundy Thursday, April 18, we will offer a new way to hear God’s voice, through an opportunity to walk a Prayer Labyrinth set up in our Fellowship Hall. You can read more about it in our April newsletter, http://www.unionchristianchurch.net/ministry-blog/2019/3/29/april-1 Here you will find an extended explanation of what to expect. God has often spoken to me in new and sometimes unfamiliar settings. My prayer is that you will experience God’s voice in a new way on Maundy Thursday as you walk the Labyrinth.

- Pastor Jane

April 3

For the last several weeks we have been walking alongside Jesus, using the gospel of Luke to guide us, as he moves toward Jerusalem. This coming Sunday is the fifth week of Lent, the last before Holy Week begins. This week we will turn instead to the gospel of John, where we will find the story of Jesus’ anointing at Bethany.

We are on the brink of Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem. The town of Bethany, home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus is just outside the city, on the eastern side of Mount of Olives. As John tells the story, just before the jubilant “hosannas” of Palm Sunday are about to ring out, Mary will lavish Jesus with precious perfume, effectively anointing his body, as Jesus puts it, “for the day of my burial.”

I hope you will take the time to read John 12:1-8 and Deuteronomy 15:7-11 before Sunday, as we explore this important story in the life of Jesus.

- Pastor Jane

April 1

For my article this month, I would like to share with you a new experience that will be offered on Maundy Thursday, April 18. Over the past five years at Union, we have shared Maundy Thursday together in several different ways – a more traditional Tenebrae Service of darkness and a Living Last Supper presentation. What exactly is Maundy Thursday? Maundy Thursday is sometimes known as Holy Thursday and is the night when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and shared the Last Supper with them. It is a solemn day; a day to remember the great sacrifice that is to come.

This year you will have the opportunity to walk a labyrinth on Maundy Thursday. For many, this is a word you have never heard, or if you’ve heard of it, you are not sure what it is. Here is a “dictionary” definition: A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness and is designed for spiritual development and inner growth. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

Lab.png

To the left, you can see what one looks like. The Union Labyrinth will be laid out on the floor of the Fellowship Hall and will be available for you to walk anytime from 10-2 and from 4-7:30 on Thursday, April 18. With these expanded hours, we hope that many will take the opportunity to use it. I would like to encourage you to invite your friends, co-workers, and neighbors to join you in this new experience.

A labyrinth walk is a slow walk, something that is difficult in our fast-paced world. Our labyrinth will be guided by the Stations of the Cross. From early Christianity, when pilgrims came to Jerusalem, they visited sites where Jesus was known to have been. Eventually, following in the footsteps of the Lord, along the way of the cross, these 14 “stations” became a part of the pilgrimage visit and were incorporated in many church buildings. As you walk the labyrinth, you will have the opportunity to stop at each of the 14 “sites” to read the accompanying scripture and pray, remembering that part of Jesus’ journey. The 14th station marks Jesus being placed in the tomb.

As you reach the center of the labyrinth, picture it as a place to stop and leave your burdens. As you walk slowly out of the labyrinth, the mental image is re-entry to the world you left behind, held with the knowledge of the great sacrifice of Jesus for you. The Stations and the Labyrinth are offered together, this Maundy Thursday, as a pilgrimage, and an opportunity to experience the passion of Christ on a personal level in an ancient, yet new way.*

*The Stations of the Cross version we will use was developed by The Church of the Nativity, Indianapolis, 2004. It is used with permission.



March 27

Midweek Update
March 27, 2019


Called by God and led by the Holy Spirit, Union Christian Church is a caring community that learns and shares the stories of faith, serves within and beyond our walls, and welcomes all to gather at Christ’s Table.

Join Union for our Lenten Sermon Series

March 31
God Moves…
Down the Road
Luke 15:11-32

April 7
God Moves Us…
To Empty Ourselves
John 12:1-6

April 14—Palm Sunday
God Moves…
To the Cross
Luke 23:1-49

April 21 - Easter Sunday
God Moves...
Out of the Tomb
Luke 24:1-12

This Sunday – the fourth Sunday of Lent – we will continue walking with Jesus as he moves closer and closer to Jerusalem. As I’ve mentioned each week, as Jesus walks, he talks and teaches, and this week is no different. We will find ourselves in Luke 15. This chapter contains three different parables about being lost. With an introduction in verses 1-3, Jesus quickly moves to share the story of the lost sheep in verses 4-7, the story of the lost coin in verses 8-10, and finally, the story of the lost son in verses 11-32. We will focus on the last parable, the one most known as the story of the Prodigal Son. But what if our focus has been wrong all these years? What if this parable is not about the lost younger son, or the lost older son, but instead, about the gracious father?

I hope to see you in worship on Sunday, and….a little homework. Read all of Luke 15 this week and we will talk about it.

- Pastor Jane