From the November 2013 Newsletter1 Thessalonians 1.2-3 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. These verses were used to inspire and guide our stewardship here at Cross of Christ. Thank you. Thank you to everyone who participated on so many different levels… who helped send mailings, who cooked & prepared the wonderful celebration dinner, who planned and guided us all as we learned more about God’s call to us to love one another and in doing so recognizing our time, talents, and treasures as gifts from God. And thank you to our congregational president Jim Pemberton who led us through Scripture and the act of humbleness together.
I have always loved Paul’s letter writing. He opens with a thank you to those whom he serves and so I do to… thank you so very much for all of the diverse and creative ways that you serve our Lord and Savior through our church, community and world. We are looking to strengthen our financial giving to the Paper Pantry that continues to serve hundreds of people each week. We are seeking ways to involve more of our congregation as volunteers in different ways through a plethora of choices on the time and talent sheets with even open spaces for your creativity. If you haven’t filled one out, please do! AND we are seeking ways to strengthen the consistency of our giving as stewards. Changes are happening at Cross of Christ and for these changes we feel so very blessed. Hold on to your hats as we let the Spirit INSPIRE our evangelism efforts, our outreach and service in helping others, and our spiritual practices and new opportunities!
The other day I received a phone call from Meredith Brown from Kilwins on Howard Street in Petoskey. She called to ask if I had any use for 60+ sets of advent candles. I said of course and so with gratefulness I picked up 60+ sets of advent candles for our congregation! The community knows who we are and what we are doing and they celebrate with us! We are receiving donations from brothers and sisters in Christ towards our paper pantry and some of them don’t even live in our area, but out of state. Your mission is loud and clear! We are so very blessed and so THANK YOU! Thank you for your faithfulness to our Lord and Savior and all of the ministries here at Cross of Christ! We are a church in reform, always evolving to serve and love the Lord our God. Change is inevitable as the Gospel INSPIRES us in so many different ways. This is an exciting time! We are visioning! Small groups will be receiving information about visioning for 2014 on. We are looking for a core group of people who will help lead the vision…. do you feel called to work with the congregation and hear where God is calling us to be? The process is so very exciting and blessed with prayer, intentionality and listening to the power of the Holy Spirit for INSPIRATION!
Thank you all! We have a blessed ministry with wonderful folks….keep the doors open and let us be INSPIRED together! We are indeed one in the Spirit!
Pastor Sherry McGuffin
God speaks…God speaks! This story of the baptism of all of the people and the excitement that John felt upon seeing Jesus was charismatic…but then…God spoke! Have you ever heard the voice of God? Do you know anyone who has? The Psalmist certainly experienced the voice of God as it is described in Psalm 26…where even the trees writhe at the voice of God. And more than that…when God spoke the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit was visible…visible like the form of the dove….Something HUGE is happening…HUGE!Today we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord. Yesterday was the celebration of epiphany…the celebration of the mysteries of the birth of our Savior that becomes knows around the world…a time when God works through humankind to share in a celebration of salvation…a time when God’s revelation came through a baby and not a grand king! God works in mysterious ways!
Jesus was baptized by John who was baptizing in preparation of the Lord’s coming. He was baptizing as a sign of repentance…but Jesus wasn’t a sinner? Jesus was perfect in his works and his ministry and in his life…there was no need for repentance….and then, God appears as a voice and as a dove and calls Jesus his beloved SON!
In the Old Testament, or the First Testament, God came through shikinah…or through light…He came to Moses in the burning bush and to the Israelites as a pillar of fire by night…And now…this is the voice of God…and everyone heard it! And people still hear it today…
I love baptisms…I love them because everyone is ready to watch and see what God will do through this tiny little baby in my hands…we can love the child and teach the child and share life with the child, but ultimately we are stewards of this child….At Kealee Andersen’s funeral, a child of God who was 3 years old, her mother said to me that she felt so very blessed. I smiled at her and she said…I was entrusted to love and care for her for three years and it was wonderful…from music to words to learning to love in new ways…That is what we are called to be…lovers of life, delighters in the word…all because of the mysterious actions that take place in baptism…
Why was Jesus baptized? Perhaps it was to open our hearts and eyes to hear the voice of God…that we too are beloved children of God…perhaps it is to begin a trust relationship with the one who never fails us…perhaps it is a mystery and we get the privilege having a Lord and Savior who loves us without ceasing and invites us into a journey of revelation…The world lives in this mystery today…this undying love of God…and the world hears God speak…we have heard many folks say that they have heard the voice of God…God reveals Godself in many and various ways…ways that are yet to be discovered by you and by me…what we do know is that God speaks to include, heal, love, and support us into a healthy life. When safety or exclusion or hurting others is the voice, then we must question it…but today…on the baptism of Jesus we hear a strong voice…the voice of a proud parent who cannot wait to be reunited with their child and so God says…You are my Son, the Beloved…with you I am well pleased.
This blessing is offered to us at our own baptism. Most of us cannot remember that moment as we were babies, and perhaps that is the comfort of watching others experience baptism…in the water and in the word, God speaks to us. God speaks to us through the love of a community who takes vows at our baptism…vows that will continually steward us so that we are able to make choices throughout our lives. And the congregation then becomes part of our family of believers…the family who prays for us, and loves us even when we do something wrong…the family who supports us when we are sick or sad or suffering. A family who can empathize grief and loss and then rejoice with us upon the homecoming. God speaks to us through worship and through prayer and even through life experiences.
Often times we miss the word of God because we have too much noise and clutter in our head and heart…we are busy with daily life and we forget to look at our Creator for help and guidance and when we finally remember to do so, we see that God had been there the entire time…maybe not as we willed it or prayed for God’s presence, but God is there loving us through our life and our choices and God is calling us to remember…that You are God’s children…beloved children of God and with you all God is well pleased….such comforting words to sinners…such comforting words of hope…words that have spoken to me for as long as I remember…words that bring it home that we have been created with the purpose of loving back and serving and sharing…Amen
his week as I have visited many of you, I have seen many preparations for the Christmas holidays…trees raised, manger scenes sitting out and prominent, Wednesday night Advent dinners more attended than ever before…and I give thanks…and my home…well, laundry piling high, dust thicker than I ever imagined that I would allow, no decorations up at all…didn't feel like it. After last week's sermon, I decided that I would come home and prepare the house for the Christmas season…which I have always done on the day after Thanksgiving…and I do this with my entire family from Washington DC to Florida…we talk on the phone, we drink hot drinks and we listen to carols on the radio. Tradition…but this year, a tradition that I missed…and then on Sunday, after the youth group left the parsonage, I really had every intention of getting the house ready…now I don't know if this comes with age or not, but I have come to realize that I cannot do what I once used to be able to do. I used to be able to accomplish much more in a day than I can today…But now, I think that I am slowing down and focusing more on the task at hand…not just doing it to get done, but doing it and sitting in it and working with it and experiencing whatever is at hand…it may be slowing down, or it may be just jumping in a little bit further…which often times causes other things to lag behind a bit, but I still had to get things done around the house…I wanted to prepare for the anticipation of the newborn baby in a manger. I had every intention of preparing my home for Christmas, but the phone rang, and I can only reach so far on the cord and for hours, talked and talked and talked to people who called all night long…until midnight. So needless to say, I didn't decorate last Sunday..Yet, in visiting your homes and feeling the excitement, the urgency, the thrill of the season, I did at last join in. I began to give thanks for all of you, yet again, because in your own traditions and ways of doing things, you shared the preparations of something huge…something that is excited and anticipated. I heard your stories of tradition …from egg nog to reading the Christmas story together while eating waffles and syrup on Christmas morning…to decorating the Christmas tree on the last day of Advent. And as we have looked briefly at Advent and Christmas in different parts of the world, it came to me also that the world is sharing in the excitement and anticipation and preparation of the birth of our Savior…Children's Christmas pageants are happening all over the world.
And so…on Friday, I pulled out my Advent wreath and candles and I set up my manger scenes…and this year, I took out Baby Jesus from the manger scenes that I can and I have hidden him in my home. Something that I learned from you…And on Christmas day, I will place him in the manger stall and I will again read the Christmas story..just Charlie and I…and my family will call and friends will call and all of our anticipation will be filled with joy. And I give thanks to God for this community that continues to share the Gospel story from beginning to end so that the energy of the Holy Spirit moves us into love actions and preparations for this new day at hand. You prepare the Royal Highway as you chose to live your lives by serving, loving and empowering others to live healthy and safe lives….seeking justice and peace and walking humbly with our God.
That is what John the Baptist is crying in the wilderness…prepare…and no, he doesn't mean with Advent wreathes and the sort, but prepare by turning towards God…see what God is calling us to do, to be and to live. John preaches that we are to repent which literally means, to change our direction and turn towards God….and that in doing so, the valley's and hills would be made equal! Imagine that! In the first few verses of the Gospel reading today, John lists all of the rulers and the leaders who are at the top…John's prophecy that everyone will be on the same level path probably was very offensive to them. Yet, John knew and proclaimed truth: The work of God, of God's son, will turn the world upside down…and those of us who believe that we are better than anyone else in the world, will soon be in the valleys…and those who have been judged by humankind as not worthy or good enough or too much of a sinner, will be turned and brought up to the mountain tops…the ordinary will become extraordinary…and those who believe that they are extraordinary…well….they will fall…and not out of revenge or hatefulness or neglect, but out of shear humility.
When I first moved to Michigan, I received an email with jokes from one of my seminary professors…jokes about Michigan…one of them being the state mascot is the orange barrels on the highway…a sign that they are always being repaired, renewed…fixed. When my cousin Rachel and I were in Chicago, I made a wrong decision at a subway stop and we got pretty lost in an area that we probably had no business being in. When we told our shuttle driver about the incident the next morning on our way back to the subway he said, "Just remember, whatever you did wrong yesterday is still wrong today." This is true, but for you and I and for an entire world invited into the everlasting embrace of our Lord and Savior, we also get to experience the gifts of the Christchild. We have the privilege of confession and repentance. We get to turn towards Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit. We are invited to share the good news that on this pathway of preparation we meet a man who lived and walked the path and continues to be present with us today…and as the state of Michigan is witness, those orange barrels don't go away for long…the roads get broken again by plowing and digging and wrecks…and so do we…we are cleansed by Jesus Christ, and we are renewed by him, and we are human…and so we are broken and are called to return to God over and over again and God's grace prevails! We are covered in a love that is so very faithful and safe and we are able to stand again with open arms to serve and to love.
God's grace and peace to you as you navigate the path. Remember to seek the Lord who is always there with you…turn towards God in decision making and love one another as you have never loved before! That is living life abundant! That is preparing the Royal Highway. Amen