Pastor Sally’s Devotional 1/4

Dear friends,

 

Happy New Year!  It’s really nice to be back in my little “at home” study and at work in our church again.  I had a lovely vacation.  It was quiet – just my husband, me and Theo, the “better all the time” basset hound.  At two and a half Theo is almost well behaved… almost.  I spent most of my vacation either working on the quilt I’m making for my new grandson or helping Mike set up a serious “home office.”  Mike began his work as the Transitional pastor of First Presbyterian in Battle Creek today.

 

One of the other things I did during vacation was to download the TED talks app on my phone.  I have dabbled in TED talks from time to time and decided TED would be a good distraction while I’m exercising.  TED talks, if you don’t know, are short inspirational talks by people who are experts in their fields.  They cover a broad range of topics including: science, technology, sociology, psychology, education, entertainment, music and current events.  They are usually really well done.

 

One of the talks that caught my attention last week was called “The Happy Secret to Better Work” by Shawn Achor.  Here’s the link in case you want to listen.  https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work?language=en#t-685367

Shawn is a psychologist and CEO of Good Think Inc.  His talk was about how to change one’s thinking from negative thoughts to positive thoughts.  This is particularly appealing to me as we enter January… brrr.  January and February are hard months for me and hard months for a lot of people.  The cold grey skies have a way of sucking the joy right out of a person.  Additionally there are no major holidays.  In the church we call this time, “ordinary time.”  How boring is that?  Very often I begin January by counting the days until Ash Wednesday when we can start a major season of our church life!  Only six and a half weeks this year.  We just have to hunker down and get through this winter.  ☹

 

Wow!  Did you notice how much negative talk there was in that previous paragraph.  Shawn Achor says we need to reframe our live stories with good words and positive images.  Instead of complaining we should think of three things we are thankful for each day.  We should try journaling about one good thing that happened each day so we can relive it as we write and relive it when we go back later to read our journal.  Shawn says by doing these simple things we teach our brains to look for positive things instead of negative things.  I think this idea actually works well with something Jesus said.  Jesus said he came that we might have life and life in abundance (John 10:10).  I remember this scripture often.  It’s important to me.  When I’m feeling low, I try to remember that Jesus came to bring us abundant life and so I look around and name the abundance around me.

 

So let’s try that upper paragraph about January and February again.  What wonderful months!  These two months are deliciously cold.  The cool air refreshes you when you venture outside and shakes the cobwebs from your brain.  Winter is the season of snuggling with good books by the fire, long phone calls to friends and hot chocolate.  The snowflakes brighten the trees and glisten in the sunlight.  In February we share our love liberally on Valentines day!  And in the church we enjoy a “Growing Season” sometimes called Ordinary Time, when we dive into the stories of the life of our Lord and grow in our discipleship!  Yay winter!!!

 

Well, I’m feeling better already.  How about you?

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 12/24

Dear Friends,

                I find myself thinking of small things this Christmas Eve morning.  I suppose this has to do with the smallness of the gift God gave us at Christmas.  God decided he wanted to change the world, convince humankind of the depths of his love and draw us to himself…. so he sent us a baby. 

                It is remarkable to think about.  God sent a small infant to fulfill his purposes.  He sent him to a tiny village south of the big city of Jerusalem.  He was born to small peasant people who weren’t particularly important and laid in a small animal feeding trough – a manger.  Jesus would grow up in a small village in Galilee and preach in and around small communities, talking to one person at a time.  Even at the height of his popularity he was preaching only to crowds of between 5-10,000 and this only rarely.  Most of the stories we have in the scriptures record incidents of healing one blind man, or one sick child or a faith conversation with one Pharisee in Jerusalem or one woman by the well.  The outreach of Jesus’ ministry seems so small.  And when he died he left a church of 12.  Wow!  Most Presbyterian churches today would be closed if they only had 12 members!  I think of small things at Christmas because God sent one small child, who grew into one man, who saved the world. 

                As you celebrate Christmas tonight and tomorrow I want to invite you to think small.  Think about how important the small relationships in your life are to you.  Remember the small things in in our worship service that give meaning to your life, like a particular song or a candle in your hand.  Thank God for all the small blessings your enjoy.  Consider what a difference it might make to the world if we each focused on just loving the people in our own small corner of the world.  Think about giving small gifts at Christmas – maybe even something you didn’t plan for.  Give the gift of forgiveness to someone who doesn’t deserve it.  Give the gift of your time to someone who wants to be with you.  Give the gift of surprise to someone who isn’t expecting anything from you.  Give the gift of love again and again.  It is the gift God gave to us in his small son.

 

Merry Christmas,

Pastor Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 12/23

Dear friends,

We are oh, so close to Christmas now.  Christmas Eve is tomorrow night.  As I ponder the coming Christmas celebrations this year I am again struck that God would choose to become like one of us.  The great Christmas Carol “Once in Royal David’s City” describes the incarnation this way in the third verse:

Jesus is our childhood pattern; day by day like us he grew;

He was little, weak and helpless; tears and smiles like us he knew;

And he feels for all our sadness, and he shares in all our gladness.

 

I know this verse is intended to touch the hearts of children, but it touches my heart.  How is it that God intentionally decided to become little, weak and helpless.  I suppose being human is the one thing “God” might not have known about – that it hurts to skin your knee, and it can be scary to be ill, and frustrating when your fingers don’t work right.  God became like one of us, knowing tears and smiles so he could empathize in our sadness and share in our gladness.  Of all the things we believe about the incarnation, this is the one thing I ponder over and over again.  God became one of us.  God became like us

 

As you make your final preparations for Christmas, I invite you to ponder the incarnation.  Think of God in a manger and be in awe.

 

Here’s a Youtube of the carol in case you want to listen:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHLy6bu955M

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 12/22

Dear friends,

I received a gift at my door today from a dear member of the church today – jar of pickles!  How kind.  I like pickles. 

 

The pickles actually reminded me of the pickle ornament on my tree.  It was given to us about 20 years ago when we first moved to Sturgis Michigan.  The giver told us everyone has pickles on their Christmas Trees in Michigan, and he was surprised we had never heard of this tradition.  I was actually raised in Michigan and never had a pickle on my tree, so I didn’t know what he was talking about.  Still we hung the green glass ornament on our tree and I have wondered about it ever since.

 

So today, having gotten a jar of pickles as a Christmas gift, I looked up the tradition of the pickle on the Christmas tree.  Turns out it’s a tradition with a bit of a sketchy history.  The tradition purports the “pickle in the tree” idea comes from Germany, although the Germans dispute this as they don’t hang pickles in their trees.  So perhaps it’s an American tradition?  Where ever the idea got started, apparently after the tree is completely decorated, the green glass pickle is supposed to be the last ornament hung – usually by the parents late at night.  In the morning the child who finds the pickle gets an extra gift.  That seems a nice tradition.  Too bad I didn’t know about it when my children were little.  On the other hand they might have destroyed the tree trying to find the pickle first, so maybe it’s just as well.  I had competitive children.

 

In contrast to the pickle game, I invite you to remember the best gift at Christmas is God’s gift of himself to all of us.  God became small and finite and crept into our world.  A few people saw him and discovered his whereabouts in those first few weeks of life and they marveled at him and were never the same.  Rest assured, however, his presence became widely known and the gift of his love is endless.  It’s a gift that is not hidden or reserved for one child.  It is for all of us.  It is for you.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 12/21

Dear friends,

I lost a dear friend to Covid 19 last week.  Fran Zimniuch died last Wednesday night/ Thursday morning.  He died at home alone and they found him on Thursday.  I want to be happy, happy with you today.  It’s only five days until Christmas!  But it occurs to me that there are a lot of people who are sad with me in this year of too much sadness… and since tonight is the longest night, perhaps it’s ok to be sad together.
 
I hope you will indulge me to tell you a little about my friend.  Fran and his wife Gina were members of the church my husband Mike and I built in New Jersey.  They were at the very first service at the Lilly Elementary School in Gloucester Township.  They loved the church and poured their life into it alongside several key families in the church.  Fran and Gina had two boys about the ages of my older two sons and we quickly bonded.  We were in and out of each other’s homes.  Gina was in the church choir, a member of our church playgroup and our church secretary.  Fran sat on several committees of the church and always kept our congregation laughing.  The picture of them and their sons was taken by Mike in the mid 90s in our backyard at a church event.  After eight years Mike and I moved back to the midwest to pastor a different congregation, but Fran and Mike remained close talking on the phone and meeting up when Fran’s business travel brought him nearby.  When Fran and Gina’s oldest son died suddenly a few years ago, Mike and I flew back to do the funeral.  This summer when Fran discovered Mike’s church had online services, Fran became a regular attender.  Mike texted Fran just two weeks ago to get a time to catch up, so when Fran’s youngest son called on Saturday to tell us Fran was dead, we were shocked.
Our story is repeated all over the country right now.  Covid has stolen our loved ones.  It has cut life short for too many.  We know that death is a reality.  We all expect to die.  But we also expect to live to a reasonable age.  When a child’s life is taken, or a young person dies, or a parent with young children dies, or even when someone dies in their 60s, we say their life was cut short and we grieve all the more.  It doesn’t feel fair.  In fact the scriptures acknowledge that life is sometimes cut short.  Isaiah includes a psalm written by King Hezekiah when he was very ill and expecting to die.  It begins:

I said, “In the prime of my life

    must I go through the gates of death

    and be robbed of the rest of my years?”

11 I said, “I will not again see the Lord himself

    in the land of the living;

no longer will I look on my fellow man,

    or be with those who now dwell in this world.

Hezekiah begged for help from the Lord and the Lord saved him.  But we know there are times when death comes to early even in the bible.  Adam and Eve effectively lost both of their sons when Cain killed Abel.  King David and Bathsheba lost their first son.  Job lost his whole family.  And God lost his son Jesus when he died on the cross.

In the midst of grief it helps me to remember that God knows what it is to grieve the loss of a beloved child, and that God has decided death most die. Our Father raised up Jesus to everlasting life and gave him back to those who grieved with a promise that death has ultimately been undone.  This is our great hope as Christians.  I hold this hope as you do.
 
In the meantime, however, I am sad that I will not hear Fran making jokes on the phone sending my husband into hysterics.  I will miss his warm smile and too kind words to me.  I think it’s ok for Christian people to miss those we have lost too soon.  Death always comes too soon when it’s someone we love.

 

Peace to all of you who are missing loved ones on this long night.

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 12/19

Dear friends,

We are having our family cookie bake this afternoon – virtually!  My husband and sons and I have been baking Christmas cookies together since they were very little.  When they grew older, they brought high school and then college friends home for the family cookie bake.  It was not unusual to bake 700 cookies in one day together.  They would be strewn all over the counter tops and tables.  Then we would wander the house to collect them in tins and on plates for sharing with friends and enjoying through the holidays. 

 

In the last few years cookie baking got spread out over the several states in which we all now live, but there was always at least one son and some friends to bake with.  This year I wasn’t sure Mike and I would bake cookies.  Then I got a call from my oldest son proposing a virtual family cookie bake.  We will gather at noon our time on zoom and bake in our respective kitchens for 2-3 hours.  We will chit chat, problem solve, tell stories and share our achievements and our disasters.  We’ll bring in the grandparents at the end to oo and ah at the results. As I write this, it occurs to me this is sort of a miniature of what family is all about.

 

In the communion liturgy there is a prayer I say every time we gather for the Lord’s supper.  It’s called the Great Thanksgiving.  The purpose of the prayer is to say thank you to God for all of God’s extraordinary blessings.  Toward the beginning of the prayer are these words:  We thank you and praise you, for in the beginning you created all things and you set us in families to live with you in faith on the earth. 

 

I am grateful for family today:  for my family of origin, for my parents and siblings and the grandparents that loved me as a child.  I am grateful for my husband and sons and their beloved.  I am grateful for my granddaughter, her parents, and my grandson on the way.  I am grateful for nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and for all of the people who have stepped into my life and have become surrogate family members.  I am grateful to live in faith with God in the company of these I love. 

 

I know you share this kind of gratitude.  Be sure you find safe and creative ways to live the life of faith and love with your family in these holy days.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 12/18

Dear Friends,

There’s something wonderful about waiting for a baby.  My oldest son, Stephen, and his wife, Elizabeth, are awaiting their first child.  They are expecting a baby boy in early April.  I smile every time I think about them.  It is a little hard waiting for this baby given how far away we live from each other.  They live in Los Angeles!  I’m not even sure I’ll be able to fly out when the baby is born given the uncertainty with the virus.  I am determined to get there one way or another.

 

In the meantime I am smiling and buying teddy bears and sewing.  I haven’t sewn in ages except to make a few masks, but I am a sewer of old.  I sewed baby quilts for all three of my sons and I’m at it again.  You can see the beginnings of my work in this picture.  This is no doubt the most difficult project I have ever tackled.  I made the mistake of asking for input from my son and daughter-in-law.  Stephen came back with the idea that I could sew a picture out of the book Babar’s museum of art.  The picture Stephen wanted is Laurent De Brunhoff’s version of “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat.  All the people in the picture are drawn as elephants.  It’s a super fun picture to look at but very complicated as a quilt project!  I am making some modifications to make it possible.  You can see here I have the background finished.  I am now working on creating the people.  I get pretty frustrated from time to time as I try different techniques.  But I just keep remembering the little child who will hopefully love it.

 

We are all currently awaiting the anniversary of a special baby’s birth that happened 2000 years ago.  When he was born to Mary and Joseph, I imagine the preparations they were able to make were small.  I imagine Mary went through her scraps of cloth and ripped long strips in which to wrap her baby.  Perhaps she rolled them and tucked them in a sack to carry on the long journey to Bethlehem.  Beyond this simple task there was very little she would have been able to do.  There was no baby room to prepare, to clothes to stitch and no cradle to build.  Babies in peasant families were swaddled in strips of cloth and laid in mangers to sleep as was Jesus.  What I’m sure Mary and Joseph did was prepare their hearts to love this baby.  I’m sure they thought about the baby and prayed for the baby and rejoiced a child was coming.

 

I wonder what you are doing to prepare for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas.  I hope you think about him and pray to him and rejoice that you are blessed to love him more this year.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 12/17

Dear friends,

I like this nativity picture.  Some might say it’s not complete, and it’s not.  The baby Jesus isn’t there yet.  But I like how Mary and Joseph are looking for him.  He’s not there yet, but they are intend on seeing him.

One of the odd things about being a pastor is that I am often way ahead of the congregation in the holy seasons of the church.  I always notice this at Christmas time in particular.  I begin Advent a week before everyone else when I am preparing my first Advent sermon usually before Thanksgiving.  My Christmas Eve message is now prepared and it isn’t even 4th Advent yet.  It is part of life for pastors.  I’m never quite sure what day it is at this time of year!  That’s part of why I like looking at this picture.  Jesus isn’t there yet.  It’s still Advent, but Mary and Joseph are looking for him!  It’s a good reminder of what we should be doing at this time of year.

I had a lovely conversation with a member of our church today.  She was telling me all about some of the challenges in her family and at the same time recounting the blessings of God in the midst of those challenges.  It became clear as the conversation continued that this dear woman is someone who looks for God in her life every day and finds God faithful and present.

On this Advent day, may you look diligently for the presence of God and know that God is near whether you can see him or not.

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 12/15

Dear friends,  I was in awe of the sunrise this morning.  I woke my husband and sent him outside in the cold with his camera and photographer’s eye to get a picture of the St. Joe with the sun rising behind it.  You can see the big pink and purple cloud billowing off to the left in the picture.  The whole thing dispersed as the sun rose.

As we continue our Advent journey, I want to look for the light of Christ to disperse the clouds that have been hovering around us for many months now.  This is not a pie in the sky kind of statement as if Christmas will solve all our problems.  Much as I have hopes for better days in 2021 with the new vaccine, this is not what I’m talking about when I look for Christ to disperse clouds around us.  Rather, I am looking for Christ’s light to give hope and to shine on the goodness of God all around us in the here and now – even when life is hard.  People who have suffered great tragedies know the power of God in their lives often lets them find light and reflect light in even the darkest of circumstances. 

I found hope in this beautiful sunrise this morning and wanted to share it with you.

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 12/14

Dear friends,

This is a picture of our Advent wreath at home.  It was given to us by Mike’s sister years ago, but I don’t think I’ve actually ever used it as an Advent Wreath.  This wreath breaks into four pieces, and I usually put them out separately out on a shelf. 

 

I put it in a circle this year and added candles because we needed a reminder in the TV room when we were there to worship God.  We light it when we put on the worship service on Sunday mornings and watch with all of you.

 

The wreath actually shows the whole nativity story.  You can just see Mary and Joseph on the right side.  The wise guys take up two of the segments in the back.  The shepherd is holding a sheep on the far left and the angel that spoke to him is front and center in this picture.

 

I like that the angel is front and center in this picture because angels are at the heart of the story during Advent.  They come announcing important events to come.  The Angel Gabriel begins with Zechariah and Elizabeth announcing the coming birth of John the Baptism to this elderly couple.  He moves on to Mary six months later to announce the coming birth of Jesus.  In the passage I am preaching from this coming Sunday an unnamed angel appears to Joseph in a dream with words of assurance and some directions for what Joseph should do next.  Before the story is complete the Magi will receive a warning from an angel to head home by a different route so as to avoid Herod, and Joseph will receive further instructions about moving the holy family to Egypt.

 

I look for angels in this season – not the modern version in frilly white gowns and wings.  I look for Biblical angels – messengers from God.  That’s all they were in the Bible.  They were God’s messengers, bringing a word from the Lord.  And they often looked like ordinary people – no wings!  So I look for messengers in this season who will bring a word of the Lord to me.  Some of you have done so already with words of encouragement or acts of kindness. 

 

It’s an extraordinary thought to imagine that you might be an angel for someone at this time of year.  Yet every time you bring a bit of kindness or offer love or hope, I believe you are bearing God’s message into the world.  Keep it up, you angelic dear ones!

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



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