Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/20

Dear friends,

 

My husband and I went to McNaughton Park yesterday to admire the snow and see the ice on the river.  While we were there we happened on a couple of squirrels who were chasing each other up and down one of the trees.  Then one of them decided to head on over to the next tree.  He leaped into 18 inches of snow and fortunately did not sink.  Then he started running or swimming through the snow as fast as he could.  Mike and I both broke up laughing.  I’ve never seen a squirrel swim through the snow!  I think he was happy to get to the next tree.

 

Sometimes we are like that squirrel.  We jump off into something and find we are in deeper than we imagined and wow, we have to scramble!  I think this year of pandemic has been like that.  We have been swimming through the snow for 11 months now and some of us are getting a little tired.  Ok… a lot of us are getting tired.  But I think the tree is just up ahead.  With vaccine distribution growing and the winter surge behind us, I am beginning to believe there is a new day coming! 

 

In the meantime we remember the words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica:

Rejoice always, pray continually,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  (I Thess. 5:16 – 18)  God is faithful still.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/19

Dear Friends,

 

I listened to a TED talk earlier in the week entitled 12 things I know for sure by Anne Lamott.  Some of you will recognize Ann Lamott’s name.  She is a novelist and non-fiction writer who is known for her insightfulness, humor and directness.  She doesn’t sugar coat things, but always seems to find hope. 
Ann is a recovering alcoholic who turned to God in recovery.  She is also a Presbyterian.  We in the Presbyterian church like to claim her.  She is so talented.  Ann’s Ted talk is delightful and I recommend it to you.  You can find it by clicking on this link:  https://www.ted.com/talks/anne_lamott_12_truths_i_learned_from_life_and_writing

 

I particularly liked what she had to say about God.  Here’s a short summary.  “God isn’t that scary.” Rather than getting trapped in the mundanity of our own lives, she tells us to “go look up. Now.”  She continues, “My pastor says you can trap bees on the floor of a Mason jar without a lid, because they don’t look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom. Instead, they walk around bitterly, bumping into glass walls.”

 

The psalmist also recommends looking up in Psalm 8.  Clearly the psalmist has gone out into night to gaze at the night sky and ponder the meaning of his life.  He writes: 

 

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

    the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,

    mortals that you care for them?  Psalm 8:3-4

 

The psalmist has looked up at the glory of the heavens and has realize that God is so much more that he – a simple human being.  The psalmist has looked outside himself and has found God to be pretty impressive.  Another thing Ann said in her TED talk was that “Not me” was a good name for God.  It was a throw away line, but it caught my attention.  Looking up to behold the glory of God, or recognizing there was something more important, more eternal than “me” is, I believe, I great way to live. When life begins to feel burdensome, it’s good to remember that one who holds the universe in his hand is “not me.”

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/18

Dear friends,

 

Theo (my voracious Basset Hound) ate an entire loaf of bread yesterday.  I certainly didn’t plan that he should eat it.  I had baked two loaves of whole grain bread so I could send one loaf with Mike to my parents when he went to Battle Creek to film.  The loaves were cooling in the center of the large Island counter in my kitchen where Theo should not have been able to reach them.  I went upstairs briefly but closed Theo out of the kitchen with the doggie gate.  Or at least I thought I closed him out!

 

Somehow he managed to open the gate and leap high enough to grab one of the loaves of bread of the center of the counter.  He ate the whole thing.  When I came downstairs he was standing below the counter and looking up at the second loaf of bread with interest.  I quickly ascertained I was short a loaf of bread and demanded, “What did you do?”  Tail between his legs he waddled toward the back door knowing he was about to be thrown outside.  His big belly swung from side to side.  It was like you could see the whole loaf of bread on his insides.  I sent him outside for a spell and put him on time out in the bathroom when he came back inside.  (It was too cold to leave him outside to weep and gnash his teeth.)

 

The rest of the day Theo was pretty sedate.  He laid about the house and I wondered if his tummy hurt.  I didn’t feed him supper, and he didn’t seem to notice although he started begging for a snack later in the evening.  No snacks for Theo!!!  Even thought I’m sure he had forgotten what he’d done, his belly was still large!  A snack was the last thing he needed.

 

I share this story with you because we have just entered the season of Lent when we are seeking to draw closer to our Lord.  Sometimes in this season we need to turn away from things that either hinder our relationship with God or are just generally bad for us.  We call this repentance when we desist from pursuing a wrong path, turn around, and take a good path that leads us toward God and the life God offers us.  It occurs to me, however, that sometimes we still end up suffering the results of our sin (our bad choices or behavior.)  Still God’s grace is evident.  God doesn’t leave us out in the cold and sometimes removes bad choices from us so we won’t do further damage to ourselves or others.

 

May you find the Lord drawing near as you walk this Lenten journey of personal renewal and faith.  God’s grace is everywhere around you.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/17

Dear Friends,

Here’s a poem for Ash Wednesday.

 

Marked by a cross,

cherished and forgiven

We are traveling home.

 

Called to be holy,

called to be happy

We are traveling home.

 

Across deserts,

over mountains

We are traveling home.

 

God in our hearts,

God in our lives

We are traveling home.

 

Peace be with you tonight,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/16

Dear friends,

 

Somehow the snow last night seems appropriate given that Ash Wednesday is tomorrow which marks the beginning of the Lenten season.  In the great confessional psalm of the Old Testament the Psalmist writes:

 

Have mercy on me, O God,

    according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy

    blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

    and cleanse me from my sin.

 

You desire truth in the inward being;

    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  (Psalm 51: 1-2, 6-7)

 

There is something wonderful about the Lenten season.  For me it always a time of figuratively getting my house in order.  It is a time set apart to focus on being more focused on my life with God.  Some of that has to do with ridding myself of bad habits like bad eating practices I often adopt in the winter months.  Some of it has to do with renewing my spiritual life with new practices or new concentration on the old practices that work for me.  It feels a little like airing out the stale air of winter and giving everything a good scrub.  I want to learn wisdom in this season.  I want to be washed whiter than snow.

 

So somehow it seems appropriate that it snowed last night.  God is calling us into Lent, into renewal, into new life.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/15

Dear friends,

I was talking with one of my sons yesterday who was expressing some concerns about his waning drive to get things done.  He said he seemed to need more sleep and that his enthusiasm for his work and his home projects was diminished.  He figured part of it was just pandemic.  He has been living in a single room in which he has eaten, slept and worked from home for 11 months now.  He is mostly alone although he has a house mate he rarely sees and goes to his office about every 10 days – 2 weeks where there are maybe two other people.  He said, “I just want to have a beer with my buddy from work, eat dinner with friends and hug my parents!”

I get it.  Don’t we all have a list of things we wish we could do!  We are all deeply weary of this pandemic and all the things we can’t do.  I think the weariness is magnified by the fact that it’s February.  I told my son, that I have learned over the years to just slog through February with the cold, the snow and the dark days.  Given that February has a habit of following January, this second month of the year is always the most difficult for me.  I try to not make any major decisions in February, to be generous and kind to people who irritate me, and to be patient with myself when I’m not at my best.  It’s February after all!

If you find yourself a little blue on February 15th let me just remind you, we are halfway through!  March is only 14 days away.  And although we may yet get another inch or so of snow today, there is warmer weather due by Sunday.  And although I hesitate to make any predictions about the pandemic, there is no question but what the numbers are dropping in Elkhart County.  We entered the “yellow” risk level today.  We haven’t seen numbers this low in Elkhart County since early May.  There is hope!

The psalmist found himself feeling low so many years ago.  Then he remembered coming into the presence of God and joining together with God’s people praising God.  He wrote:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my help and my God.”

The psalmist remembered his hope was in God.  Our hope is too.  We shall again praise him, our help and our God.

Peace,

Pr. Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/13

Dear friends,

Here’s a poem for Saturday. 

We cannot shake hands right now.  

We cannot hug or kiss cheeks.  

We cannot lean in to tell stories  

Or draw close to pray.  

We cannot pass the peace  

Or even pass the time in each  

other’s homes.  

We cannot eat together,  

Because the world is sick.  

So instead of holding each other,  

We hold distance.  

We hold masks.  

We hold statistics on the tips of our tongues.  

We hold fear,  

We hold space,  

We hold tense conversations.  

Maybe by the time you’re reading this,  

The day will have come  

For all God’s people to be gathered at Table.  

Maybe by the time you’re reading this,  

We will be eating together.  

Maybe we’ll be hugging.  

Hopefully there will be dancing  

And laughing and kissing  

And leaning in to tell stories,  

And throwing our heads back to laugh.  

But until that day,  

I will wiggle my toes  

And think of foot washing.  

I will eat sweet bread,  

Ravenously,  

And remember Communion.  

I will close my eyes,  

and picture your face.  

I will clasp my hands  

And know—  

As sure as one palm knows the  

other—  

That we are being held.  

We are being held together.  

                A Poem by Rev. Sarah Are, Written in Dec 2020

 

Peace,

Pastor Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/12

Dear friends,

I went with Mike the other day up to Battle Creek for his filming day.  I took my work with me and hung out in his office while he did his thing.  I like to go with him when I can because it gives me a chance to stop by and see my parents who live in Battle Creek.  They are in their 90s.

While we were in the church parking lot, two of the members of Battle Creek First came by.  They had been out visiting in the neighborhood as best as they could given the current Covid conditions. The Battle Creek church sits in the heart of downtown on “church row.”  There are about six large churches in a three block radius.  Behind the church, however, are some neighborhoods similar to the neighborhoods behind our church.  The Battle Creek church has a visitation program in one designated neighborhood.  They stop by several times a year “just to be a good neighbor.”  They check in on people (staying outside with masks and social distancing right now) and often bring a small gift.  They frequently mention to their neighbors they are welcome to come to church, but they are clear to one another they are not doing this to recruit new members. They had an extra gift at the end of the visitation and sent it home with Mike and me.  The cookie was homemade.  I expressed admiration for this ministry to them and Lisa, one of the team, said their visitation area was small.  They hope to expand their reach once we are through the bulk of the pandemic.

I was really impressed with this visitation ministry.  I especially liked their self understanding that they are just being “good neighbors.”  It occurred to me that it might be fun to take valentine cookies to my neighbors here in Elkhart just as a random act of kindness.  I wonder what ways you will share God’s love this weekend.

Peace,

Pastor Sally



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/11

Dear friends, 

My husband went up to Starbucks today and brought me back a latte while I was filming this morning – so sweet of him.  So while I was working and sipping, I needed a place to set down my hot drink.  Generally I set many of my things on the piano which is covered in the sanctuary.  There was a Bible sitting on that piano cover and I thought to myself, “That will provide a sturdy base on which to set my drink.”  Then I paused.  There was a memory that flashed into a mind.

Many years ago when I was still in seminary, I traveled with four other students to the Middle East for a summer of mission work and ecumenical connections with the Christians in the Middle East.  We spend eight weeks in Egypt and two weeks in the holy land under the sponsorship of the Middle East Council of Churches.  While in Egypt, we visited with Coptic Orthodox youth at their young adult gatherings.  We were also invited to the Middle East Council of Churches Youth Leadership conference at a camp on the Mediterranean Sea near Alexandria.  Many of our new friends were in attendance.  It was a memory from this conference that flashed through my mind.

We were in the midst of listening to one of the speakers.  Some of the young adults were translating for the Americans as the talk was in Arabic.  I had my Bible with me for the talk, but it was pointless to look up references while trying to stay focused on my translator, so I put my Bible on the ground under my seat.  At this point my translator stopped and pointed at my Bible.  Several other Egyptian youth frowned at me and began gently reprimanding me.  I should not put my Bible on the ground, they said.  My Bible contained the word of God and should be treated with the utmost respect.  I quickly brought the Bible into my lap feeling a little embarrassed at the incident.

As I began to think about what had happened it occurred to me that my Egyptian friends had a much higher value for their Bibles in part because they had only recently acquired Bibles.  They were Arabic readers and whereas Arabic translations of the Bible had been available for centuries, these were not written in common Arabic, nor readily available in print.  Additionally the Coptic Orthodox only allow the Bible to be read in Coptic – ancient Egyptian.  Consequently there were no Bibles in the home.  In the 1970s some new translations into Arabic were made available, one gospel at a time.  Then in 1979 The New Bible Society Translation was published by an ecumenical team of scholars approved by the Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholic and Coptic Evangelical (Presbyterian) churches.  The new Bibles used modern Arabic, was very readable and was widely available in print!  Our new Egyptian friends in 1982 were just discovering what it was to read the Bible.  They were thrilled and treasured their new Bibles.  No wonder they were stunned at the cavalier way I treated mine.

How do you treat your Bible?  Does it gather dust on a shelf or do you honor it with your attention.  Surely you don’t use it for a coaster for a hot drink.  I did not today as I paused remembering my Egyptian friends.  I found another place to set my latte while I worked, and I am giving thanks for those friends of years ago who have reminded me of just how precious is the Word of God which is available to us in English so we may read it!

Peace,

Pr. Sally

 

p.s. I do apologize for not publishing daily devotional the last two days.  I got overwhelmed with work and a personal matter.  This sometimes happens…



Pastor Sally’s Devotional 2/8

Dear friends,

 

I got an email from my daughter in law’s sister, Meredith, yesterday.  Meredith is planning the virtual baby shower that is planned in mid-February for my new grandson!  One of the gifts Meredith want to give my son and daughter in law is the gift of music.  She is looking for songs to share with them and the new baby.   I think it’s a lovely idea.  Meredith said it doesn’t have to be just children’s music.  She is looking for music that is special to the giver and will be special to Stephen and his wife.

 

So that got me to thinking about all of the music I have shared with my son Stephen over the years – lullabies, baby love songs, church songs, silly songs, musicals and beautiful choral music.  Stephen and I share a love of good choral music, and he sang in my children’s choirs and then adult choirs for years.  So much music.  In the last 24 hours my brain has been buzzing with the music that has been important to us over the years.

 

One of the songs I know I will share with Meredith is an arrangement of the ancient hymn of the western church called Ubi Caritas.  The original text is attributed to Paulinus of Aquileia in 796.  Stephen sang the Maurice Duruflé setting of a portion of this text in High School with his Madrigal choir.  They took a first at state for their performance.  You can listen to The Cambridge Singers singing this beautiful music here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6J3CL0Y2TE

Here is a translation of the Latin text:

 

Where charity and love are, God is there.

Christ’s love has gathered us into one.

Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.

Let us fear, and let us love the living God.

And may we love each other

with a sincere heart. Amen.

 

I love the first line.  Where charity and love are, God is there.  This remembering of music shared has reminded me that God is in the middle of the love I have for all my sons.  Love is holy thing.  God is present wherever there is love.  May you think of the beloved in your lives as you listen to the music above and give thanks for the love that have been given you.

 

Peace,

Pr. Sally



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