Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Peace

When our astonishingly talented and creative worship planning team sits down to think about Advent, we like to consider the season as a whole. We ask ourselves a lot of questions. What do we hope will happen? What do we hope people will experience in worship? What are the particular needs of our congregation this year?

This year, although we never discussed it explicitly, we were all feeling a sense of the general hurry, rush and anxiety that pervades this season. People are busy; they feel overcommitted; there is not enough time to do everything. Sometimes, during this season of increased demands, the church can be one of the main culprits! In our desire to fulfill every dream and rehearse every tradition, to keep up every custom, we end up placing greater burdens on ourselves. We increase our anxiety and decrease our peace, in order to prepare for the Prince of Peace!

I’m intentionally scaling back my own activities this year, in order to focus on those which are most important to me, and to the church. With the help of the worship planning team and many talented church members, our worship for Advent will center on three dramatic presentations of the Gospel story. We’ll have lots of opportunities for quiet and calm, and plenty of chances to sing all of our favorite Christmas carols. No big productions with a cast of thousands – just the simple honest presentation of the most important story we know: the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Nazareth.

I want to challenge each one of you to do the same – to make peace in your life this Advent and Christmas. I challenge you to intentionally slow down and savor this beautiful season. Even if you can only do this for a few days, or a day, or an hour, give yourself permission to STOP! Drink a cup of cocoa; drive around and look at Christmas lights; put on the Christmas music and sit still for a while; play some games with the family; read a book out loud together.

Many years ago, when I was a volunteer church educator, I wrote a little essay about Christmas. In it, I described my frantic rush to get everything done. I want to share a bit of this essay with you, in hopes that you, too, will find a place of peace, so that you may greet the Prince of Peace as he is born anew in you this season.

"Christmas Peace"

Even though I think I am fairly well organized, there is always some forgotten task that must be accomplished at the last minute. The newsletter! The baking! That year-end report for the client! How in the world am I going to get ten sets of angel wings ready by 7:00 on Christmas Eve? What would be better, tulle or gauze? I hope I can staple the gauze and the staples won’t catch on anyone’s hair. Will the glitter end up all over the choir loft? What if I don’t have enough wings for everyone? There are only six angels signed up, but I know that when the wings are produced, the rest of the heavenly host will appear, as suddenly as they were there with the angel that spoke to the shepherds. Will any prospective angels agree to be shepherds at the last minute? Not if I know the heart of a seven-year-old girl they won’t. One look at those wings, and there will be a free-for-all. Better make twelve sets.

And then, it happens. As I stand holding the wings of an angel, it creeps over me. No sudden apparitions, no annunciation, no host of heavenly beings. Just a stillness, a quiet awareness of the peace of Christmas. All is well. The Christ Child will be born again this year in the stable. The shepherds will kneel in awe while the angels sing. Mary’s heart will be full, her spirit open to God’s voice. What needs to be accomplished will be accomplished. There may be no room at the inn, but the baby will come anyway. The angels will don their wings and climb into the choir loft. Their haloes will shift around on their shining hair, and they will nudge one another as they try to see their parents in the congregation below. As the candles are lit, the angels will sing, but I will be silent in the ineffable stillness. For I am touching the wings of an angel. The glitter will fall to the pew cushions in a silver shower. I will arise with the shepherds, and we will say to one another, “Let us go now unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us!”

May the Peace of Christmas fill your heart.

Pastor Christina

Sunday, November 21, 2010

This year for our Thanksgiving service, we shared our "glads" and heard these two meditations on gratitude. May you be blessed with gratitude, not only this week, but in every moment of your life.

Psalm 118: 24

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In the classic children’s story by Eleanor Porter, eleven-year-old Pollyanna is a little girl who has grown up out West with her penniless minister father. Her mother has died, and Pollyanna and her father get by on his meager salary, supplemented by the kindness of his congregation, and the donations which arrive in the mission barrel. But then, her father dies, and she is sent to live with her stern, rich aunt. The aunt does not care for children. She puts Pollyanna in a dusty attic room, and punishes her by sending her to the kitchen to eat with the servants, and giving her only bread and milk for supper. Still, Pollyanna is cheerful and happy. Nancy, the servant girl, wonders why. Pollyanna explains “the 'just being glad' game."

"Why, we began it on some crutches that came in a missionary barrel. You see I'd wanted a doll, and father had written them so; but when the barrel came the lady wrote that there hadn't any dolls come in, but the little crutches had. So she sent 'em along as they might come in handy for some child, sometime. And that's when we began it… the game was to just find something about everything to be glad about--no matter what.”

How can a child who hopes for a doll be glad about finding crutches? Nancy wonders. And Pollyanna explains that it is easy -- By being glad that she does not need crutches.

In her aunt’s household and small town, Pollyanna immediately begins to teach the glad game to everyone she meets – even the town minister.

The Rev. Paul Ford was sick at heart. Month by month, for a year past, conditions in the parish under him had been growing worse and worse; until it seemed that now, turn which way he would, he encountered only wrangling, backbiting, scandal, and jealousy. He had argued, pleaded, rebuked, and ignored by turns; and always and through all he had prayed -- earnestly, hopefully. But to-day miserably he was forced to own that matters were no better, but rather worse.

Two of his deacons were at swords' points over a silly something that only endless brooding had made of any account. Three of his most energetic women workers had withdrawn from the Ladies' Aid Society because a tiny spark of gossip had been fanned by wagging tongues into a devouring flame of scandal. The choir had split over the amount of solo work given to a fanciedly preferred singer. Even the Christian Endeavor Society was in a ferment of unrest owing to open criticism of two of its officers. As to the Sunday school -- it had been the resignation of its superintendent and two of its teachers that had been the last straw, and that had sent the harassed minister to the quiet woods for prayer and meditation.

Pollyanna, out for a walk, came across the minister, who told her he was unwell. Pollyanna asked, “Do you like being a minister?”

The Rev. Paul Ford looked up now, very quickly. "Do I like -- Why, what an odd question! Why do you ask that, my dear?"

"Nothing -- only the way you looked. It made me think of my father. He used to look like that -- sometimes."

"Did he?" The minister's voice was polite, but his eyes had gone back to the dried leaf on the ground.

"Yes, and I used to ask him just as I did you if he was glad he was a minister."

The man under the tree smiled a little sadly. "Well -- what did he say?"

"Oh, he always said he was, of course, but 'most always he said, too, that he wouldn't stay a minister a minute if 'twasn't for the rejoicing texts."

"The -- what?" The Rev. Paul Ford's eyes left the leaf and gazed wonderingly into Pollyanna's merry little face.

"Well, that's what father used to call 'em," she laughed. "Of course the Bible didn't name 'em that. But it's all those that begin `Be glad in the Lord,' or `Rejoice greatly,' or `Shout for joy,' and all that, you know -- such a lot of 'em. Once, when father felt specially bad, he counted 'em. There were eight hundred of 'em."

"Eight hundred!"

"Yes -- that told you to rejoice and be glad, you know; that's why father named ‘em the `rejoicing texts.'"

Oh, yes," nodded Pollyanna, emphatically. "He said he felt better right away, that first day he thought to count 'em. He said if God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it -- some. And father felt ashamed that he hadn't done it more. After that, they got to be such a comfort to him, you know, when things went wrong; when the Ladies' Aiders got to fight -- I mean, when they didn't agree about something," corrected Pollyanna, hastily. "Why, it was those texts, too, father said, that made him think of the game -- he began with me on the crutches -- but he said 'twas the rejoicing texts that started him on it."

Philippians 4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Hebrews 12: 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe;

Just about a year after my Dad died, Mom was diagnosed with cancer. She's been a trooper about it, though there have been times when she was very low. Recently, she was asked by a family in her church to write something about one of a list of Christian virtues, as a graduation gift to their son. Mom picked the virtue of gratitude.

Gratitude by Carolyn Shultz
My large Britannica dictionary defines gratitude as the state of being grateful, thankfulness. Remember when you were a very little boy, being taught to say “please” and “thank you”? Well, nothing has changed, as adults we still have the obligation to use those words, especially “thank you”. God commands (not a hint or a suggestion) that we thank him “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1st Thessalonians 5:18) It is not an option. It is also in Ephesians 5:20 “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”.I admit that this is not always an easy task, but since he commands us to do it, it must be possible. Many of His commands are hard to obey and as we grow in maturity, they seem to be more and more difficult. More maturity, more understanding of spiritual things , demands obedience that is often not within the capability of a child. In his drama King Lear Shakespeare puts these words in the mouth of the spurned King. “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.”..Our Father God is far more deserving of our gratitude. Are we wounding Him when we fail to obey this command?
I have been very blessed. A Christian husband, healthy children, good health for the most part of my life, and a church that teaches God’s word. I have (hopefully) recovered from cancer and had good care. I have enough that I am able to share with my church and others. I try to maintain an attitude of gratitude in my life and am very humbled by God’ goodness to me. When I fail He is still there for me when I confess to Him. Ist John 1:9 keeps me in a right relationship with Him as well as my fellow believers. What a wonderful promise He has given to us. I’m thankful for that too - and oh so many others.
Life isn’t always easy, but as Christians we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us and comfort us in times of difficulty, as well as others who pray for us. I will be praying for you.


Welcome to First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, Illinois!

We're glad you found our home on the web, and we hope that if you are in Sterling you'll find us in God's house. We're "First on Second" - our building is at 410 Second Avenue, right at the corner of Second Avenue and Fifth Street.

We meet for worship every Sunday at 9:30 AM. Our worship service is unique - we use an order of worship, but we are not formal; we use new songs and old hymns; we share and laugh, but we take our faith seriously. On a given Sunday you may hear guitar and drums, violin, pipe organ, bells, keyboard and piano -- our music is inspiring, beautiful, and energizing!

Coffee fellowship is immediately following worship, and Christian Education for all ages begins at 11:00 AM. Our office is open Monday - Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM; usually we are away during the noon hour.

On days other than Sunday, you'll find First Presbyterian Church all over Sterling -- working at various ministries and mission that we support. Our members are active in our community, and our mission support is shared with FISH food pantry, PADS shelter, Feed the Children, Church World Service, Good Neighbor Emergency Center, Alateen, public school partnerships, Head Start, YWCA ... the list goes on.

As a part of our effort to help our neighborhood, First Presbyterian Church, in partnership with the YWCA, hosts free Peace Camps for kids on school days off. We welcome elementary age children to spend the day with us; YWCA and church volunteers offer a fun day of games, crafts, stories, music, and activities. Our next Peace Camp will be on January 17 from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM. Breakfast and lunch are included.

We share our building with AA, Boy Scouts, Alateen, the Early Head Start Baby Store, an aerobics class, and with other groups in the community who need space.