Mission Moments for 2022                        

“Vision of Peace” ~ December 4, 2022, Second Sunday of Advent ~ Isaiah 11:1-10

On this second Sunday of Advent, we welcome the prophet Isaiah into our midst. The Biblical prophets are not those who foretell the future. Instead, like all of the Biblical prophetic voices on record, Isaiah reveals what is hidden in this present moment. Because it is timeless, his writing is as potent and powerful on this first Sunday of December in the year 2022 as it was in the year that he first wrote them, about three thousand years ago.

Like his sister and brother prophets, the reality that Isaiah reveals brings difficult and joyful news together. So being willing to hear the prophets is really about being able to receive both Divine challenge and Holy comfort. That’s because the world as we know it, and the world as Mary and Joseph knew it as they began their journey to Bethlehem, and the world that Isaiah knew it as he put ink to papyrus, may seem different, but really they are much the same.

Like Isaiah, like the Christ child’s parents, we also yearn for a time when the meek will receive equity and children will not experience the terror of violence as they make their innocent way in the world. Like them, it is our yearning that brings us to the hope of a Messiah, one to show us the way where our human imagination has come to an end. And so, we draw close to the manger, to the one who will bring us the comfort, as well as, the challenge that the prophets foretold.

As you hear the words of the prophet today, in all their joy and difficulty, take some time to reflect on these questions:

Who are the prophets – the ones who reveal truth, even if it is uncomfortable – in your own life? In the life of your church congregation?

What does your community do to respond to the yearning that Isaiah expresses and that so many feel for equity and justice? What could you do that you are not doing yet?

How does the coming arrival of the Christ child fill you with hope? What other responses might the arrival of the Messiah bring up for you?

 

“Hold on to Faith”    2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 ~ Sunday, November 6, 2022     

It’s been almost a week since we celebrated Halloween. You might know Halloween as a day for trick-or-treating, costumes and kids’ parties. But did you know that it started as a holy day? In fact, the root word of Halloween (hallow) means holy. The ending of the word, “een” is short for “evening.”  Halloween is the eve of the Christian holiday of All Saints Day.

Traditionally, Halloween was the day to defy death, to shout to evil, “Our God is greater and we are not afraid of you!” Centuries ago, Celtic people gathered on this day around bonfires, wore costumes and enacted battles between forces of good and evil. Some of the rituals we still follow today, like scary costumes and jack-o-lanterns, continue that tradition.

All Saints Day, officially on November 1 but often celebrated in United Church of Christ congregations on the first Sunday in November, is a day to remember and honor saintly people in the past. On this day, we might recall those people in our congregation, family or wider church community who have had an impact on the world in God’s name. The following day, November 2, is officially All Souls Day. On this day, we honor everyone who has passed away, especially those who lived ordinary lives which did not garner recognition like the Saints. Many churches combine All Saints and All Souls celebrations as a reminder that God welcomes all into the tender arms of love and mercy in the life that is to come.

However you celebrated this week, or continued in your worship today, this week is a powerful one that can in many ways mirror the entire Christian journey. Beginning with the ancient rituals of Halloween, you have had the chance to look death in the face and proclaim that you are not afraid, because you know that eternal life God promises is stronger than death. Then, on all Saints Day, you recognize the power of those whose connection to God is especially visible. Finally, on All souls Day, you celebrate a God whose love encompasses all, now and into eternity.  Thanks be to God!

“Free to Grieve”    Psalm 137  Neighbors in Need Offering ~ World Communion Sunday, October 2, 2022     

The psalm today begins with weeping, as God’s people wonder how to sing God’s song

And so we hung up our harps,

   there upon the willows.

For there our captors asked us for songs,

   and our tormentors asked for mirth,

saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing God’s song in a foreign land?

In 1933, in a pause between the last century’s world wars, the first World Communion

Sunday was celebrated as a way to celebrate the interconnectedness of all Christians in all times and in all places. Today, 89 years later, the need for unity in our diversity is as great, or maybe greater, than it was in those fragile interwar years.

This mid-and-post-pandemic world in which we find ourselves is indeed a strange land, and we might be asking ourselves how we can sing God’s songs of justice, love and unity? Hope can be found in Gifts in Open Hands: More Worship Ideas for the Global Community, by Maren Tirabassi and Kathy Wonson Eddy. This book shares multicultural liturgies,

prayers, affirmations, blessings, and poetry by people from the global community. Images for reproduction in church bulletins are included, and a new feature is the arrangement of translations so that liturgies in other languages are available to English-speaking as well as bilingual worship planners. You can find that resource, and many more at The Pilgrim Press website, thepilgrimpress.com.

Today many UCC congregations receive the Neighbors in Need (NIN) offering. This special mission offering of the United Church of Christ supports ministries of justice and compassion in the United States. One-third of NIN funds support the Council for American Indian Ministry (CAIM). Two-thirds of this offering is used by the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) to provide funding grants to UCC churches and organizations leading justice initiatives, advocacy efforts, and direct service projects in their communities.  Find more at the United Church of Christ website, ucc.org.

“Growing in God’s Love”           1 Timothy 1:12-17         Faith Formation Sunday—Sunday September 11, 2022

The COVID pandemic brought unavoidable change to everything, including our churches. Change can be difficult and one area of change that is especially challenging for many churches is in the area of faith formation. Recalling the “good old days” of over-full Sunday School rooms and thriving Vacation Bible School programs may seem preferable to facing today’s reality.

If your community is mourning the changes that have been thrust upon it, remember that most congregations also have the opportunity to choose how to change in the future. Even as we look back at what was, we can ground ourselves in the hope and joy of what is now. Now, more than ever, our world needs the United Church of Christ and our unique voice. How might that unique voice be expressed in all areas of your life, including in your children’s faith formation program?

If you are still using a pre-pandemic curriculum, it might be time to take stock and choose a change in your Sunday School or other children’s programming. As you do, take your time and make sure that this change is thoughtful.

Ask yourselves: What age children are part of your community now? How might you include families with children who are not able to attend worship services regularly in your curriculum plans? What is most important to emphasize with your congregation and children: Faith practices?  Knowledge of scripture? Discipleship? Current affairs and issues?  What is the best modality for your children and teachers: Art? Storytelling? Detailed lesson plans? Asking these questions and more will guide you towards the plan or program that will serve your children and your congregation in the present moment and into the future.

There are several excellent guides to a wide variety of Christian education curriculum online. The most comprehensive is compiled yearly by Episcopal priest Sharon Ely Pearson on her blog “Rows of Sharon”.  Look around! The change you can choose is just around the corner!

August 2022             “Healing Reign”             Luke 13:10-17

For eighteen years the woman in today’s story suffered an ailment that kept her bent over and in pain. Jesus knew how to bring healing to the woman who suffered, but those around him wanted him to wait until after the sabbath. Jesus knew that suffering could not wait. If healing was available and ready at once, then it should be enacted.

Look around. What kind of suffering do you see in your region or neighborhood? Is there suffering that has been allowed to linger because it seems that it is never the right time to heal? What kind of healing can you and your congregation bring to those broken places?

Pray this prayer as you open your heart and mind to the suffering in your midst and the healing that might be available to alleviate that suffering.

Jesus, our friend and brother,

We breathe in and we breathe out.

With each breath in,

we receive the suffering of our neighbors.

With each breath out,

we exhale your healing power.

With each breath in,

we pray for courage and insight

With each breath out,

we become more like you.

With each breath in,

we feel your strength and clarity

With each breath out,

we step forward, reach toward.

Jesus, our friend and brother,

Guide us, we pray, as we breathe, pray, become, feel, step, reach, heal. Amen.

July 2022                                                 “Caring Neighbors”             Luke 10:25-37

This scripture is the story of the Good Samaritan. Listen to the story in the words of those who experienced it:

The Religious Official speaks

I always believed there are two kinds of people in the world – good ones and, well, not-good ones.  I, of course, have been blessed by birth and by training to be one of the good ones. I help when I can, but I tell myself that you can’t help them all. And so that day, I rushed right by that person lying beaten on the side of the road, as I had rushed so many times before. In my rush to get where I was going and do the “good” thing I had planned, I think I missed a chance. I can’t stop thinking of him and wondering if there was something more I could have done, wondering if “you can’t help them all” is just a justification to not help anyone. Since that day, I’ve been thinking that maybe the world is not so easy to divide into good people and bad ones.

The Man Beaten by Robbers speaks

I always knew that there are two kinds of people in this world – those who suffer and those who make others suffer. Until that day, I made sure that I was the one who made others suffer, so they couldn’t hurt me. Everyone feared my fists, and that’s why they hired me to walk that dangerous road. But that day, I let down my guard for a moment, and others found me, and beat me.               I thought I would die there, but instead I felt a cool cloth on my head, a gentle hand to bandage my wounds. Since that day, I’ve wondered if maybe the world is not so easy to divide into assailants and victims. The person who picked me up and helped me that day had no reason to help, he just did. Maybe the world isn’t all about avoiding suffering or inflicting it. Maybe there is another way to live – healing and helping – that I hadn’t noticed before.

The Samaritan speaks

Look, there are two kinds of people in this world. The right ones, like me, who know that God dwells on the holy mountain and the wrong ones, like him, who think God lives in a box in the city. When I saw him lying by the side of the road that day, I knew that he was one of the wrong ones. But in that moment, I also saw his pain was just like mine would have been. I saw that his blood was red just as mine is. And for some reason, I couldn’t walk away. Since that day, I’ve wondered if maybe God could be both in my mountain and in their city. Maybe the world is not so easily divided into us and them.

June 2022                                                 Gathered and Scattered”             Acts 2:1-21

Strengthen the Church Offering

The church year begins with Advent – the four weeks before Christmas. Then there is a short season of Christmastide, followed by Epiphany. Lent is the next season of the church year, which culminates in Holy Week and Easter. Eastertide, the season that follows   Easter ends with Pentecost, which is Sunday, June 5, 2022. After this, the church is in the long season known as Ordinary Time that lasts until Advent begins again in midwinter.

In thinking of the church year, for many churches, Easter is the high point of the year.  With its majestic music, resurrection message, shiny new dresses and egg hunts, it can feel like it’s all downhill from there. Pentecost can be easy to miss, just a stop on the way to the long stretch of ordinary time. But what if we framed it in a new way? What if Pentecost day – TODAY – was not a steppingstone but the culmination of all that we have been preparing for and the beginning of a new adventure?

On the first Pentecost Day, the disciples, mourning the perceived loss of Jesus and the life they had known with him, were ready to give up. Then the Spirit arrived! When they felt the Spirit’s presence, they were infused with new energy. New gifts flowed from them, giving them the power to speak to their neighbors of all languages. Even Peter, who had barely been able to put a sentence together until now, suddenly preached with flowing eloquence. The church received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost day, and everyone paid attention.

Like the disciples, we, in these post-pandemic days, are mourning what we have lost and are trying to adjust to the new normal of the lives we have now. Now, more than ever, let us receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, more than ever, let us perceive how that Spirit is already at work, empowering the gifts of our congregation. Now, more than ever, let us speak in the languages that those around us need to hear – a message of salvation and love that only we can tell.

Sunday, June 5th many churches will receive The Strengthen the Church (STC) Offering. STC reflects the shared commitment of people across the United Church of Christ to cooperatively build up the UCC. Conferences and the national setting equally share the gifts given by members and friends through their local congregations. The funds raised support leadership development, new churches, youth ministry, and innovation in existing congregations. By your generosity to this offering, you build up the Body of Christ.