Monthly letter from Pastor Catherine

 
 
 
January 2020
 
Dear Faith Community,

As I write on December 17, the sun came up this morning at 7:14 a.m. and will set this afternoon as 4:21 pm., so that the day is more dark than light.  In Chicagoland, night is polluted by artificial light – so many light bulbs aglow. Darkness is complete and deep over in Michigan or up in Wisconsin, way out in the country. When city people come to visit, they get jumpy after dark. Christian people do too, leading me to wonder where we got the idea that darkness exists chiefly to be vanquished.

Biblically speaking, darkness is the pits. In the first testament (Old Testament), light stands for life and darkness for death. When God is angry with people, they are plunged into darkness. Locusts darken the land. People grope in the dark without light, for the day of the Lord is darkness and not light.

In the second testament (New Testament), light stands for knowledge and darkness for ignorance. When the true light comes into the world, the world does not know him. He has come so that everyone who believes in him should not remain in the darkness, but they love darkness more than light. On the day he dies, darkness descends on the land from noon until three. First John sums it up: “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”

This strikes me as a problematic teaching here at the end of Advent, the church season of deepening darkness, when Christians are asked to remember that we measure time differently from the dominant culture in which we live. We begin our year when the days are getting darker, not lighter. We count sunset as the beginning of a new day. However things appear to our naked eyes, we trust that the seeds of light are planted in darkness, where they sprout and grow we know not how. This darkness is necessary to new life, even when it is uncomfortable and goes on too long.

Ask any expectant mother if she wants her baby to come early and she will say no, she does not. As badly as her back hurts, as long as it has been since she has seen her toes, she is willing to wait because the baby is not ready yet. The eyelashes are ready, but not the fingernails. The kidneys are ready, but not the lungs. Those wing-shaped sacks are still preparing to make the leap from fluid to air. There is still more time to do in the dusky womb, where the baby is growing like a seed in the dark.

The child’s parents may never be ready, especially if this is their first. They want this; they are terrified of this. They planned for this; they cannot imagine how this happened. Meanwhile, they have a few baby-less weeks to go, which they can put to good use. They can make sure the nursery is ready. They can learn to sing some lullabies. They can think about what it means to bring a human being into the world, and what it will take to raise this child up into his or her full humanity. All they cannot do is hold a baby in the light, because the baby is still in the dark.

The church waits like this during Advent—adamantly refusing to sing the songs pouring from loudspeakers at every shopping mall, stubbornly counting the days, puritanically declining to open any presents—because the baby is not ready yet, which means that we are not ready either. We have some time in the dark left to go.

There is one word for darkness in the Bible that stands out from the rest. It shows up in the book of Exodus, at the foot of Mount Sinai, right after God has delivered Torah to the people: “Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (20:21).

This is araphel, my concordance says, the thick darkness that indicates God’s presence as surely as the brightness of God’s glory—something God later clarifies through the prophet Isaiah, in case anyone missed it earlier. “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the Lord do all these things” (Isa. 45:6–7).

Here is a helpful reminder to all who fear the dark. Darkness does not come from a different place than light; it is not presided over by a different God. The long nights of Advent and the early mornings of Easter both point us toward the God for whom darkness and light are alike. Both are fertile seasons for those who walk by faith and not by sight.

Even in the dark, the seed sprouts and grows—we know not how—while God goes on giving birth to the truly human in Christ and in us.

For “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light” ~ Isaiah 9:2.

God’s blessings of growth in the New Year,

Pastor Catherine

 
 
December 2019
 
 
 
Dear Faith Community,

Do you know what the problem with Advent hymns is? Nobody wants to sing them. Well, at least they aren’t as popular as the Christmas carols. Throughout the years of my ministry, I would select “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” or “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” for the service on the first Sunday of Advent – and people would tolerate them. But, if on the second Sunday, I used more Advent hymns, someone would stop me after the service and ask, “Can’t we sing some Christmas carols? As the Sundays of Advent, and my years in ministry, progress – I use less Advent hymns and more and more Christmas carols during the four weeks of Advent.

The problem is that Advent is out of sync with our culture. On the church calendar, the liturgical year begins with Advent, which starts four Sundays before Christmas Day. On the street, however, the weeks leading up to December 25 are the “Christmas season,” for which Christmas music, both secular and sacred, is the soundtrack. So, to be singing Advent music in church during the period seems to many to be discordant. If, in addition, I wouldn’t put Christmas carols into worship until Christmas Eve – and then continue singing them for two more weeks – covering the time period the church calendar designates as the “season of Christmas” – exactly when the rest of the world has moved on to other music, I would be putting the church at variance with the culture once more.

Maybe the real issue with Advent hymns isn’t the competition from the carols, but that Advent doesn’t have a primary theme the way Christmas does – with its birth-of-Christ story.

There are some parallels between Advent and Lent, with each being a preparatory season for the one to follow (Advent for Christmas, Lent for Easter). Lent is better known as a time for penitence and renewal, whereas Advent tends to be overshadowed by the secular “Christmas holidays” – but that is even more reason to take meditative Advent breaks from the roar of the festivities to focus on spiritual growth and renewal.

To emphasize, I said that Advent doesn’t have a primary theme the way Christmas does – Advent has several good themes that are very worthwhile for our faith and our lives. We shouldn’t run unthinkingly through this Advent season.

This Advent season, to emphasize these great Advent themes, I’ve decided to speak of the highways which are used for traveling on and moving through somewhere – to get from one place to another. We run our cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and sometimes our feet on the highways of life, often without seeing what we run through in order to reach our destination. I’m not trying to rush you through Advent. I want your journey through this liturgical season to be filled with understanding, appreciation, gladness, and growth in God’s Spirit.

Come travel the highways of Advent with me – and pay attention to the scenery.

On the Way of Jesus Christ,

Pastor Catherine
 
 
 
 
 
November 2019
Dear Faith Community,

How many of us watch the morning, evening, or constant streaming of the news these days? Many of us would rather pull our nails out by the roots than to be barraged with the death, destruction, fear, fracturing, hatred, heartlessness, insanity, inhumanity, . . .  presented each day.

What does our faith in Christ Jesus say about this?

Hear these words of fortitude and hope from one facing certain martyrdom in the first century:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you:

            proclaim the message;

            be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable;

            convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine

but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desire, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.                                                                                    2 Timothy 4:1-5

More present-day prophets have said:

                          Be the change you want to see in the world.             

                                                                                                Ghandi

                       People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered;

                        forgive them anyway.

            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.

            If you are successful, you will win some false friends, and some true enemies; succeed anyway.

            If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.

            What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.

            If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous; be happy anyway.

            The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway.

            Give the world the best you have and, though it may never be enough; give the world the best you have anyway . . .

            You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it never was between you and them anyway.

                                                                                                Mother Theresa (now St. Theresa)

 Dedication, courage, and faith in things hoped for – on The Way of Jesus Christ,

Pastor Catherine   

      

 
October 2019
Dear Faith Community,
I heard some earth-shattering news the other day – a fourth-grade student felt overwhelmed at school, didn’t know how to calm herself, so fell on the school floor with a cover over her head. One of the school janitors, who spoke very little English but who had shown compassion to this girl previously, joined the girl on the floor, stroked her hair, and made soothing sounds until she quieted. The janitor’s acts of compassion were appreciated enough to make national morning news! Wow, such little effort made such a big impact!
 
On one of those days when there was too much to do and too little time to do it, I rushed to the local deli and was greeted by an angry, “What do you want?”. After placing my order, I realized that God was giving me an opportunity to grow personally. I gave the woman a half smile and asked, “Bad day?” Then came a flood of all the things that had gone wrong – meat-slicer had broken, workers not showing up, and on and on. I said something like, “Wow, that really is a bad day! Sure hope things get better. God bless you.” As I moved to the check-out lane, I glanced back to see a smile on the worker’s face. All it took to help make her day a little better was for someone to show some kindness.
 
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Galatians 5:16-25
 
This reading describes qualities that Jesus modeled for us and challenges us to aspire to be more like Christ. When we pray to grow Christlike in our actions, God will give us opportunities to show just how we have grown – often in the most ordinary places.
 
Blessings on The Way,
Pastor Catherine
 
 
 
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Crossroads Kids Club at Tioga 

~ Faith Community in Action ~

One-by-one they arrive at the school – laden with curriculum notebooks – ready to show their identification – allowed to enter the fortress – coming with one purpose in mind – to share the love of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ with the Tioga Wolves! (That’s the Tioga Elementary mascot – the Wolves).
Our first afternoon of Crossroads Kids Club was a success! Nine 3rd-5th grade students attended with 13 volunteer mentor/teachers from Faith Community. This dynamic team is composed of the following people: Jan Zator, Virginia Skinkys, Kathy Dewart, Barb Seltzer, Heather Smith, Rexene Carlstrom, Sue and Keith Schmitz, Randy Putman, Leo Figueroa, Kevin DeCherrie, and Jim Hamill.
With the leadership of Pastor Catherine and Matt Armstrong (founder of Crossroads Kids Club) this tremendous team prevailed against the unexpected onslaught of PTA parents competing for space and attention while setting up their Book Fair in our shared space. But with awesome Bible storytelling, science projects, praying, singing, and dancing to the “Nae Nae” video, our Faith Community crusaders prevailed even over the offer by a mom of either soccer or Kids Club!
Energized by compassion, commitment, and craziness – this team will continue telling the story of God’s Love every Wednesday during the school year – until the last Wolves shall lie down with the lambs!
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