Happy Wednesday FPCE Family,
We don't often talk about things happening within the Presbyterian Church (USA), which of course we at FPCE are members. Especially during this closure time, we've focused mostly on talking with each other and figuring out how we go about the business of "doing church" in the present and near future within our own congregation and Edgewood church family. However, there are things that are taking place in the larger portions of our denomination that may interest you, as they eventually trickle down to individual congregations. You'll recall that the governing structure we belong to as Presbyterians is: local congregation, which belongs to a presbytery, which is part of a regional synod, all that make up the national bi-annual gathering called the general assembly.
Believe it or not, the 224th General Assembly (GA) actually did take place 2 weeks ago. Due to the unusual circumstances we find ourselves in, they made the decision to move to an entirely virtual convention. Typically, these are days-long events that involve hundreds of volunteers, a host city, many churches opening their doors for special services, thousands of delegates from congregations across the country, reports of committees, and long debates and votes on a series of overtures and amendments in a tediously precise parliamentary process following Robert's Rules of Order. (Sunny and I participated in the closing worship back in 2012 when GA was held in Pittsburgh at the David Lawrence Convention Center...they were running over on the final plenary session and we patiently waited in the backstage area for well over an hour before they were ready for us to begin, so we got to hear how it all happens!).
Attached, you'll find a PDF summary of the actions by this year's GA. You'll note that no major policy or rules changes were voted upon in favor of addressing them in person at the next GA in 2 years. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, some position statements and calls for action were adopted.
At the regional level, the Synod of the Trinity recently posted that they have begun a featured blog series called "Through My Eyes." Their description is as follows:
"During this time when the pandemics of both the coronavirus and our culture of racism cannot be ignored, this series titled “Through My Eyes” allows for those in the Synod’s bounds to share openly what they are experiencing on a regular basis. This is not meant to be a political forum, but instead a chance for people to express their personal feelings about what they are seeing and feeling during this unique time."
To read the first article, visit https://www.syntrinity.org/featured/through-my-eyes-i-am-not-ok/
Here in our own city, the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery, Sheldon Sorge, writes a regular message to the congregations in our area. His most recent letter from July 2, titled "Liberty and Justice for All," can be found (on their newly redesigned website...long overdue!) here: https://www.pghpresbytery.org/2020/07/liberty-and-justice-for-all/
In the absence of a pastor providing regular words of comfort, encouragement, and leadership, I thought it was worthwhile to hear what the leaders in our denomination are saying and doing. If you have a particular scripture, devotional, or site that you turn to for spiritual guidance that you think the members of our church family would benefit from, I'm happy to share in these email communications. My hope is to keep us feeling as connected as possible while we're not physically meeting...I will definitely admit it has felt odd and slightly unsettling in the past week not seeing any emails or texts from Michael as we were in the habit of communicating many times in a week.
One more final note/reminder: our sanctuary will be open for socially distanced congregation members to be seated in the back while we record the Sunday service on Friday at 1:00PM. The Rev. Kellie Weekley-Mills will again be at the pulpit. If you choose to attend: use the Swissvale Avenue entrance, wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, sit socially distanced in the back portion of piews, refrain from hugs, handshakes, and singing...but participating in the responses and prayers is encouraged!
The scripture in yesterday's "Upper Room" devotion encourages us in times of hardship to find the joy. From James 1:2-4...
2 My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. 3 After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing.
The Worship Committee invites anyone who wishes to attend the recording sessions on Friday afternoon for our Sunday worship services online. When arriving for the 1:00PM session, follow these health and safety guidelines:
Hello FPCE Family,
You know there are many translations of the Bible out there. One of them is called "The Voice," and it's written in a storytelling fashion, almost like a script. Here's their take on a familiar passage we all know:
Teacher: For everything that happens in life—there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven:
2 A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest;
3 A time to kill, a time to heal;
a time to tear down, a time to build up;
4 A time to cry, a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, a time to dance;
5 A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
6 A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
a time to keep, a time to throw out;
7 A time to tear apart, a time to bind together;
a time to be quiet, a time to speak up;
8 A time to love, a time to hate;
a time to go to war, a time to make peace.
9 What good comes to anyone who works so hard, all to gain a few possessions? 10 I have seen the kinds of tasks God has given each of us to do to keep one busy, 11 and I know God has made everything beautiful for its time. God has also placed in our minds a sense of eternity; we look back on the past and ponder over the future, yet we cannot understand the doings of God. 12 I know there is nothing better for us than to be joyful and to do good throughout our lives; 13 to eat and drink and see the good in all of our hard work is a gift from God. 14 I know everything God does endures for all time. Nothing can be added to it; nothing can be taken away from it. We humans can only stand in awe of all God has done. 15 What has been and what is to be—already is. And God holds accountable all the pursuits of humanity.
"The Voice" translation also has some commentary, and this speaks very well to us in our new season of change at FPCE:
The contrast between God and humanity could not be starker. The teacher drives this point home by reminding his reader that human lives and earthly accomplishments are fleeting. Nothing tangible is permanent. No work lasts. It all slips away and vanishes into thin air. Compare that to God. Everything God does is substantial. Everything God accomplishes lasts forever. Every word God speaks makes a difference. And so, God places within every person a sense of eternity to know yet not understand Him. This world with all its goodness and beauty is not as good as it gets. There is more, so much more, and we are made for that reality too. But not now, not yet.
So as we begin our transition to whatever the next chapter our congregation will be, we know in whom we must trust.
A few announcements to share with you:
Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future. - Robert H. Schuller
Many of us have hoped for the time when we could worship in person in the sanctuary. That hope can be partly realized tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. That is when Shaun, Sunny, John Foster (videographer) and I meet in the sanctuary to video record the worship service. And, it is my last Sunday in the pulpit. We will be celebrating the Lord’s Last Supper. You are invited to join us. But the session and worship committee invites you to follow these guidelines.
Hope in God is the only certainty people of faith have in times of uncertainty. May your hope be rekindled every morning and throughout the day.
One more thing. Like most ministers I bought a lot of books over the years. Some I am keeping. Some I am giving away. If anyone wants to sift through my library (history, theology, Bible commentary, fiction) I want to take what you would like. Let me know soon, ok? I will make sure the church and my office is open.
Perhaps it is the confluence of my retirement and Father’s Day, but I have been thinking about my father a lot recently. We had 57 years together and he liked me to call him Dad. No matter how young or old I was. We went through the various stages of our lives together although we were not able to talk about them much. I have loved my dad beyond words, and I have honored, feared, admired, resented, pitied, encouraged, and counseled him. My relationship and feelings toward him changed over our years together. No matter what stage of life we were in – he was always “Dad” to me.
I am thinking today, as I enter retirement, that God has always been God for me. I have gone through all the stages of my life with God, and, like my dad, not always able to articulate what I was feeling. I have loved, criticized, feared, delighted, resented, obeyed, disobeyed, praised, and complained to God. But God was always God to me.
The lesson – it is always important to at least hang around God during the days and nights of our lives. I know, “hang around” God sounds not-so-holy. But when we hang around God, it is amazing the places he will lead us, the people we meet, the trials we endure and the days we will rejoice and be glad. Do not fear, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Is. 43: 1)
No matter what stage of life you find yourself in, no matter what emotion you are experiencing, no matter how strong or weak your faith my be. Do not fear. Open your day with the simple prayer, “God, I want to hang out with you today…” and then pay attention to your day – we are being redeemed through it all.
Grace and peace,
Good afternoon brothers and sisters,
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.
And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying,
“This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Lk. 15: 1-2)
Look through the New Testament. Many are the times
Jesus stood with the common Jewish people – the forgotten, rejected, unclean outsiders
meanwhile the Jewish leadership looked on in judgement.
Jesus always…always stood with the common people, the poor, the unclean, the ones who were not accepted.
It is likely the Palm Sunday processional was a kind of protest march.
Earlier this week a member of our church asked my why there has not been mention of joining a protest gathering here in Pittsburgh. The person pointed to other nearby Presbyterian churches that are planning to attend one. The staff and some of the elders at Beulah Presbyterian did go to a prayerful and peaceful protest held front of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church a couple of weeks ago. I am embarrassed to admit I have never mentioned it. I would have gone myself, but being 67 with a tendency to develop deep chest colds decided that I would not march. Then I simply put it aside. How self-centered of me. I apologize.
On the other hand I hear others ask (voices tinged with anger and dismay) “Why all the protests? Why won’t people just go home? They made their point!” Clearly, Black Lives Matter protesters have been in the street many times before, gone home, and discovered that their voices were not heard.
Why are they out there? Consider this very uncomfortable reality. Five years ago a white supremacist walked into an African American church, entered into a room where primarily elderly black men and women were studying the Bible. Dylann Roof brazenly shot nine people to death. After the police apprehended him, they drove a hungry Dylann to a Burger King and bought him a meal. After the police threw George Floyd to the ground on the suspicion of using a counterfeit $20.00 bill – the arresting officer murdered George Floyd in public.
Racial injustice is alive and well in America. That is why people are in the street protesting. WWJD? What would Jesus do?
I know, and uncomfortable question during a very uncomfortable time. Christians can not look the other way.
Have a restful evening – and pray for our country.
Good late morning everyone,
Our cups runneth over… I don’t believe it is the same cup referred to in Psalm 23, as in “thou anointest my head with oil, my cup over flows.” We are holding a cup of bitter brew. It is the cup of trial, pain, and hurt. It is the cup Jesus refers to when he asks the two over-aspiring disciples, James and John, when they ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his coming kingdom. “Are you able to drink from the cup I drink from?” answers Jesus, referring to his impending trial and execution.
These days reveal the wisdom of the Apostle Paul (Romans 5): “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…” OK. So, God’s love is on the way. But right now the way is rocky, pot-holed, and deceiving.
Brothers and sisters, this will not last. Let’s keep our heads up and eyes forward. Heather posted a quote from a unique, creative, non-conventional thinker named Clarissa Pinkola Estes; “There will always be times in the midst of ‘success right around the corner but as yet unseen’ when you feel discouraged. I, too, have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.”
“We hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.” (Romans 8:25) Keep on keepin’ on, people! Stay the course.
Grace, peace, and love to all,
Pastor Michael (with a big assist from Heather)
Good morning brothers and sisters of faith,
In the midst of the chaos and confusion, we feel overwhelmed, overrun by events too big for us to manage or understand….
“What does the Lord require of us? the prophet Micah asks. God answers –
What does the Lord require, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
Did you notice?
When raging waters are rising and hot flames are ignited, every little act of justice, every small word of kindness, and gentle step matters. A lot.
Our nation is shaken to the core. We are looking at a steep uphill climb to get out of this. Keep the faith people, we worship a God who is greater than all of this. A God who has some basic, doable advice for us: Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly.
Sisters and brothers, let us pray, heart-deep, insistent prayers for peace. Amen?
Good evening brothers and sisters,
Such a beautiful evening, and an evening that brings sadness to our souls.
I am not the only one, I’m sure, who reacted with disgust and horror as the police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of an unarmed black man named George Floyd in Minneapolis, MN on May 25. Several other officers stood silently and idly by. As many police chiefs and officers across the country have said since that incident, those officers have dishonored and brought shame to the 95% of police officers who put their lives on the line to keep the streets and neighborhoods of our cities safe.
In the same way, over the past few days and nights, protestors justifiably gather across our nation to raise their voices in dismay and alarm about the injustice of George Floyd’s death. That is their right, protesting has been in our nation’s DNA since the Revolutionary War. Like the officers who oversaw the death of George Floyd, the protestors who are causing violence to erupt in the streets are bringing dishonor and shame to the well-intentioned and legal protestors.
With the nation trying to pick itself up after the pandemic shut down, as businesses are trying to safely do business again, as millions face an uncertain financial future, as tensions escalate with China; it is evident that of our nation, our people, and our faith are being sorely tried. These are difficult days.
As I watched the news late this afternoon, the words of Psalm 46 came to me. I remember my Old Testament Professor, Dr Donald Gowan, saying that Psalm 46 likely was written when the nation of Israel was confronting a dark and violent time. As we face these days, perhaps this powerful Psalm will speak to us. I copy it below.
Remember, tomorrow morning, is Pentecost. As the followers of Jesus faced a dark and uncertain future, God pour Holy Spirit over them. A day to rejoice and give thanks to our God who enters every darkened room with reason to hope. Shaun will send the video of the worship service to you in the morning. Look for it on the church website or Facebook page. I hope you will join us.
Grace and peace,
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
E-mail announcements and updates will be posted here in place of the devotions and messages from the pastor during our transition and search process.