Happy Tuesday FPCE Family,
Did you know that we have a denominational magazine called Presbyterians Today? Of course there is an online counterpart to it. In addition to the articles in the print edition, there is also a blog that has entries submitted by pastors from across the country. The most recent was posted on August 7, and I share it with you today as a spiritual reflection for your week. Enjoy!
The pumpkin and the bee
by Ken Rummer
The pumpkin is bigger than a softball now, in dark green with a few warty bumps. It’s something of an accident.
Last fall, when our porch pumpkin sagged into mushy flatness, I carried it out back on a shovel, and deposited it, without eulogy or ceremony, behind the garage. Mowing near the place this spring, I was surprised to find four or five leafy stems sprouting from a pile of pumpkin seeds.
I figured I should pull out all but one to get a stronger vine, but I didnʼt have the heart. So they all kept growing. Across the yard. Out toward the alley. One even grew up into the forsythia bush, clear to the top.
Large green leaves and striking orange flowers grace the vines, and on one I recently discovered a growing pumpkin, the green one I mentioned earlier. I’m hoping it makes it all the way to big and orange.
Of course, a lot can happen between now and frost, some of it bad for pumpkins. But it would be nice to see the offspring of last yearʼs porch pumpkin promoted to this year’s jack o’ lantern.
I keep looking for other pumpkins-in-progress. Turning back the leaves with my foot. Checking the places the flowers have been. So far, I havenʼt seen any.
I did notice, in one of the large Victrola-horn flowers, a bee. It was busily doing its bee thing, climbing around inside the flower, slurping up flower juice, and buzzing in an important-business-being-done-here-leave-me-alone sort of way.
I imagine if you were to ask the bee, “What are you doing?” the bee would say, ”Making honey.” At the top of that beeʼs to-do list you would most likely find, “Make Honey,” and at the end of the day, the bee could check it off. “Made honey.”
But for a few minutes in our impromptu patch behind the garage, that bee was also making pumpkins. Leg hairs loaded with pollen, dropping a little off at each flower along the way, that bee was making pumpkins.
Now I donʼt want to get into an argument about which is the more important work, making honey or making pumpkins. That depends to a certain extent on whether you have a hankering at the time for pie or for biscuits. But I am thinking about that bee, working hard to make honey and along the way making pumpkins, too.
I wonder what important things God might be doing along the way while weʼre busy doing something else. I’m thinking about the interruptions, the chance encounters, the strangers, the people who watch from a distance, the folk who are around us all the time.
You and I, in Godʼs scheme of things, may be doing some important things in this world while weʼre busy with what we think of as our main work. And we may not even know weʼre doing them.
Itʼs a grace and a wonder, the way I see it. Like the pumpkin and the bee.
Ken Rummer, Teaching Elder PCUSA, Honorably Retired
Ken Rummer, a retired Presbyterian pastor, writes about life and faith from the middle of Iowa by the High Trestle Trail. His other posts are available at http://presbyterianmission.org/today/author/krummer
Dear FPCE Family,
Tomorrow afternoon at 1:00, we welcome the Reverend Brian Wallace, assistant minister at Pittsburgh Presbytery to our pulpit to record Sunday's worship. We will also celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. As we have done for the past month or so, you are invited to join us, sitting in the back of the sanctuary with a mask, spaced out. We will have communion elements available at the back entrance for you to pick up as you take your seat so that you have them for the appropriate time in the service to share in the body and blood of Christ.
As we begin to move ahead in this uncertain time, we would like to get a feel for what the congregation thinks about our current format and the safe return to Sunday morning worship. I personally find out tomorrow exactly what my expectations as a North Hills School District teacher will be (rumor is we are to report to our buildings for regular times even if we are virtual, so that may change the time of our FPCE Friday recordings if I'm in Ross Township at 1:00!).
PLEASE CLICK THIS LINK to complete a brief survey about worship at FPCE and your feelings about online, in person, and live streamed services. If you could answer by Monday, we can gather the information as the worship committee to share with Session at their meeting Tuesday night.
Thanks in advance for your responses as we prayerfully consider our future and safety of the congregation.
For your mid-week meditation, I present to you the devotional site thepracticeco.com, written and maintained by a pastoral couple in Australia. There is an iPhone and Android app version of their site, and you can also purchase subscriptions or some of their published devotion books. I registered an account to check them out, and this was the first message/devotion.
Blessings on your Wednesday,
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In the Complete Jewish Bible, 1 John 4:8 says:
"There is no fear in love. On the contrary, love that has achieved its goal gets rid of fear, because fear has to do with punishment; the person who keeps fearing has not been brought to maturity in regard to love.”
I used to think that love banished fear, as in, removed it, as in, I would never feel it. In love, there is NO fear… it should create a state of fearlessness, right?
Well, if it does, I haven't experienced it yet. Even in love - love of God, love from God, love of neighbor, love of self… all the love that exists in my world - I still feel fear. It’s still present. Sometimes the more you love, the more fear there seems to be. Nobody told me that becoming a parent would be the most terrifying thing I would ever do. No one said to me that falling in love and committing myself to be in a relationship with another person for the rest of my life would be a risky undertaking. It’s almost like love can create the perfect storm of fear…
What do we do with that?
In Ancient Hebrew, the word for fear is Yirah, and it has three meanings: fear, awe, and reverence. It can be used interchangeably to define these singularly, but it also carries the possibility that we can have an experience where there is no boundary between fear and awe and reverence, all of which show up in one merged experience, an emotional state that does not have an equivalent English word. Yirah also means “to see” which is tied up with its definition of ‘awe.’ It teaches us to pay attention to reality and warns that if we don’t, we will suffer the consequences.
Reality always has an element of fear, because we can’t control other people, or everything that happens to us, or the things that happen inside of us regarding chemical reactions and illnesses. The one thing we have control over is our response.
There is no fear in love because love is not motivated by fear. That doesn’t mean that love doesn’t make space for fear, listens to what it has to say, is compassionate and gracious, takes on what it needs to and leaves the rest. In fact, I think that’s exactly what love does. When you can love yourself through fear, and even learn to be grateful that fear exists - that it's saved you from making terrible choices, and has sometimes been the catalyst for deep and meaningful change - I believe that’s where fear turns into awe, awareness, and attention. Where wonder and beauty and grace come into play. I think that's how we live aware, awake, and alive in the world - eyes wide open, staring reality in the face with love.
It’s not that you’ve matured when you no longer feel fear. Maturity comes as you learn to stay in the way of love, even when you’re afraid. Punishment is something we do to ourselves when we let fear take control; when we don’t pay attention.
Fear can be paralyzing, or fear can be clarifying. And how much love you allow to rule your heart determines which way you’ll go.
Perfect love puts fear where it should be. A part of us, with something to say, for sure. But not at the head of the table, at the helm of the ship, or the driver's seat in the car. That place is for love.
Written by Liz Milani.
Mindful prompt: If fear rises up in your heart, take a moment to be with it. Listen. What is it trying to tell you? Be calm and patient with your fears. Begin to practice handling your fear, rather than being handled by it.
Happy Monday Brothers and Sisters,
On the heels of yesterday's service and final hymn of "Amazing Grace," I share with you a story that appeared from a friend's post on my Facebook feed Sunday afternoon...
I was at the grocery store this morning and heard a loud crash and something shattering. Being nosy, I walked towards the sound and saw some people whispering and looking back to the end of the next aisle. When I walked down that aisle, I saw an older lady had hit a shelf and many things had fallen to the ground and broke. She was kneeling on the floor embarrassed, frantically trying to clean up.
I felt so bad for her, and everyone was just standing there staring at her. So I went and knelt beside her and told her not to worry and started helping her pick up the broken pieces. After about a minute, the store manager came and knelt beside us and said, “Leave it, we will clean this up.” The lady, totally embarrassed, said, “I need to pay for all this first.” The manager smiled, helped her to her feet and said, “No ma’am, we have insurance for this, you do not have to pay anything!”
If you have read this far, I would like for you to give me a minute. Wherever you are, close your eyes, and imagine God doing the same for you!
Collecting the pieces of your broken heart from all the blows life has thrown at you. The bill for your faults, sin and folly has already been paid through the precious blood of Christ. God will heal all your wounds. He wants to gently lift you to your feet again, clean up your mess, and pick up all the broken pieces. He wants to heal you! He wants to take care of your soul!
We can have that same insurance and it’s called GRACE.
Blessings to you as we begin this first week of August.
Grace and Peace,
Good afternoon FPCE family,
This week I have another resource to share with you for devotions or individual prayer and reflection. heartlight.org is a site that is full of options: articles, daily scriptural quotes, devotions, artwork, and more. I was clicking around the site, and in their list of devotionals, one grabbed my attention called "God's Holy Fire," which they describe as a daily devotional about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Here is today's, titled "Made by the Holy Spirit." Enjoy!
God's Holy Fire: 'Made Holy by the Spirit'
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God's elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
— 1 Peter 1:1-2 NIV
"Sanctifying work of the Spirit" sounds so formal and religious. Some translations put, "his Spirit has made you holy," but even that wording really doesn't capture the essence of the meaning for me. What I believe Peter is trying to tell us is that our souls were like an old stained rag we used to clean up messes in the garage. When the Spirit comes into our lives, he takes this stained rag, and he cleans it, makes it new, and gives it incredible value. Instead of being the rag for messes in the garage, it is now a beautiful, clean, white tablecloth normally used for special occasions, but to be shared in all its glory in daily life. The Holy Spirit of God takes our broken, stained, and battered souls and makes them clean, new, and valuable — not just for us, but for God. This concept is crucial, as evidenced by it being repeated several times in the Bible (Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 10:29; 1 Peter 1:2).
Make me new, Lord God. Make me new and holy and valuable to you through the work of your Holy Spirit. Forgive and cleanse me, and make my heart and my life pure so I can bring you glory and live for your honor. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
It’s been a couple of months since we’ve shared a musical offering. I had forgotten that Sunny sent this recording to me right around Easter after our flurry of Holy Week services. She plays an arrangement of the old hymn tune “He Hideth My Soul” by Fanny Crosby. The beautiful running water is video that I took while on some social distancing walks with my neighbor on the paths that used to be the golf course at the former Churchill Valley Country Club.
Here’s a little story behind the song:
She could not see with her natural eyes, but she could see with her heart. She could not explain what a human face looked like, but she knew the face of God. Blind from six weeks old because of a surgical mishap, her life was different than most, but it was not worse than most.
Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) supported herself as a teacher at a blind school, she had dear and close friends around the world, and she wrote and published thousands of beautiful hymns, many that are still sung today. Regarding her plight in life she wrote the following words:
“It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”
For those who have natural sight, but are blind to the things of God, Fanny Crosby’s songs bring a sense of His Presence.
He Hideth My Soul
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land;
He hideth my life with the depths of His love,
And covers me there with His hand,
And covers me there with His hand.
A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
A wonderful Savior to me;
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock,
Where rivers of pleasure I see.
A wonderful Savior is Jesus my Lord,
He taketh my burden away;
He holdeth me up, and I shall not be moved,
He giveth me strength as my day.
With numberless blessings each moment He crowns,
And filled with His fullness divine,
I sing in my rapture, oh, glory to God
For such a Redeemer as mine!
When clothed in His brightness, transported I rise
To meet Him in clouds of the sky,
His perfect salvation, His wonderful love
I’ll shout with the millions on high.
“Behold, there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand while I pass by.”(Exodus 33:21,22)
I hope you're staying cool in this heat wave that is apparently not letting up over the next week. Make sure to check on each other, especially those you know may not have the benefits of being in a comfortable space (I will admit to staying in more than out in a house set to 68 degrees!).
Speaking of comfortable, the following (slightly longer) recent article from the "Outpost" Blog of The Presbyterian Outlook publication website challenges our comfort level as the church in this unprecedented time. It is written by the Rev. Rebecca Gresham-Kesner, pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey, and is titled "The Spirit at Work in the Pandemic." (original article can be found here)
Enjoy the read.
There are lots of things that can cause stress and anxiety in our lives. Keep the news on for any length of time in the past few days and you can feel your levels rising with each story and statistic. COVID cases rising, new restrictions in place, fights over mask wearing, debates about how and when schools will reopen. It can certainly make your head spin! I know if I dwell on what the next month might look like for my own teaching situation my mind will definitely go to a not-so-happy place.
I'm betting this article from Guideposts might help you when those thoughts, anxiety, and stress overtake you:
6 Short and Simple Prayers for Coping with Stress
Quick, simple prayers for coping when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
by Bob Hostetler
original article found at: https://www.guideposts.org/faith-and-prayer/prayer-stories/how-to-pray/6-short-and-simple-prayers-for-coping-with-stress
Maybe your life is all sunshine and cotton candy. No shadows, no sadness, no stress.
Well, good for you. Feel free to move along, because the rest of us are dealing with stress—lots of it for some of us. And at times it feels like we’re about to buckle under.
But that’s why I’m so happy that I can turn to God in prayer, even though at times, when I’m super stressed, the words don’t come easily. When that happens, I call on just a few go-to prayers. Short ones. One word. Two. The longest is only six words. Sometimes I pray just one, over and over. Other times, I pray several, in order, more or less. See if any of these prayers for coping with stress help you:
A 1-word prayer: Breathe
Sometimes when I’m stressed, I hold my breath. I don’t even know I’m doing it. But when I realize it, I remind myself and turn it into a prayer of sorts: “Breathe.” My wife’s watch even reminds her to breathe! It’s a helpful practice. Stop. Slow down. Breathe.
A 2-word prayer: Hide me
David sang, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8, NIV). Oh, I pray that often, and I frequently condense it and simplify it into just two words: “Hide me.” While the storm rages. Until the storm passes. Until the stress evaporates like summer rain on a hot sidewalk.
A 3-word prayer: Peace be still
When His closest friends were stressed and scared by a storm at sea, Jesus rebuked the storm, saying, “Peace, be still” (Mark 4:39, KJV). And the squall surrendered. It’s a great prayer at any time, for any soul in stress: “Peace. Be still.”
A 4-word prayer: I come to You
Jesus said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NLT). Remember these words in the midst of a stressful situation, and pray, “I come to You.” Let Him give rest to your soul.
A 5-word prayer: My help is in You
On one occasion, I was so stressed—panicked, even—that I spent a half hour on my face on the floor of my study, praying, “My help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (see Psalm 124:8). Over and over. Until my heart and mind began to agree with my lips and my voice. And calm and hope returned to my soul.
A 6-word prayer: I have calmed and quieted myself
One of the shortest psalms in the Bible, Psalm 131, is a lullaby. I love it and pray it often when I’m stressed—especially the second verse:
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content (Psalm 131:2, NIV).
The picture is that of a child contentedly snuggling with its mother, not complaining or clamoring, but simply and completely content to be in its mother’s arms. Those six words—“I have calmed and quieted myself”—remind me that I am in the arms of a loving and protective God, a realization that relieves stress and revives my soul.
That’s it. Altogether, just 21 words. But they do often soothe me and save me from stress. I hope they do the same for you.
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Tomorrow afternoon at 1:00, we will record Sunday's worship. The Rev. Carol Divens Roth will join us and lead the service. If you would like to join and sit in the back of the sanctuary, you are welcome to enter using the East Swissvale Avenue door. Wear a mask, use hand sanitizer, sit socially distanced, and refrain from singing, but please join in the responses and prayers. Everything in the service is printed in the bulletin, so you won't have to touch a bible or hymnal.
Take care of your mental and spiritual health. Stay safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands! Pray!