I am thankful for you! In this challenging year, filled with so many adjustments, I am thankful for your love and faith.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services sent out a YouTube video with signs for Thanksgiving in ASL. Maybe you want to learn a few today.
And, maybe you want to share what makes you thankful. Send us a note on the Care Connection. Just make sure email@example.com is in your To: address line and let us know how you are giving thanks.
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
Have you heard the saying, "You are what you eat"? It's true, isn't it? If you eat nothing but yucky food, you're going to feel yucky. If you eat healthy food, more than likely, you're going to feel more healthy. If your diet is mostly candy and carbs and chips and Cokes, you're probably going to be affected. You might be overweight, or sluggish, or have other health issues. If what we eat is hurting us, and the choices we are making are making us sick, it's silly to place the blame anywhere besides back upon our shoulders. You are what you eat is usually pretty accurate.
Ezekiel makes this kind of appeal to the people this morning. You have control over your actions. You can choose to be wicked and act in wicked ways. You can choose to be righteous and act righteously. You have a say over how you live your life and relate to the world. If wickedness is your way, then there are consequences. Why would you say that God is unjust if the choices that you make, choices that you can control, which hurt the world and others, have negative results?
Of course, life is a bit more complicated. We don't want to simplify or over-generalize. Sometimes poverty and policies that benefit the rich make eating more healthy nearly impossible. Genetics and our health care system also play a role in our overall well-being. Sometimes people who eat healthy are sick. And there are those who have only been taught to hate and hurt others. They have no other point of reference and follow the lead of those before them. Still, Ezekiel knows that God knows our hearts. We cannot pretend to be righteous when we are allowing wickedness to flourish all around us. We can try to justify our actions all we want, but we cannot blame God for the consequences.
What are some things you are doing that you know you shouldn't be doing? What are some things you are not doing that you know you should be doing?
We are nearing the end of Lectionary Year A. The Liturgical Calendar follows the story of Christ. Rather than a new year beginning January 1, the church year begins in Advent. The daily readings for Year B begin November 26. Here is the listing of the readings we will soon be following.
I hope that reading the daily lectionary helps you stay connected. When we read scripture together, we are connected to one another. It's fun to know that a group of people are thinking about and wrestling with the text and that engagement perhaps that leads to deep and interesting conversation. Daily reading of the scripture also brings us closer to God. We can experience God in the prose, poetry, prophets, Gospels, and the letters. We can have an ongoing conversation with God as we read from the Bible regularly. I encourage you to read and reflect. I think it helps, especially during this time of the pandemic.
It also helps for the church to find as many ways to stay connected as we can. We have Facebook, the Care Connection, Zoom, and online worship. We also have a monthly newsletter that was sent out earlier this week. I will attach the newsletter here. It includes an Advent calendar of activities along with the daily lectionary readings for the season. May this newsletter help you stay connected to God and one another.
If you would prefer to receive the monthly newsletter electronically rather than in the mail, or if you would like to be sent a newsletter and are not currently on our mailing list, please email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org. May God bless you, keep you, calm you, lead you, and love you as we get ready to close one year and begin another.
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
2 Timothy 2:8-14
United Methodist Bishop Oliveto wrote this week about the hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God." The Bishop reflected that the hymn was written by Martin Rinkard during the 30 Years' War, which was fought between 1618 and 1648. Rinkard was the only clergy left in his town and officiated 50 funerals in a day due to injury and illness. Can you imagine?
Maybe the only way we are able to do what seems overwhelming, and to continue on when grief and life seem impossible, is the faith that is named in 2 Timothy. "Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him."
Consider this hymn once more in the context in which it was written. Reflect upon it this week of Thanksgiving, and in this time of so much suffering.
Now thank we all our God
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us,
to keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
of this world in the next.
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son and Spirit blest,
who reign in highest heaven
the one eternal God,
whom heaven and earth adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
One of my personal devotional sources is Disciplines, from The Upper Room. This morning I would like to share the writing of Claire K. McKeever-Burgett as she reflects on Psalm 100. As we struggle during this pandemic we can pray the Kaddish, together. In fact, as we remain apart to protect one another, we are even more aware how together we are as we pray and sing and walk with God. You are not alone today. You are joined by a community connected by love, hope, and faith.
I recently heard Rabbi David Horowitz describe the Kaddish, an ancient prayer recited regularly in Jewish worship services and originally known as the Mourner's Prayer, as a prayer for those who proclaim, “In my hurt, I am willing to praise God."
When he said these words, I saw in my mind's eye all those throughout the ages who, amid their oppression, abuse, exile, discrimination, and pain, stand and stumble to say, “In my hurt, I am willing to praise God."
If we need further evidence that these people and these prayers exist, we need to look no further than Psalm 100. A song of thanksgiving and praise to the Shepherd who leads and guides, rescues and restores, Psalm 100 testifies to God‘s great love for God‘s people.
Psalm 100 is a communal hymn that offers straightforward instruction for the congregation: make a joyful noise; be glad; give thanks; know that the Lord is God; know that the Lord is good. Amid all sorrow, heartache, grief, and pain, gather with the community and praise God.
Though straightforward, these instructions are not easy for those who know the pains this life can bring. Therefore, when singing this Psalm and praying this prayer, we never stand or sing alone. The Mourner's Prayer or Kaddish is communal, meant to be recited in the presence of a person's community of faith, just as this song is meant to be sung with all people who know of God‘s goodness and love.
Holy God, we come into your presence with singing. We will make a joyful noise as a witness to your goodness and love. Amen.
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
There is a good reason why people often have mixed feelings about politicians. There is much to respect and admire when a politician works for the common good, uses power to lift up the lowly, and guides others toward a hopeful future. There is much to regret when a politician manipulates others, uses power for self-interests, and is outwardly civil but behind the scenes is ruthless.
This struggle we have with politicians and people in power is not new. Not by a long shot. Today, we read about it in the dramatic story of Esther. The Book of Esther is also a yearly Jewish celebration called Purim, next celebrated in February of 2021. We can learn a lot about the visceral retelling of the story, the cheering for Esther, the booing of Haman (Boo!), and the twists and turns that save God's people once again.
Here is one of my favorite Bible sites online. Read the Scripture and watch the video to get a better understanding of what is happening in the Book of Esther. (By the way, I send out a Bible study from this site every Saturday to those who want to receive it. Let me know if you are interested in being added to the list.)
Of course, it's always a good thing to call someone and talk together about some of the things that come to mind as you study.
Be safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. Pray for others. Be kind.
Daily Lectionary Readings for Year A
This morning we read the origin story of Moses from Exodus 2. Moses was a beautiful baby born into a dangerous world, hidden away to protect him from being abused, taken, or killed. His mother's mama-bear instincts took over. She would do anything to guard over her precious child - hide him, comfort him, quiet him so that those who were seeking to do him harm could not find him. How many refugee and migrant mothers are doing the same this very morning? How many mothers are worried their child's cry or chatter will alert a guard or a soldier who might take that baby from her arms, never to be seen again? There is a desperate and relentless drive to be a shield against those who are more powerful. Can you imagine?
His mother prayed and determined the only way to save her baby was to let him go. She brought the best basket she could find, coated it so that it would be waterproof, lined it with blankets, tears, and words of assurance. She kissed her baby and placed him in the basket and released him to float down the river with his sister Miriam keeping a close eye on his journey. Her hopes were that he would end up in the arms of someone who would protect him. Her prayers were that he would come to know that she did all this because she loved him.
When the daughter of the Pharaoh found him, her prayers were answered. He would be protected. He would know his mother's love. And, he would have a name. Moses, which means, "I drew him out of the water."
What does your name mean? What is your origin story? Who watched over and protected you from harm? Call someone and share together about the lengths some would go to protect their child from the dangers of this world. Pray for mothers and their precious, vulnerable children.
The Wesley Park UMC Church Conference was last Thursday, November 12. It was unusual, in that for the first time the Church Conference was online. The SPRC and the Guidance Team met with the District Superintendent by Zoom to complete some of the official business of the church. Things went well. We are getting used to these kinds of virtual meetings. One of the opportunities that accompany each Church Conference is for the pastor to submit a report on what has happened over the course of the year. I share that report with you now, with love and appreciation.
Pastor Report for 2020
Rev. Dean N. Prentiss
After sending out the monthly newsletter we began to get some calls. Some birthdays and anniversaries were not included in the list. When Sara went into our database to look she found all the information was there, but one setting was off when printing the report. My reaction? “That is so 2020.” What a year this has been.
January, February, March…
2020 started normally. The counters came to count the offering every Monday. The Tuesday Guys did their work around the church every Tuesday. The Women’s Prayer Group met in the Cornerstone Room every Wednesday. The Praise Team and Chancel Choir rehearsed every Thursday. Restoration Community Church rehearsed and studied every Friday and Saturday. And, we gathered for worship in the sanctuary every Sunday. Restoration Community Church worship followed from 1-5:30 pm. A new Children’s Sunday School was off and running every Sunday morning. The Youth Group met Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. The Food Truck brought hundreds of people together the first Thursday of the month. Add to that Square Dancing on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Senior Exercise on Mondays and Wednesdays, the Scottish Society the first Wednesday, and the Acts Council with RCC the first Monday… just a day-in-the-life of Wesley Park United Methodist Church.
I should have known we were in for a different kind of year on January 5. On that first Sunday, the Wesley Park UMC Staff went to “The Great Escape” for an Epiphany Celebration. This is a place that locks you in a room, which is filled with clues that lead to your escape. It takes teamwork and calm thinking, and some luck. Our mission was to unlock the last clue before a nuclear blast destroys all of earth. We missed it by about 30 seconds. Sorry. :(
On Wednesday, March 11, it was clear this was not going to be a normal year. Covid-19 was dangerous, and it was spreading. We learned it was not safe to be in close proximity to one another. We learned how deadly this virus could be, and that it could be spread by singing or by being inside with a large group of people. And that you could be carrying it without any symptoms, and could give it to people who were vulnerable. We realized quickly that we were all vulnerable. As the reality set in that we needed to take some action, we decided we needed to be cautious. We would only have an online worship that Sunday. That was 246 days ago. We have had 35 online worship services, about 175 pieces of music recorded in home studios and beautifully and miraculously put together into one harmony. These services have been viewed over 94,000 times. The world and the church would never be the same again. We were now in the time of the pandemic.
The Joshua Task Force…
It was clear that we needed a group to help guide us through the pandemic. We needed people to know the dangers, set the policies, and oversee the steps we were taking as a church. We called this group the Joshua Task Force, named after the one who led God’s people finally into the Promised Land. The group met online and with social distance in person week after week. They studied the reports from the CDC, the Michigan Conference, and all helpful sources. They developed policies that we would follow if we were to come back to worship together again. The Kent County Positivity Rate would need to be under 5%. All groups and meetings associated with the church would need to check in with the Task Force so we knew who was meeting when. People were required to maintain six feet distance, masks required, hand washing stations, registrations for worship to aid contact tracing if necessary, limited seating, a disinfecting team working before, during, and after worship, gatekeepers at the door, nothing passed hand to hand, shortened services, radio transmitted to the parking lot for those who wanted to attend but not be at risk, etc. The services were uploaded to the Wyoming Cable Access television station. People were calling those who did not have internet and setting their phones by the computer speakers so they could listen to worship. Cards and calls went out to try to stay connected.
We were able to begin in-person worship in August. The congregation followed every policy and request. People just wanted to worship and see each other again. Those who needed to stay away could connect to worship online. We also established a phone number that people could call anytime to listen to the worship service. We continued in-person worship and online worship through October 11. We even had a parking lot communion service on World Communion Sunday. La Nueva Esperanza UMC joined us.
Due to the virus, Wesley Park made the difficult decision to postpone indefinitely all in person ministries. We let the West Michigan Feeding America Food Truck know that we could no longer host the first Thursday of the month. They have found other locations to serve and feed those who came to Wesley Park. We also decided we could not host Family Promise families until it was safe to do so. These are foundational ministries that exemplified the ways we have lived out our faith. We continue to support these and other local ministries financially each month. We trust that God will open new doors for us to walk through in due time. Thank you for your beautiful expressions of faith and ministry these many years.
In the midst of this unprecedented challenge, Wesley Park celebrated its 65th birthday. Cut out of the woods on the corner of 32nd and Michael, Wesley Park would be the first church plant of Grand Rapids Metro Ministries. We look back at the amazing people who have been part of this generous congregation. We feel blessed to call Wesley Park our Spiritual Home. We continue to be shaped into the likeness of Christ in our neighborhood. We give God thanks for each portion of this journey. The joys, and the sorrows. All of it has made us who we are today, and who God is calling us to be in the year ahead. Wesley Park has deep roots, planted in good soil, nurtured by love and grace. The challenges of 2020 cannot be denied. We are praying our way through each day and prepared for whatever we have to do to keep each other safe and loved. To God be the glory. Forever and ever. Amen.