Friday, October 20, 2017

Sunday School - Day in the Life

Here is a little peek at what happens
upstairs and downstairs on Sunday mornings! 

Note: pretend there is a photo here of the elusive jr/senior high Sunday school class. They are in the building but not fond of early morning photo.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Reflections - No ifs, ands, or buts.

 This week's passage from Matthew's Gospel has me thinking a lot about rules and laws.  I am thinking about all the conditions we put on ourselves and God to justify why we don't/can't follow them.  

There are so many rules to follow - and the rules can often be different in different places or with different people.  Rules become laws mostly for our safety - but we can always think of a way or reason that these rules don't or shouldn't apply to us - don't we?  

We are also pretty good at putting conditions on things we ask from God.  I'll do this  - if you just do this....

We are good at interpreting for ourselves what we think God means when things do or don't happen.  I know I sure am.

This week I am reminding myself of the mystery of God. And that I'll never understand this "plan" of God and maybe I am not supposed to.  I am reminding myself to stop making excuses, justifications, and trying to rationalize things.

Jesus tells the Pharisees to follow the rules and laws of the land  but also to follow God's rules without conditions.  

The Pharisees are kind of mixed up even though they are religious leaders and they try to trick Jesus with a question. They are trying to find out what rules and laws Jesus follows. They don't understand that they and Jesus both belong to God.  They ask Jesus about the paying taxes to emperor. And Jesus says “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give God what is God’s.”  


Remember the Bible says we were all created in the Image of God and that we all, the Pharisees, Jesus, and you and me all belong to God. So when Jesus gave this answer to the Pharisees, he was saying that it was important to follow the rules and laws of the land— but we should also follow God’s rules all the time. 

I am reminding myself this week about the sovereignty of this God that loves us all.  We may never understand the hows or whys - but God is in charge and will comfort and love us while we try to navigate and negotiate our way through all the rules. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Nicaragua Mission 2017 - Part Three, How We Help

 Nicaragua Mission Trip 2017  
We had a wonderful visit and mission exchange in June with our friends at El Porvenir.  This is the last in a series of posts about the trip.  See links at the end of this post to catch up! 

Also, for some background and more info on our partnership with El Porvenir please check out the June 2017 edition of the church's newsletter, Sixth Sense.

The mission team: Our group of six included David Rothenberg, Sara Berg, and Jenny Newman (that's me!) from Sixth Presbyterian Church.  Also along for the journey were Jennifer Novelli, Executive Director of Building New Hope, and her son, Alessandro.  Mark Swift, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Washington, Pa., joined us  for the adventure. We were excited to be joined by Building New Hope board member Therese Tardio during our time at El Porvenir. 

On a warm and sunny morning at El Porvenier, we met with Rene and some of the community's elders in the office of the Co-OP. They wanted to share with us their appreciation or our church's support.  They presented us with a report of what our donations were used for. The Community of El Porvenir received $1,000 from Sixth Church in 2016 through the church’s Church & Community committee allocations.  Financial Transparency is very important to the elders and leaders of the community.  A ledger is kept in the CO-OP’s Financial Office and receipts and payments are meticulously documented.  

Donations from Sixth Presbyterian Church in 2016 have been used for:

  • Improvements and renovations to the Main House at El Porvenir. The structure is 96 years old and serves and the office, gathering place, location of the coffee sorting and storage, housing for visiting groups.  Our friend’s report that this has been a long and difficult renovation due to size of the structure and they type of hard wood that is used in the it’s construction.
  • Rebuilding of the gazebo at the lookout point on the top of the mountain. The structure collapsed in 2015 and Sixth Church donations have made it possible to reconstruct this structure.
  • A railing was added to the long, concrete steps of the Main House making trips to the outhouse and other places down below safer.
  • Funding from Sixth Church Donations have made it possible for the community to maintain a medical fund. Members of the community are able to borrow from that fund in case of medical emergencies and pay it back at no interest. 

2017 Donations During our trip we presented the El Porvenir with a $500 donation from our mission trip group and Sixth Church’s 2017 allocation from Church & Community which was $980.

The leaders of El Porvenir were very happy to receive our contributions which will allow them get parts  and begin to fix a broken water pump which is a much needed and anticipated repair.  

Previous posts about the trip:

Nicaragua Mission Trip 2017 - Part 1

Nicaragua Mission Trip 2017 - Part 2

Sunday School Happenings - Come to the Feast!

See what's happening in our Sunday School classes!

From Sunday School Teachers 
Chris Pistorius and Verna Robinson

After acting out the Parable Jesus told in Matthew 22: 1-14, we celebrated with our own feast. During our meal we discussed these questions. What reasons did the guests give for not coming to the king’s feast? What did the king do when he realized the invited guest were refusing to come to his feast? One of the two Sacraments in our church is Communion. Just as the King in the Parable opened the invitation to everyone, we too invite everyone to partake in the feast. We say, this is not Sixth Presbyterian Church’s table. This is God’s table and EVERYONE is invited.

Note: The King is at the head of his table. Many of the actors had already removed their costumes which they had created themselves.

Friday, October 13, 2017

What we are Reading - October 2017

Here are October favorites - all available
through the Carnegie Library.  Enjoy!

Home at last by Verna B. Williams

Lucky by David Mackintosh

Llama Llama mad at mama by Anna Dewdney

Thomas the Toadilly Terrible Bully by Janice Levy

Tokyo digs a garden 
by Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellan Hatanaka

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Reflections - Keep Calm and Pray On

If you know me  - you know that I am often an over thinker.  I always struggle to quiet my brain and stop thinking too far ahead. 

Since I was little, I have always had a tendency to worry about the "what ifs" a little too much. For example, my brother still likes to tease me about the time when, at age 6, I was convinced that my parents were never coming home from the grocery store and we would probably starve. I don't remember this -  but he says I went out to forage in the yard and collected leaves, grass, and buckeyes for us to eat "just in case."

This week's story from the Old Testament book of Exodus is pretty familiar for those like me who often live in the land of "just in case" and "what if."

Read Exodus 32: 1-14


Moses, who has led the Israelites from slavery and through the desert,  has left the people and gone up on the mountains to talk to God. He's receiving the Ten Commandments and is gone for 40 days and 40 nights. While he's gone the people - already forgetting how far they've come under his leadership and all the times God has rescued them - start to freak out. If Moses doesn't come back who is going to lead them, and where is God, and who will they worship? I completely understand how this thought cycle get started. In their worry, with Aaron's help, they create something else to worship and put first.

Of course, Moses comes back. And the Bible say God is completely angry and frustrated that these people were so quick to jump off the bandwagon.  But Moses goes to bat for the people with God and their interaction, their relationship, causes God to offer forgiveness to the people.

So here's what I am thinking. Of course this is a cautionary tale about worshiping false Idols and putting other things before God. But for me this week, it's reminding me to stop and check myself when the over thinking wheel begins to turn. To stop, wait, and to trust. God did not abandon Moses and the people in the desert.
God is always there and ready to offer grace, mercy, and forgiveness when we are ready to receive it. If I am too busy worrying about the "what ifs" and preparing for the worst-case scenarios I am going to miss what God is doing in the world and in my life right now. I am also reminded how important our personal relationship and dialogue with God truly is. It's through this relationship that Moses has with God that the people are forgiven and the Bible says God's mind is changed. I don't know how to unpack that last part - but I do know that this week I am working on slowing down and engaging with God through prayer.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Reflections - Trouble in the Vineyards

It's been a rough week. So much yuck in the world. Earlier in the week I was finding it hard to find hope. The last thing I wanted to do was try and digest this week's scripture passage from Matthew's Gospel. In this passage Jesus uses another parable to teach  - and this time it's a nasty one.

Here's the story:  Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, a group of people who didn’t like what Jesus was teaching and thought he was sketchy.  So in typical fashion, Jesus tells a story to get his message out there. And it's a killer (pun intended). The story was about a man with a vineyard who planted grapes. He hired workers to care for land while he was away. When the grapes were ripe, the man sent his servants one by one to go get some of the grapes. But each time the workers watching the vineyard killed servants. Then, the man even tried sending his own son to get some grapes, but they killed him, too.  

Read Matthew 21: 33-36

It's a horrible story. A horrible story to read when there is so much horrible going on in the word.  But remember that Jesus was telling this story to the Pharisees—and Jesus was talking about them.  Every time God sent someone to help them learn about love they were just... well, knuckleheads.  Jesus had come to teach them about God's love, but they weren't even listening.  

But here's where I am finding some hope - Jesus' message here is a reminder that God is trusting us to take care of the things.  For the hired workers, it was the vineyard (and we see how well that worked out). For us it's God's Kingdom here on earth.  Jesus is insisting that we shouldn't kill each other and hoard our grapes.  Instead, God is looking for us receive amazing love, share it, take care of the kingdom, and each other. So, I guess in the wake of all the tragedy in the world we can find hope in being the helpers and caring for those who are in danger of being murdered in the vineyards.  It is through taking care of the vineyards together that we will experience God's Kingdom on earth.  I do have hope that somehow God's grace and mercy will comfort us through the horrible times. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Reflections: Figuring it all out

I like to do crossword puzzles. Most of the time I like the challenge of figuring things. But sometimes, I get frustrated and just want someone to tell me the answer so I get on to another part of the puzzle.  I am pretty sure Jesus would have been that annoying person that would never let you peak at the answers and would just keep giving you clues. 

Read Matthew 21: 23-32   

This passage starts with Jesus, who while teaching in the temple, is being called out by the chief priests and elders. They want to know "by what authority" he is teaching. Jesus engages them in some questions that cause them to argue among themselves and admit they don't know the answers. 

Then Jesus says probably the coolest thing ever - "What do you think?" He could flip out because he is being challenged. 

But doesn't give in and give them any answers. He goes on to tell a story about a father and his two sons. Both sons were asked to go work in the vineyard. One says no - but later changes his mind and goes to do the work. The other says yes- but then never goes to do the work.  
So is this story about obedience? 
Is it a story about accountability? 

What do you think?

I know I have been both of those sons.  You probably have, too.  Is it worse to commit to something then never follow through? Or say no way, and then later change your mind?

One Bible commentary I read suggests that Jesus is giving a nod in this story to sinners who repent and then try to do better, like the first son. And that's its worse in God's eye to just say the right thing without openly doing the father's will. 

Here's an entirely different thought - this story makes me think about the people that I know that say they don't believe in God yet live very kind, compassionate, and "Christian" lives.  And I think about the people I know that are the opposite. People that attend church and speak the language but don't put God first. I have been both of these people as well.  "You can go stand in the garage but that doesn't make you a car," is something my high school youth leader used to say. 

What's so cool for me about this passage is that Jesus, again, doesn't answer the question and seems to be encouraging the chief priests and the elders to figure it.  I think our relationship with God can be fuller and deeper if we allow ourselves to do the hard work of asking questions. learning, and struggling with the hard stuff in the Bible. Coming to our faith on our own terms seems to me to be more authentic than loving God because it's expected and because we are told that's what we ought to do.  

So, keep asking those questions - and I will keep asking "What do you think?"