Thank you for making the weekend of March 3-5 awesome! As we enter a year of celebration, I am reminded of my second goal for this year: relationships. I know everyone does not go to SPAM, but I had this plan in my mind that we would sing happy birthday together and each table row make use of their noisemakers and poppers while those who had been a part of our congregation for more than 65 years (!) would hold sparklers. Well, everyone has an inner child and the words, “on your tables are some”, barely came out of my mouth when everyone started blowing noisemakers and shooting off silly poppers. The sparklers took too long to ignite, so when we finally began singing happy birthday, you could barely hear the singing over all of the laughter. Then amid the excitement, balloons were batted back and forth among the tables. I was in awe. We just embraced relationships.
That same weekend some of our youth and families went to Tall Timber for a snow retreat. The pictures of the snow and the smiles are great! I have heard reports of growing in faith, sharing meals together, and having fun while sledding, snow shoeing, and cross-country skiing. Relationships are being nurtured and grown. Then on Sunday, we sang, threw confetti, and ate cake as we renewed our commitment to the relationships of being the body of Christ in our space, blessed by our legacy, and open to the future. Yes, Presbyterians never miss a moment to eat while celebrating!
All of this was just the start of our yearlong desire to celebrate this 125th milestone. Yet, as I preached on the 5th and I’m keenly aware of during this moment in Lent, our faith is all about relationships. My goals this year of balance, relationships, and sharing our hope in Christ continue to find space in my life as we journey to the cross. This Lenten season, I’ve been working on balance in my life. I’ve turned off the television, turned off my constant looking at social media, and added time to pray and reflect. I find encouragement with you as we share the good news of grace to our community. However, in this space between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we should take a moment to reflect on our relationships. We are all connected. We have family, friends, schoolmates, work friends, and others that come into our lives at different points. Relationships are not easy. One day we feel the love and support we deserve, while unfortunately the next we feel left out or alone. We were created to be in relationships. You and I need each other. Sure, some days we may not agree. We may differ in our life experiences or our understanding of theology, scripture, or politics. But, that’s what makes life exciting.
The challenge I’m beginning to wrestle with in my life is that I think I know it all. But when I take a moment to catch my breath and listen, then I see you. I hope that in those moments you see me. We begin to move from being defensive, thinking we’re adversaries, or even just topical friends, to actually listening and being open to move beyond the surface and engage in a real relationship. Again, this is not always easy. I too like to keep things on the surface and I know that I make broad statements to keep those tough conversations at arms length. So, how do we go from just saying hello to those moments when we are worshipping or sitting at a table and just being present and enjoying each other?
As we get closer to Easter I’ve been thinking about how Jesus met people. Jesus seemed to be walking along the seashore when he just called out to the disciples. He was made fun of because he ate with people labeled “sinners”. He talked with women and healed those who were unclean. He praised a Roman Centurion for his faith and told his followers that we must have the faith of a child. For his brief life, Jesus has a track record of meeting a lot of people. Jesus gives us an example of how God desires to be in a relationship with us. No matter where we are with our faith, whether we’ve been at First Church our whole lives or just arrived, God welcomes us. Our time together on Sundays or during the week or when we bump into each other in the community is about being more than friends: we’re fellow disciples in relationship with God and each other. Sure, we don’t always get it right, but we have a Lord who does not give up on us, so we will not give up on each other.
As we gather in worship and as family and friends on Easter, know that you are loved more than one can fathom. Open yourself up to grace more amazing and steadfast than we deserve. Believe in the relationship Jesus wants with us that lasts a lifetime and allows us to be in relationship with each other. Be secure that you are a vital part of Christ’s body and know that you are always welcome.