January 3 Reflections

2021 is here! 2020 has been a memorable year! Some would like to forget the memory; others thrived and grew during the hard thing of COVID-19 and all the ramifications. It has changed the way we look at so many things. I know for my own work, I never dreamed I would be preaching to an empty church. I had fears and nightmares at times through the years that nobody would show, simply because I was not enough, but not because the Governor recommended no in person worship. Also, pastoral calls by telephone have become the norm and wearing a mask at times is an issue. 2020 was also the year I decided to stay at First Reformed instead of taking a new assignment as Transitional Minister in another congregation. Some have suggested, when I was in the waiting time of deciding, why go when you can take it easy here and somewhat slide toward retirement. I am not sure I know what retirement is nor do I really comprehend “take it easy.” Both of those sound quite frankly unpleasing. I know my guiding principle is rest deeper not work harder, but that does not mean slide out. Resting deeper for me means living wholeheartedly for Jesus, not resting on my own abilities or strength.

So here we are…2021. One of the reasons I was led to stay is the ongoing work of embedding grace and health in the life of a congregation. I long for and envision a place where grace is the atmosphere we breathe and is so embedded in the life of the congregation that it literally is our DNA.  Grace…not shame, or a critical spirit, or judgmentalism, or condemning attitude, or wardens of a prison of the soul, joyless no laughter environment. Grace breathes life…freedom…joy…laughter…encouragement…hope. Grace is embedded by becoming emotionally mature which ironically comes through grace filled living. This sounds like a circular argument but it so true: when grace is experienced in our souls, we make healthy strides towards emotionally maturity, which then begins to embed itself not only in individual lives but then spreads into a group such as a church.

The first series of sermons for 2021 is titled, “Defining Moments of Grace.” By looking at the life and teaching of Jesus we are going to explore together what it means to be self-defined in a healthy way that leads to emotionally healthy living. Using Jesus as our guide, teacher, and source of power, we are going to think about defining moments in our lives that offer the opportunity for grace filled growth.  Notice I said opportunity. We have a choice. We can choose emotional immaturity. Quite frankly growth is hard work, but so satisfying.

We are going to begin by looking at the story of Jesus as a 12-year-old boy in the temple. He defines himself separate from his parents by saying “I.” When we believe that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us more or less and that God loves us in this moment as much as it is possible for an infinite God to love we become emotionally capable of saying “I.” This is who I am. This is who I am not. This is what I believe God is calling and gifting me to do. This is what I will do. This is what I will not do. Then allowing others the freedom to do the same thing. This is going to be fun! Some passages to read for this week: Luke 2:41-52; John 5:19-30.

Grace upon Grace,

Verlyn