That They May Be One

“If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.” Our long tradition of following Wesleyan principles requires us to search until we reach commonality. There will always be points of disagreement. There will always be points of agreement, too. Our challenge is to find the points of agreement. I propose that creation care is one of them.

The opposing side is Climate denying. To be a climate denier is to be ignorant of science, theology and our current environmental changes. Long before Mr. Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” argument, great theologians such as Howard Thurman pleaded with us to work responsibly with creation. If you can overlook the gender language, hear the passion Mr. Thurman has for the environment as one of the others we sinfully abuse.

“One of the deceptive aspects of mind in man is to give him the illusion of being distinct from and over against but not a part of nature. It is but a single leap thus to regard nature as being completely other than himself that he may exploit it, plunder it, and rape it with impunity.”  Howard Thurman

When racism, ageism, and gender discrimination can be justified what hope have we for creation? Creation doesn’t talk back, or does it? 

Even as I write, we are being pelted by heavy rainfall in the Midwest. It’s changing our oceans and our ability to farm. I’ve heard a sneer or two about the corn and soybean fields becoming rice patties, but if it does happen will you adjust your eating habits?  Are you prepared to give up beef and pork? How long will it take you to give up your pasta and bread for the staple of Asia?  

When we stand before God and he asks us about the mandate to care for all creation, will we argue that we didn’t know all creation was included in Jesus’ prayer for unity?  Or will our record of creation care stand as a tribute of how we united humanity to save the planet from humanity’s abuse?

I seem to have more questions than answers, but this I know: Creation Care is a growing movement in the United States and it’s not political (though some want to make it so). The United Methodist Church would like to certify your congregation as a green church and we want to train you to start an Earthkeeper project to benefit your community. Join this popular movement. It’s not traditional or progressive.

The In-Between (a.k.a Ordinary Time)

Are the birds confused about the weather? I sure am. One week we have polar temperatures and the next week it’s over 40. The kids forget their coats at school and then they don’t have them when it turns the other direction.

In liturgical language the weeks after Epiphany are Ordinary Time. Since this Epiphany season is longer than most years we find that we are not only living in between Epiphany (January 6) and Lent (March 6) we are in between winter and spring. I’m reminded of the John Denver instrumental piece with the long title “Late Winter Early Spring When Everyone Goes to Mexico.”

I’m with ya, John. Let’s all fly to warmer climates. But wait! Some of them are getting snow too! My sister lives in Portland Oregon. The city never gets more than a couple of inches, but when they get dumped on with 3 - 5 inches everything is cancelled. I laughed out loud at this, but she was frustrated. She remembers that we walked to the bus stop in the blizzard of 1967 because they didn’t cancel school until the busses got stuck picking up elementary kids. The question remains: Why can’t Portland plow three inches? Answer: all their plows are in the mountains.

Maybe the birds have better coping skills than people. I hear so much complaining about temperature changes and it’s not even March. The warmer days convinced my dog to take her morning chew stick outside. Even thought it returned to cold, every day she begs to eat outside. At least she’s hopeful. This robin pictured here has stayed through the ice storm and now tries to find its worms in impossible conditions. He’s persistent, too!

If a robin can sit on the ice crusted branches outside my office and sing for his mate, if my Jack Russell can beg for an alfresco chew experience, if I think we can hang in between seasons for another month. It’s ordinary time, folks. There’s nothing unusual to complain about. But laugh, oh yeah, Portland, you make me chuckle.

God's Plan for 2019

Happy New Year! The genuine greeting this time of year brings hope in to the hearts of people around the world. Everyone hopes that 2019 will be better than 2018. Looking forward lets go the pain and hurt of the past, puts everyone on a clean slate and trusts that God will make “it” happen this year.

But what if God doesn’t make “it” happen? What if God whom we call Almighty and Everlasting has other plans for us in 2019? When we move from 2019 to 2020, will we be in the same place as this New Year, desperate to change the calendar?

I do not intend to depress you. I just want to bring some reality into your “Happy New Year” wish. You see, we have free will with God. We can choose to be a disciple of Jesus Christ following God’s plan or we can choose to let God make “it” happen for us. Expecting God to fill our year with happiness is a fool’s theology. God doesn’t make our life happy. We are happy because we have life with God.

I like to tell the story about twins who were opposites in their life outlooks. One was happy no matter what. The other always found something to complain about. Their parents decided to test this behavior to the extreme one birthday. To the complainer they gave them a room full of presents, more than the entire family gets on Christmas. To the joyful child they gave a barn full of manure. When they opened the room of presents the twin said, “But I wanted green and yellow Barbie mansion.” Then they went to the barn and heard singing. “Why are you singing?” the parents asked. The happy twin shoveling the stinky muck kept on digging as she answered, “With all this manure there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

We don’t have to admit to these extremes or point fingers to see the point. What makes life happy and enjoyable is hope. We cannot hope in the past. We can only hope in the future. We can remember and treasure the past. But looking to the future is hope, hope for good and not evil. So we say “Happy New Year!”

Disciples will hope in God’s plan and pray for courage to accept that plan no matter what. We move into the unknown future knowing God is good all the time. Change may occur, but we are not fearful. Expectations may never happen, but we are not disappointed. We could be pressed in on every side this year, but we will not be crushed. Therefore we can boldly say to each other: “Your New Year will be happy!”

My daughters and I believe in and trust in this good news that God is with us all the time. As we change our calendars and our life to align with God’s 2019 plans, we are happy. Happy New Year to all!

In Search of the Merry Christmas

All around us the singing and the decorations are shouting out hope, peace and joy. This is not reality for all persons. It hasn’t been for me of late. As friends remind me to let the four tenants of Advent wash over me, I rationalize that need to grab that last one to find the first three. Each advent we light the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and then the last candle on the wreath, right before Christmas, is love. 1 Corinthians 13 reminds us that if we don’t have love we have nothing. Feeling drained of love by some serious family issues, I listen again to God’s word that love is not about receiving it’s about giving. Instead of feeling sorry for my own situation, I return to a loving posture with the hope that it will be received in the spirit of Christmas. Mary and Joseph received some unlikely visitors in the stable: sheep herders who had no time for synagogue, Zoroastrian priests who found God leading them through the stars, and yes, I imagine, the villagers who rejected the pregnant woman and her older husband also came to see Him that first Christmas. Could the miracle of Christmas be true that when we love others we have enough love to find hope, peace and joy in our heart? It worked for Scrooge. Maybe it will work for this old, misshapen child of God. And maybe it will be true for you also. Merry Christmas, Everyone.

And the Snow Came Down

The stories we will tell about our Thanksgiving weekend blizzard will delight us all season. Even before we’re done digging out the trash bins and moving the broken limbs, we need to laugh a little about the heavy snow fall. It’s pretty, we said at first. Then, oh, no, I’m stuck. And look at the tree. Can it be saved? And finally, how many people are without power?

We were sore from shoveling. Crying from lost trees and bushes. Scrambling to find warm homes and making room for those without. It’s been quite a couple of days. As we try to get back to our regularly scheduled lives, let us ponder the snow coming down.

It reminds me of Christmas. We all love a white Christmas. Though the know-it-all wants to remind us that it doesn’t snow in December in Bethlehem, I love to think of God’s love coming down with each snowflake or raindrop. Each one unique. Each one saying “I love you” in a different language.

This morning as the snow started to fill the sky again, snow upon snow, I realized how blessed we are to have an early start to Christmas. “In the bleak mid winter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak mid-winter, long ago.” Gustav Holst wrote that line 112 years ago. It can bring us back to the joyful thought, “In the bleak mid-winter a stable place sufficed the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

And what about our sharing of space and energy during the blizzard? If Jesus Christ was born in a stable in the rain (most likely), can we get over the aches and inconveniences we’ve had this week? Love is coming to us snow flake by snow flake. And I for one will not complain about the cold season of Christmas.

Saints Alive, Living Among Us!

The electronic sign on the street boldly proclaims that we have Living Saints in our congregation. Let me explain. We say this because we have seen the sacrifice of upstanding men and women in our congregation in the service of others. Some have given up sleep to provide a safe place for homeless community members. Some have shouldered the responsibility of visitation to shut-ins and the sick. Some have dived in with dirty shoes and dirty kitchens and dirty closets to move a clean world into being. This month we honor these and many more ministries and friends with acknowledgments and pledges. Further, on All Saints Sunday we remember the Saints Above by lighting a candle in their memory. Recently passed family and friends are honored for the goodness of their life and faith in Jesus Christ. They become for us the Saints Above witnessing our work on earth. The candle we light inspires us to live righteous and sacrificial lives. Inspired by those who came before us and by those living among us, we are not just making disciples, we are making saints for God’s glorious kingdom. Join the heavenly throng each Sunday as we sing our praises in God’s holy, saint-a-fied church.

When the Trees Turn

Autumn is my favorite season. The explosion of color brings me again to my knees. “How awesome You are, God. You give us this beauty, even though we don’t deserve it.” In years past I’ve likened the coloring of the trees as a resurrection experience. In dying their colors become bold and stunning. In falling to the ground they give up their life to make compost for the next generation of seeds to thrive. But now, as I approach my golden years, I’m not so happy about the analogy that pushes expectations to be glorious in my last decade of ministry. And the thought of becoming compost is less than inspirational. Who wants to resurrect if it means dying? I’d rather live eternally! It is good that God offers us both in Jesus Christ. This Sunday we’ll again sit at the feet of Jesus and learn why resurrection is the first step in living eternally.

I Love to Tell the Story

Do you know how to take your life experience and transform it to a God story? Follow these simple steps and enjoy knowing that you are following God’s Word.

 What is the story you find yourself telling? 

As the parent of teenagers, what runs through my mind and mouth are the unusual situations my children have drawn me into. Like the time I had to find my daughter’s sunglasses so that she could lead the band in a parade. Did she think she would get lost and take the band with her? I didn’t ask, but ran to her locker, to her car and to catch up with the already moving procession.  Exhausted I said, I’m a band parent. It’s okay to be crazy.

What do we learn from the stories we like to tell?

I realize these high school years will pass quickly. Soon the nest will be empty except for holidays and occasional weekends. I have decided to cherish this time, instead of complaining, no matter how much it makes me run or cover for them.

What do these life stories say about our life with God?

Bible references: There is a season for everything. Train up a child in the way they should go. If you, as a parent, know how to give good gifts to your kids, how much more does God know what to give you? Jesus was faithful all the way to the cross.

In every situation or story we tell, there is a faith lesson. Let’s not miss it. Tell the story, but also connect it back to something God has said in Scripture.  In doing so, we will stay on course with God. 

Watch out for complaints and fears. They are not reflections of God’s guiding Word.  But do the work of the one who sent you into the world to love as God has loved you.

Now, Go. Tell the story of God’s unseen love and your experience of sharing that love.

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It's NOT FAIR!!!

Have you found yourself screaming this statement lately? I assure you, everyone comes to this conclusion at some point.  We try to be nice about it. We try to swallow pride and selfish desires, but then injustice overwhelms us. And we cry out, "It's not fair!"  I was a child when the anti-war protests were happening on college campuses. The war did end.  In graduate school we stepped out against Apartheid in South Africa. The rights of blacks been upheld in that country. Today the injustice we feel are for workers.

On September 8 we have an opportunity to stand up for what is not fair labor practices. Across the US people will march with "A Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice." Locally our march is in Elwood Illinois, home to one of the largest transportation hubs in the US.  Tons of freight and diesel trucks flow through the area - causing harmful pollution from diesel particulates and carbon and results in fatalities by trucks.  These warehouse owned by Walmart, Amazon, Cargill, Stephan (and many others) offer temporary employment (no benefits, no sick days, no vacation, not a set schedule) even though they promised permanent jobs.  Also, the cities have been funding these billionaire companies with tax payer money - so now many of the surrounding communities are in debt and are underfunding their schools.  

If you feel the injustice for laborers, for the environment or for students in poverty, please consider protesting. There will be busses from the Joliet Metro station taking the majority of the protesters to this small town. I intend to travel by car praying for a parking spot at O'Conner Park or within walking distance. This event is sponsored by 350.org and riseforclimate.org. 

School DaZe

Tired…bored…and stressed. High school students from across the country have weighed in on their emotional state in school — and overwhelmingly, they’re unhappy. Web MD surveyed a diverse sample of 22,000 students in 2015 asking them "How are you feeling?" Seventy-five percent of them responded with negative feelings.  Why? Is it all about the loss of freedom? Or can it be that we have failed to teach them the skills they need to succeed in school.  The basics are: 

1.  Attend school daily. 2. Be prepared. 3. Get enough rest. 4. Eat a healthy breakfast. 5. Take classes that interest you, and make all others work for you.  6. Participate in class.

If this is good for a student's education, could it be good for our religious education?  First ask yourself, do you have negative feelings about church?  If so, apply the basics:

1.  Go to church regularly. 2. Be prepared by praying before you go. 3. Get enough rest on Saturday. 4. Eat a healthy breakfast. 5. Serve in areas that interest you. 6. Participate. 

We cannot expect our children to be excited about school if we're not excited about following Jesus. As the kids get back to school, let us get back to church!

Our Whole World in His Hand

The church community is unlike other communities you know. There's the same sense of common mission and place. Some will say church is all about the people. Yet truthfully people come and go with life changes. In a church community the intimacy is real and the mission is shared not because we have common politics or upbringing, but because we have God in common. All other barriers to relationship breakdown when we say "we are one in Christ Jesus."  At First UMC we have diverse ethnic backgrounds in our worshipping congregation. When voices are lifted for prayer there are several accents and always various ages and genders. We have a multicolored church held together by the hand of God. Our whole community is in God's hand. And that just feels good. 

Glory Rise

This summer you will see a beautiful sunrise and want to capture it.  Get your cell phone out (if you have one) an snap that memory to your photo bank.  If you have a place to jot down a few thoughts about it, what you're thinking or feeling in the moment, make that happen.  The photo itself is not enough to help you recall what you are experiencing.  I have lots of nature photos in my boxes of pictures. I cannot remember why I took any of them. Words on the backs of the pictures have helped identify when and where. When we have a moment with God in our life we may not need a picture or words to jog our memory. God moments stand out. Like the time I was driving the curves between two churches and I looked up the clouds and I heard God speaking.  I don't need to go back to that God place. The photograph in my mind is enough for me to talk about that day Glory rose up in my heart for no real reason.  Do you have a moment of Glory rise you'd like to share? 

Being Dad

What is Being a Dad to you?
1. No more "me" time
2. Responsibility never ends, nor does their need for $$
3. Gender limitations/appreciating their mother
4. You are friends with your kids' friends' parents
5. Reinventing "cool" to keep relationships fresh

Happy Fathers Day to all who work hard at being a dad!

Lost In the Translation

Why do we need so many editions of the Bible? she asked me. It's because each of us interprets the original words a little differently. Maybe we need to write our own translation. How, for example, would you translate the Ten Commandments? Here's my interpretation:

1. Be addicted to God alone
2. Only use names for God for adoration
3. Set aside a 24 hour day every week for God
4. Honor both your parents
5. Don’t kill or destroy any part of God’s creation including the joy that’s inside others.
6. Don’t adulterate your relationships
7. Don’t take from others what is not yours
8. Don’t say false things about others
9. Don’t break up another person’s family
10. Don’t wish you have it any better than you do

Mom Stories

WHAT'S YOUR MOM STORY?

I heard this one about a mother duck. Kind people were installing a cell tower in field where a mother duck had chosen to make a nest. The workers tried to be careful, but they were sure the duck would be scared off with their heavy equipment. They carefully stepped around her, but really couldn't avoid making noise and confusion. The mother duck didn't move off the nest. She stayed to protect her younglings no matter what the humans were doing. Isn't that just like motherhood? It's all about protecting the kids. 

A competent wife, how does one find her? Her value is far above pearls. She is vigilant over the activities of her household; she doesn’t eat the food of laziness. Her children bless her; her husband praises her.
— Proverbs 31:10, 27-28 CEB

My Mom Story 

          From Pastor Nancy Rethford
Recently I found a recording of an interview with my mother that we did in 2004. The subject was the church, how they started a new church in Homewood and how her faith took her through difficult times in the church and at Annual Conference. She believed that the church can be strong again if we reach out to others and be welcoming of those who come in our building. PADS, Meals on Wheels and an empty-nesters Sunday brunch were the tools she thought we needed to grow the church again. I praise her still for letting me record her thoughts about the church. Now I watch it with longing to be able to touch her again. And yet, she's still with me every time I walk into one of our churches. I'm so glad we had that time together! 

May

19

Blooming Fest

Hours of Grace

Sometimes one hour is not enough.

Last Sunday we had a delightful worship with Gerald Savage, Chief Ho-Chunk Ska Ga. He talked of his family and tribal traditions. His affection for the land and for children resonated with us. Then afterwards we went to lunch. There  we heard stories of owls, his school board job and his upcoming graduation from Engineering School. When I brought him back to his car he showed me his chief's bonnet. He did not bring this into worship because as Christians we do not wear hats in the sanctuary. Lastly he offered to bless the parsonage with a smudging, much like he did with the worship leaders at 9:30 that morning. It was 1:30 before we said our goodbyes. We shared so much in those 5 hours together. Sometimes one hour on Sunday is just not enough to experience the grace of God in friendships. 

There is a place of quiet rest at your church home. 

If you find it on Sunday mornings in our worship space, you are blessed. If you see it in the eyes of compassion during the week, you are blessed. If you come during the week for meetings or study in the fellowship you are blessed. With what does God bless us?  God blesses us with Grace. God's Grace. Our sermon series in May is all about that Grace.  Bring your troubled friends. Bring your bleeding heart.  Come, for all is prepared.

Grace Wins Everytime - Life Lesson Series for May 2018

1. Pursuing Grace; 2. Grace Over Rules; 3. Igniting Grace; 4. Discerning Grace

"When it's sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All that sin can do is threaten us with death, and that's the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life--a life that goes on and on and on, world without end."  The Message, Romans 5:20-21

Everyday

"Every day is earth day," He said. It seems we have narrowed our connections to the earth to one day out of the year. Prior to 1970 we didn't even have a day to say "I speak for the earth."  Now at least we have a day. Maybe we need more. That's why I like hosting a Native American Sunday. Tomorrow we'll hear the thoughts of Ho Chunk native and friend Gerald Savage. He's love for Mother Earth is notable in his reclaiming of his tribal land and his passion for an every day earth day. Come. All are welcome.

Our prayers are being answered because we pray. Don't give up your prayer connection with us. Bring the prayers to worship. Write them on a connect card. Email them to Lana Runyan. Tie a thread on a prayer quilt. Call me (Pastor Nancy) if you want to meet me in the chapel for Prayer.  Thursday mornings usually work. But text or call in advance at 630-360-0471.

Start Seeing Flowers

All creation sings with the blessing of resurrection!

Are you enjoying the warm days? We've waited so long for them. Experience tells us that warmer days come in waves. We could get frost until May 15 or snow on Sunday!  Enjoy what we have right now. And watch for the flowers; they're popping up all over. 

Read Much?

There's room for two more at our Monday Bible Study, "Trusting the Covenant." Pick up your book at the Welcome Center. Scriptures will be sent via email each day. We meet at 7 pm at church. 

The Saturday group will start on April 21 at 10 am in the Chapel. Find your own copy of "Lies We Believe About God" by Wm. Paul Young. We will also make a date to see the movie The Shack. 

Reading with others magnifies the soul. Join a group; Learn to love the fellowship. 

No one says "I wish I didn't come."  Many say, "I wish I could go."  The blessed say, "This helped me."

Christ is alive, and comes to bring good news to this and every age, till earth and all creation ring with joy, with justice, love, and praise.
— Brian Wren

Worship Buzz 12/8/2017

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December arrives with less snow than I would like. There's no telling about a white Christmas yet. Every time a fresh, white layer of snow falls on us, the purity of the incarnation and the magic of Christmas Eve are again revealed.  What are your thoughts this Christmas?

This week's best news is our newly carpeted worship space. This gift from our Congregational friends brings great joy to the room. Our last carpet was terribly stained and worn well beyond it's years. The new one isn't coffee proof, but we can lift out sections if a stain becomes uncleanable. Also the front entrance has a walk off carpet to catch dirt and salt.  With this lift, our praises will go higher and higher. Or if looking down in prayer, you wont be distracted by the dirt. 

In true form, we have opened our doors and first use of our carpet to our shelter guests. Saturday we open it up to the community for children and their families to have breakfast and meet Santa.

Sunday we worship on new ground, a beautiful foundation for praise.  We are blessed. Not all Christian congregations are so blessed. Our friend Georges Cadet preaches for a congregation in Haiti who worship from 6 am to 10 pm on a dirt floor.  At some point in the day he has to tell them to keep it down; the dust needs to settle.

Blessings,

Pastor Nancy Rethford

Worship Buzz 12/1/2017

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INTEGRATE – to combine one thing with another so that they become a whole.
 
In baking bread, integrate the yeast and let it sit in a warm environment for a time. In joining a new social group, integrating will take much longer than yeast. Integrating a new idea into an old social order does not need time as much as understanding. This Sunday at the end of worship we can integrate your voice with others as we are talk about what we can do with our facilities. 

Some guidelines for integration. Let others speak without interruption. Be careful not to kill seed thoughts before they have an opportunity to live for Christ.  Most of all let us listen for the Holy Spirit to move us into action.  

"God didn’t give us a spirit that is timid but one that is powerful, loving, and self-controlled."  2 Timothy 1:7


The children and youth will again have their own lessons in the Education Wing during our study time. We are blessed to have teachers.  Pray for God to send us young families. Pray that they come tomorrow 1 pm – 3 pm to make candy cottages and December 9 for Breakfast with Santa.  Ask any stressed out parent about needing a kid free shopping day. Our youth are offering childcare to earn money for their winter retreat. Help others take advantage of our resources for children! This is how we grow the church.

Prayers Today:  Once again we have a number of people managing cancer treatments. A little Christmas cheer may give them the boost they need to get through the day. Also let’s keep believing that God is acting.  Stories about breakthroughs in science and remission diagnosis are always hope filled for our weary prayers. 

December 1 is HIV/AIDS awareness day.  So today I pause to think of the many who suffered (and still suffer) from this indiscriminate disease. I ask for protection for medical staff who make sacrifices to minister to the sick. I uplift the caregivers who dedicate their lives to the patient and then suffer the grief of their loss.  We cannot ask “Why God?”  Our calling is not to question our ministry. Our calling is to do in Jesus name.

Ruminations:   Let's think about the servant who mucked out the stall where Jesus was born.  Did he know he was serving the king of kings?  Could he feel the awesome power of being so close to God?  Could our service to God be any different? Wherever we serve God in the church it shouldn't be considered a burden or beneath us. Like a stable hand cleaning up a mess for Jesus, be in awe of the opportunity to muck out the stable.  This is holy ground. 

Thank you for serving God's mission with us at First Church. 

Pastor Nancy Rethford