Pastor Stella’s blog can be found  here.

Elemeno

Elemeno

The word “elemeno” isn’t in the dictionary, but every child knows it. When you sing the alphabet song, you say, “a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,I,j,k, elemeno, p…”  I have been preaching and blogging about the Hebrew letters, and this week, in the spirit of “elemeno,” I will be taking up three letters, l, m, and n, since we are moving in a fast rhythm as we lead up to Easter. Two weeks ago, my friend and colleague, Rev. Paul Harris shared about the challenges of living the life of faith in the middle of the border crisis, and I understand he did an excellent job.  Last Sunday, we received the gift of a wonderful Palm Sunday Cantata.  This coming Sunday,apparently we have a holiday coming up… fast rhythm and full music around here. The Hebrew letter, lamed, looks like a lightning bolt. When King Solomon was given the opportunity to ask for anything he wanted, he asked for something we often translate as “wisdom.” It all came to him like a lightning bolt. How wonderful that the man who could have asked for great power and wealth asked for wisdom.  How wonderful that God blessed with wealth and power anyway.The story gets better when you learn that the word we translate as “wisdom” is lieb shemah, a listening heart.  How wonderful to long for a listening heart. In Hebrew culture, they did not make the distinction that we do between heart and head – emotion and intellect. To them, the heart, the lieb, was the center of it all, so a listening heart means both openness to new learning as well as sensitivity...
Be Disciplined

Be Disciplined

I don’t think of myself as a disciplined person. Most of us don’t. That’s why we need Lent. It is a set aside time that allows us to focus. As we follow Jesus’ ministry in Scripture each week, we have a model for a human life well-lived and it inspires us to be better. The Hebrew letter this week, kaf, begins the Hebrew word kavana, meaning intentionality, willpower, and single-mindedness. I am loving how the Hebrew letters are lining up with where we are in the life of the church – as if somebody planned it that way. Kaf is a good letter for the middle of Lent. My sermon this week began with a story of a friend who grew up with Attention Deficit Disorder. She described what it was like to feel the effects of medication by saying that it was as if she has spent her whole life in a room with rows and rows of TV’s, all blaring a different station, then suddenly, someone had come in and turned all the TV’s off except the one she was supposed to be watching. Amazing. In the same way, Lent is a time to “turn off the TV’s,” to remove distractions, and focus so that we can encounter God. Our readings for the week came from the third chapter of John, in which Nicodemus asks Jesus to share the secret to eternal life, and the book of Numbers, which shares the story of God giving His people power over poisonous snakes. In both cases, the call is to set aside everything and trust God, focusing on the...
Be Willing to Change

Be Willing to Change

Last week I did something I have never done in the four years I’ve been preaching weekly: I went to bed on Saturday night with no sermon in my head. I have developed a very disciplined preaching practice because I know I am one of those people who needs to be prepared. If I tried to preach off the cuff, I’d wander into the weeds and take you with me. I finally crawled out of bed in the middle of the night to finish it, and then I prayed I could keep it all in my head for three services without the usual two or three days to let the words settle in. Why was preaching so hard this time? Possibly because I was preaching on change, something I resist if it has any possibility of leading to conflict. I am trying to change the way we help people in the church, from reacting to immediate material needs to building relationships that lead to deeper change and real mercy. I was interrupted as I typed this just now by a disabled man who came in out the rain to ask for gas money. I told him we don’t give out cash, but I could take him to get gas later today when I had a moment. I told him we could also offer assistance through the food pantry, and that I could offer prayer. “That’s all?” he said. He refused the offer of prayer and went away angry, talking about how people keep slapping him in the face. This change is hard. We’ve been following the Hebrew alphabet in...
Be Kind

Be Kind

So often, we forget the most basic thing. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. On Sunday I confessed that in my busyness, I sometimes act like the priest who walked right by the injured Samaritan; I forget the most basic commandment in favor of all the other things on my to-do list. Why can’t we simply be good? The Hebrew letters continue to mark our journey, and this week, we encounter, tet, one of two letters that makes the “t” sound. Tet begins the word tov, and it is associated with the quality of goodness. When God looked out on his creation, he saw that it was good, tov, and so we, too, see goodness in creation around us. The inward-curving shape of the letter reminds us that goodness is often hidden in creation and we are called to search for it. Goodness is hidden in us, too, and it is revealed when we allow God to work through us. Goodness is revealed when we follow Jesus’ command to take up our cross and follow, to be willing to lose our lives in order to gain something greater. On Sunday we sang the wonderful prayer of St. Francis, “Make me a Channel of your Peace.” May it be...
Remember

Remember

I have been keeping a small blog to recap my Sunday sermons and Wednesday worship, but I had not published it anywhere except the church website. I am working on pulling it all together; you can read the story of how it came to be on the first blog post. I wanted to post it all here because we’re revamping the website and if any of you join in on the discussion of the Hebrew alphabet, it won’t make sense to start reading in the middle of the alphabet; you’ll want to go back. (At least I hope you will.) I thought I’d also include Ash Wednesday’s notes. Since I had been an associate pastor, I never got to preach an Ash Wednesday service and it was really powerful to get to lead a congregation through this observation. Early in the morning and at the noon hour, I prayed with people in the sanctuary and offered ashes, the symbol of our mortality and dependence on God. The food pantry people suggested I come down there and offer ashes in the prayer room, too. What a day! I came in brokenhearted because my son is having struggles in school, and I felt like I was watching someone drown. Throughout the day, when I asked, “For what shall we pray,” people often answered, “for my son,” or “for my daughter,” or “for my grandchild,” and decribed to me their feelings of worry, frustration and sadness. What a blessing to know we are not alone and we don’t need to hide. I decided to focus the evening’s worship on letting go of...

Ban the Busy: Be Patient

We are beings trapped in time. We worry and obsess over what we have to do, and we are haunted by the evil spirit of busyness. This week in worship, I challenged you to ban the word from your vocabulary. No more, “I’m so busy;” instead, stop, pay attention, and listen. The seventh letter of the Hebrew alphabet, zayin, reminds us of that. Zayin begins the word for time, zman, as well as the word “remember,” zachar. Time and time again, when God’s people were given a law, statue, or commandment, they were told o remember the whys of it – be kind to the slave among you, remember you were a slave in Egypt; provide for the alien among you, remember that you were an alien in the land. God has compassion for us, enslaved in time, and we are to have it for others, to be patient with them and to be kind . We remember, for when we lose inner memory, we lose our sense of being and our purpose. On Sunday, we observed Transfiguration Day. We recalled that Jesus revealed himself in full, glorious light to his inner circle of disciples. H allowed them to step out of time with him, in a sense, to prepare them for the journey to the cross that was ahead of them. We, too, remember the full glory of Christ and the fullness of his grace before we being the walk into the dark time of reflection that from early church times has been called lent, from the Latin word for Spring; lentus. When we know spring is coming...
Be Fully Alive

Be Fully Alive

“L’chaim! To Life!” It’s a Hebrew expression familiar to many of us, thanks to the popular play, Fiddler on the Roof. The word chai, means life, and the Hebrew letter, Chet, is associated with life, health and vitality. This week in worship, we see Jesus demonstrating for us what it means to be a human fully alive – he reflects the life-giving nature of our creator as he teaches and heals, bringing justice and calling people into the fullness of who they are created to be. People are drawn to him, and one asks, “What is the secret to eternal life? How to I obtain it?” Jesus responds that the law leads to life, and tells the man he is to love his neighbor as himself, which prompts the man to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” This week in worship, the children lead us into lent, retelling the story of the Good Samaritan, and inviting us to love one another, the key to life. Meditate on the things that give you life this week as you consider the letter of life,...

Great Expectations

Just as I did when I was pregnant 26 years ago, my daughter Aubrey has been reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Not only is she reading a new edition of the book, but her study is supported by a website that has everything from preconception to pregnancy to a baby registry. Expecting is exciting but it is also terrifying, exhausting work. She’s not sleeping well. She’s concerned about the pain of labor and delivery. She’s worried about the health of her baby. She’s anxious to meet her daughter. So am I. It’s hard to not be concerned, worried and anxious when your baby is expecting a baby. Life is fragile. No other lesson has been driven home as hard this past year as this one. Our bodies are mortal. Our hearts can be crushed by loss. But by the grace of God we can be healed and whole again. So as we wait expectantly for baby Jocelyn to arrive, I pray A LOT.  I give God my worries and anxiety. I pray God’s blessing on Aubrey, Wally and their baby. I pray that we might remain in God’s peace as we watch and wait for that day of her arrival. Advent is a season of preparation and expectation. Many of you probably already have your homes prepared for the holy days ahead. On Sunday night December 1st, we prepare our sanctuary for the season during our annual Hanging of the Greens worship service. This service is filled with rich traditions and is a cherished event in the life of Covenant. I hope you will join us as...

A Year of Grace

November 15th is the one year anniversary of my husband John’s death. For several weeks I have been thinking about it, anticipating it, dreading it, and wondering how I will get through it. I do not want to simply re-live the horrible hours of that devastating day. How does one both recognize the passing of a year without one’s loved one without getting sucked back into the deep darkness of that experience? What is the most faithful thing to do? If we tread this earth long enough, we all experience significant loss. It is the hardest part of living. The loss of a loved one, a dream, a career, or one’s health can confound and overwhelm us. It is hard to conceive of life beyond that loss. But my experience has been that it is the living, the saints around us, who are best able to help us move beyond the loss and live life abundantly again. My life was forever changed a year ago, but not simply because of my loss. I have been   transformed by the love, compassion, care, gracious acts, and healing kindnesses of my amazing church family. You have been truly wonderful in my darkest hour. I have been sustained by your prayers, your cards, your words of assurance and your gracious acceptance of who I am in the wake of my experience. I have been deeply touched by your patience and understanding of the many things I have felt I needed to do.  My trip to Israel was a huge blessing at just the right time.  Our trip to Virginia to spread John’s ashes...