Happy New Year!

psalm51Sometimes when the new year comes around I just want to say ‘whew!’ I think about this past year and part of me is glad for its passing and other parts of me are grateful for the incredible events of the year.

On Sunday, December 29th we had an informal service, what I called a ‘coffee and cake’ service. We sat in the fellowship hall, enjoyed some homemade brunch goodies, sang hymns, prayed and shared the scripture. On this day I shared Peterson’s interpretation of Psalm 51. Peterson was responsible for the publishing of ‘The Message,’ an interpretation of the bible that applies a lot of modern language and feelings and this version of Psalm 51 was no different. The original text was listed as a prayer from David after he murdered Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba in order to marry her. It is a psalm of repentance, of asking for forgiveness from God. I figured what better way to end the year!

Seriously, I think if everyone could take a breath and pray as David did in this passage, the world would be a better place. One of my favorite lines is “God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.” I think at the end of the year we all could stand a little bit of a new creation in our lives, a ‘Genesis week’ to get us a fresh start in a new decade.

The service continued with some lively discussions around the wording, around who we are as humans and a surprising question about whether Jesus ever made mistakes (see what you missed?). I love this kind of worship experience, where we are active participants in worship. You know, John Wesley told us that we should ask questions about our faith, even tough questions. Some of them we may even have answers for, others we just have to accept without an answer. Wesley’s famous foundation for our faith rests on Reason, Experience, Scripture, and Tradition (REST) with Scripture have primacy but all the others are important as well.

With all this in mind, I’d like to give you a chance for a fresh start this decade. I’ve included the Psalm 51 passage that we used. I urge you to take time this month to read it, not once, not twice but at least ten times during the month. I find it really helpful to read it out loud. Each time stop at a different sentence and read that one sentence twice. Let it soak in. You can read it as David did, a prayer to God or just read it. I promise you two things from this. First, God will hear you. God always hears us when we pray. Second, I promise if you do it earnestly, with intent, paying attention to it, you will notice something about yourself.

Now, for something else of importance. I baked a coffee cake for the Sunday service and several of you asked for the recipe. It was my mom’s recipe, passed to her from her friend Anita. The cake is called ‘Nochures’ and it is a delight to share it with you. Happy New Year!

Nochures (coffee cake) recipe from Pastor Rick’s mom, Margaret (Peg) Rabe

preheat oven to 350

2 cups brown sugar

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup shortening (I used soft margarine)

combine above to make a crumble, reserve 1 ½ cup for topping

Mix together

1 cup sour milk (1 cup milk + 2 tbsp vinegar)

2 eggs beaten

1 generous teaspoon baking soda

add to the flour mix

grease a 13 x 9 pan (or a 10 x 10)

pour the mixture into the pan, sprinkle the crumb mixture on top

sprinkle cinnamon on top

dot top with pats of butter

note: crumbled walnuts or pecans may be added to mixture or to topping

Bake for 30 minutes or until done – if you are using a smaller pan (like 10 x 10) plan on an additional 10 – 15 minutes baking time

Psalm 51 (from The Message)

A David Psalm, After He Was Confronted by Nathan About the Affair with Bathsheba

Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.

Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry.

I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down.

You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil.

You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair.

I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born.

What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.

Tune me into foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing.

Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health.

God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.

Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me.

Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails!

Give me a job teaching rebels your ways so the lost can find their way home.

Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God, and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.

Unbutton my lips, dear God; I’ll let loose with your praise.

Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you.

I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered.

Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

Make Zion the place you delight in, repair Jerusalem’s broken-down walls.

Then you’ll get real worship from us, acts of worship small and large, Including all the bulls they can heave onto your altar!

A relaxed Sunday Service – Dec 29

Cinnamon-Walnut-Coffee-Cake

The rushing, the hurry, the presents, the relatives…. oh rush, rush, rush.. How about a little coffee (or tea) and some time to relax?  Now, how about a church service like that?  This Sunday come and have a cup, some snacks (there is a rumor the pastor is making his mother’s coffee cake recipe), sing a few hymns, and instead of a sermon you’ll have a chance to ask some questions of the Pastor!  It’s this Sunday at 10am.

 

Christmas Eve Service

Come and join us for a family Christmas Eve service complete with familiar hymns, wonderful readings and uplifting messages ending in a circle of candlelight!  It all begins at 6:30pm!

All are Welcome!

 

Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace – in the darkness

stars

It is Advent! A time of anticipation, a time of reflection, of thanks, of excitement. Four Sundays beginning on December 1st mark the days and weeks as we move towards Christmas day.

In the northern hemisphere, we are also marching towards the Winter Solstice, the day of the longest night. It’s no coincidence that the German and Scandinavian Christians created the ceremony of lighting candles to mark each week of Advent. Each week another candle was added, another source of illumination. In Oslo, Norway this year the sun won’t rise until 8:41am and will set at 3:36pm, just 6 hours and 45 minutes of light. More candles and more light becomes part of the celebration.

This year our Advent series isn’t focused on light but rather on the darkness. All too often we look at the world as binaries, good/bad, simple/complex, light/dark, but that isn’t the world is it? No one person ‘all good’ or ‘all bad.’ Nothing is really all that simple, everything has a little bit of complexity and even in the depth of the night there is a beauty. If you don’t believe me go somewhere away from the street lights and on a clear night look up you will see the heavens unfold before your very eyes.

Even the Advent candles are made more special because of the holiness of the darkness. Don’t believe me? Light four candles outside in the middle of a sunny day. Not exactly spectacular. Now light the same four at night in a dark room and watch the flames bring the room to life!

Each Sunday of Advent we are going to examine, to experience, the holiness of the darkness. You recall in Genesis that God created both the night and the day? God created both, and both are ‘good. Each Sunday we will hear the same stories we hear at Christmas, the angels, the shepherds, the manger, Joseph and Mary but we will see what an important role darkness plays in each story.

So come this Advent and share the darkness together. Wrap yourself in it, let your soul rest there. Come and relish not only the day but the glories of the evenings. Come and light a candle together to see in the darkness the holy, the wonder, the beauty that God has created for you.

Pastor Rick

Tomorrow – Christmas Eve

Monday, December 24th we will light the final candle of Advent (the service starts at 6pm, all are welcome).  We’ve been on this journey through the words of the hymn ‘Silent Night’ (it is the 200th anniversary of this wonderful hymn).  Now we are about to complete it.  Below is the reading we will use as we light the candle.

There was a darkness, a deep darkness.
Yet they found their way.
The night was quiet and it was beyond quiet.
So they traveled in the silence.
Afraid to break the stillness.
They’d left their flocks at the angels beckoning
Now they are following nothing but…
A star, a hope, a folly, a dream perhaps.
We all are on this same journey this silent night,
We are all in the darkness, seeking the light.
We hope with the morning will come a new light
We pray the silence of tonight will give way
to the sounds of Peace, Hope Love, and Joy.
Let us light this last candle of Advent, the Christ Candle
To light our way to morning,
To light the way to the manger
To light our way to new life!

 

Christmas Eve Service

Come and join us for a family friendly service on Christmas Eve at 6pm.  Lot’s of singing, lots of stars (our theme this year), and a special candle light moment at the end of the service.  Come and help us celebrate the 200th Anniversary of ‘Silent Night’ and the birth of Jesus.  All are welcome!

The Peace Light of Bethlehem Arrives at West Springfield United Methodist Church

On Sunday, December 9, 2019, the Peace Light of Bethlehem was presented to our church during our morning worship service by Scout Leader, Sherry Kreps. The Peace Light campaign was originally organized in 1986 by the Austrian Broadcasting Company and was part of a large charitable relief mission call “Light into Darkness” for children in need in Austria and abroad. Since 1989, there has been a great deal of cooperation between Scouts and Guides in many countries, which has allowed the light to travel through Europe.

To celebrate this season, we invite all who would like to be in the presence of the Peace Light to our service on Sunday, Dec 16 or Dec 23 at 10:00 AM, or Christmas Eve at 6:00 PM.

Background

Each year a child from Upper Austria travels to Bethlehem to retrieve the light from the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem that has been burning continuously for over 1,000 years. The light is then flown to Austria from where it is distributed at a Service of Dedication to delegations from across Europe who take it back, with a message of Peace, to their own countries for use at ecumenical services throughout the Continent. Scouts, boys and girls and Guides then take the light on to houses of worship, hospitals, homeless shelters, prisons and any other public places-to anybody who appreciates the significance of the gift.

The Peace Light first came to NY in 2001 by Canadian Scouts who brought it to Ground Zero. In 2002, the Peace Light was delivered to the Boy Scouts of America by Belgian Scouts. In 2003 the light didn’t make it to the US but fortunately members of the diocesan Scouting committee had kept the 2002 Peace Light burning.

In 2004 the Austrian Scout Movement, Austrian Airlines and Boy Scouts of American International Division arranged to bring the Peace Light to New York on Dec. 4th. Two security guards and the international commissioner of Austrian Scouting, flew from Vienna with the Peace Light in two explosive proof, British mining lamps, fueled by smokeless paraffin oil. Just 11 days earlier, Austrian Scouts had extracted the light from the eternal flame of Bethlehem.

In 2011 the flame shared in New Hampshire traveled to West Hartford, VT where it was given at a “Service of Hope” to honor those families still recovering from Hurricane Irene. In 2012 Scouts from all over New England brought the Peace Light to Newtown, CT in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Also, in 2012 Scouts in the NY area presented the Peace Light to Hurricane Sandy victims and to the rescue workers who responded to the needs of those who suffered significant loss of their homes and all their possessions.

 

 

The Star is shining, shall we follow it?

“Silent night! hallowed night!
Land and deep silent sleep;
Softly glitters bright Bethlehem’s star.
Beckoning Israel’s eye from afar
Where the Saviour is born.” – J. F. Warner, 1849

These are just one of dozens of different lyrics for the beloved hymn, “Silent Night” or in the original German, “Stille Nacht.” This year is the 200th anniversary of the first time that song was heard, on a Christmas Eve in 1818. I am fond of this one for the wording “Softly glitters bright Bethlehem’s star..”

There are many origin stories for this hymn but all of them focus around a single Christmas Eve evening and a somewhat urgent situation requiring a response, right now! Here’s one of my favorite versions:

“On Christmas Eve of 1818 the young priest of St. Nicholas parish church in Obendorf, Germany faced disaster. The organ had been incapacitated by mice. The chance of fixing the instrument before the evening service was nil. Father Joseph Mohr was not a man to just give up however. He pulled out a poem he had written several years before called “Stille Nacht”. Mohr took his poem to the schoolmaster and organist of a nearby town, Franz Xaver Gruber. He asked that Gruber write a melody to accompany the poem on guitar. In several hours, Gruber had the music done and the carol was played for the first time that night at the Christmas Eve service.”

( https://allaboutromance.com/the-story-behind-the-carol-silent-night/ )

Most of the stories follow the same theme, a poem left languishing suddenly brought to life due to some urgent need. I love the fact that this was first performed on a guitar and can just imagine the candle light in that church on a cold Christmas Eve, worshipers huddled together in anticipation of Christmas morning and then Gruber performs this soft, compelling song. If there was a dry eye in among the congregation I would be surprised.

There is another story surrounding this hymn, one that portrays our fragile human condition. It was during the Christmas truce in World War I. The soldiers on both sides in the awful, cold, trenches of that terrible war started to sing this song in English, French, and German across the desolate landscape of that battlefield, bringing the hope alive for a brief moment. As romantic as that sounds, the tragedy is that the war would rage on for another four years. We celebrated the 100th anniversary of the end of that war this Veterans Day.

This Advent, as we prepare ourselves for the birth of our savior, we are going to journey through this beloved hymn. We are going to start a search for our own “Star of Bethlehem,” trying hard to reconnect with our faith, with what it means to “follow.” We will explore the challenges of following a star, or Christ, just as the shepherds and magi did. We will ask the questions:

  • How do we know if we are following the right star?

  • How can something that seems so far away steer us to finding our faith?

  • When we hear the angels calling, will we be afraid or filled with joy?

  • Finally, how do we receive the “abundant grace” promised in this hymn?

Our Advent Series Begins on December 2nd and will end on Christmas Eve.

Sunday Services

  • December 2nd – How do we use silence to connect with God? (from verse 1 “all is calm, all is bright”)

  • December 9th – How do we relate to the shepherds, who were at first fearful? (verse 2 “Shepherds quake at the sight!”)

  • December 16th – How do we share “Loves pure light in our life?” (verse 3)

  • December 23rd – Can we appreciate the grace given through Jesus? (Verse 4 “Abundant grace for our intent”)

December 24th Christmas Eve, 6pm Family Candlelight Service

So, plan your Sunday’s ahead. We are going to listen for our own “Stille Nacht.” We are going on a journey, guided by a star, shining so brightly, I promise we wont get lost along the way.

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