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Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. – Hellen Keller

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From the Office

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From the Pastor – August Newsletter Article by Pastor Pokora

It’s hard to believe August has arrived already.

What happened to May, June, and July?

Doesn’t it seem like time passes very swiftly.

When I was younger, days and weeks seemed to drag by, but not any longer.

Now that I am older time spins by like water swirling around the drain.

Often, we speak about stewardship in terms of our financial affairs, but today I want to reflect on stewardship in terms of time management.

There are only so many hours in a day or days in a week. They are doled out to us the way wages are deposited in our checking account. We only get so much, and we better spend our time wisely.

It’s easy in our culture to waste our time. Have you ever seen someone you know sit in front of a television all day watching programs of little or no value? I gave up on television years ago.

But I have found a new way to waste my time. I have an iPad. I can sit reading articles on my iPad all afternoon.

Couldn’t I find a better way to use my time?

I admire retired folks who serve with Habitat for Humanity or other social service organizations in our community.

I have friends who couldn’t wait to retire, but once they retried, they stopped doing anything of service to others.

The point I want to make is that we ought to be good stewards of our time. Being a good steward means using our time in God’s service. We take time to do the things which help our neighbor. We take time for prayer, worship, meditation and the renewal of our faith and spiritual self.

Message from August 14 by Pastor Pokora

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

Recently, I read an interesting article by David French entitled Another Pop-Culture Christian Loses His Faith. In the article, French writes:

As our culture changes, secularizes, and grows less tolerant of Christian orthodoxy, I’m noticing a pattern in many of the people who fall away: They’re retreating from faith not because they’re ignorant of its key tenets and lack the necessary intellectual, theological depth but rather because the difficulty of adherence to increasingly counter-cultural doctrine grows too great.

Let’s be honest, the gospel of Jesus Christ is increasingly counter-cultural, and it takes courage to faithfully follow Jesus in our culture. Jesus addresses this in our gospel reading today as he talks about discipleship. Quite frankly, today’s gospel reading is one of those passages that causes clergy to cringe when they read it and then have to say, “The gospel good news of our Lord.” It would be so easy to gloss over this reading and say Jesus really did not mean what he is saying here.  It would be easy to simply water down his words and sugar coat them. It would be so easy to use another reading, one that provides us with a sugar-coated Christianity; but that would also leave us with a sugar-coated cross.  Quite frankly, eliminating what this passage is all about would mean eliminating an honest, lay it on the line call to discipleship.  So, today we are going to wrestle with this reading and tackle this call to discipleship.

These words are challenging but, Jesus never shies away from challenge. Jesus’ words are strong and urgent words that name what is going on.  He lays it on the line and his words are an honest call to live a life of discipleship.

The late Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick once wrote, “The world has two ways of getting rid of Jesus. The first is by crucifying him; the second is by worshiping him without following him.” Discipleship means worshiping AND following. It means living a life that is complicated because it is totally counter-cultural, increasingly unpopular and sometimes even divisive. You see, it is quite easy to worship Jesus on Sunday, but it is all together something else to follow Jesus out there in that world on Monday. Quite frankly, it is very easy to say you are a follower of Jesus and attend worship once in a while. However, discipleship in community is a much more difficult and demanding proposition.  Discipleship is about following Jesus, living by his teachings, and living in the Spirit of his very life.  Discipleship is a summons to faith and a call to daily live that faith, whatever the context. This is not easy!

Membership in a church is easy but living a life of discipleship is hard, tough stuff. Yet, it is the way of working for justice even when justice seems impossible. It is the way of love, even when we work to love those who are so difficult to love, even as we love our enemies and all those who are considered “other.” It is the way of forgiving even when forgiveness seems unwarranted or circumstances are harsh and cruel It is the way of real, meaningful life, life that truly matters. And, such a way of life requires faith, the kind of faith that perseveres even in and through struggle.

There is a story about English politician and philanthropist, William Wilberforce, who worked tirelessly to abolish slavery.  It was Wilberforce who introduced legislation in the British Parliament to end the slave trade. In 1779 when he first introduced the bill, he was shouted down and laughed at. He was ridiculed and ostracized from polite society. But, he continued. He continued year after year from 1779 until 1807 when the tide of public opinion had in fact changed.  And he continued after that to argue and fight for an end to slavery itself – not just the slave trade, but the end of all slavery, something that finally happened in the British Empire in 1833, just a few days before Wilberforce died.  At one point, in the depth of his struggle, things seemed hopeless.

 An Anglican priest, John Wesley, sent a letter to Wilberforce saying, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you?  Are all of them stronger than God?  Be not weary in well doing!  Go on, go on in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish before it.” Wesley’s words were encouraging and a summons to faith for Wilberforce, a summons to live a faith that perseveres because faith and discipleship are never easy.

The great temptation of Christianity is always to have a sugar-coated Christianity with a sugar-coated cross and eliminate the great call to discipleship in this world.  Our greatest temptation is that the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life become more important than the call of Jesus Christ.  And so, worship of family, our jobs, sporting events, our homes, our vacations, all become more important to us than Christ and God’s mission in this world. The result is faith that is like a watered-down wine; it is middle class Christianity; it is complacent Christianity; it is comfortable Christianity; it is what so much of American Christianity has become.

Yet, a life of faith and discipleship is a very real daring act of courage. In fact, one of my favorite theologians, Paul Tillich, in his book The Courage to Be, teaches just that – faith is a daring act of courage.  Faith is about boldly entering the struggles of life and that kind of faith and discipleship are risky. That kind of faith and discipleship cannot be detached from our everyday experience and our daily pattern of living.  And, yes, it can mean struggle and making hard choices.

Jesus was no stranger to struggle and making hard choices. He entered the struggle. Faith and discipleship mean participating in Jesus’ mission and following the way of the cross which takes us into a reordering of our very lives.  The cross is the sign of growth through struggle, and it is our willingness to enter the struggle that determines the pattern of our faithfulness as disciples.  Discipleship happens when the cross is woven into the very fabric of our lives.  When that occurs, our faith is defined by our response to the very demands and choices that are pressed upon us.  This is the way in which God calls and invites us into God’s mission of love, forgiveness, compassion, justice, and grace for the life of this world.

We are not called to live a sugar coated life of faith.  We are called to participate in Christ’s mission.  And, as God works through us, Christ restructures us; Christ breaks down walls of division; Christ repairs us in order that we might become repairers of a broken world.  God takes us into God’s ongoing work of reconciling, binding up, and making whole.  And, yes, it is demanding, and it can be costly and risky.  However, we do not do this alone because it is Christ who is our peace in the depth of the struggle. And, it is Christ who is with us every step of the way.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ our Lord.