A Word from the Pastor
December 2019 – Living Questionable Lives
I am part of a group of pastors and elders in Lake Erie Presbytery who are reading a book entitled, “Surprise the World: Five Habits of Highly Missional People.” The book encourages followers of Jesus to practice five simple habits that we might lead “questionable lives.” I like that term, “questionable lives.” It implies that there is something different about those people. We most likely associate the term ‘questionable’ when it comes to people with ‘questionable character’ an inference that the person can’t be trusted. Rather, the author is encouraging living out the faith is such a way that others question what we do and why we are doing it.
The fact is that Jesus was surrounded with people who lead questionable lives. During Advent we will be looking at the story of Jesus birth through the eyes of men and women who led questionable lives. Herod whose authority and power intimidated and oppressed the people of Israel. The Shepherds who were considered as a class of people unclean and not to be trusted. The Innkeeper who couldn’t find room for a pregnant woman to stay, really?? And Mary herself, engaged to Joseph, not yet married, but finds herself pregnant. Quite a cast of characters.
There is an old communication theory that goes like this: When predictability is high, impact is low. If anything is true about the story of Jesus it is that it’s unpredictable. We just don’t see it because we have become familiar with the story. But our lives lived out in an unpredictable ‘Jesus way’ will cause others to question our character. If your neighbors, ask about your questionable lives don’t worry. You are in great company! ~ Pastor Chris
For this November, this month of Thanksgiving, I just want to share one of my favorite quotes about being thankful:
The person who fashions a visionary ideal of church demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the Christian community with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God accordingly. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, and as if his dream binds the people together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to pot. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God.
Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, we enter into common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We are thankful for what God has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by God’s call, God’s forgiveness, and promise. We do not complain about what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he gives us daily…” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.27-28.
~ Pastor Chris
Several weeks ago, I received an invitation to participate in a Presbyterian Middle East church consultation in Erbil, Iraq. After much discernment and prayer, I have accepted the invitation. From October 8 to 18 I will be traveling with six other pastors from the United States. We will be gathering in Erbil (and be based there) for a consultation with church leaders from Iraq, the Synod of the Nile in Egypt and the National Synod of Syria and Lebanon. From Erbil we will travel to Kirkuk and to Mosul. Cities which were greatly affected by ISIS.
Early in June, the Iraqi government finished clearing the main roads into the old city of Mosul (ancient Nineveh) and allowed people to return. El-der Amman Daoud, of the Baghdad Presbyterian Church went to see the dam-age of the historic Mosul Presbyterian Church, along with Hanna Al-Saka, who is from that church. They braced themselves unsure of what they would find, much to their surprise the church was not obliterated. Although there was much damage, it was NOT destroyed, and, in fact, the historic carving over the door which reads “THE PROTESTANT CHURCH” was in intact! The initial plans are to rebuild/repair the small but historic church in Mosul.
I am grateful for the session’s endorsement and encouragement to participate in this unique opportunity. This will be my third trip to Iraq in twelve years. Please know that I go representing not only the PC(USA) but also the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. I look forward to telling you all about it when I return.
~ Pastor Chris
I have had the blessing of knowing storytellers: neighbors, friends, relatives. Some stories they told were exaggerated beyond belief, others made you laugh so hard you couldn’t breathe. I especially loved the stories my older relatives would tell. Stories about how they grew up, why they decided to go to college or get married, about their struggles with life and loss.
The first habit of discernment is the practice of paying attention to our experience and to others through storytelling. Listening to and telling our stories creates the capacity to notice surprising events in one another’s lives. Much like the practice of sharing a testimony, we must learn that the fertile ground of our lives is the place where God is at work. Many people doubt that God is somehow active in their lives. Why is this so when the story of scripture is that God is intimately and powerfully involved in people’s lives? Perhaps we have been trained to think that God only speaks through the sermon, or people more religious than ourselves. Perhaps we can see more clearly when we look back and realize that God was in our midst even though we couldn’t perceive God. In telling our story, others help us to perceive the reality of God at work.
Besides listening to our own lives, storytelling also invites us to listen to the stories of others outside or on the periphery of the church. God is not confined by four walls. Author Luke Timothy Johnson writes that “as we learn to tell our own story we must also listen to the stories of others with generosity and goodwill.” In telling and listening we begin to develop confidence in God and that God shapes our imagination for mission. ~ Pastor Chris
Erie Gives Day is Tuesday, August 13 from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. That day you can give to the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant by going to the Erie Gives website. The Erie Community Foundation will enhance your gift by providing a prorated match to each gift made to the church. Here is what you need to know:
- Gift Amount ~ The minimum gift is $25. There is no limit to the amount of money you may give. There is no limit to the number of organizations you can donate to in a transaction.
- Credit Cards ~ Only Visa, MasterCard and Discover will be accepted. The credit card processor charges a nominal fee per transaction. The Erie Community Foundation does not receive any fees. Sorry, credit card gift cards will not be accepted.
- Checks ~ New to Erie Gives 2019, donors can write a check for their Erie Gives donation. Checks must be made out to The Erie Community Foundation. All check donations must be accompanied by an Erie Gives Form. Checks must be delivered to The Erie Community Foundation (459 West 6th Street, Erie, PA 16507) no later than Monday, August 12, 2019.
In 2017 First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant received $14,000 through Erie Gives. In 2018 that amount jumped to $40,000. Erie Gives has been a blessing to the 381 nonprofits who have participated. Please consider giving to First Covenant on August 13. Every gift makes a difference.
~ Pastor Chris
I thought I knew where I was going. When I came up out of the subway station nothing looked familiar, neither the buildings or the street names. I pulled out my little pocket map. I thought about asking a passerby for help, but everyone told me the residents of
old East Berlin were gruff and not helpful. As I was turning my map every-which-way to gain my orientation. I heard a voice say, “Can I help you?” Perhaps I looked American. He asked in English, with a thick East Berlin accent. He happily gave be directions and went on his way. I was surprised sometimes help comes from the most unlikely places.
Mission in the church has always come from the most unlikely places, the edges, people outside the church. The disciple’s interaction with gentiles, outsiders, is the reason the church grew so rapidly. Outsiders were the reason the church grew because that’s were the disciples saw the Holy Spirit at work and they were willing to listen to the voice of a stranger. This is where and how ministry happened and happens. Many young prominent church leaders say, “The church is a movement, not an institution.” The church may have started out as a movement but has become an institution. That is true for every movement; they become institutionalized. They develop rules, procedures, and boundaries, they become more institutionally minded than mission minded. This is why hospitality, knowing your neighbor, and listening to people outside the church are so important. Without these practices the church is relevant only to itself and
becomes irrelevant to the community. Mission and new life come from the edges. As a member of First Covenant how do you listen to people outside the church? Helping at Sunday Suppers or this summer’s Block Party are just a few ways. We can help you meet our neighbors and serve in ministry. You might be surprised by who you meet!
“Jesus didn’t come to make us safe, he came to make us brave. Follow me beyond what you can control and experience me.” I heard Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission, speak these words to a group of pastors in 2008. In his presentation he said many other things, but these two points stuck with me.
The church when it is at its best, when it is living faithfully doesn’t play it safe. When we are willing to give up control and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us we will have powerful experiences of Jesus at work. All too often the church is seduced by safety and control. We like predictability! But the most amazing “God moments” happen when we are brave and let go and allow the Spirit to move. Playing it safe keeps complaints to a minimum when something goes wrong. Playing it safe doesn’t allow room for something great or disastrous to happen; it guarantees mediocrity.
Jesus wouldn’t allow the disciples to play it safe. No hiding in the upper room for fear of the authorities. Jesus promised the Spirit would come and just as Jesus was sent out, “so I am sending you.” They followed God beyond what they could control and their overpowering experiences of God we are still reading and talking about today!
Are you willing to be brave rather than safe? Are you willing to let go of control and trust God? I am being too kind. These are not questions for the faithful. Jesus would state these as commands: ‘Don’t play it safe be brave. Follow me and you’ll know I am with you.’ Next month I will look at how Jesus brings renewal and growth from the most unexpected places. Stay tuned!
We have become so accustomed to thinking of repentance as an unpleasant, though necessary and obligatory rejection of the sin we “enjoy,” that we have tended to lose sight of repentance as fundamentally joyous, restorative return to life in its fullness. To repent is to awaken from the sleep of ignorance, to rediscover our soul, to gain the meaning and purpose of our lives by responding to the love of Christ.
In his writing, On Repentance, Mark the Monk (c. 430 AD) writes: “the person who knows reality does not repent for things done or wrongs remembered; rather he confesses to God about things to come.” The mystery of repentance is not, in other words, a backward-looking reflection upon evils committed in the past but a courageous forward movement into life. It is an act of faith. “This one thing I do,” writes Paul, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” Phil. 3:13).
Repentance becomes not a magnification of our deformity but an attractive reflection of God’s beauty. It is not an invitation to hopeless guilt but to freedom and responsibility. The purpose is not that we be ashamed, as if this were an end in itself. Demoralization is not the goal. The aim, rather, is true life, a life characterized by honesty, integrity, and accountability to God, others, and oneself. Our sins cannot surpass the abundance of God’s mercy; our wounds are not greater than his healing power.
We are expanding the ways members and guests can give to support the mission and ministry of First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. We have partnered with The Presbyterian Foundation to offer three new ways you can give to the church.
- First, on the church website, at the bottom of the home page, you’ll find a “Give Now” button which will lead you to our online donation form.
- Second, the church now has a QR code. Just scan this bar code with your cellphone QR reader and you will be able to make a one-time or recurring gift to the General Budget, your Pledge or the Per Capita. You will find this bar code on various church print publications.
- Third, you can use the “Give+” app available on your phones. Just download, search for “First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant” and the app will direct you to how you can give.
Today more than ever we recognize that people give to their favorite organizations in a multitude of ways. We are happy to offer these various giving options to meet the need of our members and guests. If you have any questions, please see myself or call JoAnn Peters in the finance office at 814.456.4243 x 110.
Thank you! Pastor Chris
Before followers of Jesus were called Christians, they were called people of the Way. Several times in the book of Acts the term is used. The use of the term “Way” is used to describe the followers of Jesus as a messianic sect within Judaism. That would soon change. The Way was marked by the distinctive way believers lived together and by its beliefs about Jesus.
In fact, it was the distinctive way that Christians lived that caused the church to grow so rapidly. Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Christianity, highlights that it was the quality of life that Christians lived that others found so attractive. Those qualities included generosity – all were welcome regardless of ethnicity; generosity to the poor and sick and how Christians treated women and children. All these qualities were found in the life and teaching of Jesus.
This Lenten season the theme of our worship is “The Way,” based on the Beatitudes. Each week we will unpack one of the Beatitudes and reflect on how Jesus’ teaching encourages and shapes us to be the Way. Drama, dance, and lighting Lenten candles will bring variety to our worship. Join us this Lenten season for a closer look at “The Way.”
Churches constantly face challenges in ministry and First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant is no different. This year is an important year in the life of our church. We face a significant budget deficit. In fact, a $275,000 deficit. At the January 20th congregational meeting the congregation approved a motion from Session to “withdraw up to $275,000 from the Endowment Fund” to balance to 2019 budget. This is a significant amount of money. At the current rate of giving and spending our financial resources will not last ten years. This deficit is the result of several trends. First, pledge revenue has been slowly trending lower for many years. Second, with the sale of the Tiffany window there has been the perception that we have “lots of money.” We do have a great deal of money, though over half of the church’s financial resources are designated for specific areas such as the library and building maintenance. Third, with the perception of “lots of money” comes too much spending. The motion from Session led to good questions and discussion about the finances of the church. There was an understanding in the room that we need to work on increasing our pledge income and controlling our expenses. The Session will be reviewing all areas of ministry in 2019, including personnel. We also need to increase giving; only 33 cents of every dollar spent in the church comes from membership giving. All of us need to be praying and discerning how we can support the work of the church. This is a challenge, but with diligence, creativity, and generosity we can make significant progress in becoming more fiscally sound and maintain the creative ministry of the church.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
In Philippians chapter four Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice….The Lord is near.”
I have never forgotten the feelings I had as a child during the days before Christmas. As the day came nearer and nearer the excitement grew higher and higher, to the point of it being unbearable, and on Christmas Eve who could sleep.
Paul expresses something like this same feeling in Philippians. “The Lord is at hand.” He is just over the horizon. This sense of expectancy is the spirit of Advent and is a part of the very stuff of faith.
According to Leslie Newbigin, the English language allows us to make a distinction between the future and advent. “The future is simply that which grows out of the past. Advent means something radically new comes to meet us.” It implies there are new possibilities, beyond anything that could be calculated from our experience of the past.
This Advent season our theme is “Enter In.” How has God entered the world and our lives and how do we enter into this mystery of divine possibility?
The Advent faith is the belief that there really is new possibilities for our world. It means we have a certain skepticism about this world. We are sure that something radically different is possible, and that is what God intends for us. Let us enter in to Advent with expectation.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
Stewardship God’s Good Gifts
God is good…..All the time.
All the time…..God is Good.
These are familiar words if you attend worship at First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. In worship and in life we recognize the goodness of God in our lives and the church. We can give thanks whether we have plenty or little, whether we are old or young. The Christian faith has always recognized that all good gifts come from God’s hand. God blesses God’s children with gifts, talents and resources. The questions we wrestle with are, “How do we use these gifts for God’s glory?” and “How do we respond to God’s generosity towards us?”Generosity is not just the realization of God’s good gifts it is the response to God’s good gifts.
During the month of November, we are emphasizing stewardship and you will be hearing a lot about God’s good gifts and our response. Paul in his letter to the Philippians knows that God is at work in his beloved church in Philippi for Paul writes, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6). This month you will be receiving a letter with a pledge card. On Sunday, November 18th, we are asking that you bring your pledge card to be dedicated in worship. We ask that you prayerfully consider your response to God’s good gifts in your own life and at First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant.
The Celtic Christians had a name for the Holy Spirit: An Geadh-Glas, or “The Wild Goose.” The name hints at a mystery. Much like a wild goose, the Holy Spirit cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger and an air of unpredictability surround the Spirit of God. “The Wild Goose” sounds a bit sacrilegious, but wholly accurate when it comes to following the Holy Spirit through life. The fact is: most of us have no idea where we are going most of the time. That uncertainty brings adventure. Have you clipped the wings of the Wild Goose and settled for something less than God has intended?
The term “wild goose chase” refers to a directionless endeavor. But chasing the Wild Goose is a different matter altogether. While the nudging of the Wild Goose may seem pointless at times, God is constantly at work behind the scenes. If you chase the Wild Goose, you will find yourself in new and unexpected places. Are you confused about what God wants to do with you and through you? Do you believe God is leading you to do something you never thought you would do? Remember the words of Isaiah: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not my ways…for as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Chase the Wild Goose and it will be anything but boring!!
~ Pastor Chris
This is the second year that First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant has participated in “Erie Gives,” the Erie Community Foundation’s non-profit fundraising day held on Tuesday, August 14th. The amount received compared to 2017 tripled to $38,042 and fifty percent more people participated. The response from the church and our friends is very encouraging. These great results would not have been possible without Nancy Irwin and Jen Koebe spearheading communication on Facebook, our web page, bulletin, and announcements. A special thank you to both! The matching amount from the Erie Community Foundation will be used for community ministry such as the Block Party, Sunday Suppers and Our Neighbor’s Place winter shelter. THANK YOU for participating in Erie Gives and helping to reach out and care for our neighborhood. As exciting as Erie Gives day is, it is important to remember what our true hope is, Jesus Christ. I am reminded of a reflection written by Victoria Stafford entitled “Hope.”
“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope – not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; not the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creek of shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy gate of “Everything Is Gonna Be All Right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, of truth-telling about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking them what they see.”
~ Pastor Chris
Jesus was painfully aware that people needed to hear the good news of God. He proclaimed this good news in word & deed. He also prepared his disciples to do the same after he ascended to the Father. The great challenge of today is, “how do we as disciples do the same?” Here are four “contexts” in which to about your discipleship.
1: Focus on mission as integral to discipleship ~
Often in discipleship we have a focus on spiritual maturity and getting ourselves to a certain level of readiness for mission. Inevitably this can mean that mission doesn’t happen as we may never feel that we are ‘ready’.
If we flip that and instead focus our discipleship on mission then there’s no way you won’t grow as a disciple. In fact, I’d suggest that it’s the best way to grow up as a disciple; it is what Jesus does in the gospels. From the moment he called his disciples, he took them with him on his mission and ‘did life’ with them. He then trained them to do the same with others.
It makes sense to me that if we do discipleship in the same way, we would all grow as disciples.
I believe the best & God-intended environment for growing as a disciple of Jesus is in a mission context in community where the purpose & focus of discipleship is following Jesus as he reaches out to others.
As we go out and face the difficulties and challenges that being a people on mission can bring, we have the opportunity to exercise our faith and in so doing, grow deeper with God and in community.
2: A context of prayer ~
To mature as a disciple, our personal and communal prayer life is key. Prayer is essential because we need to understand what God is doing and without it, we’ll miss that.
As we set out to do mission we need to be praying for resourcing, protection, connections, doors to open. The effectiveness of what we do will be affected our prayer.
A key skill for the missional disciple is the ability to discern the leading of God. And tying into mission, I believe that the more we seek Him, the more others will find Him.
3: Having a sense of our God given purpose ~
There was a point where I was asking ‘How do I grow people up as disciples of Jesus?’ The answer that I heard from various voices around me was that people grew as disciples of Jesus when they pursued something that God was asking them to do. It could be a call to be a great mother. It might be a call to be a first class teacher. Whatever that call is, it will always be a call to grow the Kingdom of God in that space.
Pursuing God’s call on our life will catalyze our growth as a disciple as we face the challenges that come and our need for personal transformation in order to obey God’s call.
4: The context of community ~
The context of community is important to growing best as a disciple. It provides a team to go on mission with, an opportunity to play to each other’s gifts & strengths & others to learn from. Within that there also comes challenges & mistakes which in themselves force you to learn to forgive one another & to grow as disciples together. It again comes back to that idea of Jesus ‘doing life’ with his disciples; we need each other to walk alongside as we journey in doing mission.
Do any of these particularly strike or challenge you? Why?
What does being a disciple look like for you?
~ Pastor Chris
When we think of change, our minds race to big changes. Our anxiety ramps up. We wonder what will happen. We ask, “Am I going to like this change?” But I want to talk about small changes. In fact, change that is almost impossible to see. I firmly believe that small changes add up to big change. I want to give you an example. I am always leery of using sports metaphors, but I think it is appropriate here. Shaquille O’Neal is the 22nd all-time leading scorer in the NBA. During his career he was a horrible free throw shooter. He made only 52.7% of his free throws in his 19-year career. Had he made 66% of his free throws (an additional 1,610 free throws) he would have been 7th on the all-time scoring list. Over a 19-year career, an extra 1,610 free throws is an average of 85 per year. With 82 regular season games per year, O’Neal needed to make 1.04 additional free throws per game to become the 7th on the all-time scoring list. One additional free throw per game is an imperceptible change. No one would have noticed, there would be no headlines in the sports section touting his improved free throw scoring. Though by the end of his career this small change would have made a huge difference.
Imagine the small change we each could make in the life of our church. Imagine if you said hello to one person each Sunday whom you did not know. Now imagine if twenty-five people did the very same thing. The multiplication effect is astounding. The church moves from being perceived as indifferent to welcoming. Imagine you decided to put one additional dollar in the offering plate each week, an imperceptible amount. Now think of the entire membership doing the same. Change in the church, in the family, in the company begins with the self. Big changes happen when a group of people begin by making a small change.
~ Pastor Chris
I love the story Craig Barnes tells about when he was in Sunday school as a child. His teacher would make the stories of the Bible come to life using a flannelgraph board. Those of you who are old enough know what I am talking about, if you don’t, Google it. As the teacher was telling the story, she would allow various children to put the characters on the flannel-graph. One Bible character stood out, the apostle Paul. Flannel Paul had seen better days. He was partially stained red from fruit punch. One of his arms was partially torn off when two children fought to attach him to the board. Someone had colored his hands and feet with a purple marker. The first grade Sunday school had been rough on Flannel-graph Paul. This is often the case for those who are well loved, for those who are used by God.
Paul over his years of proclaiming good news accumulated many wounds and scares. If Paul is doing what God wants shouldn’t he be blessed rather than wounded? Wounds and scares are often thought of as a lack of God’s presence or care. In fact, there are times when they are a sure sign that you are exactly where you are supposed to be. No one wants the hurts and the pains, but they come along with faith and living life in general. For followers of Jesus though, our wounds do not go unredeemed.
We hold up Paul and Jesus as glorious examples of faith. We can think of others today, even in our own church, maybe someone when you were a child you looked up to as faithful. One thing is certain for Paul, Jesus and anyone else. No one who is glorious lacks wounds or is unscarred.
There is an ancient Japanese method for repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer. After the lacquer bonds the broken pieces together, gold is used to cover the lacquer. The result is beautiful veins of gold running through the piece. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to visibly incorporate the repair into the new piece instead of disguising it. The process usually results in something more beautiful than the original. I think this is a wonderful image of what Christ has done for you. Christ’s healing our brokenness has made you more beautiful.
~ Pastor Chris
“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” Western Union internal memo dated 1876.
“I do not believe the introduction of motor-cars will ever affect the riding of horses” Mr. Scott-Montague, MP, in the United Kingdom in 1903.
“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” David Sarnoff’s Associates rejecting a proposal for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” H.M. Warner (Warner Brothers) before rejecting a proposal for movies with sound in 1927.
“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” A Yale university professor in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. Smith went on to found Federal Express.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olsen (President, Chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corp) in 1977.
“So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet.” Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and HP interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer.
We may laugh at some of those responses and ask, “how could reasonable, intelligent people be so short-sighted?” We all know the saying that hindsight is 20/20. It is easier to look into the past than it is into the future.
Reading the book of Acts it is amazing to see the transformation the disciples went through after they encountered the resurrected Jesus. They went from hiding in the upper room for fear of the Jews to pro-claiming Jesus as the Messiah. They seem to have no fear. They healed and proclaimed good news. They gathered and sold their belongings and gave the money to the poor. These followers of Jesus became amazing and daring risk-takers.
Reflecting on the dramatic, inside-out transformation Jesus works in us, the Apostle Paul writes, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person, The old life is gone, a new life has begun.”
If we are new creations in Christ, then we need to live as though we are. All too often the church has been fairly criticized for precisely the same sort of thinking that once condemned the automobile and personal computer. Our calling and our challenge is to reach out in ministry in new ways. To try serve the Lord by not simply relying on what we are comfortable or used to doing. May we as a church be amazing and daring risk-takers.
~ Pastor Chris
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
19 Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.
20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
21 “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls
away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.
22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
~ Mark 2:18-22 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
It is obvious that Jesus shocked religious people by the way he behaved. This passage is an example of it. He did not behave in the way religious people were expected to behave.He was ready to break most of the fundamental commandments, the law of the Sabbath, if it interfered with the works of love and compassion.When he was challenged he answered with a couple of very homely examples. If you try to patch old clothes with pieces of new cloth, you will just make the old worse. And if you try to put new wine into old wineskins, you will burst the skins and lose both the old skins and the new wine. Both examples say the same thing in a very blunt and earthyway: you can’t renew things by patching. You have to accept that the old is old, and you
have to be ready for what is radically new. This is the great challenge to all churches today. We don’t just throw away what is old, nor do we blindly accept what is new. A fundamental principal of change, particularly in the church, is that reformation
begins on the edges of the church and not in the center. In other words, churches don’t change because they have adopted a new mission statement, rather churches change because people on the edge of the church and community see God moving in new ways and respond. They begin to see that old wine skins don’t work. We need new wine skins. In light of the new life and hope of Easter may our eyes and ears be open to God’s leading. May we be brave enough to make new wine skins.
~ Pastor Chris
I have always liked the words of the author Frederica Matthew-Green, “The starting point of Lent for the early church was this awareness of the abyss of sin inside each person, the murky depths of which only the top few inches are visible. God, who is all clarity and light, wants to make us perfect as he is perfect, shot through with his radiance. The first step in our healing, then, is not being comforted. It is taking a hard look at the cleansing that needs to be done. This is not condemnation, but diagnosis…forgiveness of past sins does not cure the sickness of the heart that continues to yearn after more. We will re-main sick until the healing begins, and it will be a lifelong process.”
What a relief it is to admit this. We have nothing more to conceal. We are fully known, even in the depths we ourselves cannot see, or bear to see. Instead of hoping God will love us for our good parts and pass over the rest, we know that he died for our whole selves. The depth of our sin proves the height of his love, a height we cannot comprehend until we realize how desperately we need it. We are fully loved, and one day will be fully healed, brought into God’s presence without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
In February we begin the season of Lent. Though the earliest traditions are unclear, Lent evolved as a time of training, particularly as a time of final preparation of candidates for baptism at Easter. Lent also became a time for the renewal of the faithful, a period of learning with a focus on what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Often you will hear someone ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?” This question highlights one aspect of the Lenten season – in light of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross what are you willing to sacrifice. Many look at Lent as a dark time to contemplate one’s sins and need of repentance. Lent is indeed a season of repentance, but with the aim of renewal of faith.
The period of Lent had and still has an emphasis on reaffirming baptismal identity, of knowing and living the faith. During Lent, we have the opportunity to reaffirm who we are on the journey to the resurrection.
The first step on this journey calls us to recognize our mortality. This is symbolized through the imposition of ashes on the forehead or hand. On Ash Wednesday we begin our Lenten trek toward Easter.
Trusting in the “accomplished fact” of Christ’s resurrection we listen for the word of God on our journey. The weeks of Lent are a time of metanoia (“turning around”) of changing directions from self-serving toward the self-giving way of the cross.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
It is always tempting in the month of January to write about or preach on New Year’s resolutions. No doubt, most of us want to exercise a little more and eat a little less, spend more time with our family and give ourselves to more productive endeavors. The making of New Year’s resolutions is nothing new. The practice goes back to 4000BC to the Babylonians. Even the ancients wanted to make a new start.
But in Christ the possibilities are so much greater. Paul writes that in Christ, followers of Jesus are new creations: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17 NIV) It is an odd thing to say of someone that he or she is “in Christ.” People are not inside one another. Rather Paul is writing about those who having offered themselves to God are united with God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.
Those who are “in Christ” find themselves transformed, set free from the confining power of the present age. Because the Holy Spirit joins us to Jesus Christ we share in everything that is His. In Christ we become all that we could never be in the eyes of God if we are left to ourselves. We are not now suddenly functionally perfect saints, of course. We still limp along straining between sin and mercy.
Being “in Christ” makes possible so much more than losing a few extra pounds. It brings assurance of God’s love and forgiveness that makes new life possible. ~ Rev. Chris Weichman
(Starting in January, Pastor Chris’ Faith Formation class is studying the book of Jonah.)
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
Since the first century, as Christians await the advent of the true Light, they have uttered the word Maranatha, often translated “Our Lord, come!” Maranatha may be two words with differing translations:
-Marana-tha: “Come, our Lord!” (looking to the future)
-Maran-atha: “Our Lord has Come!” (looking to the past).
The use of this word during the season of Advent emphasizes both our remembering of the past and our hope for the future. In Advent the beginning and the end times meet. We live between both words, the future coming of the Lord and our belief that the Lord has come as God’s ultimate act in history. In Advent we expectantly wait for the One who has already come. We anticipate the promised justice of God’s new world, yet we praise God who has raised the “righteous branch” to rule with justice and righteousness. We long for the beating of swords into plowshares, yet we rejoice that the Prince of Peace has appeared.
During Advent, therefore, our eyes are focused on God’s future promised in Jesus Christ. At Christmas we rejoice that the future has arrived. As we begin a new church year with the first Sunday of Advent, we wrap-up the calendar year looking back and seeing how God has been faithful while at the same time looking forward with anticipation to what the Lord will do in and through us. We are grateful for the Lords’ presence in the life of our church. The Lord is in the midst of his people to will and to work His purposes: “Come, our Lord; Our Lord has Come!
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
November 2017 – Stewardship Dedication
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-19). These words of the apostle Paul show that for the Christian, thanksgiving is not relegated to a specific circumstance or season but is rather an outlook on life. We do have many things to be thankful for no matter our circumstance.
The month of November we will be concentrating on stewardship. To be a steward simply means to be a caretaker. As individuals you are called to be stewards of what God has blessed you with: time, our talents, and treasure. As a church we are to be stewards of our ministries, our building, and the gifts we receive.
We have many things to celebrate: growing worship attendance and a vibrant ministry in and with the community. Your generosity is vital to the great things happening in the church and neighbor-hood. This month in our worship we will look at the extravagant generosity of God and asking how should we respond with the thing which we have been blessed. We ask that you prayerfully consider how you will support the ministry and mission of the First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in 2018.
This month you will be receiving a letter with a pledge card. On Sunday November 19, we are asking that you bring your pledge card, to be dedicated in worship. We ask that you prayerfully examine your heart and consider your response to God’s work in your own life and at First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant.Everyone’s gift and participation is important, regardless of the amount.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
A story about not losing a sense of wonder about the amazing things God is doing:
When I was a little boy, I loved to visit my grandparents. One evening we were outside having a picnic when I glimpsed a shooting star. I ran to the picnic table to tell my grandmother, who said it meant if I made a wish it would come true. My eyes grew wide as I asked, “Really?” Then I told my grandfather about the shooting star. He explained to me that in meant someone had just died and gone to heaven. My eyes grew wide again as I asked “Really?” Finally, I told my older cousin, who happened to be a physics major in college. He began to explain to me about asteroids and large rocks that are remnants of the big bang and how when these rocks enter the earth’s atmosphere they begin to burn because of the friction generated. “Oh,” I replied. The wonder and mystery had disappeared. I was the disillusioned recipient of the right answer.
When the first disciples encountered Jesus, they didn’t understand much about his role in their salvation. Yet, there was something so astonishing about him they dropped everything to follow him. For the next three years they caught glimpses, often confusing glimpses, of his work. Every time they thought they had Jesus figured out he would further confuse and disappoint them. Why? Because the most important thing was not what they understood, but who they were following. Jesus was not interested in the disciples getting the right answers on the test.
I believe it is Jesus’ desire that we read the scriptures, that we open our eyes to what God is doing in the world, that we recover the childlike ability to ask, “REALLY?” The last thing we need is more information that causes us to say, “Oh.”
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
September means getting back into the swing of things. The freedom of Summer has given way to the routine of Fall. There are many opportunities to grow and serve at First Covenant this Fall. Participating in the life of the church is the best way to be encouraged and equipped to become a fully devoted follower of Christ:
- Join the Faith Formation Hour. Adult classes are held every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. Worship Services are every Sunday at 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
- The Covenant Connections dinners are a great way to meet our neighbors. Covenant Connections is every Wednesday at 5:15 p.m.in Knox Hall. Call the church office with your reservations.
- Sunday Suppers continue every Sunday evening at 4:00 p.m. We are grateful to host other Erie churches to serve those in need in our community. To volunteer, you can sign-up in the Parlor after Worship.
- The Covenant Choir and Bells have resumed rehearsals on Thursday evenings. All are Welcome!
- The College Ministry Team is kicking-off TGIF (Thank God it’s Franks) on Friday evenings in September at 10:00 p.m. as an outreach to Gannon Students.
Everyone is welcome to participate in these ministries. They are a great way to serve the church, get to know our neighbors, and develop relationships with other members.~ Rev. Chris Weichman
“This 15-year-old boy came into the ER at Grady Hospital where I work,”said Teresa, a clinical nurse educator in pediatrics.
Morning worship had just finished, and I was shaking hands with people exiting the sanctuary. Teresa was the last to leave the sanctuary. She obviously wanted to talk. There are few jobs, I imagine, that could be more disheartening than working as a nurse at an emergency room in the inner city.
The young man Teresa described had been shot in the back. It was quickly determined that he would no longer have the use of his legs. His breathing had been impacted. A tracheotomy tube was inserted. A teenage male, African-American, involved with gun violence, from the inner city – all these facts conjure up certain stereotypes. Before long some of the staff at the hospital were making comments like, “That’s what you get for getting mixed up in the drug game.” “Serves him right,” quipped another.
“Why don’t you ask him who he wants to win the Super Bowl?” Teresa asked one of her co-workers.
“He won’t care,” came the blunt response. “He’s not into that sort of thing.”
“How do you know?” Teresa wondered.
She walked into the young man’s room and found a Bible resting on his lap. She began to ask him some questions and slowly discovered, through an almost inaudible whisper, that he had tried to break up a fight and was caught in a crossfire. He had never been involved with drugs. He was a good kid with a lively faith.
“Who do you want to win the Super Bowl?” she asked before leaving the room.
There was a pause and a slight smile. “New York Giants.”
That night on the way home, Teresa stopped by the mall and bought the young man a New York Giants jersey, extra large. After all, she explained to me, “It’s embarrassing for a 15-year-old to wear a hospital gown. “
You should have seen him when we slipped the jersey on him,” she shared. “His eyes filled with tears. He was elated.”As this ER nurse processed the experience, she added, “You know some of my co-workers just don’t see it. These are kids. They want to be loved like any other kid.
I can understand the cynicism of her colleagues. As I get older, I find it takes energy and intentionality to resist the negativity and pessimism that pervades our culture. It takes effort to get to know the real story, to ask questions, and to see more clearly. I need to meet people, like Teresa, who live differently in difficult work places – who still muster up the strength to go the extra mile and make the effort to look beyond the stereotypes. I need living witnesses who infuse ordinary jobs with extraordinary doses of compassion and love. Teresa reminds me that it is possible to go beyond what is expected.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
As John records the feeding of the five thousand a large crowd was following Jesus as he went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus went up the mountain with his disciples to sit and rest. They looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward them. Jesus asked Philip, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip answered him, “Six months wages would not buy enough bread for them each to get a little.” This is often how we look at a problem. We focus on what we do not have; ‘We don’t have enough bread to feed these people or enough money to buy bread.’
The passage says Jesus asked this question, “Where are we going to buy bread for these people to eat?” of Philip to test him. In other words, is does Philip, or for that matter do we, believe that God will provide. No one knows the human heart better than Jesus. He knows we tend to operate with a theology of scarcity rather than a theology of abundance. A theology of scarcity results in not seeing the resources God has available to us.
Andrew chimes in, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” I always envisioned the boy opening his basket and saying this is what I have to contribute. What seemed like not enough, what came from the most unlikely person, was enough for the Lord to use.
The Gospel of John is the gospel of abundance. The gospel begins with abundance in chapter two – Jesus turns six jars of water into the best wine. The gospel ends with an abundant catch of fish – the net was so full they could not haul it in.
The boys’ willingness to share what he had was the key to feeding so many people. The faithful Christian and the faithful church can operate on the assumption that God does provide everything for faithful ministry and mission. The question is what are you keeping in your basket?
~ Rev. Chris Weichman
The church faces many challenges today that it has not faced since it began almost two thousand years ago. The church in America is no longer in the position of influence it has enjoyed in previous decades. These days are more like the days of the church of the New Testament church, where the church is on the margins and not at the center of society. The mission field is right around us as well as around the world. We can no longer assume (if indeed, we ever should have assumed) that everyone around us is Christian.
So the question to ask is what was the early church like? How did it see itself in the world? A quick scan of the Book of Acts shows that the church was different because God’s purpose for the world is different than human kind’s purpose. God gave the church a vocation (from the Latin: vocatio = calling). The church was and still is called to serve God’s purposes for the world. The church was never about being “successful” rather it was about participating in God’s mission to redeem God’s creation and save men and women from their sin. Churches that are about God’s mission show different traits or patterns. No one church has all these, rather every church is strong in a few.
Pattern 1 – Missional Vocation: The congregation is discovering together the vocation of the church. In other words, who is the church to the community. Success and vitality are understood in terms of faithfulness to God’s calling and sending rather that in counting “noses and nickels.”
Pattern 2 – Biblical Formation and Discipleship: The church is a community in which all members are involved in learning what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The Bible is normative in the church’s life.
Pattern 3 – Taking Risks as a Contrast Community: The church is learning to take risks for the sake of the gospel. The church understands itself as different from the world because of its participation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Pattern 4 – Practices That Demonstrate God’s Intent for the World: The pattern of the church’s life as a community is a demonstration of what God intends for the life of the whole world. The practices of the church embody mutual care, reconciliation, loving accountability, and hospitality. It is important how Christians behave toward one another and toward non-believers.
Pattern 5 – Worship as Public Witness: Worship is the central act of the church where the community celebrates with joy and thanksgiving God’s presence and God’s promised future.
Pattern 6 – Dependence on the Holy Spirit: The church confesses its dependence on the Holy Spirit, shown particularly in its practice of prayer.
Pattern 7 – Pointing Toward the Reign of God: The church understands its calling as a witness to the gospel and the reign of God and strives to be a sign of that reign.
These patterns are outlined more fully in the book “Treasure in Clay Jars.”
As a church we are to look at ourselves and ask questions, “What is God up to in our midst?” and “How has God gifted this church to bear witness in our community?” As you think about FPCC, to a greater or lesser extent, these patterns can be seen in the life of the church. This is good news. May God continue to grant us humility to listen and boldness to follow as the Holy Spirit leads.
~ Rev. Chris Weichman