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