We have so much to be grateful for. Yet often so much comes at us on a daily basis that it is difficult to actually see the good things and the blessings that surround us. It is true some of us face insurmountable odds in our life. It could be living paycheck to paycheck and the stress that causes. It could be trying to figure out how your going to get your children through college, It could be job loss, It could be illness that you are dealing with or that of a love one you now need to care for.
It could be addiction that enslaves you. Maybe you are not the one who suffers from addiction but you have suffered because of the collateral damage it causes. Or maybe it is a failed relationship, the end of a marriage. It is so hard to count blessings when this is what consumes your thinking. Nevertheless, these are just events. a blip on your timeline. A Event that does not have to define you.
Gratitude is like a boat that meanders down the long winding river of life. When we begin to realize gratitude is a vehicle that surrounds us and protects us from the elements. That it is what keeps us buoyant when the waves come and the tempest looms. Fear dread and hopelessness takes a back seat.
This is why I can say for certain, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough“. it lifts us up so we do not have to stay, UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES! It raises one to see possibilities rather than what seems impossible.
JOIN US SUNDAY AS WE EXPLORE THIS MORE AT PHOENIX RISING UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST. 192 MERRIMACK STREET HAVERHILL, MA 01830 CHURCH PHONE: 978-891-5799 EMAIL: CHURCHOFFICE@PHOENIXRISINGUCC.ORG
It Has been an exhilarating year for Phoenix Rising UCC. A year of creativity; faith building and serving as we planned and purposely implemented events and gatherings. We developed into a Blessing Brigade, blessing people with animals, with boats and with bikes! We went to North Shore Pride and had a table in the market place sharing our PRUCC story. We enrolled in the Firemen’s Museum Annual Chile Cook OFF! We helped sponsor an LGBT picnic at Rolling Ridge retreat Center in Andover. We gathered for Sunday Service once a month at the Worshiping Oak Tree at the Buttonwoods Museum. We gathered for Prayer and Praise once a month at the Atmosphere Center. We gathered for Food and Fellowship. We Worshiped together at other UCC Churches. Christmas Eve we joined Belleville Congregational Church UCC. Joining the choir and I preached alongside Pastor Ross in a Christmas dialog. It was a very moving evening. This past Sunday December 27, 2015 we held our first Worship Gathering at the “Barn” a generous and hospitable gift from the Gifford’s. We met Wednesday nights at Dunkin Donuts and have studied the “Phoenix Affirmations” by Eric Elnes, and currently “LOVE WINS” by Rob Bell. I have loved holding office hours twice a week at the Artist Café. Over all, we have been evolving into a progressive Christian community of the United Church of Christ, Inclusive and intentional in making God’s love and justice real in the spirit of belonging!
For People of the Christian Faith, the New Year begins the First Sunday after Thanksgiving with the four weeks of Advent. Week one: HOPE. Week Two: PEACE, Week: Three JOY and Week Four: LOVE.( You can read those blogs here) the focus of each week helps us understand what Jesus brings.
When I think of who Jesus is, I consider His entering time from eternity as a vulnerable dependent child, what he did while among us and what was done to him by us his last days before his resurrection. When I think of Jesus in this way, I am inspired knowing how great a LOVE God has for us. Four Books tell His story: Matthew, Mark Luke and John. Three of the books cause the reader to ask ,”Who was this man? It is the Gospel of John we discover WHO JESUS IS! In the Old Testament, when Moses asked God, “Who should I say you are?” God answers saying, “Tell them, “I AM” has sent you.” (Exodus 3:14). In John’s Gospel Jesus refers to himself as, “I AM”.
“You can put him in the desert surrounded by people who are chronically unsatisfied, and Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
You can put him in the midst of people who are confused, people who ask, “Who are you, Jesus? What makes you different from all the other gurus, rabbis, and religious leaders?” And Jesus says, “I am the gate for the sheep. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (10:7, 9). It is an act of self-definition.
You can put him at graveside, in the midst of grief-stricken people, and Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (11:25).
Or put him in the midst of people who feel disconnected by life’s difficulties, and Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (15:5).”[i]
This coming Year it is my prayer that each of us come into a deeper relationship with, “I AM”. Are you looking for a place to belong, tired of feeling disconnected, have you been stricken with grief, seeking a sense of balance, authentic relationships and spiritual answer? We are Phoenix Rising UCC and together we seek to know ‘I AM” Fully and Faithfully with you.
Our Next worship Gathering will be January 17, 2016 at 10 AM at 148 Main Street Plaistow NH. You can contact me, Pastor Donna at Pastordonnaprucc@gmail.com if you would like to meet me over a cup of coffee join me at the Artist café 20 Washington Street, Haverhill Ma Tuesday’s or Thursdays between 9:30 Am and I:00 PM and stand convinced God has been preparing the way for others to come and join our community.
To learn more about Phoenix Rising United Church of Christ go to: HTTP:www.phoenixrisingucc.org.
NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE OR WHERE YOU ARE ON LIFES JOURNEY YOU ARE WELCOME HERE!
[i] Praying For A Whole New World
Gospel Sermons For Advent/Christmas/Epiphany Cycle C, William G. Carter
The desire to give birth to your own child is overwhelming. In 1988, I got pregnant, I had been married two years and when the test came back I was ecstatic. I remember lying in bed imagining the child growing and wondering what it will be like to feel it moving in me. Would it be a girl or a boy? What would their name be? In my 11 week when I had a miscarriage. The longing, the yearning, the helplessness and the physical ache created a thirst begging to be quenched. I could have just let it go. Stop hoping but deep within I could not. The desire of my heart came in other ways.
All the adjectives I used to describe my desire: longing, yearning, helplessness and physical ache are all a part of waiting for something hoped for. When my Nephew was born, It was the first time I got to be present at any birth. I was the first person to hold him, to look into his eyes and he in mine. I was in awe of the innocence and the beauty, the love without condition and the deep sense of how totally vulnerable and depended this baby was.
The beginning of the Christian Story is truly amazing when you consider that God, Creator of all things. comes into the world like the rest of us, a baby. God’s desire, longing, yearning need to know and be known determined the course which would be taken to make it so. The Christ Child enters the world not as a grown man but as innocent and beautiful and totally vulnerable and dependent on a human mother to survive, to love and nurture him unconditionally. This is truly overwhelming when you stop and think about it. He became like us so that we could become like him.
I am convinced just as God’s yearning is to know and be known by us, we also have the yearning to know and be known by God. It is not uncommon for people to look for God when they are vulnerable and at the end of themselves. I do not believe people turn to God simply out of desperation. I believe God is able to reach us because we have lowered our defenses and are more open. This kind of vulnerability is vital. When we are in that place there is no one to look to but God. The Christ knows that vulnerability is vital because as a baby He had no one else to look to but his mother and father.
The song , “Mary Did You Know” By Mark Lowry speaks to this great truth in a introspective way.
Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am…
Will you consider what Great Love God has for you. will you think about what he did to know and be known by you? His desire caused him to come into the world as a baby needing people to take care of him? Will you stop resisting and let yourself become like a child, vulnerable and depended and allow God to care for you? God loves you unconditionally not because of anything good you have done. He love you because you are a beloved child?
Euphonic Joy is feeling intense excitement and happiness. As I write this my grandchildren are sleeping at home in Boston. I on the other hand, am in Florida with Audrey. They think they are going to New Hampshire tomorrow. However, when they wake up they will be opening a box with the biggest surprise of their lives. “YOU’RE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD!” Imagine the intense feelings they are going to have all day. They will be flying on a plane for the first time in their lives. They will be going to Florida for the first time in their lives. They will go to their hotel then get on a bus to Epcot and will be greeted by their grandparents, who they think are back home. To be honest even as I write this I am feeling intense excitement and happiness in anticipation of greeting them.
Illusionary Joy is the kind of Joy that is temporary and fleeting and comes from a false sense of reality. Sometimes it can be the letter you get in the mail that says your investments have increased by 10%. A month later they have decreased 15%. Rene Descartes said, “Illusionary joy is often worth more than genuine sorrow.” The reality is until you cash out your investment, the letters you get in the mail are Illusionary which can bring joy or sorrow. Another way we experience Illusionary joy is when we are eating a favorite treat or meal or giving into a forbidden temptation. We experience this illusionary joy and like a puff of smoke it is over. Some people chase after this joy with abandonment. This we name addiction.
True Joy: This gives out an energy that empowers us to do things that once seemed too difficult to attempt. True joy looks at problems and sees ways to fix them. True Joy feeds your confidence. No problem! You’ve got energy, buoyancy. You’re alive! True Joy is the deep happiness that comes with fulfilling your potential. True Joy can be a constant as it stokes the power within for living life. True joy does not deny the reality of pain and grief. It faces it, names it and says I will get through this.
Euphonic and illusionary joy is temporary and often covers up the reality of our pain. We seek out these kinds of joy thinking if we avoid we don’t have to deal with the issues. Sometimes avoidance is needed but at some point you have to face reality. We just need to know that when we seek these kinds of joy happiness is temporary and come from outside ourselves. True Joy is born within and is a matter of the heart rather than the mind.
“The Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17 NLT)
Euphoric and Illusionary joy are a matter of the mind. The quest for true joy is a matter of the heart. The journey form the mind to the heart is only 12 inches long. It is from the heart…we discover the depth and breadth of Hope, of Peace, of Joy and of Love. True joy empowers us to open our arms wide and breathe deeply! True joy looks at creation and sees clearly and more dearly all that exists around them. True joy endows us with the ability to press on and overcome. True Joy declares: FEAR NOT! BE NOT AFRAID! For unto you is born a child who is Christ the King. Those who take the journey from head to heart find God and discover ALIVENESS! Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman said it best. “What makes you come alive? Go do that, the world needs people who are alive.” This is living in true Joy.
Mother Teresa said, ” We have no peace because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Christmas time we sing: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me”
We live in a world where peace surrounds us. Whether in our personal lives or in politics or world affairs there are weeds of evil, chaos, suspicion and fear that are growing….choking out peace tresspassing boundaries. We long for peace yet it often evades us. We have no peace because we are unaware that belonging is the fertile ground which allows it to grow.
We are starving for peace. It is difficult to fully understand but peace must begin with each of us. You may consider yourself a peaceful person. But then I will ask: What are you afraid of? what makes you anxious? What makes you angry? What makes you question your self-worth? What is the source of anger, anxiety, fear, shame and guilt? all of these elements litter the fertile ground of the soul. When we pause and truly think about these feelings it isn’t long before we can name the source of our frustration choking out our peace. Often it is a person or people who are involved and we blame them for our suffering. However, we have the power to get peace back.
How do we remove these weeds choking our peace? To make room for peace we must take out the weed killer…. forgiveness. But the perception that forgiveness releases another from the very thing that has hurt us, the very thing that stole our peace… the very thing that causes our suffering… STOPS US…. dead in our tracks. Because we are led to believe we must wait for peace until the one who has trespassed against us owns up to what they did to us. Alas, with this mindset we let the weeds grow unchecked. We often hear, “Why the hell should I forgive them? don’t you know what they did to me? “ Yes! They stole your peace and now you are in a constant state of hurt in varying degrees. Peace is chocked out by the weeds of anger, anxiety, fear, shame guilt and depression which ultmately makes room for the Root of Bitterness. Bitterness then begs for revenge so PEACE MUST WAIT!
Forgiveness is like weed killer. If you don’t deal with the weeds they thrive and peace lays dormant. Peace is powerful when understood as a strength rather than a weakness. When we forgive ,this weed killer transforms the garden of the soul. Nevertheless,, we often have to get to the place were it just hurts to much before we surrender the weeds to God. Here! Take this from me. I don’t want to hurt anymore. I don’t want to be angry anymore. I don’t want to be afraid and guilting anymore. I don’t want to become bitter.
Forgiveness is the pathway to PEACE. This PEACE allows us to bear witness to all that is beautiful again. It allows us to experience a new sense of belonging. It allows us to rise above the very circumstance that held us captive and experience faith, hope, love, and Joy.
Jesus is the prince of peace! The season of ADVENT begs for hope, peace, joy and Love. Jesus came to bring this peace and was killed for trying. Nevertheless, in the midst of His greatest moment of suffering ,he said to those who mocked him who crucified him, ‘Forgive them Father, they know not what they do’. His suffering ended moments later. Rising again… three day later. He did not seek revenge….NO! His disciples did not seek revenge…NO! Instead, His message of Peace through forgiveness has been carried forth from those who have been transformed by it…from one generation to the next until this very moment. This Peace we crave comes from within…. it is born in love, it is fed by hope and when we are free to live in this peace we experience true Joy!
This is the season of Advent…..The season of waiting…..The Christian story begins with the Birth of Jesus…..The one the prophets foretold. Jesus who left eternity and entered time to show us the God kind of love that feeds our hunger for peace…for belonging…for knowing and being known by God. The world longs for Peace… yet the weeds of social, racial, ethnic and religious injustice run rampant. The disparity of rich and poor, the sick and healthy, the marginalized and oppressed reveal the overgrowth that informs us why we have no peace.
Nevertheless, this revelation of peace transformers those who understand its power. Those who seeks peace instead of strife, seeks to make things right instead of revenge, Seeks mercy rather than judgement. This Peace is the hallmark of someone who has known forgiveness and now forgives. Why must we wait for peace then? We do not! We have the tools of forgiveness which creates fertile ground for peace thrive! Who do you need to forgive so peace can come to life in the garden of your soul?
Let peace begin with you.
It was the third day of a heat wave. I was going to visit a relative in the hospital. I had to make a stop. when I was on my way agains waiting four cars from a light, I saw a young man so sunburned his eyes were swollen/ He was holding up a sign….Homeless and hunger could you help me. So I rolled down the window as I passed by and give him a ten dollar bill and a handful of change. I was hoping he would find some peace and shade the rest of his day. As I drove away I wondered how someone can do that. I wondered if he experienced humiliation or maybe the shame or just maybe he was so dejected he didn’t feel anything. I wondered had he gotten used to the looks of discussed as others pass him by. I filled with tears thinking of so many who do this. So many I pass by because I don’t have cash on me often. I asked God to forgive me for all those I have passed by who I judged as addicts and lowlifes and wonder if this man’s story was different from the stereotypes manufactured by society standards and politics. Stereotypes that allow me to justify turning my head away pretending I did not see.
I continued on with my plan and traveled 58 miles down the highway. We decided to took the road less traveled to stop and get gas and ice coffee. We pulled away and about a quarter of a mile down the road, sitting on the side of the road, a man we often see who has a prosthetic leg just below the knee was on the ground. He was disheveled scooting slowly on his butt throwing his crutches out in front of him. We felt the need to stop and get out to see if he needed help. He told us his leg had been stolen and he was making his way back to his trailer just a few yards away. I asked him if he wanted us to help him stand and he said no no…it is easier to make my way on the ground. It is safer for me. So I wished him well and went on my way.
As the day went on I couldn’t stop wondering about these two men whose path I had crossed that day. I had allowed myself to look beyond the disdain and challenged the script that played out in my head.
I realized that we may have purposes and plans but if you are awake and aware because of God’s compassion our purpose and plans might include strangers and situations that cause us to stop and offer some form of action. We may not be able to change the whole world but we can make a difference each day for someone.