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September 2017

               “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”
                                  Robert Lamm, 1969
                  Keyboardist for the musical group Chicago

Mary and I went to see Chicago, the “rock and roll band with horns,” on May 16, 2017.  It was a great show; lots of great music and big-time hits but still a lot of music omitted from their career.  But I’m not complaining; all of my favorites were played.
One of those favorites is a song titled “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” from their debut album, The Chicago Transit Authority.  I am reminded of this song almost every day in some sort of manner because it is so easy for me to lose track of time.
Just today, August 29, I came into the church, went upstairs to visit with Linda, and Linda poses this question: “Do you know what day it is?”  (Another form of that question about time).  I replied, “It’s the 29th.”  And she got this look on her face that told me that the 29th should mean something to me.
Finally, I rolled my eyes and said, “Ohhhh…” suddenly realizing that I had not given her my newsletter article for the September newsletter.  So I take full responsibility for all of you receiving a “late” edition this month.  Please do not have bad thoughts Linda; it’s the fault of the main  contributor, me!
Linda has shown me and given me much grace over our ten years as co-workers.  For that, I am grateful. 
I have thought a lot about grace over the past few weeks, as I have been reading the book The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who publicly repudiated the Nazi regime in Germany, which led to his arrest in 1943.  He was linked to group of conspirators whose attempted assassination of Hitler failed and he was hanged in April 1945, just days before the concentration camp was liberated.
Here are his valuable words about grace to think about and pray about:
“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (P.45).
“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has…it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him…it is the gospel which must be sought again and again…must be asked for…the door at which a man must knock…It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life” (p. 45).
It is time, no matter what the cost.  Are you up for it?

August 2017

                                                Family Ties

“And he [Jesus] was told, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he [Jesus] said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’”
                                              Luke 8:20-21

I have been thinking a lot about family recently.  It has been four years since Kenny and my dad passed away.  It has been a year and a half since my brother, Herb, died from cancer.  Thankfully, the rest of our family is healthy and that is a blessing.  Just some bumps and bruises, aches and pain; normal stuff but nothing serious.
I have been thinking a lot about family recently.  A couple of weeks ago, my dad’s side of the family got together for a reunion at my sister’s home in Bay Village.  My dad’s two sisters and their kids (and significant others) and grandkids, my siblings and some of our kids and grandkids, and my mom attended.  Unfortunately, my dad’s brother and wife could not make it for health reasons.  Therefore, none of his kids and families made the trek. But there were some gatherings the last couple of years at his home in Columbus, which I could not attend and they were there. We had about 46 or so people there.  It was GREAT!
I have been thinking a lot about family recently.  Mary and I just recently updated our will.  I have to admit it was hard removing Kenny from the will.  It was like another “official” recognition that he is gone.  Gee, I miss him.
Sometimes, we can take our family for granted.  Yes, I complained at times about Herb living with us.  But now I have to fix everything that breaks, I have to mow the yard ALL of the time, I now accompany my mom to all of her doctor appointments.  I’m not complaining about all of the stuff I now have to do; I did all of these things before he moved in with us.  But Herb did do a lot of the behind the scenes and everyday stuff, which freed up some of my time.  Gee, I miss him, too.
Jesus reminds us that when we do the things of God and become more Christ-like, our love for our family (and other people) will fully evolve and deepen.  Jesus was not shunning his family with his remarks in Luke but was reminding us of how our view of family will change when seen through the eyes of Jesus.
Family IS important in spite of their bumps and bruises, their idiosyncrasies  and even annoyances.  I thank God everyday for mine.

July 2017

                                       What Are You Hungry For?

I am once again sitting in my favorite fast food restaurant.  I frequent this establishment twice a month, which may not seem like much.  Health wise, it is probably two times more than I should.  For the most part, all fast-food restaurants are a health hazard for most people even though the restaurants are doing their best to add healthy selections to their menus.
I have gotten to “know” some of the workers, who are friendly and always greet me with a friendly hello like I am a long-lost friend.  A couple of them even remember what I order even though their place is only my lunch choice two times a month.
I keep telling myself that I need to cut back on my appearances here (read don’t go there at all) but…I really like the food, and my choices are not particularly healthy.  I could go “healthy” when I dine there but what is the point of that?  I go there because I like greasy burgers, greasy french fries, and all the rest. 
I could claim that I can’t change my behavior patterns but the reality of that train of thought is that deep down I don’t want to change.  Yes, there are more healthy lunch choices I can make at this place, healthier restaurants I could go to, or I could even pack my lunch.  But I am a creature of habit and it is much easier to continue to do what I am doing than to change my behaviors.
“Who cares about your fast food eating habits, Pastor Rick?
My point is: God wants us to select good stuff to nurture ourselves physically, mentally, and nutritionally. 
We all struggle with something in our lives that is not good for us.  Some of us may deny this but if we look deep enough inside ourselves, we will see the truth of this statement.  While I am presently talking about the food we eat, this little story of mine can also apply to the spiritual food that we choose (or not choose) to nurture ourselves with.
Again, it all comes down to the choices we make.  And I think the bad choices we continue to select are chosen because we, deep down, don’t want to change, not because we can’t change.  I preach this time and time again. 
But we need to hear this again and again because we are human and we like to march to the beat of our own drummer.  We like to be in charge.  We have a lot of similarities of the disciples and look at how they were all over the map, so to speak.
Change is hard but sometimes to continue to do the things we do, no matter how unhealthy they are for us, is the easier choice.
Following Christ and being the people God created us to be don’t seem to be easy choices.  But the more we choose and follow Jesus, the easier it will become.  And the healthier we will be as people.

June 2017

                                     Unpacking Our Lives
            “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
                 The Rich Young Ruler to Jesus; Mark 10:17b

Many of you know that my siblings, my mom, and my ex-brother-in-law went to Rochester, NY the first weekend in May.  The goal was to clear out the three remaining storage units (the U-Store-It variety) that belonged to my late brother, Herb.
One of the large units had been emptied about nine months ago.  Herb’s children and their mom had gone through the other three units and had taken what furniture and other items and mementoes they could use.  Now it was time to get rid of the units.
I now have a really full garage of what remains of Herb’s worldly possessions.  My siblings and children will claim the furniture.  The rest of the stuff are lots of assorted odds and ends, some broken furniture that I will try to repair because my mom wants to keep them, tools, and books; lots and lots and lots of books.
The amount of stuff is not as bad as I had thought.  It will be time consuming but not overwhelming.
So why am I sharing these thoughts with you?  I am reminded about the encounter between Jesus and the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27).  The young man had kept all of the commandments during his lifetime but he knew there was more to following the ways of God.  In his case, it was his possessions and wealth that was interfering in his relationship with God.  Jesus told him to radically downsize.
As I begin this process with Herb’s possessions, I am reminded that I, too, have a lot of unpacking to do in my life.  But it’s not just the physical stuff, things stored in my attic or in my closets and even in my garage (yes, I already had plenty of stuff in my garage before Herb’s things arrived) that others could possibly use.
What I am talking about is the daily stuff that I must continually unpack, sort through, and get rid of.  What is this daily stuff I am referring to?  It is the stuff that comes between me and Jesus.  It might be the physical things or it could be the emotional things or my thought processes that I rely on to get me through the day instead of completely relying on Jesus to nurture me and to lead me.  Try as I may, I still rely on myself and not 100% on Jesus.  I’m a work in progress.
What would Jesus tell me?  What would Jesus tell you?

May 2107

                                    Do You Like Wrestling?
     “Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.”
                                         Genesis 32:24

When I was a kid I enjoyed watching “big time wrestling.”  I think it was the forerunner of today’s WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).  Bobo Brazil was my favorite.  I also remember Dick the Bruiser, The Sheik, and The Fabulous Kangaroos.  It was pure entertainment; always good versus bad.
I have been known to do some of my own wrestling.  When my kids were little it was not surprising to find us on the living room floor.  Even today, my three grandsons like to gang up on me.  I can still take them, although it is getting harder; it’s all about leverage and body mass, which I have a lot of.
Every so often I find myself wrestling with my conscience, which means I am wrestling with God in one form or another.  And that is what I have been doing recently.
We have many valuable ministries: our Hot Meals Program, our year round clothing ministry (reminder - our next big clothing give away is Saturday, June 3 so get the word out to your friends and neighbors for donations), and our household goods ministry are our main ones.
The people we serve are very appreciative of all of the things that we do.  We are always told “thank you” by numerous people who are our guests.  And many people ask when the next ministry giveaway is coming so they can put it on their calendar.
We fill a need(s) for our neighbors and it makes us feel good!  So what am I wrestling with?
I just finished a book titled Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) by Robert D. Lupton.  People come with immediate needs and compassionate people fill those needs.  There is nothing wrong with that.  The problem becomes that “relationships built on need do not reduce need.  Rather, they require more and more need to continue” (p. 61).
Obviously, there is more to the book with solutions suggested by Mr. Lupton.  He has also written a follow-up book titled Charity  Detox: What Charity Would Look Like If We Cared About Results, which I am about to read.
The wrestling questions are: 1) Do our ministries improve the lives of the people we serve?  And 2) Are we just being enablers, providing a service but not lifting the dignity of the people we serve?  Hard questions.  No easy answers.  What are your thoughts?

April 2017

                                         The Long Walk
“Jesus, now well on the way up to Jerusalem, took the Twelve off to the side of the road and said, ‘Listen to me carefully. We are on our way up to Jerusalem. When we get there, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will sentence him to death. They will then hand him over to the Romans for mockery and torture and crucifixion. On the third day he will be raised up alive.’” 
                             Matthew 20:17-19 (The Message)

We are a couple of weeks away from Easter and hopefully all of us have been walking with Jesus during Lent.  Deep down, all of us know that we should be walking with Jesus everyday of our lives but sometimes we don’t.

Just as Jesus was on what we can imagine was the longest walk of his life, we too have probably been on long walks ourselves.  You remember, the walk we must take even though we are dreading it; the kind of walk our brain says, “No” but our heart says, “Yes.”  It is the kind of walk where we force ourselves to put one foot in front of the other, even if it is a very slow and hard process.

Why is it so hard?  Because we probably know what lies ahead for us, our fear of the unknown.  As a kid, it could have been a walk to the principal’s office because of something you did wrong, afraid of what your punishment might be.

As an adult, it could be a walk to the boss’s office to tell them of a big mistake you have made.  Or it could be the same walk knowing your company is laying off people and your boss wants to see you.

Some of us have taken that long walk after a loved one has died unexpectedly, not knowing where to go or who to call first or what to even to say.

In the midst of our anxiety and angst, no matter what it is we are facing, we must do our best to remember that God is walking with us.

I can only imagine what Jesus was going through emotionally during his walk to Jerusalem.  I believe he was able to tell his disciples what was going to happen with a calm about him but his insides churning; sort of like the duck on the surface of the pond - smooth sailing above water while the feet are paddling ferociously below.

It is easy for us to say, well, Jesus is God and knew what the end result was going to be after his long walk ended.  No big deal.  But it is a big deal - Jesus was human and had human doubts and anxieties.  Remember his behavior in the garden the night of his arrest?  Talk about tense.

And I believe the pain he endured after his arrest and during his crucifixion was real. 

In the end, Jesus trusted God no matter what was going to happen.  So must we.

Happy Easter!  

March 2017

                               It’s All About Community

“A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.”
Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)

As we prepare for the Lenten Season, I thought I would share a few thoughts on how we can become more involved in our neighborhood.

I briefly talked in worship a couple of weeks ago about our small green space on Second Street.  I think it would be a great idea to plant a couple of raised garden beds in that space.  Bob Dunfee pointed out to me that that area is on the north side of the building so sunshine could be an issue.  It does get afternoon summer sun so we’ll see.

The idea is to grow vegetables we can use for our hot meals and also possibly share with our neighbors.  Any suggestions, let me know.  We should designate a “lead gardener” to help supervise watering and such.  If you’d like to help out or “lead,” let me know.

I also thought about placing a “Blessing Box” outside the church over by the proposed garden area.  I learned about the idea on the NBC national evening news on February 8.  In fact, Berea has one near the pubic library.  The idea is that non-perishable food items are placed there for public use.  People take what they need and other people can donate what they are able to.  It’s another way to help our neighbors.  Let me know what you think.

I also have asked our synod to host a one day Mobile Health Fair in July, around picnic time.  The staff consists of six trained young adults.  The fair is FREE and for people in our community.   It provides basic health screenings and referrals and basic health education for participants.  One example, they check cholesterol levels.

The Synod of the Covenant pays for the health fair.  Last year there were 38 Mobile Health Fairs in Michigan and Ohio.  The staff did 1,442 screenings and made 138 medical referrals.  This is just another way to help provide some necessary assistance for our neighbors.

Our friend Dave Norris, who lives at the Valor Home, is looking for some extra work.  He is a true handyman.  His number is 440-452-1221.  I highly recommend him.  Let’s help a vet!

Lots to think about and lots to pray about.


P.S. Summer worship at High Meadows: June 25, July 23, and August 27!!   

February 2017                                
                                  We Must Be Like Children
                           “Romper, bomper, stomper boo…”
               Miss Barbara, Host of Romper Room on Cleveland

Growing up outside of Chicago, Romper Room was my favorite tv show.  It was a syndicated show throughout the United States with each city having their own version of “Miss Barbara.” 
When I saw the names of the hosts of the Chicago production online, none of them were familiar to me.  For some reason, I remember Miss Barbara, the host in Cleveland, although by the time I moved to the here I was too old for Romper Room, although my younger brothers were into it by then.
Two of the characters on the show were “Do Bee” and “Don’t Bee.”  They were people dressed up as bees (no, John Belushi was not one of them) and their job was to help Miss Barbara educate the viewers on how to behave (Do Bee) and not behave (Don’t Bee).
For whatever reason, I just thought of these characters after we heard about the calling of the first disciples by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew (4:12-23) this past Sunday (January 22) during worship.  Because to be a follower of Jesus is to be called to do things in order to help further the kingdom of God here on earth.
Jesus tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). 
To follow Jesus is to “do this and do that” (feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the poor, shelter the homeless, seek justice etc.).  We talked on Sunday about how hard it is when we are trying to figure out what we can do to impact those around us during our daily life in the name of Christ.  As a church, it seems to be easier answering these “to do’ commands than on our own.
I suggested that instead of trying to figure out what to do as individuals, we should just “be” - try our best to be in Christ.  By being in Christ, our lives will change.  By change I mean everything we say and do will become more Christ-like.  When we become more like Christ people around us will notice.
As we “be” like Christ, the doing part will just evolve.  What Jesus wants us to do will just come to us and we will know how to respond.  I thought this was important to hear again.  It is so easy for us to get overwhelmed by our world that we can easily ask ourselves, “What’s the point?”
The point is to be like Christ no matter how tough things might get.


January 2017
                                         Going Green in ‘17

             “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
                                                 Genesis 1:1

I don’t know about you but I whenever I was given a gift by someone, I was always told to take care it.  A gift was something to be thankful for and respect to the giver was expected.  A gift was to be taken care of, even if it’s purpose was to used.
From the first verse from the first chapter in The Bible, we are told that the earth and the heavens were a gift to humankind and all the other creatures that inhabit it.  It only makes sense that we should be thankful for this gift.  And it only makes sense that we should take care of it.
We have a president-elect and many of his preferred cabinet appointees who don’t believe in global warming.  There is talk about deregulating many of the environmental initiatives that were put into place by many previous administrations. 
We must not be afraid to speak out against issues that will harm our environment.  If our environment is harmed, so are our lives, especially the lives of the poor around the world.  All of us must become better caretakers of our environment.
What can we do as a church?  How can we lessen our carbon footprint, so to speak?  In 2016, we replaced all of our incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient LED lightbulbs.
Our church recently received $2,000 in grant money from our presbytery.  The purpose for this money is to help us really “go green” in 2017.  We are going to use this money to begin the transition of purchasing more environmentally-friendly, biodegradable products to use for our Hot Meals Program.
We have used styrofoam plates, bowls, cups, to-go containers, and other products forever.  Do you know that styrofoam does not decompose in the environment under normal circumstances. Much like plastic, styrofoam is made from a polystyrene-based petroleum product that is not biodegradable. Plastic takes hundreds of years to decompose, and styrofoam takes much longer because it is a stronger form of plastic.  Ughhhhh!!!!
This is just a start.  We should also recycle old bulletins and other paper items.
We have members who help us recycle cans and cardboard but the more volunteers the better.  We checked with the city and in order to do this as a church, we would have to pay a monthly fee to have recycled items picked up curbside.  We would also have to pay for another big recycle bin with our waste removal haulers, if we went with that option.
Maybe we should do a better job of closing the sanctuary doors, including the ones upstairs, during the week. I have noticed when I spend the night with the homeless that our stairwells get pretty cold on cold nights, even though they all have radiators in them.  Do you have any other suggestions?
Most of us do many of these things in our own homes.  Last year I started composting.  It’s time to think globally as a congregation and become more green. 
God has charged us with taking care of the world and the environment we have been given.  It’s time for us to take this type of stewardship more seriously.
Blessings and Happy New Year!! 

December 2016
                                We MUST Answer God’s Call

     “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”
                                           Luke 1:38

Every Advent Sunday during worship, we light Advent candles.  The candles represent the yearnings of all of God’s people for hope, peace, joy, and love.  With the negative attitudinal undercurrent that has permeated our country the past few years and reinforced by our recent election season, these Advent wishes take on a newer sense of urgency.
We should look at Mary’s words printed above and take them to heart.  We have all been called to be the Lord’s servants but I’m not sure how many of us (myself included) take that responsibility as sincerely as Mary.  How many of us have boldly proclaimed, “I am the Lord’s servant” to another person or even out loud for that matter?
Although the second part of her quote is a direct response to the Angel Gabriel’s news that Mary would give birth to the Christ child, I believe her response should also be our response to God as we continue our journey here on earth.  God created each one of us for a purpose and that purpose was to care for our neighbor and the stranger (see Matthew 25:31-45). 
Jesus didn’t come to earth in order to build walls and divide people.  He came to break down the barriers dividing the people of earth.  He understood that his mission would take time and meet much resistance from the establishment but it was something that needed to be done.
If my message has a bit of a political undercurrent, I apologize.  It has been suggested to leave politics out of church.  I once believed that.  I even used politics as an excuse for walking away from the church back in the early 80’s.
Since my return to church, going to seminary, and doing my best to study God’s Word, I think Jesus is one of the most political people to ever walk the earth.  His birth, his life, his ministry, his death, and his resurrection were all game changers.  Jesus was about as anti-establishment as anyone who lived.  And there was a reason for it.  And that reason still exists today.
This Advent Season, let all of us pray about and reflect upon how our voice(s) can be heard.  How can we proclaim Christ’s message of love above the fear and disrespectful speech that fills our airways and newspapers?  How can we brighten the beacon of light that we try so hard to shine on everyone our church comes in contact with?  Our work is cut out for us; but Jesus is with us.
This is a season of hope, peace, joy, and love.  Merry Christmas!!


November 2016
                           Sitting on the Dock in Detroit Harbor

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay…Watchin' the tide roll away, ooo…I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay…Wastin' time
                                       Otis Redding

Just because I am on vacation doesn’t mean you are not in my thoughts.  Thank you for allowing Mary and I to take our annual fall pilgrimage to Washington Island, WI.  It’s been a rigorous rehab after knee replacement surgery and being able to get away was great.
Every time I sit on my friends harbor dock (or porch), I think of the popular Otis Redding song from 1968.  The harbor is a good place for me to reflect and contemplate life and things.  Here are a couple of things I thought about while in Wisconsin:
Winter is fast approaching and so is our shared mission with St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and First United Methodist Church concerning the homeless population in Elyria.  The Basic Shelter will run from December-April.  Time to begin preparations.  We are responsible for the weeks of December 18-24, January 15-21, February 19-25, March 19-25, and April 16-22 and 23-29.  Yes, we will be open on Christmas Eve if needed.  How ironic that there were no rooms at the inns of Elyria for the homeless until last year.
I would like to make the church library more family friendly.  How many of you take books out of our library?  A show of hands.  That’s what I thought.  I talked with Lila Rae (our resident librarian) about it and she is not opposed to downsizing the library.  We can keep some books, donate most to the Elyria Public Library, and you could take what books you would like.  Many of them our outdated.  Maybe we could put a changing table in there, children’s books, some newer toys and playthings, etc.  We could still use the room for a Sunday school classroom when needed.  We could get rid of that monstrosity of a TV and stand and hang a flat screen on the wall with a DVD player.
What are your ideas about the house next door (if and when we get it)?  How can we use it to help better our neighborhood?  Please let me know.  Lots of possibilities to narrow down.
Finally, I turn 65 in December.  I thought a lot about retirement during my rehab and vacation.  Unless anything unforeseen happens, I plan to retire when I turn 70.  We will share one final Advent Season in 2021 before I go.
We still have lots of work to do.  What do we hope to do in the next five years?  Where do you see us as one chapter closes and another begins?