Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Praising God and Singing Wordle

On the First Sunday after Christmas we had a Sing-A-Long! Everyone named off their favorite Christmas Carols and we sang them together. It was great! Big thanks to our organist Jerry Jensen for playing us through such a merry worship service. Instead of a full sermon, I simply offered a very brief homily on the joy and value of singing.

For the full (but nonetheless brief!) manuscript of the homily, you can click here to go to the church's website. For the full version of the Wordle, just click on the image to the right.

I've been thinking about...

...the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Which before it became an insanely long Christmas Carol with a great rousing cheer in the middle (FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!), was actually a liturgical season.

The Twelve Days of Christmas are in fact the dozen days that separate Christmas Day from Epiphany; that is the 12 days that bridge the gap between our celebration of the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi from the East. Or for those who are calendar people, the Twelve Days of Christmas run from December 25 to January 6. It is a time of celebrating!

In fact, in the Middle Ages the Twelve Days of Christmas was a period of continuous feasting and merrymaking which climaxed not on Christmas Day, but on the very last of the nights. Thus the setting for one of William Shakespeare’s most famous plays, “Twelfth Night.”

Our pilgrim forbearers actually brought Christmastide celebrations over to this land from Europe, but with the growing secularization of Christmas, commercialization of “After-Christmas” sales, and general revelry of New Year’s Eve, the Twelve Days of Christmas has faded to the background or disappeared altogether...
...well, except in our worship life!

For these two Sundays of the Twelve Days of Christmas we’ll celebrate the birth of Christ with just as much joy and merriment as we did at our Christmas Eve Service. We’ll recount the stories, sing the Christmas Carols, and continue to spread the good news of Christ’s birth.

Because the true lesson of the Twelve Days of Christmas is that the joy of Christ’s birth in our world and in our hearts is simply too big to be confined to single celebration!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mary's Christmas Carol Wordle

On the last Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love, we finally get Mary's story. It seems a fitting time to pay tribute to the mother of our Lord after all. Advent is the time of preparation and anticipation and what could better fit that theme than the time of hope and expectation known as pregnancy.

Mary has much to teach us. And the Magnificat (this Sunday's scritpure) is a terrific place to start. Through it Mary stands as a sterling example of a person of faith. Lifting up for us the spiritual gifts of living a life that is faithful, thankful, and prophetic. Faithful, thankful, and prophetic – these are the gifts that Mary offers us this day.

You can find the full manuscript of the sermon by clicking here and visiting the church's website. Or to see the full sized Wordle rendering, just click on the image below.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I've been thinking about...


And as I do from time to time when I’m thinking about such monumental theological things, I turned to theologian, humorist, minister, and author Frederick Buechner’s “Wishful Thinking.” Here is an excerpt from what he has to say about it.

The first stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love. The middle stage is to believe that there are many kinds of love and that the Greeks had a different word for each of them. The last stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love…
To say that love is God is romantic idealism. To say that God is love is either the last straw or the ultimate truth.
In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion but an act of will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as easily produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. Thus in Jesus’ terms, we can love our neighbors without necessarily liking them. In fact liking them may stand in the way of loving them by making us overprotective sentimentalists instead of reasonably honest friends.

You’ve just gotta love Frederick Buechner ... even if you don’t like him!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some Holiday Greeting?!? Wordle

This is one of my favorite sermons, despite the fact that things are so dichotomous on the third Sunday of Advent. When we light the pink candle and celebrate God's gift of joy, we have John the Baptist yelling at us "You brood of vipers!" while calling us to repent and using hellfire and brimstone images.

I take a non-traditional view in interpreting John the Baptist's "wheat and the chaff" imagery. For the full sermon manuscript, visit the church's website by clicking here. To see the entire Wordle rendering, click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...

...the Pink Candle on the Advent Wreath.

Two weeks ago I was asked, “Why is there one pink candle in the Advent Wreath?” I stuttered and stammered through an answer (in the process, mistaking the third Sunday as the Day of Love, not the Day of Joy!) before finally concluding, “That said, I don’t really know.”
I’ve been researching it since then and I’m proud to announce that I’m not the only one who goofs up an answer! Everybody has a different thought on this one and most have no idea!

The tradition itself is a Germanic one, and seems to be a pre-Christian one that early followers of Christ adopted and transformed. As such, the green of the wreath came to symbolize the eternal nature of God. The purple candles signify the royalty of Christ as well our own penitence in preparing for the coming of Jesus. And the pink signifies joy...or as it turns out, love! (Some churches light the pink candle on the third Sunday to symbolize joy, some of the fourth to symbolize love, go figure.).

Confused yet? Just wait!

There is some story about how the Pope used to give out a pink rose on the third Sunday of Lent and somehow that tradition was transposed to an Advent candle. I’m not sure I buy it. Which brings me to my least favorite answer for any question, “Why do we do it? Because we’ve always done it that way.”

This church has the tradition of lighting a pink candle on the Third Sunday of Advent, the Day of Joy when we rejoice at God’s promises that have been fulfilled and the blessings that we know are to come. That’s what we’ll do today.

Oh, and in case this isn’t confusing enough, the Pope has been using four red candles in his wreath for years. So go figure!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Three Things from Diaconate

The Deacons met on Sunday December 13 immediately after worship. Here are the three things you need to know about that meeting:
  1. We went over plans for the Christmas Eve Candlelit Worship Service. Worship will begin at 7:30 PM and it will be a traditional service of Lessons and Carols, where we will hear once more and all over again the story of Jesus' birth in combination with beautiful music and congregational singing. Please join us for this special time of worship.

  2. Laity Sunday will be on January 31 and will use "God is Still Speaking..." as the theme. See Cindy or Jane if you would like to participate!

  3. Rev. Brian is collecting "hamster stories." After raffling off a sermon as part of the 2009 Community Turkey Drive, Ted Shepherd's name was pulled out of the hat (actually, out of the collection plate!). And true to his promise, Ted requested a sermon about hamsters. His exact words, "Hamsters. Absolutely. Hamsters." The January date of the hamster sermon is still to be determined, but stay tuned for that announcement!

Three Things from Church Council

Church Council had their monthly meeting on Wednesday, December 9 at 7PM. Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting.

  1. Church Windows database software has been ordered and will be installed on the church computer within a week. This new program will allow us to keep up with finances and payroll, membership trends, and new visitors. Hurray for Church Windows!

  2. We have scheduled our first All Church Clean-Up Day of the New Year for January 23, 2010 starting at 8:30. Trustees will begin preparing the list of things that need to be done -- please see a Trustee if you have anything to add to the list!

  3. After much prayer and deliberation, Rev. Brian submitted a letter to the Pastoral Search Committee indicating that he will not be submitting his name for consideration as the settled pastor at the Encanto Community Church. There is still much good work that we will do together during this interim time, and Rev. Brian will continue to hold the Encanto Community Church in his prayers and hopes you will hold his ministry in yours.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

John the Baptist Wordle

We get back-to-back Sunday's with the one, the only John the Baptist! So we use this first Sunday sermon to simply introduce the man who came to prepare the way. We lift up those things he did that we should do too (preparing the way, being filled with the word of God) and those things we might want to chalk up to ancient world eccentricities (locust lunches and camel's hair clothes, anyone?).

For the full manuscript of a Communion Sunday shortened sermon, simply visit the church website by clicking here. To see the entire wordle rendering (in exciting black and white this week!) then click on the image below.

I've been thinking about...


For the entire season of Advent we are collecting socks for Shoebox Ministry.

Shoebox Ministry is a non-profit service organization based out of Scottsdale with an ongoing program for the collection and distribution of personal hygiene kits to the homeless and working poor in the Greater Phoenix Area. Founded 21-years ago, Shoebox Ministry is the only agency in the greater Phoenix area that focuses on meeting this very important need. Though they are not a shelter, they do distribute the toiletry kits through agencies and shelters throughout the Valley that work directly with the homeless and working poor.

As part of their Christmas Sock Drive, new socks are collected, and distributed to over 40 valley agencies and shelters. Their goal is to collect 40,000 pairs of new socks (25,000 for Men, 15,000 for women) to warm the soles of the Valley’s 15,000 homeless.

Here at Encanto, we’ll be collecting socks for the next several weeks. When you are doing your Christmas Shopping please remember those who are in need and pick up a package or two of sturdy, warm athletic socks and then drop them off here at the church.

To remind us of the project, I’ll be wearing a different pair of crazy socks each Sunday during to Advent. I’ll be showing off my bright green argyle socks this morning. Thanks for your continued support of Shoebox Ministry!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Anticipation Wordle


What's that, you say? It isn't New Year's yet? Well it is in the church!

This past Sunday was the First Sunday of Advent we begin all over again a new Christian Liturgical Year. As we slow-play our way to the celebration of Christ's birth in our heart and in our world at Christmas we take on the Season of Advent -- a time of anticipation and preparation.

Here is Wordle rendering of this past Sunday's sermon on anticipation. For the full manuscript simply visit the church's website by clicking here. Or to see a full-size version of the Wordle just click on the image below.

I’ve Been Thinking about...

...Turkey Tickets.

Yeah, yeah, I know. I was thinking about Turkey Tickets a couple of weeks ago and used this space to talk them already. But we’ve since completed the drive and that is why I’m using this space again, because I want to recap all of your hard work!

For folks who don’t know or don’t remember, this was the Encanto Community Church’s first time participating in the Community Turkey Drive. The effort is spearheaded by Ron Caputo (a member at Beatitudes UCC and a frequent visitor here at Encanto). For $5 you can provide a turkey to a needy family or individual who otherwise would have gone without on Thanksgiving. We were an authorized seller of the “Turkey Tickets” — a $5 donation gets you one ticket and provides one turkey to a person or family in need.

I’m overjoyed to report that as a church we raised $455. That is 91 families that had turkeys this past Thanksgiving because of your generosity.

When I met with Ron this past week to turn over our funds he told me that the total project raised over $12,000! That is 2400 families! Thank you for your hard work and generosity in supporting the Turkey Tickets. A special thank you to Arron Bradford and Jim Brooks who each took stacks of Turkey Tickets and sold them outside of the church.

As for our churchwide prize, remember that I put a sermon up for auction. For every one Turkey Ticket purchased folks got one entry into the raffle. Whoever’s name is pulled from the plate will have the opportunity to tell what I’m preaching on one Sunday in January. We’ll do the drawing today at Coffee Hour right after the worship service. See you over there!

{Editor's Note: I went straight in to the Trustees Meeting and didn't get out until everyone had left Coffee Hour! So we're going to do the drawing this coming Sunday instead...I promise!}

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian