Rev. Stefanie Muntzel

The Frozen Chosen

“Frozen Chosen” is a nickname I have heard given to Presbyterians.

The “chosen” part may come from the fact that Presbyterians are associated with concept of Pre-destination. I could write a whole newsletter on the history and varying thoughts around this teaching about faith and salvation. But let’s just say that I have known zero Presbyterians today who are overly concerned with the idea of Predestination. What our tradition has always held is the belief that God is the source of all things—even our faith. In that sense God chooses us before we choose God. But even our founding Theologian John Calvin would rush to tell us that we cannot know the will and wisdom of God, so how and to whom exactly God offers faith is a mystery. We trust God’s goodness in the process of giving faith, grace and salvation justly and generously.

But I wanted to focus on the “frozen” part of the nickname Frozen Chosen. Let me give it to you straight: Presbyterians have a reputation for being stiff and reserved. We aren’t known for our joy. This is especially true of the perspective on our worship style. In other words, we aren’t thought of as having a lot of “Spirit”.

So, I had to laugh when recently I spoke to someone who grew up in a non-Presbyterian church. She wanted me to know about the first Presbyterian worship service she had just attended. She was in “culture shock” when she entered the sanctuary and saw everyone chatting and greeting each other. In her home church people sat quietly until the service started. A person sitting in front of my friend had recently had a death in the family and she said: “Everyone was coming up to him and giving him hugs and offering to bring him food”. Then during the passing of the peace, she didn’t know what to do when people left their pews to welcome her, AND someone asked her if they could offer her a hug! So much for stiff and reserved!

Scripture tells us that God’s Spirit is active among us today. The life and energy of the Spirit of God is truly at work in our congregation here in Easton. The warmth we feel and show for each other and for new faces, reflects God’s Spirit. Our love of all kinds of music in worship, reflects God’s Spirit. Our active commitment to Mission and Community engagement—this is God’s Spirit stirring through our faith. God’s Spirit moves in many different ways and differently among different people. Some people feel God’s Spirit in quiet reflective moments and other when they raise their hands and shout “Alleluia”. And there is a lot of room for the Spirit to joyful move us in many different ways. The warmth of God’s Spirit is undeniable in our church. I look forward to marking Pentecost with you on June 9th, when new officers will be installed, a new member welcomed and a dove kite will fly over the congregation (guided by Luke) to remind us that the Spirit is with us, now and always.

Easter People in a Broken World

Why did Jesus come into this world? Why did he rise from death to new life?

God sent his Beloved into this world so that we might know life in all its fullness. The Prince of Peace defeated death so that we would know without doubt that God’s intention is for goodness to triumph over sin and death.

I pray that the Easter’s promise gives you personal peace. If God would go to such lengths with Jesus, to show God’s love, there is no challenge or hardship or heart break which you should fear. God is with you. God is offering you a path to abundant life, now and after death. Trust in the hope which Easter reveals to you.

But Easter isn’t just for you and me. You and I are called to be Easter people in service to this world—Easter gives us a purpose in this life. We are to be the hands, voice, feet and heart of the Living Christ. This hurting and still broken world needs healthy, whole human beings whose faith compels them to stand up for what is good and right. Sure, we are far from perfect. But God works through imperfect people through-out scripture and through-out history.

Over the past few months, attackers have targeted places of worship around the world. In California a gunman opened fire on Chabad Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover, one of the holiest holidays in the Jewish calendar. The person wielding terror in this horrible act of violence also was involved in a fire at a nearby Mosque. His family attended a Presbyterian Church (though not our same denomination). This breaks my heart. This violence followed a series of bombings on Christian churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday; mass shootings at New Zealand mosques last month; and a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh six months ago.

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), offer us these words: “As Christians, we are called to renew our own commitment to Him who is The Prince of Peace, and to demonstrate His love toward all of God’s children, regardless of their commitment to other faiths or to none. Let us all renew our response to Him, seeking peace and justice for all, and demonstrating vigilance against every sign of prejudice and potential violence against others.” 

Let us seek to be God’s Easter people.

Your Pastor,
Stefanie

Hope of the World

At Christmas one of my favorite songs is “Born in the Night, Mary’s Child”. It is a lyrical song

which reminds us that the Christ Child was not just a child, as he is the embodiment of God’s

grace. But Jesus was also simply a child, a child whose mother loved him so.

Born in the night, Mary’s child, a long way from your home:

coming in need, Mary’s child, in a borrowed room.

Clear shining light, Mary’s child, your face lights up our way:

light of the world, Mary’s child, dawn on our darkened day.

Truth of our life, Mary’s child, you tell us God is good:

prove it is true, Mary’s child. Go to your cross of wood.

Hope of the world, Mary’s child, you’re coming soon to reign:

king of the earth, Mary’s child, walk in our streets again.

As we approach the celebration of Easter, we are reminded of the difficult path which Jesus

walked as a human being. He was a person who sat with sinners and outcasts. He was a truth

teller. For what he taught about God and how he questioned human hierarchies of love- he was

scorned. Ultimately the human powers that be, took his life. And his mother had to watch him

suffer and die. There is nothing good about this. But there is some comfort in knowing that

God in Jesus knew human struggle and even the sting of death itself.

The good news we cling to in the midst of our human struggles is that this was not the end of the

story, not for Mary’s child and not for all of humankind. In the path of this unique man, we

come to know the depth of God’s love. Love itself overcame the grip of sin and death. We can

trust that the strength of this Holy Love is offered to us. So we look to the journey of Jesus in

this season of Lent, we look with sadness and repentance but also with hope.

The Ballad of Mary’s Son

It was in the Spring/ The Passover had come.

There was feasting in the streets and joy.

But an awful thing/ Happened in the Spring –

Men who knew not what they did/ Killed Mary’s Boy.

He was Mary’s Son,/ And the Son of God was He –

Sent to bring the whole world joy.

There were some who could not hear,

And some were filled with fear –

So they built a cross/ For Mary’s Boy.
1954, LANGSTON HUGHES

Your pastor,

Stefanie

Lent

Did you know that Easter Sunday can occur as early as March 22 and as late as April 25? This is because Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full Moon that occurs following the spring equinox. Easter this year falls on April 21st. We at FPCE set aside time on Wednesday, March 6th, to share a meal and worship together. Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, the season of preparation before Easter.

The word “Lent” comes from the Anglo Saxon word lencten, which means "spring." According to the publication Christianity Today, Lent is one of the oldest Christian holy day observances: “Like all Christian holy days and holidays, Lent has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same: self-examination and penitence, demonstrated by self-denial, in preparation for Easter. Early church father Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200) wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days”. In 325 CE, when the Council of Nicaea set the date for Easter, it likewise discussed a 40-day season of fasting for new Christian converts to prepare for Baptism on Easter. And soon after that historic Council met, the fast of Lent began to be practiced church wide.

You will not see the word Lent in the Bible. You will not find Jesus telling his followers to pray or fast …or give up chocolate for 40 days. Many in the Reformed tradition, which includes Presbyterians, historically excluded the Catholic practices of Lent because it is not mandated in scripture. This is why many people in our church did not grow up with services on Ash Wednesday and certainly many did not experience putting ashes on our heads on Ash Wednesday.

But what we and many other Christians model our Lenten practices on are the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. We see how Jesus endured temptation and prepared himself for his public ministry. During his 40 days, Jesus fasted and prayed. And so I invite you to understand the season of Lent as an important time to do what Jesus did, to take concrete steps to spiritually prepare yourself for your on-going journey to embrace the good news of Easter.

Your pastor,
Stefanie

LENTEN PRACTICE – Rev. Stefanie Muntzel invites you to explore with her the topic of spiritual disciplines through a time of Bible study, discussion and “practice”. Please join her on Thursdays, March 14th and 28th from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm. March 14th will focus on the spiritual discipline of meditation. We will gather at the church in the Millheim Conference Room.

What is Love?

I suppose I will wade into the territory of poets and ask the question:

What is Love?

One could argue there are different kinds of love, for example, romantic love or familial love. But even with that in mind, folks today use the term very liberally. People are quick to say: I “love” broccoli; or I “love” Schnauzer dogs; or I love ______(you fill in the blank). But we also say earnestly that we love our family and our country. Love is not just a feeling of attraction or affection. Certainly, the bond and sense of connection I have for my son is not “just” a feeling.

Love is something real, a state of relationship as much as a feeling. As people of faith, we proclaim that God loves us. Does God love us like we love coffee or like we love our family? In the book of 1 John you will find the words: “God is love. Anyone who lives faithfully in love also lives faithfully in God, and God lives in them. . . We love because God has first loved us.” I believe God’s love to be the unending, unbreakable love which transcends and surpasses all the fleeting and hard won ways humans love. I may not be able to define what love is, but I know it. I recognize love because I have been loved. My parents introduced me to love. Dear friends help me to trust love. My husband partners with me on sustaining love. And as a child and even as an awkward teen I also knew love from the community of people I called “my Church”. Love is a powerful and mysterious gift and surely it comes from God.

When you walk into the local grocery or drug store this month you will see the telltale signs that Valentine’s Day is coming. There will be red hearts and cupids all over- if they aren’t already. While some may condemn this commercialized, Hallmark holiday, I’m ok with it. I welcome any chance for the world to look to love, in any form, just a little bit more. I welcome everyone saying “I love you” to people who matter to us. There are worse things.

Love is life affirming. Love is energizing. Love is dynamic and catching. This month won’t you join me in wondering about love; won’t you join me in trying to nurture love- love of self, love of neighbor, love for community and… love of God.

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13: 1-2

Your pastor,
Stefanie

Let's Chat

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Dear FPCE Friends and Members,

In 2019 I am making a resolution to visit with each of you. If you could, would you help me make this goal a reality? I’d love to meet with you in downtown Easton for coffee or come to your home for a cup of tea or lemonade. In January, I will begin to take my calendar to Fellowship Hour to schedule these “chats”. Then I’ll be reaching out to make sure everyone who is willing is scheduled.

I look forward to getting to know you all (even better) in this my second year in ministry with you.

Your Pastor,
Stefanie

The Color of Christmas

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What are the colors of Christmas? Red and green, you might think. Why then, do we at the First Presbyterian Church of Easton decorate our sanctuary with purple in December?

The use of colors to differentiate “seasons” in a church year became a common practice in the Western (European) church in about the fourth century. The Reformation movement lifted up a great deal of criticism against many practices and teachings of the Church, including critique of the distracting ornate décor of worship spaces. Protestant churches which were born from the Reformation not only embraced certain Bible based teachings (grace, not works) but the new churches also sought a more simplified worship style.

Of course this reforming of worship happened in differing degrees; Lutherans emerged from the Reformation following a “liturgical” calendar and using colors to represent certain celebrations. But for Reformed churches (including Presbyterian) embellishments in the worship space were purged. But then during the 20th century, the ecumenical movement prompted the rediscovery of ancient Christian ritual. The feeling was that maybe we had thrown the baby out with all the bath water- some art and ritual could actually help us focus on God. Seasonal colors once again were used to help us focus on certain Biblical stories and about who God is to us.

So, why purple in December? Purple is used during our seasons of preparation: Advent and Lent. During the four Sundays before Christmas, which we call the season of Advent, we dedicate ourselves for the preparation of our hearts and minds for welcoming Christ. Purple is the traditional color of royalty. In ancient Rome, Adventus was a technical term for the ‘glorious entry’ of the King into the capital city. This often happened when the birthday of the royal leader was commemorated. The early followers of Jesus heard him preach about the contrast between the worldly empire of Rome and the heavenly kingdom of God. Jesus was the representative of God’s peaceable kingdom on earth. So we still use purple to remind us of the coming of the kingdom of God and the coming of our God and King, Jesus Christ, into the world.

Red can, traditionally, only be found on one Sunday during the liturgical year: Pentecost, where the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the early church as tongues of fire. During most of the church year, which is commonly called "ordinary time", the color that you will see in the sanctuary is green. (Ordinary, related to ordinal or numbered.) Because green is associated with life, the use of green during the times when there are no big festivals or holidays reminds us that God is present among us, breathing life into us and into our church during ordinary times. We use white any time we are celebrating days that emphasize the divinity of Christ-- including on Christmas itself. Also, since white has come to symbolize holiness, it is also often used for the celebration of both baptism and communion.

In this season of Advent take notice of colors and the meaning we have attached to them. What do those colors tell us about who Jesus is? As your pastor, I will be asking you to think about the sacredness and stillness of blackness in a season of flashing bulbs and beeping screens as we wait for the coming of Christ. Also, please notice that we will have new paraments, fabrics with color, in our sanctuary. May the colors and symbols of these small, simple pieces of art help you in your worship.

Grace and peace,
Stefanie

Harvest

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I no longer have a garden. I have some herbs and patio tomatoes all up on my deck away from the deer that think anything that grows out in my yard is for them. If it weren’t for farmer’s markets and farm stands, I would forget this is a season of harvest. But it is.

The leaves on the trees haven’t quite turned to their beautiful Autumn colors. Trees are still full of green leaves - some are just brushed with a bit of gold. The days haven’t grown too dark, but the last few nights were cool enough for a comfy sweatshirt. It’s a sweet spot between trees growing and sleeping, between long days and long nights. These in-between times are holy times to take stock of life and to celebrate the gifts of Harvest.

Harvest is a season of plenty, abundance, fullness. Scripture is filled with themes about harvest times. Jesus called God, the Lord of the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). The riches and abundance of God’s blessings to us are both material and spiritual. When we take the time to look at our harvest—all the ways which God supports and sustains us—how can we not feel blessed?

Here at First Presbyterian Church of Easton, each of us individually can be confident in the generosity of the Lord of the Harvest.

Walt Whitman offers a “Carol of Harvest” in his famous Leaves of Grass.

Loud, O my throat, and clear, O soul!

The season of thanks, and the voice of full-yielding;

The chant of joy and power for boundless fertility.

Times of Harvest remind us that God provides—not without our hard work and input—but God provides. So often today people live from a place and a perspective of scarcity and/or fear. Instead, I invite you to adopt a harvest mentality for your living. Look with joy and thanksgiving at your life now and as you think about your life in the future – you can trust in the Lord of the Harvest. You are enough. You can expect and hope for good times and good things in your future. This is what a harvest mentality is about.

Of course, having a bountiful harvest means great opportunities for feasting!! As always, part of the way we celebrate God’s generosity here at FPCE is with food and fellowship. I so am looking forward to our Kenyan Dinner on October 13th when I can feast with you. This year we intend to direct some of the bounty of this event not only to support this church but to share with neighbors in Kenya. Look out for more information about this in the future.

May you enjoy the changing of seasons and take every chance to give praise to God for the many gifts of life.

Your Pastor,

Stefanie