Note From Pastor

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

Stewardship

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This past Sunday my heart and soul filled with joy as I witnessed so many of you come forward in worship to dedicate your financial commitment to our beloved church for 2019.

For many this act of promise to support the life of the church is not new. You have heard countless stewardship sermons. You have noted God’s generosity. Out of gratitude, you have given before and you continue to give. For your on-going giving, I can only say “thank you”. For some in our congregation, giving to the church is new. To you I also say: “thank you”. I wonder if terms such as pledges, tithe, first-fruits, even stewardship itself, sound like churchy lingo we use to avoid saying money, fundraising or donations. But words matter. Putting financial giving in the right context is important.

Stewardship language reminds us that “it” is not just about our money. First off, there’s that pesky possessive term “our”. Reminding ourselves that you and I are stewards (managers) of God’s gifts of life, of talents, of time and yes of all material treasures-- is humbling. It puts all our giving in perspective. When we give for the first time or for the 50th time – we are returning to God what is God’s.

Tithe is the Old English word for "tenth." Tithing means to give one-tenth of your income to the church. If you lived in the ancient middle east and followed the Law of Moses, then when your first 100 bunches of grapes were harvested the best 10 bunches went first to the Temple to support the priests and be distributed to the poor (Num. 18:24, Deut. 12:11, and 26:12). Today the exact % is not what I stress. You alone in prayer and discernment can know what amount of money constitutes an act of faithful giving on your part. Today concepts of first-fruit giving and tithing reminds us to set priorities. God should not receive only an after-thought of thanks or the left-over of our material resources. A tithe is a significant portion, one befitting of our generous God.

I’ll end my exploration of ‘churchy language about giving’ with a word about pledging. Your giving is an act of faith, so much so that we include a time of giving in our worship every week. But we ask for a pledge, a promise from you about your yearly giving, at the beginning of our budgeting cycle (around Harvest time) because knowing what level of income we can expect helps us be good stewards. We are committed to maintaining transparent and strong accounting and budgeting practices. So, if you have not filled out your commitment card and returned it to the church, please do so – for the first time or the 50th time. Reflect on what faithful and generous giving looks like for you and please challenge yourself to increase your giving as you are able. Set the church up as a biller in your on-line banking if giving regularly is easier for you that way. However you give, at whatever level you give, I hope that the act of both reflecting on the spiritual act of giving, as well as committing to giving as a discipline and practice of faith, will be meaningful to you. I hope you will find joy in seeing the gifts of God growing as we harvest them together and allow them to multiply under God’s gracious guidance.

Your pastor,
Stefanie