Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve is Here. Already. Wow.


What a busy, stressful season. Lots of excitement and anticipation of wonder and wonderful things. Lots of challenges. Lots of demands on our time. Lots of Love.

I invite you all to take some time out, come partake of our annual Candlelight Christmas Eve service at Bethel.
It promises to be a beautiful, blessed event, and I hope that you will all to come join in the story and the music.

Christmas Eve Service at Bethel
 Music and Candlelight
7pm Thursday December 24th, 2015
Bethel Congregational Church, UCC
536 N Euclid Ave, Ontario, CA 91762


Christmas  -  along with many traditions nd other winter holidays:
Las Posadas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Dewali, Winter Solstice.

 Busy. Exciting. Anticipatory.  

What an exhausting time.

It's been a challenging season for many. On the surface, it's a season of celebration and joy. But whether because of personal loss, grief, illness, injury, financial challenges, job loss, or just the difficult tasks of everyday living, the holiday season is often not all happiness and light. It is often a stressful, difficult time.

And yet, we persevere. We hope. We live. We share. We seek the light.
And the light seeks us.

The challenge is to embrace the hope and the light, and then, be it and share it.

Share it in a very real and tangible way.

Not just by posting cute kittens and puppies on Facebook (but please do - it may brighten someone's day!). But also by living that light and love in out communities. One on one. One person at a time. Help someone. Whether you know them or not.

Help someone.
Even small things count.

A cup of water. A quarter. Maybe a dollar.
Some gas. A room for the night. A coat. A bowl of soup.
Help someone fix something, or clean something.
Give of your time.
Forgive a debt, or an offense.
Apologize to someone if you have wronged them.
Accept someone's apology.
Pay back a debt.
Say "Thank-you" to someone who helps you, and mean it.
Accept someone.
Believe in someone, and tell them so.

If you are one of the "lucky ones", one of the blessed, share your blessings. That's how blessings (and people) grow.

Along these lines, last year at this time I came across this poem, and shared it. I am sharing it again this year. There simply can never be too much sharing!

"Blue Christmas", published at

I close today as I share with you here the entire entry from the page referenced above.

Here is the text from the daily devotional page "A Blue Christmas Poem", with an introduction by John Stuart.

Psalm 42:5-6a – Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. (NIV)

"Christmas can be a painful and lonely time for some people. At our candlelight service, we light a Blue Christmas candle for those who are grieving, hurting, or ill during the festive season. This poem is recited as the blue candle is lit. It's a very meaningful and emotional time for some members in our congregation." ...John Stuart

A Blue Christmas Poem

There's no room at Christmas for sadness,
There's no place for hearts that are blue.
All the world wants to hear
Is a word full of cheer,
Not a sigh, not a tear, not from you.

There's no room at Christmas for loneliness,
There's no place for your emptiness and grief.
All the world wants is peace,
Mistletoe and Christmas trees,
Not a heartache that mars its beliefs.

There's no room at Christmas for sickness,
There's no place or time to be ill.
All the world wants is health,
Prosperity and wealth,
Not a pain that can spoil its goodwill.

There's no room at Christmas for Jesus,
There's no place for His family, too,
All the world would not share,
No one seems to really care,
A stable will just have to do.

Yes, there's room at Christmas for sadness,
There's a place in God's heart for you.
For He knows pain and loss,
Which He felt on the cross,
So this candle is lit here for you…
For Christ knows what it's like to be blue.

Monday, December 7, 2015

I shared this with my congregation after Paris - and I share it again today.

So what can I do? 

I may not have the power of political leaders to make the decisions that will change the world.

If nothing else, what is in my power is to send out this spirit of love and peace from my heart to the world. 

To pray that those who need comfort will feel comfort it. Those who feel lonely and isolated will feel the presence of the God and the knowledge that we do care what happens to them. Those who feel conflict and hate will be touched by the spirit and have their hearts opened to love and peace. And that those in power will make inspired peaceful decisions.

So where is God in all of this? 

God is in you, opening your eyes and heart to understand and share in the love and peace that is offered. 

God is in the humanity you feel and express to those whose lives are in turmoil. 

God is in the humanity shown to refugees and those living in fear and pain. 

God is in the prayers that you share that hatred will be transformed into love. 

God is in the people who stand up and say “Not in my name.” 

God is in the response of each of us, if we so choose.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Bible, The UCC, and Bethel...

From Pastor Sylvia

Someone asked me yesterday about the Bible, the UCC, and Bethel. They wanted to know how to answer when asked whether or not we are a "Bible-based" church. Under many circumstances,  if the answer to that question is "yes!", it ends up giving an impression of a conservative, fundamentalist, "old-fashioned", sometimes even exclusionary church. Those terms have come to be equated with so-called Christians who discriminate and practice hateful things in the name of religion. You know what I mean - one of those churches that has folks standing on street corners holding up huge signs proclaiming that unless you practice your faith in exactly the same way they do, you are going to hell in a handbasket, fast. And that's sad. Because being "Bible-based" should not automatically mean that. In many ways, I want to make certain that people know that I am NOT that type of so-called "Christian". I am a follower, a disciple of Christ.  And I know that following Christ means loving God, and loving my neighbor. 
So, instead of a short simple answer, I ended up providing a long answer, and decided that this is one of things that is very important. Here it is:
First of all, I came across something which one of my colleagues said beautifully, and I will share that with you: 
 "While we are people grounded in a faith that is 2000 years old, we are always searching for new ways of understanding and interpreting scripture in light of 21st century experience and knowledge." (this comes from the website of First UCC Riverside, where Jane Quandt is the Senior Pastor)
And now, a bit more of my answer:
In our tradition, we take the Bible so seriously that we take the time to study the social and historical context in which it was written. So you will hear us talk about the history of the Jewish and Christian people, as well as the work of modern scholars. We believe that God intentionally planted the word in the middle of history and culture, and therefore that background is part of the story we need to learn. We believe that the Bible is God’s own holy word passed down to us through fallible human beings.
We believe in the Bible so much that we think it deserves our best questions. We believe that the Bible is the opening of a conversation in which God is still speaking. We do not think the Bible will shrivel up and die because we dare to question why it says what it does. We believe that the Bible has withstood similar questions for thousands of years and that in asking the questions together, in communities of faith, over time, we are part of a life-changing conversation that will go on forever.
We honor the word so highly that we do not take one phrase out of context and fling it around. We do not use phrases as stand-alone weapons to prove our point or to injure another person. Rather, we read the phrase as it has been nested in the text. We read the story around it.
We are not even afraid to notice and point out places where scripture disagrees with itself, or at least seems to! We know that we are not the first generation to notice these things. Those who carefully put the Bible together over the early centuries wrestled to decide which books should be included and which left out. In their wisdom, they left us a collection of holy words that offer a rich variety of descriptions of God.
It is our task and our joy to study, and to listen for the Still-Speaking voice of God. That voice is for everyone.
No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome at Bethel Congregational UCC, and you are loved by God.

Come visit - we would love to welcome you. Bethel Congregational Church, UCC. 536 N Euclid Ave, Ontario, CA 91762. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Charleston - a response.



How can we respond?

The killer in Charleston, and others who have done abhorrent, hateful things, have characteristics and intentions in common.

I touched on this in my sermon this past Sunday (see the video for June 21, below, in the previous post). Many other  pastors and leaders are responding to the killings in Charleston. Among them, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church. Upon reading his thoughtful response, I believe it is something worth sharing and passing on. So - here it is:

How do we respond to such evil? The answer is that we must do the exact opposite of what the gunman wanted to accomplish. That way he doesn’t win.

The gunman’s intention was to divide people,
so we must unite in our grief.
His intention was to show hatred,
so we must show love.
His intention was to kill,
so we must protect life – all of it. Every life matters.
His intention was to do evil,
so we must respond by doing good
His intention was to start a race war.
We must be peacemakers.
His intention was to further segregation,
so we must model integration in our churches,
His intention was to do an injustice,
so we must stand for justice.
And his intention was to do harm,
so we must be agents of healing.

When we do the opposite of what the gunman wanted to see happen, evil ultimately loses and goodness wins. Even many of the family members of those murdered have modeled this response, offering forgiveness to the man who took the lives of their loved one, even while feeling gut-wrenching grief and anger. Romans 12:21 says “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Today, hatred is strong in our culture. But love is even stronger, and it is the only thing than can overpower evil.