Mission Statement

Mission Statement

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 30, 2022

4th Sunday after Epiphany

Luke 4:14-30

 

A couple years ago, Session updated our church’s mission statement. It reads as follows: The mission of First Presbyterian Church is to celebrate God’s grace and to share Christ’s love through worship, study, and service. Celebrating God’s grace and sharing Christ’s love—it’s what we do around here—or, at least, it is our goal. But, in the end, what purpose does a mission statement for any church or organization serve? A well-crafted mission statement can help an organization stay true to shared goals. It can offer a framework for evaluating opportunities and it can help employees focus on what the company is trying to accomplish. While “googling” the topic, I found several mission statements that were quite long. It’s best, however, for them to be short, and concise, which is what led Session to adopt our current mission statement:  To celebrate God’s grace and to share Christ’s love through worship, study, and service.

 

Jesus comes to Nazareth—the place where he was raised, and he goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath—something he does every Sabbath. Something he does every Sabbath! I know this is a bit of an aside but sometimes when I read this text, it brings up a memory of something that happened years ago, when I was serving a church in Tennessee. After an Easter service, as folks were milling about and visiting, I overheard a man I had never seen before talking to the people around him about how wonderful the service was. Then one of the matrons of the church leaned over him, and said loudly, “Well Jim, we do it every Sunday!” I was mortified that Alice, known for speaking her mind, had said such a thing to a visitor. Thankfully, it turned out he was related to her and used to come all the time when he was a child. “We do it every Sunday!”

 

Every Sabbath, it was customary for faithful Jews to gather. But this Sabbath, things turned from customary to extraordinary. Likely the folks were used to typical synagogue worship practices that included reciting the Shema:  “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Additionally, an “amen” response from the congregation was included as well as a reading from sections of the Torah and the prophets, a sermon, and a benediction. Any male could volunteer or be asked to pray or read; just as any male could be asked to give the sermon.[i] On the Sabbath in question, Jesus stands up to read from the Prophets. He unrolls the scroll and chooses the following:

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

 

In essence, when Jesus chooses to read what we know as Isaiah 61:1-2, he sets forth his mission statement. He tells the people what his life and ministry will be about: caring for the poor, the prisoner, the blind, and the oppressed. Filled with the Spirit, Jesus is on a mission to say no to all that is false in the world and yes to God’s good purposes for all people; to say no to self-glory in all its forms and yes to helping the poor and the downtrodden. What might happen in our churches if we declared to God and to one another something similar?

 

As baptized believers, we have been anointed with the power of the Spirit of the Lord and he has called us to play a part in bringing good news to the poor. He has called us to help free those enslaved by the ills of this world and assist those who are hurting because of sickness and oppression.

 

While the mission statement of our church is shorter, it still has at its core the essence of Jesus’ mission of service and love: To celebrate God’s grace and to share Christ’s love through worship, study, and service. The truth is we all have a purpose in God’s plan of salvation for the world. What is your purpose? You may have noticed a space provided on the back of the bulletin for your mission statement. I encourage you to take your bulletin home and spend some time pondering the matter this week. Then write down your mission statement and keep it somewhere you will see it from time to time.

 

To help you get started, allow me to offer four points to keep in mind. First, you are a child of God. Do you know what that means? That means you are royalty. Queen Elizabeth has nothing on you. Second, your life has a purpose. You are not random; you were born for this time and place. Third, you are a dwelling for the Holy Spirit which means you are equipped for amazing and wonderful things. And fourth, because you are a child of God, because your life has a purpose, because you are equipped by the Spirit—you can change the world.

 

I know. I know. You are taken aback by the very idea that you can change the world. So, let’s unpack “the world.” For some people, like Jesus, the Apostles, Saints through the ages, Mother Teresa, for example, “the world” may mean just that—a circle of influence that knows no bounds. For others, “the world” may be our nation or our denomination—think, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr. For some, “the world” may be our community, church, family, circle of friends, place of work, or bridge club. For some the circle is large, for some it is small. But here is the thing—we don’t need to worry about that. The scope of our influence is none of our business. That’s up to God. Our task is to find our role in God’s story and then do what is ours to do to help bring heaven upon the earth. Remember, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” We say it every Sunday.

 

Anointed by the power of the Spirit of God, Jesus proclaims his mission for good work in the world he came to save. You, too, are anointed by the Spirit for good work in the world. So, take time to create your personal mission statement. It is more than a statement of who you are—it is a way of claiming who you are called to be and who you aspire to be. I have been working on mine this week and here is what I have thus far: My mission is to listen, learn, discern, and birth into my little corner of the world, the hope, joy, and love of Christ. What is your mission? I can’t wait to hear it!

 

When Jesus makes his bold pronouncement, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” he declares what his life’s work will be like and he announces that those who have known him since he was a child, can no longer see him simply as Mary and Joseph’s son. He is the One they have been waiting for all their lives. He is the one their parents have been waiting for. He is the one the priests and prophets have been waiting for. He is the long-awaited Messiah.

 

As your pastor, it is my prayer that in this New Year, we will all be more focused on the mission of Christ, the mission of our church, and the personal mission the Spirit has laid upon each of our hearts. Let us pray and work toward the better world Jesus envisioned. And let us gather as often as we can to worship (in-person or online), to celebrate God’s grace and share Christ’s love. Thank God, it’s true—we do it every Sunday!

 

 

[i] Linda McKinnish Bridges, Feasting on the Word, 287.

 

 

*Cover Art Zaria “Scroll of Isaiah from Qumran,” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.  http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54196;

Yes to Joy

Yes to Joy

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; January 23, 2022

3rd Sunday after Epiphany

Psalm 36:5-10; John 2:1-11

 

The weary year of 2021 ended on a weary note with the death of two treasured individuals—Desmond Tutu and Betty White. Betty White was two weeks shy of her 100th birthday. The American actress and comedian, often referred to as The First Lady of Television, was known for breaking glass ceilings for women in the entertainment industry. She received numerous accolades during her career—including 5 Emmys, a Grammy, and a Guinness World Record for “Longest TV career by an entertainer.” To say she was beloved is an understatement.

 

Of course, at 99, the end was surely close at hand. But with all the loss a global pandemic has left in its wake, last October the very thought of losing Betty White, too, set Twitter afire. “Please wrap her safely with bubble wrap,” tweeted one fan. “I’m going to fall apart if we lose #BettyWhite, please keep her safe,” wrote another. In an interview with People magazine on her 99th birthday, the “Golden Girls” actress attributed her longevity to her tendency to always try to find the bright side of life. “Positivity is a lot more fun,” she said. Her wonderful sense of humor kept her going—until the end.

 

Just five days prior to Betty White’s death, Desmond Tutu transitioned into his eternal home. Tutu was an energetic cleric who used his voice to bring down apartheid in South Africa. His life gave meaning to the biblical teaching that faith without works is dead. Repeatedly, he spoke truth to power—something that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Desmond Tutu was a captivating preacher who often descended from the pulpit to embrace his parishioners. Occasionally, an article in the NY Times reported, “he would break into a pixie like dance in the aisles, punctuating his message with the wit and the chuckling that became his hallmark—inviting the audience into a jubilant bond of fellowship.”[i] Tutu was a strong advocate for the value of forgiveness, and he was the author of many books. One book he co-authored with the Dalai Lama is entitled The Book of Joy.

 

The Book of Joy—I love that—which brings me to my point. (I know you hope I have one.) My point is a commonality shared by Betty White and Desmond Tutu. They were both people of boundless joy. In all honesty, I can’t imagine either of them without their faces beaming. And joy—well, that’s something the world needs more of. Don’t you agree? Furthermore, shouldn’t Christians be harbingers of joy? As children of God, siblings of Jesus, and dwellings for the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we be Joy-Masters? Yet, how many Christians do you know who radiate joy? Who carry joy like a calling card?

 

The psalmist points us toward joy because of the steadfast love of God. “All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life, in your light, we see light.”

 

Our reading from the Gospel of John also points us toward joy and in a commentary on the text, Robert Brearley has this to say:

 

Sometimes the church has forgotten that our Lord once attended a wedding feast and said yes to gladness and joy. Prompted by his earthly mother, Jesus turned water into wine to point us to his heavenly Father, a God who loves to hear the laughter of people celebrating people. Sometimes the church has forgotten to live the joy of such revelation.

 

Brearley continues,

God does not want our religion to be too holy to be happy in. Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus of Nazareth celebrated people—people getting married, people being healed of disease and deformity, people enjoying meals together. He carried a spirit of celebration with him wherever he went as he proclaimed a God of mercy and peace and joy. This joyous feast at Cana is still a sign to the church that we are to rejoice in the people of God and to toast the world with the amazing good news of grace.[ii]

 

I still remember the first time I set foot in this sanctuary. Sherrida Crawford and Jane Shelton, who were on the PNC, were tasked with giving me a tour. Immediately, the space spoke to my heart. All I could see in every nook and cranny was potential. My time here began with a season of joy. But in recent months, I have been low on joy. Since I believe that confession is good for the soul, I confess that the past two years have been the hardest of my ministry. We were just beginning to make progress—with Pub Theology reaching new people, with the fun of Friends out Front, with the enthusiasm over Generations of Faith and with Jane Shelton coming on board as our CRE—yes, things were looking up. It felt like we were gaining a smidgeon of momentum, but then a pandemic changed everything. In a flash, shepherding God’s precious flock became a battle to keep us all safe—to care for the most vulnerable. Each decision became layered and complex. New technologies had to be mastered. And while I have been blessed with a supportive Session to help navigate this strange terrain, and I have a dear family, good friends, wise clergy colleagues, and a spiritual director, still, I have never felt so alone in ministry. I have fought discouragement, despair, and depression. Through it all, though, the Spirit has given me one question to hold close to my heart—a question I have shared with many of you: “What is mine to do?”

 

With so much out of my control, I realized the one thing I can do is pay attention to what is before me and then prayerfully discern what is mine to do. With the question as a constant companion, this is what I have learned thus far. To fight against what I can’t control is futile—things like declining church attendance or making decisions that will make everyone happy. And fighting against discouragement, despair, and depression—that’s not helpful either. A better stance is to learn to let go—let go of my dreams for Christ’s church, let go of my plans for our success, let go and turn all my unanswered questions and worries over to Jesus. That is what is mine to do. And, sadly, it’s not “one and done.” I’m much too stubborn for that so I have to practice letting go again and again.

 

When it comes to learning how to let go, there is no better teacher than Mary, the mother of Jesus. The wedding host has run out of wine. Mary knows it and Mary knows where to turn. She turns to Jesus. “Do whatever he tells you,” she instructs the servants. And then what does she do? There’s no indication she sticks around to make sure Jesus does the task to her satisfaction. Instead, at peace because she has done her part, I imagine she goes off to enjoy a slice of wedding cake. She trusts that Jesus has the matter in hand. Mary does what is hers to do and then she lets it go.

 

I want to be more like Mary. I want to discern what is mine to do, do it with as much energy and creativity as I can muster, and then leave the results up to Jesus. Is there something that you have been holding onto, even fighting with? Is it time to stop the fight and let it go? Has the battle left you without joy in your life? If so, I can point you in the right direction. Jesus can restore your joy. I’m convinced of it. Jesus’ ministry began in a setting of glad abundance. Turning water into wine was his first miracle—a sign that joy and celebrating truly matter to Jesus and to his Abba Father. Surely, they should be priorities for us as well.

 

The last two years may have left us less than happy, less than peaceful, less than joyful. Perhaps some things have not turned out the way we planned. While it is true that our feasts have been few and far between, we need not despair. One day, we will gather to celebrate Cana Joy again. Potluck dinners galore! Hugs all around! Until then, let us say yes to joy every chance we get. Let us give thanks for each person in our circle of friends and family who make our lives richer and for whom we do the same. Let us give thanks for everyone in our church family—especially those who have a knack for throwing a party. We’ll need their talents soon.

 

Jesus radiated joy. So can we—if we recognize the good gifts we have been given—and more importantly, if we recognize the Giver of them. At every opportunity, let us say yes to what is ours to do. Let us say yes, to letting go of what is not our burden to carry. Let us say yes to hope and optimism—and yes, yes to joy. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] New York Times, December 26, 2021, Marilyn Berger

[ii] Feasting on the Word, Robert Brearley.

*Cover art photo by Ira Thomas via Catholic World Art, used by permission

Like a Dove

Like a Dove

Jane Shelton, CRE; January 9, 2022

Baptism of the Lord

 

Imagine standing along the river Jordan among the crowd of people who have been listening to John the Baptist, listening to this strange man who lived in the wilderness, who ate locust and honey, but yet wondered….is this man the Messiah?

 

Yes, the people wondered if John was the Messiah.  He told them no, one would come that was greater than he, one empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 

As John baptizes Jesus, it’s not that Jesus was in need of forgiveness of sin, rather as the heavens open and the dove descends upon Jesus, he is anointed by the Holy Spirit.  It is in this moment that Jesus’ ministry begins.

 

Thinking about this symbol of the dove descending got me to thinking about exactly what type of bird the dove is.  Whatever you came to hear today about the baptism of our Lord, it probably wasn’t anything that had to do with the dove, right?!  But I was just so curious…why wasn’t it the eagle that soars so beautifully and is so majestic, or the hawk with it’s stealth abilities and strength, or even the wise owl…why did the Holy Spirit come like a dove?  So I did a little research.

 

First, doves are known for their precise flight patterns, so there is no doubt that the dove that descended from heaven was guided directly and accurately to the one with whom God was well-pleased, his beloved son, Jesus.

 

During their flight, the dove can reach speeds up to 55 mph and create a whirring sound with their wings.  A perfect example of the Holy Spirit on fire.

 

Doves are used as messengers and associated with love and peace, the same messages that Jesus delivered to those he encountered.

 

Doves are capable of living all over the world, with the exception of Antarctica.  They are hardy birds, and a perfect example of why the dove was chosen as the symbol of the Holy Spirit because there are no boundaries for the Holy Spirit which can reach all areas of the world, including Antarctica.

 

So just a few fun facts to help us understand more about the Holy Spirit.  It’s sent by God, it accurate, it can come with great speed bringing messages of love and peace, and it has no boundaries as to where it can spread.

 

Now, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry is marked by his baptism, and he was baptized with ten of the rulers of the land…..no, no, no….that’s not right….he was baptized with the chosen few….no, that’s not right either…..Jesus, we are told, was baptized with “all the people.”

 

The dove was never expected to be in one place in our world and neither was Jesus.  He was always with all the people…not a special few.  The message he delivered for peace and love is also for all people.

 

Jesus puts himself in the midst of all the broken and sin-ridden people along the Jordan, not in another special place or an isolated place along the Jordan River.

 

His message was one of hope and at his baptism, he identifies the very people in need of hope, in need of forgiveness, of love, of healing and peace.

 

We have to ask ourselves today, are we identifying with the people who are in need around us?  Are we meeting them in their need where they are the way Jesus did?

 

Are we examining our own actions in our churches today?  Have we become so focused on membership numbers and how to maintain our buildings that we’ve forgotten about the needs of those outside the church?  Where is the Holy Spirit whirring around us?  Being responsible for our church building and grounds is definitely important, and something we can do, AND we can also take care of those around us.

 

Attitude is a powerful thing.  I’m sure Jesus didn’t walk to the river with the attitude, “Gosh…here are all those broken people again….maybe if I don’t look at them or if I don’t talk to them, they will not ask me anything.”

 

Are our pews no longer filled because we didn’t see the need to come to church because we missed the need of the person that was seated next to us?  Are they empty because people came longing to be involved in something, but found nothing going on to be involved in, so they moved on.

 

Jesus put himself out there among the people.  He listened to their needs.  He fed them when they were hungry and clothed them when they were naked.   And most importantly, he loved them when they didn’t think they were worthy to be loved.

 

In this week’s Presbyterian Outlook, Teri Ott refers to a book written by Christian Wiman called, “My Bright Abyss, in which he writes, ‘In any true love – a mother’s for her child, a husband’s for his wife, a friend’s for a friend – there is an excess energy that always wants to be in motion.  Moreover, it seems to move not simply from one person to another but through them, toward something else.  This is why we can be so baffled and overwhelmed by such love:  it wants to be more than it is; it cries out inside of us to make it more than it is.  And what it is crying out for, finally, is its essence and origin: God.”

 

After Jesus is baptized, he prays…….  I can think of 100 things he could have been praying, but that is not known.  What is known is that he found his strength in his Heavenly Father, and God knew Jesus needed the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for what was to come.

 

What a blessed connection of the Trinity.  A connection that still empowers us and works through us today.  A love in motion.

 

Are we praying to God to make a difference in a life, and waiting for the Holy Spirit to empower us to act?   Are we asking ourselves, how do we make a difference?  Where do we start?  Do you have ideas that have already been planted by God, but are afraid to voice them?

 

Just imagine if we sat down to brainstorm about someone we know that needs help, and how do we as a church body help that person?  If each of us had one person that we know with a need, and we share that with our church family, think about the lives that might be changed in 2022 right here in our community!

 

Think about how others might be so inspired by your actions, that they want to know about where you go to church so they can become involved and help someone.

 

So how do we become like Jesus?  I dare say that all of you have the Holy Spirit whirring around inside you, waiting to burst forth into action.  Maybe you’re just not quite sure how to set it in motion.

 

Where are the hungry so we can feed them?

 

Where are the naked so we can clothe them?

 

Where are the lost so we can love them?

 

As Jesus prayed to God for a spiritual connection after his baptism, he shows us an intensely spiritual posture which remained throughout his ministry.

 

Be among the people so you know their needs, pray for guidance and strength, allow the Holy Spirit to empower you to action in love and peace.

 

Jesus knew his strength to help others came from his Father in Heaven, and the Heavenly Father knew he needed the Holy Spirit.  So do we.

 

God sent Jesus, the Messiah, to bring his message of love to all people.  You are my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.  We also are God’s beloved with whom he is well pleased.

 

Who around us is waiting for that same affirmation today?  To know that they are loved and accepted by God.  My prayer to God is that he sends the whirring dove with speed and accuracy to empower us with the tools of action to find these people.

 

Believe, The Mystery of God’s Will

Believe, The Mystery of God’s Will

Jane Shelton, CRE; January 2, 2022

2nd Sunday of Christmas

First Presbyterian Church Valdosta

 

 

Happy New Year!

 

It’s so good to be with you here at the beginning of this New Year!  I hope all of you had a wonderful Christmas with family and friends, and had time to sit and reflect; hopefully, time to ponder the new life we are promised as we celebrated the birth of Baby Jesus.

 

Looking back a minute over the Advent Season, we remember the beautiful words of Advent:  Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.  No doubt, words only experienced fully through the grace of God.

Today, I want us to think about another word.  This is also a word we see a lot through the Christmas season, although it is not an Advent word we celebrate.

 

It’s on our shirts and towels, on our mantles and walls.  It’s in the songs we sing and cards we read.  You may have seen it flashing in the window in neon.  This word is often told to children about Santa Claus, or the magic of Christmas.

 

This word, most importantly, however, is found in the Apostle’s Creed that we often recite as our Affirmation of Faith on Sunday.    The word is…..Believe.

 

Believe.  What are we to believe?  The magic of Christmas?

 

Could that magic be the miracle story of the Christ child.  Can we and do we believe in the mystery and joy of a savior born.  Can and do we believe in the love God has for us and a hope of a life eternal….. Believe.

 

Today, let’s BELIEVE a step further.  Let’s go back in history to a time of joy, praise and dancing.  All the way back to Jeremiah when it is told the Lord gathered his people and provided them with his bounty so they might be satisfied and never languish again.  The Lord turned their mourning into joy and replaced their sorrow with comfort so that the people rejoiced and danced and were merry.

 

Be radiant over the goodness of the Lord for your life shall be like a watered garden.  What a beautiful statement.  Be radiant over the goodness of the Lord……

 

Now even if you are not a sophisticated gardener, you all have experienced a wilted plant that looks as if it is going to die, and you make that last ditch effort to save the wilted plant by adding a little water.  Maybe you place the plant in an area to receive more light, or add a little fertilizer for nourishment.  Maybe you talk to it.

And what happens?  The flower springs back to life!  It becomes radiant in the goodness of it’s caretaker.

 

We are those plants in the care of our Lord.  It is from him we receive his goodness so that we shine and become radiant.  Because of his light within us, we languish no more.  However, it is important that we remember when we begin to wilt, when we get beat down, that we must look to the Lord’s goodness to be revived.  We must believe so that we know where to turn in times of sorrow and disappointments.

 

In our New Testament scripture in Ephesians, Paul reminds us to Believe.  Believe in God the Father who sent his son, Jesus Christ, to again save his people.

 

Believe that our Lord chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

 

Because of the good pleasure of God’s will, he blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.  And note, it’s not one or two spiritual blessings, but EVERY spiritual blessing.

 

So what are spiritual blessings?  According to Ephesians 1, God’s redemptive blessings are “according to” God’s good pleasure, his grace, his purpose, and his will (Eph 1:5,7,9,11).  God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.  It is our inheritance because he loved us and bestowed this blessing upon us through his grace.

 

I picked up a new book this Christmas by Stephen Mitchell, titled “The First Christmas, A Story of New Beginnings.”  In his book, Mitchell takes on the characters of each of those at the Nativity, including the ox and the donkey.  He writes, not only from the Christian perspective, but also for Jews and Muslims, taking the stories back to the time of the birth of Jesus.

 

The chapter, however, that drew my attention and became thought provoking for me, is the story from Joseph’s perspective, or Yosef as he is called in Mitchell’s book.

 

As you would expect, the chapter on Joseph reflects on when Mary comes to tell Joseph of her pregnancy and Joseph’s reaction to this news.  How he struggles with his disbelief, his anger and his doubts about the woman he is in love with and to be married.

 

Then Joseph was visited by the angel telling him to marry Mary.  Being a man of God’s word which he had dedicated his life to living, he realizes that all the agitation and despair of the previous day had come from his lack of trust.  Indeed, his own thinking had created the dreadful barrier between himself and Mary.

 

Once Joseph was able to trust that God was leading both his and Mary’s path in life, he could even rejoice in the news of a great birth that was to come.  He would adopt the child in his heart.

 

Adopt the child in his heart….is not this the same message we have from God?  Just as God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love, he destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.

 

Why?  We are adopted by God according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestows on us.

 

We have redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ because God willed it.  Not because of anything that we have done, but because God desired it be so.

 

Because we have been forgiven and provided an inheritance, and because we believe, we are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.  This is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s will of his goodness for us, we are his FOREVER.

 

By the Holy Spirit, we are showered with wisdom and insight, hearts that have been enlightened to know the hope to which we are called.  We have been created for good works, and don’t misunderstand…we do not have salvation by our good works, but God’s purpose for us is that we do good works so that others may see the light as we have seen.  That others may know there is good in the world.  And, boy, do we need a lot of Light to shine these days!

 

Believe, be the Light, so that others believe and we become a community of believers.

God has revealed to us the mystery of his will, all we have to do is Believe.  Believe in the birth of Jesus, God’s only son.  Believe in the goodness of God’s will to have the fullness of time through his son Jesus Christ.  Believe in God’s word of truth and the gospel of your salvation.  Believe you are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.  Believe in your inheritance given you by your Heavenly Father.

 

We have the Light….we just need to remember to let it shine bright!