The Promise

“The Promise”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 17, 2020

6th Sunday of Easter

John 14:15-21

The gospel reading for this 6th Sunday of Easter is set in the Upper Room on Thursday of Holy Week—the evening before the crucifixion. After sharing a meal with his disciples, Jesus offers words of encouragement because he knows he is about to leave, and they are afraid. Jesus, who holds the key to abundant life, promises that he will not leave them abandoned, orphaned, alone. Instead, he will send another Advocate, the Holy Spirit.


But how can the disciples possibly relate to the living Jesus when he is no longer with them? The answer is that once Jesus leaves, his presence will be made known in a different way—through the person of the Spirit. Jesus calls this person “Paraklētos.” The word “Paraclete” means “someone called alongside” to help or assist. “Paraclete” is also translated as Advocate, Counselor, and Comforter. Thus, we can safely say that the Holy Spirit serves as counselor, advocate, intercessor, comforter, strengthener, and helper.


It is noteworthy that Jesus does not say that the Father will provide “an Advocate,” but “another Advocate.”  In other words, Jesus is also an Advocate. The implication is that Jesus has been God’s counselor for believers up to this point. It is true that Jesus and the Spirit have some similar functions. They both come from the Father and are sent into the world. Both teach, bear witness to the truth, and expose the sin of the world. Yet calling the Spirit “another Advocate” does not mean the Spirit is “another Jesus.” Rather, the Spirit continues Jesus’ work of love in the world. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit continues the work of Jesus—with the same challenges—the same blessings—the same provision for a full life, a whole life—shalom—in this life and in the life to come.


A full life—a whole life—in this life… For many of us, life feels anything but full and whole during this global pandemic. Our world has suffered unimaginable loss in the past few months. Many of us have suffered loss, too. We may have lost loved ones whom we have been unable to grieve. We may have lost time spent with family and friends celebrating birthdays, graduations, weddings, recitals, or vacations. We may have lost employment or financial security. Loss—no matter the source—is difficult and it is worthy of acknowledgement. In the words of preaching professor, David Lose:


As a culture, we are not terribly good about talking about loss. I don’t know if it’s because it challenges the eternally optimistic stance we are encouraged to take, counters our celebration of youth and opportunity, or reminds us of our own mortality. But for whatever reason, we seem as a culture to lack the resources and emotional wherewithal to acknowledge the losses we, and those around us, suffer. Not sure what to say when confronted by a friend who has recently suffered the loss of a loved one or gone through a divorce, we turn away, leaving the person feeling all the more isolated.[i]


When Jesus was crucified, there is no doubt that the disciples felt tremendous loss. While we know the rest of the story—that death could not hold Christ in the grave—the disciples did not. Surely, they gathered in each other’s homes to mourn their loss, to share stories, to hold one another close. As we shelter in place to keep ourselves and others safe, though, these options are not available to us. We cannot safely gather in each other’s homes. We cannot hug one another to offer comfort. How then shall we express our loss, our grief? Perhaps we can start by recognizing our feelings for what they are. We can name them out loud, and then, with all the faith we can muster, we can ask Christ for the comfort of his own Spirit, and ask the Spirit to show us creative ways that we may offer comfort to others.


God’s Spirit is something we need now more than ever. As one author notes,


The world has in fact begun to crack. The moment of truth for humanity seems to have arrived. We seem destined for destruction at our own hands. But behold, miracle of miracles, out of the cracks a light shines. The venomous snake has not crushed the light. The light burns. It gives warmth. It gives hope. And as the dreamer timidly advances towards the light, he discovers that there are many, many others who are also moving toward it from different directions…from across human barriers, from behind the walls of our own frightened souls. Yes, we all need that light, for that light is the only hope…[ii]


We all need that light for that light is our only hope.


We are Easter people who have rejoiced at Christ’s resurrection. We have traveled with him as he revealed himself to the disciples as the Risen Lord. Soon, we will turn our faces toward his Ascension and then to Pentecost. It is good that we have taken this journey together. It is good to meditate on Christ’s promise of another Advocate, who leads us into truth and equips us for the work of sharing God’s love in the world!  In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] David Lose

[ii] Choan-Seng Song, The Compassionate God, 260.

*Cover Art by Stushie Art, used by subscription.

Living Stones

“Living Stones”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 10, 2020

5th Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 2:2-10


When I traveled to the Holy Land on a pastoral pilgrimage several years ago, many things touched me on a deep, spiritual level. I can still close my eyes, for example, and imagine standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. What a wonder to dip my toes into the water upon which Jesus walked, into the water around which he trekked with his beloved disciples. Another treasure is the memory of walking the Via Delarosa, the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem. The experience gave me a sense of the thousands upon thousands who have done so—walking the path of Jesus—sensing his presence—yearning to follow him more faithfully. Another gem that I still carry in my pocket is visiting the wall of the temple in Jerusalem. Also known as the Wailing Wall, it is all that is left of the Second Temple. People flock to it daily to pray. Often, seekers write down prayers and tuck them in between the crevices of the huge temple stones. I was one such seeker. With much prayer and pondering, I created my list, writing name after name after name. By the time the task was complete, there was hardly a speck of white paper still visible. Eagerly, I approached the wall to offer my prayers—prayers for my loved ones, prayers for the church to which I had been called, prayers for the desires of my heart. I can still feel the touch of the cool stones upon my fingers. I can still recall the tears streaming down my face. My soul recognized the sacredness of the space—not only for people of the Jewish faith—but also for those who have been chosen as God’s people to proclaim the mighty acts of Jesus to the world.



Stones—they speak to us, don’t they? Whether they are the stones of the temple wall or the stones of our own church building—stones have something to teach us if we will only listen. In the Bible, stones are used to help future generations remember—like the stone that Jacob uses for a pillow the night he dreams of the ladder going into heaven. In his dream, the Lord blesses him and promises that he will be with Jacob forever. The next morning Jacob rises, takes the stone, pours oil upon it, and names the place Bethel.



When Moses dies, Joshua leads the people into the Promised Land. Their journey is hard, but God is with them every step of the way. By the time it is finished, and the people are able to dwell in peace, Joshua is a man of many years. Before he dies, he calls all the rulers together to give them instructions for their future, to remind them to love the Lord their God and to never go after the foreign gods of the land. “Choose this day whom you will serve,” he says, “but for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” After the people promise their allegiance to the Lord God, Joshua takes a large stone and sets it under an oak in the sanctuary of the Lord.



Of course, in Hebrew Scripture, stones of importance include those used to build the temple. Beautiful and massive as they are, though, they cannot last. One day when Jesus comes out of the temple, a disciple draws his attention to the large stones and large buildings. Jesus responds, “Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” No, the stones cannot last because the stones of the temple cannot contain God. Our God cannot be confined in any edifice—be it a tabernacle, a temple, or a church.



As a result of a global pandemic, we are not yet able to gather safely in our church, in our sanctuary. No doubt, we miss the stones that create sacred space to worship, to sing, to pray, to confess our sins, to give our offerings, to partake of Holy Communion. But those stones—they are not really the church. They never have been. And though COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our world and has broken our hearts into a million pieces, it has also offered an invitation for believers to re-think what it means to BE church. The church is and has always been the people.



Likely, Peter’s first letter is composed shortly before his martyrdom in Rome. With love in his heart, he reminds his readers that they are Christ’s traveling companions living in the midst of a power-hungry and violent world. Nevertheless, they can trust God to always be with them. Even so, the journey home requires new skills and new attitudes. Those who have tasted that the Lord is good require spiritual food and they can find it through Jesus Christ, the cornerstone.



Then Peter writes: “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…” Notice, he does not instruct them to build themselves—but to allow themselves to be built—into a spiritual house. New converts to the faith wonder how they are to worship God without a temple. But the beauty of God’s plan is that all believers are to become a temple of living stones. We are not a random pile of rocks. We are part of a structure built on Christ—and it is God who does the building.



When we think of building a spiritual house, what probably comes to mind involves a building campaign, or renovating a space, or adding to an existing structure. But Peter has something else in mind. Christ’s church can only grow physically when Christ’s people grow spiritually. If we say yes to God—if we are faithful—we become what God says we are: a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people so that we may proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. And how do we proclaim those mighty acts? By BEING the church. We are the church when we enjoy a meal with our loved ones like Jesus did so often. We are the church when we appreciate God’s wondrous creation and do all that we can to protect it. We are the church when we look out for an elderly neighbor who cannot shop during a pandemic. We are the church when we use our talents for the good of others—like preparing food or sewing face masks or sharing from the bounty of our garden. We are the church when, out of our abundance, we donate to ongoing ministries of Jesus Christ. We are the church when we resist the powers of greed and racism and hatred that are infecting our nation. We are the church when we join our brothers and sisters in the faith to pray for those in need and to pray for a cure for COVID-19. We are the church when we send a card, text, or email, or make a phone call to encourage someone who is feeling lonely and isolated. We are the church and day by day, we are being formed into spiritual homes—sanctuaries of God—with or without a building. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


*Cover Art by RaRa Schlitt, used by permission



Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 3, 2020

4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:42-47

Since our reading from the Acts of the Apostles places us at the end of chapter 2, let us pause to consider what has happened thus far. Prior to his ascension, Jesus promises the gift of the Spirit and ascends into heaven. Then, when the day of Pentecost comes, his followers are all together in one place, and suddenly from heaven, there comes a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and they are all filled with the Holy Spirit. 3000 people are converted to the faith, which brings us to our reading for today: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” What follows is a picture of the results of such devotion—awe, miracles, generosity, more breaking of bread, glad and generous hearts, praising God, and increasing numbers of believers added day by day.


No doubt, there are books of sermons that could be written, that have been written, from these first two chapters of Acts. But what I want us to focus on this morning is one verse: “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” But first, let us narrow our focus to one word, “devoted,” which comes from the Greek word, “proskartero.” To be devoted is be committed, to be earnest, to persevere, to be constantly diligent, to be steadfastly attentive to. Devoted—what a beautiful word to portray the beautiful faithfulness of the first disciples and converts.


On this 4th Sunday of Easter, in addition to the reading from Acts, the Lectionary suggests Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Here too, is a picture of proskartero—devoted, committed, earnest, diligent, steadfast. But the one who demonstrates these qualities is not the believer, the sheep; it is God, the Shepherd. God makes me lie down in green pastures, God leads me beside still waters, God restores my soul. God leads me in right paths for his name sake. God is with me in the darkest of days—rod and staff in hand. God prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies. God anoints my head with oil and makes my cup overflow. God is devoted—devoted to me—devoted to you.


Oh, the great mystery of our faith—that the God who put the planets in orbit, who created all that is and ever will be—is devoted to us. Down through the ages, humanity has failed to respond in kind. Instead, we have gone our own way. We have sought our own selfish gain rather than looking out for one another. We have worshiped the almighty dollar instead of Almighty God. We have failed. And yet—and yet—God will not give up on us. Instead, God comes to us as our Redeemer, Christ the Lord. God stays with us as our Advocate, the Holy Spirit.


The first converts devote themselves to godly teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Likely, these are our intentions, too. Even while we are physically distanced from one another because of a pandemic, as much as possible, we continue our devotion to our ever-faithful God. We pray—day in and day out. We study Scripture on our own or with others through social media. But we miss being together. We miss the fellowship and encouragement that we enjoy in community, and we miss gathering at the Lord’s Table to be spiritually fed.


We do not know when we will be able to safely gather in person in our beautiful sanctuary. Hopefully, it will be soon. But until that time, we gather here in this sacred space, and this morning, we break bread at tables in our homes. We trust Christ to be our host, just as he was for the disciples at Emmaus. You will recall that they invited him into their home, unaware of his identity. But when he was at their table, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and when he gave it to them, their eyes were open, and they recognized him. Even now, Christ is with us in our homes and at our tables—no matter where they are. Christ makes the table holy. Christ makes the meal holy. And the Spirit unites us as one body of believers.


Distance will not disrupt our faith journey because we are devoted, committed, earnest, diligent, steadfast. With the Holy Spirit as our guide, we continue our devotion and we trust in God for the results—awe, miracles, generosity, more breaking of bread, glad and generous hearts, praising God, and increasing numbers of believers added day by day. Hallelujah! Amen!



[Invitation to the Lord’s Table]

We are experiencing Holy Communion in a new way. Though physically separated from one another, we are still bound together as family through our baptism. For this sacramental meal, let us now offer Christ our table, and our bread and cup.

[Prayer of Thanksgiving]

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is truly right and our greatest joy.


 Let us pray: Gentle Redeemer, we give you all thanks and praise for with you, there is no lockdown on blessing and no quarantine on grace. Let the heavens be joyful, and the earth be glad. We bless you for creating the whole world, for your promises to your people Israel, and for Jesus Christ in whom your fullness dwells. Born of Mary, he shares our life. Eating with sinners, he welcomes us. Guiding his children, he leads us. Visiting the sick, he heals us. Dying on the cross, he saves us. Risen from the dead, he gives new life. Living with you, he prays for us. Gracious God, send your Spirit of life and love, power and blessing upon every table where your children shelter in place, that the Bread may be broken and gathered in love and the Cup poured out to give hope to all. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.


[The Bread and the Cup]

The Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took bread, and after giving thanks to God, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat.  This is my body, given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.


In the same way, he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant sealed in my blood for the forgiveness of sins.  Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.”


Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup, we remember Christ’s death, proclaim his resurrection, and await his glorious return. These are the gifts of God for the people of God.


Let us, in our many places, receive the gift of God, the Bread of Heaven.

Let us, in our many places, receive the gift of God, the Cup of Blessing.


[Prayer of Commitment]

Spirit of Christ, you have blessed our tables and our lives. May the eating of the Bread give us courage to speak faith and enact love, not only in church sanctuaries, but in your precious world. May the drinking of the Cup renew our hope even in the midst of these trying times. Amen.

Emmaus Road

“Emmaus Road”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 26, 2020

3rd Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:1-35


A few years ago, I made plans for a clergy retreat at Virginia Beach with my friend, Sarah Nave. The idea was to spend time together, take long walks, do a little stargazing, and discuss Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. It just so happened one of Sarah’s parishioners owned a condo just across from the beach and she had offered it to us for the weekend.


By early Friday afternoon, Sarah and I arrived, got settled, in and then sat down to chat. I mentioned that Barbara Brown Taylor’s book had made the cover of Christian Century. Sarah responded that it had also made the cover of Time magazine, and then handed me her copy. A little later, we heard someone making noises outside the condo. Honestly, we did not think much of it UNTIL we realized we had no electricity. We went to the office to find out what the problem was, and the manager made a call, only to return with these words, “Well, it appears the electric bill has not been paid.” Immediately Sarah called her friend, who was mortified. After a couple more phone calls it was discovered that the bill had not been received and the person who took care of such details was traveling in West Virginia. In other words, with the electricity being disconnected on a Friday afternoon, the problem would not be resolved during our little retreat. Walking back toward the condo, determined to enjoy our time together—with or without electricity—we could not help but laugh when we realized the irony of our situation: What a perfect opportunity to “learn to walk in the dark.”


One of the main themes of Taylors’ book is how we tend to believe good things happen in the light but not in the darkness. She writes,


Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me—either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love. At least I think I would. The problem is this: when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to water, I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me back to their lair. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.


My favorite part of the book is when Taylor goes one night with her husband, Ed, and their dog, Dancer, out on a high hill on their farm in north Georgia to watch the moon rise. They find a good place and sit and wait and watch. “How long has it been since we’ve done this?” her husband asks. “Twenty years,” Barbara responds. “Why is that?” he says. The answer makes her so sad she cannot say it out loud: “We have been too busy—for twenty years.” The remainder of the book is a retelling of other experiences Taylor has—while exploring a spirituality of the nighttime—while learning to look for God in the darkness.


The disciples spend some unanticipated time in the darkness on Easter evening as they travel on the Emmaus Road. They have put all their hopes and dreams into Jesus, but he has gotten himself killed. It is a dark time. And just when they are getting used to the idea that he is dead, the women have come to tell them that the tomb is empty, and angels have proclaimed Jesus is alive. What are they to make of it all? This is what two of his followers are discussing on their journey. Then Jesus, whom they are kept from recognizing, approaches, and asks what they are talking about. He listens intently as they catch him up to speed. Then he becomes their teacher as he interprets Scripture in a new way—as he interprets Scripture in light of himself.


Nearing the village, Jesus starts to walk on ahead, but they urge him to stay with them. Jesus, always gracious, accepts their hospitality. And it is there at their table that Jesus becomes the host, and it is there that they recognize him when he breaks bread. Immediately he vanishes and they race back to Jerusalem only to find the Eleven already saying, “It’s true! The Lord is risen!” To which they seem to confirm, “He is risen indeed!”


Lately, I daresay many of us have felt alone on Emmaus Road. During this pandemic, we have had to learn to navigate a darkness that has swept in to take over our lives. Within the darkness, we have wrestled with worry and doubt and we have questions: “Where is God in the midst of all of this? Who are we without our friends, co-workers, faith community? What do we do next? When will things return to normal? Who are the authority figures who have the people’s best interests at heart? Who can we believe? Who do we trust?” We yearn for answers. We want a foolproof map to guide us to our destination by the shortest possible route—out of the darkness and into the light!


Without a doubt, COVID-19 has brought sickness, death, and catastrophe beyond any of our life experiences. Yet might it also be true that, if we are open to the idea, it may bring us important lessons to carry into the future, into the light, to make us better people, better citizens, better Christians? Might the darkness actually have something to teach us? In a recent Facebook post, Laura Kelly Fannuci provides these words of wisdom:


When this is over,
may we never again take for granted;
A handshake with a stranger, Full shelves at the store,
Conversations with neighbors,
A crowded theater, Friday night out,
The taste of communion, A routine checkup,
The school rush each morning, Coffee with a friend,
The stadium roaring, Each deep breath! A boring Tuesday. Life itself.

When this ends, may we find that we have become more like the people we wanted to be,
we were called to be,
we hope to be,
and may we stay that way—better for each other because of the worst.


For two of Jesus’ believers, the Road to Emmaus is littered with broken dreams UNTIL Christ shows up. Darkness and hopelessness lose their power when Christ walks with them and talks with them and interprets Scripture for them. Then, at the Table, like he is prone to do, Jesus reveals himself as the Risen Lord. Still today, Jesus comes. He comes to show himself to us and to interpret our life in light of his own. In daylight or darkness, hope is ours because Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

*Cover Art “Road to Emmaus” by RaRa Schlitt, used by permission.

Peace Be with You

“Peace Be with You”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 19, 2020

2nd Sunday of Easter

John 20:19-31

Christ is Risen! He is risen, indeed!


The Easter cry is not for Resurrection Sunday alone. The days between Easter and Pentecost invite us to focus on the resurrection and all that God accomplishes through Christ’s re-birth. But when we are sequestered in our homes with our doors safely shut, does it feel like anything extraordinary has happened? We are facing a time in the history of the world that we have never seen. Instead of gathering in our sanctuary to pray, to sing, to worship, to give thanks—we gather virtually by way of Facebook Live. Perhaps singing hallelujah is a little more difficult this week. Maybe our nerves are growing thin because of financial worries or because of becoming a homeschool teacher—overnight. Perhaps we miss doing simple things like going to the grocery store or hair salon or taking a much-needed vacation. If any of this speaks to your experience, the story of Thomas may be just the medicine the doctor ordered.


Jesus’ followers are gathered behind locked doors. No wonder. There is real danger out there. Those who killed Jesus may want to finish the job by eliminating his disciples or, at the very least, haul them in for questioning over the sudden disappearance of Jesus’ body. Yes, there is real danger out there and there is good reason to lock the doors. But locked doors or not, Jesus appears, and twice he says, “Peace be with you.” Thomas is absent and when the disciples tell him they have seen the Lord, he refuses to believe. But is it any wonder? I mean, in the gospel accounts, there is not one record of anyone seeing Jesus and responding with, “I knew you would be back! What took you so long?” No one anticipates Jesus’ return and when he shows up, everyone doubts. Everyone.[i]


A week goes by before Jesus again appears behind closed doors, but this time Thomas is with the other disciples. We might expect Jesus to scold him for his lack of faith. But instead, Jesus offers peace, “Peace be with you,” and again Jesus offers what is most needed—himself.


The peace of Christ—how we long for it in our lives—especially when we are reeling from the effects of a global pandemic. But let’s be honest. When was the last time we felt at peace? When was the last time we slept serenely through the night without waking up to some thought of the safety of our friends, family, or neighbors? When have we passed a day without glancing at the news with dread in our hearts? How then, can we be at peace? It might help us to consider this: peace is not just a lack of conflict or a lack of trouble. True peace is built on trust in something (Someone) greater than ourselves. True peace is a gift from Christ our Savior, and he is eager to offer it—when our faith is strong and when our faith is weak.


The following poem offers an interesting perspective for us today. Written by Judyth Hill, it is entitled, “Wage Peace.”


Wage peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings
and flocks of redwing blackbirds.

Breathe in terrorists and breathe out sleeping children
and freshly mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen
and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.

Wage peace with your listening:
hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools:
flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.

Make soup.
Play music, learn the word for thank you in three languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.

Never has the world seemed so fresh and precious.
have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if [peace] has already arrived.
Celebrate today.


When the disciples see Jesus alive, they rejoice, they celebrate. Wonder of wonders, God is active in the world in ways they never imagined. Now Jesus is back—just as he promised. Now he stands before them and reaches out his heart and hands to offer peace—as a gift to the disciples—as a gift to us. May Christ’s peace be ours—now and forevermore. Amen.



*Cover Art “The Touching of Thomas” via


[i] David Lose

The Last Word

The Last Word

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 12, 2020

Easter Sunday

Matthew 28:1-10

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! As Christians, this is our best day—our day of days. As one preacher put it, “Being a Christian at Easter is better than being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day; better than being a child on Christmas morning! If Easter doesn’t ring your bell, your clapper must be stuck! This is the day that we, as God’s people, get to sit on cloud nine and dangle our toes in star dust.”[i]


This Resurrection morn, we pause to reflect on the incredible work God has done. The tomb is empty; death has been defeated. Our hearts are filled with joy because today we are invited to see the world through new eyes, through new lenses, if you will. So, let’s put on our Easter glasses to consider a different perspective about who we are, and whose we are. Rest assured, perspective—it matters!


There’s an old story about a little boy and girl who happened to be brother and sister. Their mother was in a department store and needed to pick up one or two more items so she took them to the soda fountain for an ice cream cone, hoping that might keep them busy for a few minutes. She left them at that end of the store, happily licking on their cones, and told them to stay there until she returned. Well, there was an elevator right beside the soda fountain and the children simply could not resist the temptation to get on it. So, with ice cream cones in hand, off they went. They were having such fun, but the little boy’s ice cream was melting faster than he could eat it. Even though he kept licking it with all his might, the sweet treat kept dripping down the cone and onto his hand. Finally, when the elevator stopped, a woman got on who was wearing a lovely, full-length fur coat. When the elevator began moving again, the little fellow began to gently wipe the melting ice cream on her coat. Horrified, his little sister whispered, “Be careful, Joey; you’ll get fur on your ice cream.” Now that’s a different perspective—a different lens through which to view the world.


The first Easter sermon was proclaimed by women, who obeyed Jesus’ command to “go and tell.” We are here today because somewhere along the way, we, too, have heard their message—the message that, long ago, they saw the risen Lord. But, let’s be honest. To believe the Easter message is challenging. To do so, we must accept that God lives and gives us life. But more than that, we have to believe that God broke God’s own law of nature and raised Jesus from the dead. We have to believe that something so extraordinary happened that morning, it continues to have power to transform us mind, body, and soul.[ii] The Christmas story may be a little easier to digest—a baby born in a lowly manger—with a choir of angels singing praises. Jesus’ life and ministry may be more palatable, after all, we would expect God’s Son to heal and love people, right? But resurrection? Could God have had the last word in all things, raising Jesus from the dead, thereby pronouncing all things possible, now and forevermore?


“The last word”—what an interesting phrase.[iii] What does it mean? To have the last word is to make the last statement in a discussion or argument, as in “Jimmy can’t stand to lose an argument. He always has to have the last word.”  To have the last word also refers to making the final decision about something as in “The head chef has the final word on what’s being served in the restaurant.”


If God has the last word—if the resurrection story is true, then we still have a mountain of questions. We look around at the world and how much suffering is going on—physically—mentally—and spiritually—and Jesus seems nowhere near. I mean, where is Jesus when people are dying by the thousands? Where is Jesus when governments are using a disaster to further their own agendas? Where is Jesus when children are going hungry? Where is Jesus when the most dangerous place for a woman may be in her own home? Where is Jesus when men and women and children are fearing for their future? Where is Jesus?


Could it be that Easter glasses are in order? With a different perspective, we might see Jesus in the face of people suffering from COVID-19. We might see that it is by the power of Christ’s own Spirit that people rush toward danger for love of neighbor. With Easter glasses, we might see Jesus in the face of doctors, nurses, and scientists. Jesus wipes the fevered brow and provides tender care. Jesus brings in truckloads of medical equipment and food supplies. Jesus is the cashier at the store and the teller at the bank. And, whenever possible, Jesus chooses to stay home when doing so is the quickest way to slow down a killer pandemic.


Jesus is not now, nor has he ever been, constrained to a temple or a church. Jesus carries on God’s love and raises the cup of salvation from sea to shining sea—for everyone to drink. Set free, he reigns in our hearts and minds and because of his love—we, too, are set free. No doubt, there are days that we look at the world and feel discouraged—especially when so much darkness and evil seem to have the last word. But when that happens, it behooves us to put on our Easter glasses for a second look, because through Christ, God has the last word. No more does violence have the last word for Christ is risen. No more does greed have the last word for Christ is risen. No more does death have the last word, for Christ is risen. Let us put on our Easter glasses and celebrate. For Christ is risen; he is risen indeed!  Alleluia! Amen!

[i] Rev. Vic Pentz

[ii] Feasting on the Word, Martin B. Copenhaver, 370

[iii] My thinking on “the last word” was influenced by a prayer written by Brian McLauren for pastors who have the daunting task of preaching on Easter.

*Cover Art by Stushie Art, used by subscription.

Nature Series: The Message of Creation

Nature Series: The Message of Creation

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

Luke 19:28-40

The liturgical calendar tells us that today is Palm Sunday—the beginning of Holy Week. Through the eyes of Luke, we see Jesus entering the city riding on a donkey. It seems such a paradox—the King of kings riding on a humble donkey instead of a mighty steed. No doubt Jesus’ simple procession into Jerusalem is anything but simple. Instead, his act lights a patriotic spark in the souls of the people who hear echoes of the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice, greatly O daughter, Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter, Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; humble and riding on a donkey…” The people yearn for a king—but not one like Jesus. They want a warrior king—but Jesus has other plans—bigger plans—holy plans.



When Jesus approaches the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude begins to praise God, singing and shouting for joy: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.” Some of the Pharisees are so upset by the uproar, they tell Jesus to make the people quieten down. Jesus responds, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”



For Jesus, this day of joy carries bits of sorrow because he knows that the joyous crowd will soon become an angry mob. The cloaks and palms will become a crown of thorns. The donkey that bears Jesus into the city will become a cross that he, himself, will bear. And words of praise will be replaced with shouts of “Crucify him!”



As modern-day Christians, we are challenged to tell the old story of God’s love in new and inviting ways. If we take the challenge seriously—especially in times like these—we will welcome praise as our calling card. For, you see, praise is the cure for discouragement and depression and despair. Praise is the antidote for what ails us. And wonder of wonders, when all the earth glorifies God, we may join the celebration so that all people and every creature contributes its own distinct voice; and the seas and rivers, meadows and hills add their response, too.



Over the past six weeks we have tried to listen to what God—who created all that lives and moves and breathes—has to say to us through water, mountains, trees, birds, and animals. An ancient Celtic writing echoes the grandeur of our Creator God:



I am the wind that breathes upon the sea,

I am the wave on the ocean,

I am the murmur of leaves rustling,

I am the rays of the sun,

I am the beam of the moon and stars,

I am the power of trees growing,

I am the bud breaking into blossom,

I am the movement of the salmon swimming,

I am the courage of the wild boar fighting,

I am the speed of the stag running,

I am the strength of the ox pulling the plough,

I am the size of the mighty oak,

And I am the thoughts of all people,

Who praise my beauty and grace.[i]



In the Genesis account of creation, repeatedly, God creates, and repeatedly, God “sees that it is good.” Still to this day, God’s wonders and God’s presence rain down blessings. When we are greeted by the morning sun, it is God’s gift. When our heart is moved by the song of the mockingbird, our Creator has spoken. On a walk by the waterside, a soft breeze is like the breath of the Holy Spirit. The wonder of an approaching thunderstorm reminds us of God’s power.  A bike ride along a path of fragrant honeysuckles, suggests the sweetness of Jesus. Yet, day after day, we are so busy looking down, so busy worrying about our little lives that the vastness of God sweeps right past us. Might it be that even during this dreadful pandemic, there is a blessing—a blessing of slowing down to allow ourselves and God’s creation a little time to heal?



The earth is God’s and we are stewards of it. It would behoove us to embrace the beauty of creation and to preserve it for those who come after us for as the Native American Proverb reminds us, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”



Creation is the gift of our Creator, who is everywhere present, loving, and gracious. God loves us so much he enters the world and becomes one of us. Emmanuel, God-with-us, enters this week we call holy riding on a donkey. With all the courage he can muster, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, knowing where it will end. Ultimately, in his dying and rising again, Christ assures us that one day, he will return to make all things new. But until then, we are given the responsibility and the privilege of caring for the earth. If we look around us, we know we could do better. We know there is something wrong when we are drowning in plastic, when water creatures are dying because of oil spills, when people struggle to breathe because of pollution. Perhaps it is time to take the following prayer of Miriam Therese Winter and make it our own:



Creator of the earth, and of all earth’s children, creator of soil and earth and sky and the tapestries of stars, we turn to you for guidance as we look on our mutilated planet, and pray it is not too late for us to rescue our wounded world. We have been so careless. We have failed to nurture the fragile life you entrusted to our keeping. We beg you for forgiveness and we ask you to begin again. Be with us in our commitment to Earth. Let all the Earth say: Amen.



While the task may seem overwhelming, one by one we can join hands around the globe and do our part so that when Christ returns in all his glory, he may find us faithful stewards of the world he came to save. Let it be so. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


[i] The Black Book of Camarthan; quoted in Celtic Fire; edited by Robert Van de Weyer.

*Cover Art by Stushie Art, used by subscription

Nature Series: Animals

Nature Series: Animals

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 29, 2020

5th Sunday in Lent

Isaiah 11:6-9


The Vicar of Dibley is a British sitcom set in the fictional village of Dibley. The series begins when an elderly Vicar dies, and the chairman of the Parish Council, David Horton, sends for a replacement. David likes to be in charge and assumes he is and always will be. He’s a Cambridge educated, upper-class, multi-millionaire, who longs for the status quo and tradition. So, when the new Vicar turns out to be a woman, let’s just say—the feathers fly.


In one episode, Vicar Geraldine Granger realizes how upset people are when their pets die, so she decides to hold a special service for everybody to bring an animal to church for a blessing. David is outraged by the idea of having an animal church service and puts it down to Geraldine being a woman and a bit crazy. Before long the local and national news get wind of it and a tabloid journalist turns up to belittle the event and the village. The heat is on and before it’s all over, the Vicar, David, and a few others are feeling it. So, imagine their surprise, when on the morning of the service, traffic is backed up as far as the eye can see—and the church is packed. It seems that the Vicar hit on an age-old truth: people adore their pets.


The love that people have for their animals has brought a special joy to my heart—particularly these past few weeks when bad news seems to be the only news available to us. It is been like a breath of fresh air to see someone post on social media a picture of their new puppy, or newly hatched chicks, or videos of turtles and ducks, or cat memes that make fun of people for finally catching on to the importance of social distancing.


When our children were little, a stray dog showed up one day at the edge of our lawn. She stayed there watching us for two days. On the third day, she appeared on our front porch and never left. We did not choose Copper. She chose us.


One day, a couple of years after Copper adopted us, Kinney and I were playing ball with Samuel in the backyard when a man stopped his car on the street, got out, and came toward us. While I don’t remember what the gentleman wanted, I do remember how Copper behaved. As soon as the man approached, she kept her eyes on Samuel. More than that, she kept herself between Samuel and the stranger. If Samuel went to the right, Copper went to the right. If Samuel went to the left, Copper went to the left. Finally, it dawned on me. Copper was guarding our child. If I did not love her before, I did then!


Until the day she died, Copper was a beloved member of our family. She was loved by a lot of other people, too, so much so, we began to call her the community dog. Every day she made her rounds. When she greeted Doug Stuart on his daily walk, he was as eager to see her as she was to see him. Copper dropped by Miss Jenny’s because Miss Jenny made a fresh, scrambled egg just for her. Mr. Burgin was known to provide a bit of hamburger meat on occasion. Wanda and Jimmy were sure to have some tasty leftover. Copper was even known to drop by the drug store, peek in on Kinney, and stand guard if she felt the urge.


Animals—God’s creatures—oh, how they enrich our lives. They raise our spirits, they make us laugh, and they teach us. This sermon series on nature has given us a chance to reflect on how that God communicates through all of nature. Regarding the animals, when I think about how a stray dog buried herself into the hearts of our family, I realize God still speaks through her today, if I will only listen. Allow me to suggest three lessons we might learn from an old hound dog named Copper.


As I said earlier, Copper chose us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says to his disciples,

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.[i]


Did you hear that? We did not choose Christ. Christ chose us. The knowledge of such great love should comfort, encourage, and empower us to seek do the will of our Abba Father—as Jesus did; to seek to bless others—as Jesus did.


Another thing that we might learn from one of God’s creatures is God’s constant love and care. When the stranger showed up in our yard, Copper went into protective mode. She wasn’t about to let anyone get in between her and her little boy. What a picture of God’s love. We worry and we fret. How could we not during these times of distress? Maybe we fear COVID-19 is too big for our God. Maybe we feel God has gone away for a while and may never return. If so, the Apostle Paul’s words might encourage us:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[ii]


Of course, this does not mean that it will always FEEL like God is near. How could it, when even Jesus felt forsaken by God as he died on a cross. Yet, in three days, victory! No matter what we might feel, we are God’s chosen in this life and in the life to come.


Finally, through a beloved pet, we might learn another important lesson. Copper had a way of “sharing the love.” She went out into the community, and while she brought smiles to many faces, she also benefited from the love and care of others. This picture of being in relationship might remind us that God made us to be in community just as God is in community as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus demonstrated the importance of community as well, by recruiting 12 disciples for the ultimate seminary experience. Afterward, he promised them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth and show them the way ahead.


But when so many of us are practicing social distancing and remaining in our homes as much as we can, community seems nearly impossible. Yet, day by day the Spirit is opening new doors of learning. While we may curse the Coronavirus, we give thanks for highspeed internet. Just this week, I held the Confirmation Class using Zoom, an audio/video conference call platform. While the video quality was poor (likely because of the increased use of the internet right now), we still got to “see” each other, and it was good. The Administration, Finance, and Property Committee met on a Zoom conference call, and I hope to try video conferencing for a virtual Bible Study Monday.  While we continue to offer worship through Facebook Livestream, we are also livestreaming Centering Prayer on Wednesdays. Our Administrative Assistant, Katie Altman, is emailing the bulletin, sermon, and livestream service to help those who are not on Facebook so they can still worship with their church family, and Session members are making weekly phone calls to folks without email to share pertinent information—all in order to help us stay connected as a community of faith. And I am hearing from many of you that you are staying connected to friends and family in creative ways—like taking ballet and yoga via ZOOM and reading stories and sharing videos with grandchildren through FaceTime.


No matter what is going on in the world, we are never alone. The God who designed the creatures, designed us for the sake of love and relationship—in this life and in the life to come. Amen.


[i] John 15:12-16a.

[ii] Romans 8:35, 37-39.

*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt, used by permission

Nature Series: Birds

Nature Series: Birds

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 22, 2020

4th Sunday in Lent

Luke 12:4-7; Matthew 6:25-29


A poem entitled “The Cardinal”:

So brilliant in my dreary yard
Before the green of spring.
The Cardinal is back again
A dazzling, scarlet thing.

Here he grabs an old dead twig
There some dry, brown grass.
He tries a dozen different bits
To find one that will pass.

You see he’s building up his nest
To show his love so pure.
He must succeed to claim his prize
Brown, scarlet and demure.

So now he works to build the best
This bright spot in my day.
And as he works the world turns
To green from dullest grey. [i]

While bird poems are plentiful, bird metaphors glide in and out of our common speech. Allow me to demonstrate:

She sings like a ____(bird).

The child is as happy as a ____(lark).

He was running around like a ____ with his head chopped off. (chicken)

She has eyes like an ____ (eagle).

Light as a _____ (feather).

Don’t count your ____ before they hatch (chickens).

Madder than a wet _____ (hen).

That old gentleman is as wise as an ____ (owl).

Naked as a ____ (jaybird).


While birds are all around us—physically and metaphorically—they also abound in Scripture. Birds are present in the creation. Ravens feed the prophet Elijah in a time of distress. The Psalms mention them often. Leviticus provides the longest list of birds found in the Bible, including scavengers like vultures, falcons, buzzards, and hawks. The dove is a favorite of ancient Israel, known to nest in the holes of the cliffs. You will recall that Noah releases a dove to de­termine how much the flood waters have fallen. A harmless, peaceful bird, over time it becomes a symbol of the Holy Spirit. A hen with her chicks provides a picture of Jesus’ love and concern for God’s unrepentant people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” In the book of Revelation, birds are summoned to “the great supper of God.” From beginning to end, birds are part of the biblical landscape.[ii]


Another important bird in Scripture is the eagle, the largest bird in Israel with a wingspan of up to 8 feet. In Exodus 19 we read that the Lord calls to Moses from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”


Finally, there is the sparrow, a small, seemingly insignificant bird, that in biblical times had little sentimental or commercial value. Yet Jesus uses it to teach a valuable lesson. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”[iii]


In all times—but especially in times like these—when we are facing challenges we could have never imagined; we can gain strength and courage by meditating on God’s care for the birds. God’s tenderness for them reminds us that we are not alone. God is always with us, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, God has equipped us to soar like the eagle.


Yet, we are wise to take heed because the ways of the world will keep us a-ground, distraught, and fearful. But Scripture tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.[iv] We are not lost. We are not powerless.


Furthermore, looking out for number one is not the motto of our faith. As Christians, we are children of the Most High God, and we are created for love. In the name of love, we have choices to make. We can choose to practice social distancing to keep ourselves and others safe. We can choose to wash our hands often and to stay home as much as possible. We can choose to check on our neighbor via phone instead of entering her home. We can choose to show our appreciation for people working in grocery stores. We can choose to gather in worship with other believers, digitally. We can choose to turn off the news and other social media outlets when the strain of being too connected feels overwhelming. We can choose to practice self-care, by going for walks, taking bike rides, creating delicious meals, reading, listening to music, watching the birds….


And through it all, we can choose to pray like we have never prayed before—for a cure for COVID-19, for aid to those in need, for business owners and their employees who are facing incredible challenges, for people who do not have adequate savings, and for all our health care workers.


In the coming days, may we remember that God is faithful. God knows all our needs and God, who values the sparrows, surely values you and me. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.



[ii] “The Birds of the Air,” A Gathering Voices by Don McKim

[iii] Luke 12:6-7

[iv] 2 Timothy 1:7

*Cover Art by Stushie, used by subscription

Nature Series: Trees

Nature Series: Trees

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 15, 2020

3rd Sunday in Lent

Deuteronomy 20:19-20; Psalm 1; Luke 13:6-9


From my point-of-view as a child, the most astounding thing about my grandparent’s small farm in Western North Carolina was the vistas from the front lawn. Wonderful views of the mountains were even more spectacular when seen from the branches of my grandmother’s cherry tree. From there I could perch for hours, compete with the blackbirds for the fruit of the tree, and gaze out over the valley into the great beyond. Nearby stood a grand oak tree, with limbs too high for a little girl to master; nonetheless, I welcomed the shade and the breeze its branches provided to cool the skin and warm the heart.


Some years later, I learned to appreciate the plants and trees of the mountains even more, when, during my undergraduate studies at Carson-Newman College, I took a May-term class entitled “Appalachian Flora.” It was one of the most fun classes I have ever taken. In my mind’s eye I can still see Dr. Chapman (God rest his soul) walking along naming every plant and tree in sight. Even things that I had previously recognized only as weeds had such interesting names. Two of my favorites were Jack-in-the-Pulpit and the Tree of Heaven—so called, Dr. Chapman joked, because it stinks like, well, you know, that other place.


Regarding plants and trees, the Botanical Society of America offers these wise words: Imagine a world where the plants of the planet are harnessed to help its inhabitants find sustainable solutions for some of their most pressing needs—clothing, food, housing, jobs, clean air, and clean water. Welcome to planet earth!


Trees provide for us and they fascinate us. We climb them, we use them, we meditate under them, and we write poems about them. Poet Joyce Kilmer wrote the following entitled simply “Trees.”

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.


In our little-known reading from Deuteronomy this morning, we catch a glimpse of the respect that should be paid to trees—even in a time of war. One Bible commentary points out that sparing fruit trees during wartime is consistent with the general ecological concern of Deuteronomy.[i] I daresay if such respect had continued down through the ages, our planet would be much healthier today.


Psalm 1 compares a healthy spiritual life to fruit-bearing trees, planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in their season. If we have eyes to see, trees show us what can be accomplished through time, persistence, and patience. Take the mighty oak tree, for example. It begins as a decaying acorn from which sprouts a tiny twig. The sun shines, the rain pours, the wind blows, and in a great many years, the tree becomes a giant oak—sturdy, strong, brimming with life. The great giants of our faith are a bit like that. Though storms came against them, instead of being uprooted, they dug in deep, held on tight to God, and gained the strength they needed to endure. Spiritually speaking, trees remind us of God’s love, for if God’s special care encompasses trees, how much more so does God care for us?


As a community, a nation, and a planet—there is no doubt we are in unchartered territory. Information about the spread of the coronavirus and expected outcomes are changing by the moment. We watch social media and news feeds and see people hoarding food, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper. We witness price-gouging so that a bottle of 88¢ rubbing alcohol costs over $20. We watch countries like Italy that have been forced to go into total lockdown due to rapid spread of COVID-19.  And, to keep similar circumstances at bay in our own country, a national emergency has been declared. With fear swarming like a dark cloud around us, what are we to do?


In a recent Facebook post, a clergy colleague shared something Martin Luther wrote when the Bubonic Plague struck Wittenberg in 1527:

I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely…”[ii]


Jesus came to the earth to show us how to love God, our neighbor, and ourselves—but how can we care for our neighbor in such a time as this? Well, we must look for new ways to be neighbors in order to keep ourselves and our community as healthy as possible—while taking whatever steps we can to care for the most vulnerable among us.


As Rabbi Rav Yosef put it:

Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.


Indeed, we are in new territory. But that is not to say that God is unable to bring good from it. Perhaps now, we may pause to realize that, like the root system of an old oak tree, we are deeply connected as brothers and sisters around the globe. Perhaps now, we may ask the Spirit of Christ to come—dig around the soil of our lives and help us bear good fruit in such a time as this—for love of Christ and love of neighbor. In the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

[i] The New Jerome Bible Commentary, 104.

[ii] Luther’s Works Volume 43, pg. 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague”

*Cover Art by Unsplash, used by permission