Sing and Pray for Christian Unity

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a time to come together to pray in common and encounter one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. It is an opportunity to recognize the richness and value that are present in each other as we join Christ’s prayer, “that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” John 17:21 For Greater Houston the 6th Annual Ecumenical Prayer Service During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity will be held on Thursday, January 24, 2019. The Ecumenical Prayer Service begins at 7 P.M., but you are cordially be invited to be there at 6:15 P.M. for a gathering with a light meal. The 2019 Host Location is ChristChurch Presbyterian 5001 Bellaire Boulevard 77401.

The Liturgy for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2019 has been prepared by Christians from Indonesia. With a population of 265 million, 86% of whom are reckoned to be Muslim, Indonesia is well known as having the largest Muslim population of any country. However, about 10% of Indonesians are Christian from various traditions. In terms of both population and the vast extension of the country Indonesia is the biggest nation in South East Asia. It has more than 17,000 islands, 1,340 different ethnic groups and over 740 local languages and yet is united in its plurality by one national language Bahasa Indonesia. The nation is founded on five principles called Pancasila, with the motto Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity). Across the diversity of ethnicity, language and religion, Indonesians have lived by the principle of gotong royong which is to live in solidarity and by collaboration. This means sharing in all aspects of life, work, grief and festivities, and regarding all Indonesians as brothers and sisters.

Help us demonstrate Christian unity by ministering with us as an interdenominational choir for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’s Prayer Worship Service. Prayer Service Choir Rehearsals will take place on Tuesdays, January 15th & 22nd, 2019 @ 7:00 p.m. @ ChristChurch Presbyterian 5001 Bellaire Boulevard Bellaire, Texas

New Year, New You

The new year lays freshly in its diapers in front of us. How the New Year will turn out to be has yet to be determined. Everything is possible. New year’s resolutions are made, some might already be broken. The New Year is a symbol of new beginnings. For Christians the new calendar year started in the middle of the Christmastide. We just remembered God’s Word made flesh dwelling among us. We found hope that God became one of us so we humans learn to understand that we are beloved children of God without fear, forgiven and free.

As we continue the journey into the New Year, create it, live it and mold it we should not forget that God has always loves us and that there is not one single moment in our lives that we have not been loved. Also, we should not forget that in this Word made flesh we are a new creation. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” In Christ we have every day, every hour, every second the chance to start anew and fresh. We do not need a New Year to change. Christ welcomes every moment we change to become better and grow in Him. God does not need the new year to love us. God does this every nanosecond of the world’s existence.

So really, we are not starting a NEW YEAR these days. The big thing that God promises this season is a NEW YOU. You don’t have to be the same you have known. You are a new creation. I hope that you experience many moments during this year where you hear, see and feel the love of the Triune God at work in your life, causing and initiating within in you a change for the better.

May your New Year be full of Love and Change!

Confirmation Class 2019-2021

The body of Christ is bigger than your local church. Most families are used to having family members attend multiple places of worship and that’s fine. Recognizing this reality, we are offering a joint confirmation class with our sisters and brothers in Christ at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Needville, TX. This is a different approach. The age range is going to be bigger than usual. Every youth between 11 and 18 is welcome to join us. It is going to be a two year program, starting in February of 2019 with Confirmation in January 2021. Classes will be held on one Saturday per month from 9am-noon. There is a total of 18 sessions for a curriculum of 12 sessions. That gives us enough time to do fun and meaningful fieldtrips, like beach cleanup and funeral home.

So if you know any youngsters that might be interested, please join us for worship on Sunday, January 13, at 10 am. Right after church there will be an informational meeting with more details and the opportunity to sign up.

Remember the power of love

In his Christmas Message, United Church of Christ General Minister and President the Rev. John C. Dorhauer urges the wider church to use the power of love to overcome the divisions that exist in our world.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace and glad tidings to all.”

So said the angel to the shepherds, asking them to go to Bethlehem and find a child wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Of all the lines from the Christmas narrative, I think this is my favorite. The coming of the Christ-child was a gift from the heavens meant to usher in the reign of God’s peace. This is the gift we have all longed for – a return to God’s vision of Shalom. Let us beat our swords into plowshares, our spears into pruning hooks. Let us no longer learn the ways of war. Let us see the lion and the lamb together. Let there be no more warring between nations on the mountain of the Lord.

If Christ came for anything, it was for this: the peace that passes understanding. His entire life was a rehearsal for us to examine what walking a pathway dedicated to love of neighbor looked like. It looked like a turning of the cheek, the walk of a second mile, the unfathomable love of neighbor, the kindness from and to the stranger best exemplified by the Samaritan on the road.

It didn’t look like two Christians unwilling to talk to each other again because of who they voted for in the last election.

It didn’t look like Christians on the left thinking Christians on the right just don’t understand the real Jesus; and Christians on the right thinking Christians on the left are heretical and hypocritical humanists.

Divisions are intensifying.

Relationships are being shaped and defined based on political points of view.

All that should make for a very merry Christmas when the family gathers this year.

But, like my family, which agreed to put aside personal points of view — we need to remember that love comes first. Though we have spent more than five decades together living and fighting with each other — we know what love feels like.

I invite us all to remember what love looks and feels and acts like. Support for righteous causes matter, but they ought not come at the sacrifice of family, church, and fellowship.

As the United Church of Christ, we come from differing backgrounds, but we are committed as one church to living into the hope brought into the world with Jesus. Working for peace, building a just world for all of God’s people.

Christmas has often been a time to set aside differences and remind us all about the power of love to overcome them.

May it be so again this year.

John C. Dorhauer
General Minister and President

Christmas Message

UCC Executive Minister, the Rev. James Moos, discusses in his Christmas message why we call ourselves a “united” church:

Hi! I’m Jim Moos, Associate General Minister of the United Church of Christ. We call ourselves a united church and yet we make that bold claim in the midst of a very divided world. What’s the basis of our unity, what is it that holds us together? Foundational for us is the love of God which was incarnated in the Christ child whose birth we anticipate and celebrate during this sacred season. May we live in the light of that unity and love not just now in this season, but at all times. Let us be united in our families for in Christ we are all children of God. As we worship and serve in our churches, let us be united in love, for we are all members of the body of Christ. Let us live in love and unity with people of other traditions, for the good news of a great joy comes not to us only but to all people. And as nations, let us live together in peace, knowing that for unto us a child is born who is the Prince of Peace. In the midst of all our diversity may we live with this love and this unity at all seasons, at all times. God bless you, and Merry Christmas!

Come and celebrate Christmas with us in Rosenberg, Texas! On Sunday, December 23rd we will have a German/English service with nativity play at 10 am. And on Christmas Eve our 6 pm service will feature the traditional candle-lighting.

When St. John’s UCC is at its best

This Advent season I am going around different church groups to find out what our church does best. Here are today’s responses:

When we are sharing a meal together or working together. Family Ministry reaching out to our shut-ins and those in need! Having each other’s back by helping when needed without having to ask.
Showing up for families in crisis. Showing love and concerns for all offering prayers. To see before church the people conversing, laughing and coming together. covered dish meals
it responds to unexpected challenges when reaching out to serve the needs of others unselfishly, caring for others, being the hands and feet of Christ Each member brings their best gifts / talents to share. Everyone has a time to give of themselves and even if it is a moment of prayer it is best!

Please note: None of these have anything to do with worship! The one hour of music and proclamation is not even mentioned. That’s not where church happens when it’s most meaningful. Here with St. John’s UCC, church is not a place or event you go to, but a movement that makes people’s lives better. St. John’s is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

Delilah’s Fake News

In 2017 the Word of the Year was FAKE NEWS. The phenomenon has not diminished. Mirjam, the kids and I were driving home after enjoying the beautiful Houston Zoo Lights. In order to keep the holiday spirit alive on our way home we listened to 99.1 which plays Christmas music this time of year. At night they also have a talk show: Delilah. Most of the time she is benevolent and just wants to reassure people that God means it good with them regardless of how challenging their lives may be. Delilah preaches a Gospel of comfort. I cannnot blame her for that. But when feel-good is all it is about I sometimes have to cry foul. So there was this one caller who with a Jewish-Christian blended family celebrates both Christmas and Hanukkah. That is awesome. Everybody’s faith journey is influenced by a multiplicity of traditions. Delilah is really good at celebrating diversity and I applaud her for that. But then she went over-board this time. Delilah stated that Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem for the Festival of Lights and that is why it would make perfect sense to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah together. Let us not forget the cold hard facts: Joseph was ordered to appear in his home town by the Roman Empire. They were not going for the holidays. And why would anyone go to Bethlehem for Hanukkah? If anything the Temple Mount in Jerusalem would be the place. Hanukkah is the celebration that commemorates how the oil ran low at the dedication of the temple but miraculously lasted for eight days. The little town of Bethlehem was not good for anything back then. No, Christmas and Hanukkah are different holy days. There are three lessons to be learned from this incident:
1. it is great to celebrate diversity
2. faith is more than just comfort
3. pretending that everything is the same leaves people confused and ultimately makes hope-giving holidays irrelevant.
The power of Hanukkah is the celebration of a miracle that God provides light in dark times.
The power of Christ being born in the city of David is the beginning of God’s reign on Earth.
Both are really good news and both need to be celebrated but they are not the same.

So when you wish somebody “happy holidays” this season it would behoove you to inform yourself what you are talking about and learn about the holidays. A blanket statement like, “we all do not really know and just try to love another”, may be well-meaning but does not take serious anybody’s belief – to include you own. Diversity does not mean we are all the same. It means that we are celebrating one another for who we are and that we work together to make the world a better place. That is really good news. There is nothing fake about that.

Four Christmases

The holiday season is upon us. With it come the inevitable proclamations and expectations that people have for Christmas. Listening to people share their hopes, dreams, and fears for the season I found that there are really four very distinct Christmases that people engage with. You can put them in a quad chart that stretches from Internal to External as well as from Conciliatory to Confrontational:

The external confrontational Christmas is represented by the bumper sticker that demands to keep Christ in Christmas. When people feel threatened in their identity they tend to overemphasize symbols and words. The aggressive overtone of a Kulturkampf corresponds with the perceived threat to a “Christian America”. Christmas is a welcome season to “strike back”. This Christmas is a cultural idol that gets politicized a lot.

The external conciliatory Christmas is one that is manifested in soup kitchens and generous donations throughout the season. When people want to feel good about themselves, the holiday season gives permission and occasion to live that out. Soup kitchens and food banks are notoriously short on volunteers and donations during the summer. But during the holiday season they get swamped with both, making scheduling and storage a nightmare.

The internal conciliatory Christmas is all about home sweet home. It kicks off around Thanksgiving with decorations and food. The cold winter months are the bitter contrast that gets fended off by a home that is warmer and cozier than ever. In a world that is increasingly complex and unpredictable the warm fuzzies of this Christmas bring a sense of safety and security.

The internal confrontational Christmas happens when family members gather around holiday feasts. The expectation is for everybody to get along and behave for the holidays. But the truth of the matter is that there are reasons some people are not invited, stay away, or show up grudgingly. There is no magic in the air that fixes broken relationships without continuous effort.

Did you notice that I just described the entirety of the Christmas experience without mentioning the church or the birth of Christ? They are an afterthought for most people because we are so busy engaging with the four other Christmases. Christmas is the Mass that celebrates Christ. Christ-Mass is a worship service. That is all from a church perspective. You should try it this holiday season.

Thanksgiving is talking to God

Turkey Day is a happy day. But why do we cram so much family, food, and football into one intense celebration? – Because they represent important aspects of life. The Thanksgiving feast with all its traditions symbolizes life at its fullest. The turkey I’m about to eat is not just food but a symbol of the overall sustenance that God provides. Family and friends around the table are not just pleasant company but a representation of the heavenly feast when all God’s children will dine together in harmony. Football or shopping are typically little pleasures, but on Thanksgiving and Black Friday they get totally blown out of proportion – watching for 12 hours straight followed by shopping for 12 hours straight. Everything around Thanksgiving is bigger than life – the group assembled around the table, they don’t see each other most of the year but here they enact what harmony and closeness could look like. The Thanksgiving meal itself has an average of 4,500 calories – over two days worth of energy for the typical adult.

Family, food, and football are all awesome. But Thanksgiving is intended to be a day of prayer. People have always prayed out of gratefulness when they made it through tough times, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:1) Now, praying is a habit that so often is limited to asking for stuff: health and wealth and all kinds of blessings. Thanksgiving is a reminder that prayers do not have to be on our own behalf but that we are free to pray for God’s sake. Jesus modeled that during the last supper, “Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'” (Luke 22:19). Jesus’s last supper was in the context for a formal Seder. So when the text says “he had given thanks”, Jesus probably spoke these words over the bread:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם הַמּוֹצִיא לֶחֶם מִן הָאָרֶץ
and over the wine:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְ‑יָ אֱ‑לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם בּוֹרֵא פְּרִי הַגָּפֶן
Blessed are You, L-rd our G‑d, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth / Who creates the fruit of the vine.

Even the most mundane Thanksgiving traditions put on public display what we owe God gratitude for: Sustenance, relationships and pleasures. Now saying thank you and blessing the King of the Universe puts responsibility on us as the ones performing those rituals: We are called to make sure that all God’s children have access to the blessings of healthy and plentiful nutrition, loving and caring relationships, and uplifting relaxation and fun. My prayer this Thanksgiving: “King of the Universe, thank you for the feast, the fun, as well as family and friends. Use us to bring these blessings to those who need them more – the hungry, the sad, the lonely. Amen.”