Last year Hurricane Harvey made blatantly obvious why the church needs to hold a food drive. We even felt the need to extend our August food drive through the end of September. We also collect non-perishable food items in February. All the proceeds go to Rosenberg-Richmond Helping Hands. It was founded in 1985 by churches in the West Fort Bend County area, as a non-profit organization that helps people in crisis by providing basic needs on a short-term basis. They strive to provide assistance until the individual or family becomes self-sufficient. As a covenant church we signed a pledge promising financial support and agreed to hold at least two yearly food and/or clothing drives.
Summertime is often neglected for food drives, but it is most crucial. In the Lamar Consolidated School District 42.2% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. That means they depend on school to provide them basic nutrition. A lot of them have their only meal of the day at school. That means that for the three months of summer these kids and their families have to struggle even harder to put food on the table. That makes ministries like Helping Hands so crucial and that’s why their shelves tend to run low in the summer.
St. John’s UCC has supported Helping Hands from the beginning. Please join us in this effort and bring non-perishable food items to church on Sundays at 10 am or during office hours, Monday through Friday from 08:30 to noon. Be part of a proud tradition.
During Vacation Bible School last week I got a call from a number with the country code +234. If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry, I also had to wait for the person to tell me where they were. Turns out this gentleman was in Nigeria. On our voicemail he left a simple question: Is there a United Church of Christ in Nigeria?
Well, sort of. The United Church of Christ as we know it is a 501c3 organization in the United State of America. However as part of the body of Christ we belong to larger ecumenical bodies that cover the entire planet. The World Council of Churches (WCC) has member churches in eight regions:
So, looking for Nigeria, I went to Africa and found WCC member churches based in Nigeria:
Now these denominations are not technically UCC but they will feel and look and believe somewhat similar. You may expect familiar liturgical elements and beliefs. So, yes, feel free to call our church office in Rosenberg, Texas. We truly have connections all over the world. Remember that case when we retrieved school records through ecumenical partners in Germany?
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The August church Calendar of Events can be viewed here and help you plan for your participation in activities throughout the month.
Calendar of Events August 2018
Love is not just the feeling of butterflies in your stomach. Love is hard work. If you have ever been in a serious relationship you know that warm fuzzies alone don’t cut it. Loving God is the same way. It takes the effort and investment of the whole person: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
Loving God with all your heart according to Hebrew scripture is a call to study. The heart in the Hebrew Bible is the organ of thoughtful reflection – pretty much like we think of the brain nowadays. Earlier I shared an invitation to engage in Spiritual Summer Reading. The Confessions of Saint Augustine are the moving story of a spiritual giant in the making. Please read at your own pace and join me for a wrap-up session on Sunday, August 26, at 9am at St. John’s.
Loving God with all your soul means putting all your passion into the effort of serving God and God’s beloved. We will practice that on Sunday, July 29th, when will be creating an original piece of art together as part of our worship service at 10 am. Our project will then become part of “The Harvey Experience,” an event commemorating Ft. Bend residents’ experiences before, during, and after the strom that changed the lives of so many of our friends and neighbors. This will be a free family event held at Constellation Field on August 25, 2018, from 12pm – 2pm. Please come and bring the power of your entire soul on Sunday!
Loving God with all your might is about utilizing your resources to impact this world for the better, to be laborers in God’s vineyard. As a co-founder of Helping Hands we conduct two food drive months per year. Through the month of August we will collect non-perishable food items to benefit our local foodbank. Your might is needed to love God and neighbor.
We just came back from a two-week trip to Europe full of family celebrations with birthday parties and a wedding. Also we took a two-day trip to Paris. Please keep in mind that Paris is as far from my German hometown as Dallas is from Houston, it’s really not a big deal. I have been to Paris multiple times before but this trip was the first time for me to actually go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and inside the Louvre Museum.
The Louvre is huge. It houses 35,000 pieces of art on 652,000 sq ft. But most people just come for one painting: The Mona Lisa. The Louvre has giant wall paintings, hundreds of sq ft big, telling entire dramas of human history. The world’s greatest artists are represented. The halls are lined with billions and billions of dollars worth of the finest art. But for one reason or another, the biggest crowds are drawn to that one room where you have to elbow your way to the farthest wall just to catch a brief glimpse of this letter size painting of a young woman looking at you.
That’s all the Mona Lisa is: a young woman looking at you. But that’s also where her magic comes from. Depending on how you look at her, she will look back at you. Some say she looks friendly, some say she looks mad. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Humankind has known that since the beginning: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)
You are a different piece of art, unlike the Mona Lisa. God is the artist who created you. Mona Lisa will just look back at you the way you look at her. What goes around comes around. The invitation from God is a different one: See yourself as the image of God. That way you cannot discard yourself. That way you cannot bow before any idols, because you are created in the image of God. You are wearing God’s face on your face. You are God’s beloved creation. Your image is worth more than the all the artwork of the Louvre combined. Pick up a mirror, look at yourself, and behold the image of God.
For the summer everybody has book recommendations for you. I am no different. Every few years I re-read a true classic. And you know when I am talking “classic” I really mean “ancient”. St. Augustine finished his “Confessions” around the year 400 CE. Augustine of Hippo is probably the most influential teacher of the Church. In this autobiographical work he describes his journey into Christianity. The conversion story part is a pretty easy read. The book is long, consisting of 13 books itself. And I don’t read it fast. Sometimes I may lay it down for a week and think about how Augustine’s life is similar to mine. I invite you to start reading now and take your time. Then at the end of the summer let’s get together and share how Augustine’s spiritual journey has impacted yours. The Spiritual Summer Reading wrap-up session will be on Sunday, August 26, at 9am at St. John’s.
You can get The Confessions of Saint Augustine for free at Project Gutenberg. But honestly that 19th century translation is not very approachable. Barnes & Noble has an edition in their Classics Series for under $10. And of course you can always find it on the e-reader of your choice.
As you read and travel this summer, don’t forget to take a look at your inner being: “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.” (Augustine’s Confessions, Book 10).
I am called an American. My certificate of naturalization says so. It also lists my “country of former nationality” as Germany. Now what makes me an American? I eat apple pie, I speak English, I have a propensity for liberty. That’s good enough, right? Well, wait a minute. This whole hemisphere from Cape Horn to the Arctic is called America. Since I did not go to school in this country I had to look up why that is.
Please join me on that search and meet Amerigo Vespucci. He was an explorer who landed in the New World in 1502. Vespucci demonstrated that Columbus was wrong when he thought he found a shortcut to India. Vespucci showed that this is a truly new continent and that is how the latinized version of his first name became the name of my citizenship. Amerigo became America. Amerigo Vespucci was born in Italy, naturalized into Spanish citizenship and worked for the Portuguese government. That’s what America is all about: We wear our national identity lightly. The places we live and the identities we hold are subject to change. You are single one day and in a relationship the next. Then you may turn into a parent. All of sudden loved ones are gone. Nothing ever stays the same. Most Americans even hyphenate their self-classification: German-American, Czech-American, Anglo-American, Mexican-American and so on. America in its very name carries the notion of being from somewhere else. This land is not truly your land or truly my land.
The facts that I eat apple pie, speak English, and have a propensity for liberty – those are all things of this world. And as such they are only of secondary importance as 1 John 2:15-17 reminds us:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever.”
So this Fourth of July, let’s eat apple pie and celebrate liberty. But let us also remember that these desires are passing away. Only God’s love remains.
Calendar of Events July 2018
Your Calendar of Events for the month of July, please feel free to join us and it’s not too late to register for Vacation Bible School which is July 30-August 3.