Ash Wednesday – What to Give Up

Dear Friends,
 
Ash Wednesday is next week, February 17th. It is the first day of the penitential season of Lent. The reference to ashes comes from the ceremony of placing ashes on the forehead in the shape of the cross as a sign of both our penitence and our hope in Christ. This custom was introduced by Pope Gregory I, who was Bishop of Rome from to 590 A.D. to 604 A.D. It was enacted as a universal practice in all of Western Christendom by the Synod of Benevento in 1091 A.D.
 
Karen Carrickhoff and I are sending you a Lenten devotion book:

∙ For the adults, it is a booklet similar to the Advent devotion called Steadfast Love, with inspiration from Henri Nouwen.
∙ For the youth, it is a booklet of Lenten Micro Practices, little ideas each day to help draw you closer to God.
∙ For the children, it is a calendar and an activity booklet for families to try together.
 
Please note that these are NOT an “all or nothing” endeavor. In other words, even if you don’t look at it daily, pick it up when you can. Trust that the Holy Spirit is alive and moving in the moment.
 
The giving up of something for Lent began as a humble discipline to help Christians understand the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. However, in many circles, it has moved away from that, so that “giving up” has become something to talk about, has become something Christians want “credit” for, has turned into an undisciplined attitude of “look at me and how righteous I am.” Then instead of drawing us closer to the cross, it distracts us from faithful living. Today I offer you a chance to reclaim the discipline of “Giving it up for Lent.”

This list of “Things to Give Up for Lent” is from Rev. Craig Gates, Jackson, MS. It offers some alternatives to the traditional list of chocolate, desserts, or coffee. I invite you to read the list and consider picking a couple to work on over the season. Or maybe it makes you think of another idea. Take some silent time to invite God into your Lenten discipline. Perhaps write a letter to God asking for help in giving up something in order to draw closer to God’s son Jesus.
 
GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, “In everything give thanks.” Constructive criticism is OK, but “moaning, groaning, and complaining” are not Christian disciplines.
 
GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion.
 
GIVE UP looking at other people’s worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
 
GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?
 
GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
 
GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about: like tomorrow! Live today and let God’s grace be sufficient.
 
GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, call someone who is lonely or sick. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the “tube?” Give someone a precious gift: your time!
 
GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God’s riches, not consumers.
 
GIVE UP judging by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ.

May you have a meaningful Lenten Journey.
 
Grace and peace,

Pastor Nancy
Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor
 


The Great Ends of the Church

This past Sunday, we began a worship series on The Great Ends of the Church. The Great Ends are a series of statements which define the mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA). First approved in 1910, they have remained a part of our constitution for over 100 years. If you have a Book of Order, you can find them at F-1.0304. The six Great Ends of the Church are:
 
∙ the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; (1/24/21)
∙ the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; (1/31/21)
∙ the maintenance of divine worship; (2/7/21 – Communion Sunday)
∙ the preservation of the truth; (2/14/21 – Transfiguration Sunday)
∙ the promotion of social righteousness; and
∙ the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.
 
With the start of Lent, we will likely take a break from the Great Ends and pick up the last two later. Join us for worship each week as we hear God’s word to us and explore our calling from Jesus Christ to let our light shine.

There are banners that accompany each of these statements. In the bulletin you will see the black & white design in the top corner. During the service, banners appear on the screen near the pulpit in color. If you like to color, we can make these designs available to you to print out at home. Please let me or Jeanna know.

The Mission Study Team has spent some time with these statements as they prepare to discern FPC’s own “great ends,” your purpose or mission statement as a congregation. I hope this series will help to broaden our understanding of what it means to be followers of Jesus.
 
Grace and peace,

Pastor Nancy
Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor
 


We Worship and Serve God Alone

Dear Friends,

Last week was a difficult week for many of us as we watched the attack on the US Capitol. This happened on Wednesday, January 6th, the Day of Epiphany. Epiphany, a day that we remember the Light of Christ revealed and shining in our world, was instead marked by an event that was shameful, distressing, and violent, to say the least. It reminded me of the second part of Matthew’s Christmas/Epiphany story: Herod’s fear of Jesus, (the newborn king,) “and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt 2: 3).
 
Following the Magi’s visit, Herod realized his grip on power was slipping, which led him to order the slaughter of countless innocent babies in Bethlehem. Herod’s hope? To disrupt God’s reign and claim himself as the ultimate authority and power in the land. To be clear, I am not making a partisan statement. Nor am I comparing President Elect Joe Biden with Jesus. That would be just as inappropriate. I am, as a Christian pastor who tries to follow Jesus faithfully, speaking out against self-serving, violent action that not only goes against the way of “American democracy,” but most importantly, confuses where our ultimate allegiance belongs. We worship and serve God alone.

This past Sunday we remembered our baptism. We have been marked as God’s own in baptism and must lead a life worthy of our calling, in all humility, with gentleness, with patience and love. However, this does not mean quiet capitulation.

We cannot be silent in this time. The church must speak against idolatry and false gods. It must call out sin with an invitation to repentance. In other words, the church is called to be prophetic.

Theologian Walter Brueggemann said, “The prophetic tasks of the church are
✦ to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion,
✦ grieve in a society that practices denial,
✦ and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”

Presbyterian pastor Carol Winfrey Gillette is a contemporary hymn writer. Below is a hymn text she wrote around election time, 2020. The tune is “Beach Spring” (#422 God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending). Join with me in speaking or singing this prayer as we go about the coming days and weeks.
 
God of Love, We’ve Known Division
1. God of love, we’ve known division 
and we’ve seen its awful cost.
We have struggled as a nation,
and there’s much that we have lost.
We have been a house divided
and, divided, we can’t stand.
May our nation be united;
give us peace throughout this land.
 
2. Turn us, Lord, from what divides us—
fear that drives us far apart,
greed that leads to great injustice,
racist ways that break your heart.
May we seek what brings together
hearts that bear each other’s pain,
care and mercy toward our neighbors,
love that welcomes strangers in.
 
3. May we all, in conversation,
speak the truth and listen well.
May we hear, across this nation,
stories others have to tell.
May we learn from other cultures
and be blessed by their world-view;
May we serve with one another
loving others, loving you.
 
4. You have challenged us to goodness;
you have shown a kinder way.
It’s your love that now inspires us
as we seek a better day.
May we end our harsh division;
may we stop the hate and fear.
Make us one, Lord, as a nation;
may we be united here.
 
Grace and peace, dear family of Christ.
 
Pastor Nancy
Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer,
Transitional Pastor
 
 


Baptism of the Lord – January 10, 2021

This coming Sunday, January 10, is Baptism of the Lord. On this Sunday we remember Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. This was the beginning of his public ministry. As Jesus emerges from the water, the Holy Spirit descends from heaven as a dove, and we hear a voice naming Jesus as God’s beloved Son (ref. Mark 1:4-11). Right before Jesus ascended into heaven, he commissioned his disciples to go make disciples and baptize them, teaching them to obey Jesus’ commandments (ref. Matthew 28:16-20).
 
This special Sunday is also a day to remember our own baptism. In baptism, we are claimed by God as a beloved child. In the Presbyterian tradition, the congregation makes a promise to nurture the faith of those who are baptized. As we prepare for worship this week, I invite you to reflect upon your own baptism. How old were you? Who was there with you? If you were too young to remember, perhaps you could ask a family member about that day. If you have children, take some time this week to tell them about the day they were baptized. Pull out those special pictures and share what that day meant to you. Or perhaps you remember the day someone was baptized here at FPC. Send them a note or email. Consider who has guided you in your faith over the years or at a critical time. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the way they fulfilled their part of the baptismal covenant.
 
If you have not yet been baptized, let me know. I will be glad to help make that happen!
 
In worship, we will have a time of remembrance and reaffirmation of our baptism. If we were worshiping together, I would invite you to the font to touch the water and remember. I would offer to anoint you with the sign of the cross on your forehead. This year, since we will be worshiping at a physical distance, I invite you to have a bowl nearby. It could be a small cereal or salsa bowl, or that crystal bowl gift that you rarely use! Have a pitcher, measuring cup or something else filled with water. You can pour the water into your bowl when I do that act in the service.
 
Even though we are physically distanced, we are bound together by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus promises to be with us always. Remember your baptism and celebrate!
 
Grace and peace,
Pastor Nancy
Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer
Transitional Pastor
 
 
Prayer for Baptism of the Lord:
Eternal God, at the baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan you proclaimed him your beloved Son, and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; for he lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, now and forever. Amen.
 
 


What Are Your Joys?

Grace and peace to you.

We have entered the Third Week of Advent and the pink candle is for Joy! With the pandemic taking so much out of us, it might be challenging to identify the joy. Hope? yes. Peace, we pray for it. But joy? When so much life has been lost? When schools are closed? When family holiday gatherings have been nixed? And Zoom fatigue is dragging us down? So many of us are exhausted by 2020 and won’t be sad to wave it good-bye.

My friends, do not be discouraged. Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. I encourage you to find time this week and take a mental or written inventory of the joys in your life. Here are some of mine:
 
1. I rejoice that a vaccine for COVID-19 has been approved!
 
2. I have joy working here among you as partners in Jesus’ ministry.
 
3. I find joy in the service music by our bell choir, Gathering Band and music staff and volunteers.
 
4. I rejoice that even though we aren’t able to meet in person, Karen and volunteers are providing
opportunities for all ages to learn and grow in their faith.
 
5. I rejoice that the Mission Study Team is formed and getting ready to take the next step in this transitional season at FPC.
 
6. I rejoice in the commitment of so many to work in new, creative ways to share the gospel in word and deed.
 
7. I am joyful that I have a new puppy!

My biggest joy is that Jesus Christ is with me! And by the grace of God, I am with him. In this Advent Season of preparation for Christ’s coming, I pray that you be with God, as well. In Christ is our joy.

With Advent hope, peace, joy and love,
 
Pastor Nancy


Living in the In-Between

Dear Friends,
 
In Sunday’s sermon, I mentioned the tension of living in the Advent season. Advent’s focus is on Christ’s coming into the world again, with power and glory. Much of our December is spent in preparations for the birth of Jesus—decorating, baking, gift lists, etc. We can get overwhelmed by all the work involved in creating “the perfect Christmas.”

What would our December look like if we prepared for Christ’s second Advent into the world? How would we worship and work together for this great hope to be fulfilled?

It can be hard to live in the in-between-times, wondering when and how the renewal of all things will occur. It leads to lots of questions that faithful followers of Jesus have been asking for years. In the sermon, I lifted up to you the 3 Ws of Advent: Waiting, with alertness instead of complacency; Watching, which is a word that denotes action, not just passive window-watching; and Wakefulness, not sleeping on our watch, but anticipating Christ’s arrival.

These are also good Ws to follow during the “in-between pastors” time. My title here at FPC is Transitional Pastor. Its very name indicates something is about to happen! Things are changing. You are moving from one pastor and preparing for a new one. During this time, I encourage you to wait and watch with patience, leaning into this time of learning and growing. Keep active in the church. I know it’s difficult during this Covid-19 season to be active, especially now that we are going back to Virtual Worship Only beginning this Sunday; however, there is more to discipleship than attending worship on Sunday morning. Consider asking someone to be a prayer partner or join one of the Bible studies. Write cards to our shut-ins or pick up the phone and give another member a call just to chat a bit. Check in with your staff who are working so hard during this time. Offer an extra dose of thanks to our amazing Tech Team for bringing worship to wherever you are at whatever time is convenient for you! Find ways to wait and watch actively.

One of the most popular questions people ask during the transitional pastor time is When is the new pastor coming? Not surprising! The unsatisfying – but Presbyterian – answer is In God’s time. But it’s true! There is a process that has many steps. The first step is forming the Mission Study Team, which Session has recently approved. That group will work with me on discerning who FPC Lexington is now and the direction you sense God is leading you as a congregation. This will take time. It will include a survey, small group gatherings (by Zoom, most likely), and it counts on a lot of your input. Be wakeful to opportunities to participate in the New Year. It is such an exciting season for you as you remember your roots and look toward your future as faithful followers of Jesus.

With joy for the journey,
 
Pastor Nancy Jo Dederer
Transitional Pastor
 


Give Thanks

Dear Friends-in-Christ,
 
Thanksgiving is just about here, and for many of us it will be different. This coronavirus continues to interrupt our lives and family gatherings. With “covid-fatigue” affecting our plans and our attitudes, it is easy to be frustrated, impatient, or dare I say, cranky?! We want to be together! We want to sit down at a table, in the family room, on a church pew—together. But we can’t. At least not safely. I hope you will take the advisement of our doctors and scientists to heart and continue to follow the 3-Ws until Covid19 is no longer a threat. News of vaccines is looking more promising, so we can be hopeful.
 
In the meantime, while we still must remain masked and physically distanced, I offer you this simple remedy: Give Thanks. Take time this coming week to reflect on your life. What is most important? How have you seen the Holy Spirit move through a particular person or situation? When have you felt God’s comforting presence or leaned mightily on the strength of Jesus? Give thanks for all of these blessings. Share these moments with friends or family over the phone, on Zoom, in a Facebook post, or even written down in an old-fashioned letter. We need to hear the stories of joy amid the storms, the signs of community even when we are apart, our growing through the challenges. Approach this coming holiday with a grateful heart for all Christ has done for us.
 
You may know the story of Now Thank We All Our God. Pastor Martin Rinkart lived during the time of the Thirty Years War, 1618-1648. His little town in Germany was overwhelmed with refugees escaping war, famine, and pestilence and there was much suffering. He was the only pastor left in the city and conducted as many as 40-50 funerals a day. Rinkart’s wife even died, and yet, he kept on, selflessly offering hope, strength, and a very physical help to the people. Toward the end of the war, it is said that Rinkart wanted to give his children a song to sing at the dinner table in thanks to God. This hymn has become one that has given hope to many over the years and it reminds us to give thanks in all times and places, trusting in the grace and steadfast love of God.
 
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things hath done, in whom this world rejoices;
who, from our mothers’ arms, hath blest us on our way
with countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
 
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in God’s grace, and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills in this world and the next.
 
All praise and thanks to God, who reigns in highest heaven,
To Father and to Son, and Spirit now be given.
The one eternal God, whom heav’n and earth adore,
The God who was, and is, and shall be evermore.
 
A blessed Thanksgiving to you,
 
Pastor Nancy Jo Dederer
Transitional Pastor
 
 


On the Eve of the Election…

Dear Friends,
 
I write this on the eve of election day. I don’t know the outcome of the presidential and state elections, and it is quite possible that by the time you read this newsletter, we still won’t know who will be our president for the next four years. What we do know is that there is much unrest right now as to the future of the United States, its citizens and all who reside here. There is much divisiveness, not only across party lines, but also across church pews and family dinner tables. Anxiety and short fuses are close to the surface, and cherished relationships are being put to the test based on color: Red or Blue.
 
I pray that as we live into the decisions that are made for the nation’s governance, we keep our heart, soul, and mind focused on the One who offers salvation —Jesus Christ— our Way, our Truth, our Life. We must be careful not to misplace our allegiance. God alone is Sovereign. We must also apply ourselves to loving our neighbor the way Jesus loves. For some that might mean thinking more carefully about how to react to someone who loudly pushes a different opinion. For others, that might include stepping out of a comfort zone to really see someone’s full humanity and respond with compassion rather than judgment. How will your neighbors know you belong to Christ, regardless of whether your “ballot” wins or loses? Hint:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.  (© Peter Scholtes, 1966)
 
While we are living in a time of extremes, we only need to turn to the Letter to the Romans to remember that we are not the first ones who have faced travail. Paul writes to the church that is worried about how God can possibly address the gravity of their situation. Paul responds,

…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 (Romans 8:38-39).
 
I hope you will join me in prayer for healing and restoration. I have included a prayer to draw us together. My door is open to you for conversation and prayer.

May the Holy Spirit grant you peace—the peace that passes all understanding— and settle your heart and mind in Christ Jesus,
 
Pastor Nancy Jo Dederer
Transitional Pastor
 
PRAYER FOR ELECTIONS AND OUR COUNTRY

Holy God,
We come to you today in prayer,
full of emotions.
Election seasons always seem to bring that out in us-
Worry and hope, fear and frustration.
The list could go on.
So today we bow our heads and ask for guidance.
Open our ears to hear the groans of creation.
Open our eyes to see the needs of others.
Open our hearts to make room for empathy.
Give us the wisdom to navigate challenging conversations.
Give us the patience to disagree with grace.
Give us the compassion to make decisions for the greater good.
And when all else fails, bring us back to love.
Bring our hearts and our hands,
Our dreams and our hopes,
Our anger and our frustration,
Our hurt and our fear,
All back to love.
With hope we pray,
With hope we are sustained. Amen.

© A Sanctified Art
 
 


Time in the Wilderness

Dear Friends,
 
Grace and peace to you! I am delighted to be here and look forward to getting to know you better over the coming weeks and months. I have appreciated the notes, emails and gifts you have offered me as a sign of welcome and partnership in ministry. It was a bit of a disappointment not to worship outside and in person on my first Sunday here due to the weather, but I am grateful for a strong technology team that allows us to gather as part of that great iCloud of Witnesses!
 
Sunday’s Old Testament Scripture was about the Israelites’ time in the wilderness. With the departure of your pastor in the spring and this long season of Covid-19, I imagine this interim time might feel a bit wild and desert-like for some of you. A rabbi colleague and friend once told me that the wilderness journey was a way for God to draw the people out of their routines, out of their burdens and labor into a special time to worship and reconnect with God. In fact, when Moses first went to Pharaoh to ask him to “let God’s people go,” it was initially for a short time to worship God. Eventually, of course, it turned into the full exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom as God’s people; but originally, the wilderness was to be a gift for the people to commune with God and offer their worship and praise.
 
I wonder if we might be able to shift expectations of “wilderness/interim time” to a holy season in which we experience God’s providence to us as individuals and as a congregation and grow deeper in our relationship with our Triune God–Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. What might that look like to you? I hope as we journey together we will name those places where we see the Holy Spirit at work and explore how God is shaping us for ministry in this time and place.
 
May God bless you with joy and hope,
Pastor Nancy
 


A Letter from Our New Transitional Pastor

Dear Friends,
 
I greet you with joy in my heart. Thank you for inviting me to come and work alongside you. The “Time between Pastors” is a holy season for the church. While it might feel long and uncertain, it is also an opportunity for the congregation to reflect upon who God is calling First Pres to be in this time and context. I appreciate transitional ministry because it frees folks up to be curious, questioning, evaluative and experimental. We can explore our heritage: holding on tight to that which is good and faithful and letting go of those things that no longer fit well. We are offered the gift of delving more deeply into what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and renewing our commitment as the church of Jesus Christ.
 
COVID-19 certainly has wreaked some havoc on the traditional ways of ministry; however, we we are not barred from the work of ministry—that of praising and worshiping God, welcoming, praying and caring for each other as siblings in Jesus’ family, and sharing the good news of the gospel in word and deed with our corner of the world and beyond. We may still do all of this with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.
 
I can’t wait to hear how the Holy Spirit has been moving through you and your congregation. I look forward to visiting with you (properly distanced!), listening to your stories, frustrations, and hopes, and helping your church discern the direction God is leading you next as you prepare for your new pastor.
 
May God bless you and our ministry together!
 
Grace and peace,

Pastor Nancy
Rev. Dr. Nancy Jo Dederer
Transitional Pastor