Pastor’s Letter — June, 2019

Easter is Here to Stay

Dear Friends,
As we approach the end of the Easter season let us not let the Easter Spirit leave us. The powerful message of Easter is that we are created by a God who loves us as mother loves her children, as a father finds deep joy in his offspring. Easter is a celebration of all that is good in this world, but also an outreach to the broken parts of our world and yes we are also broken. God loves the world in its entirety both good and bad.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? - Matthew 5:24-26.

The Easter message is that new life is offered to all people and we are the messengers of that Good News. Easter explodes with joyful music. Some of the greatest oratorios were composed for Easter. Just to name a few: Handel’s “Messiah,” with the incredible “Hallelujah Chorus,” Bach’s “Matthew’s Passion,” and incredible West African songs of joy. Easter music stretches around the world, and though we sing Easter hymns, and rejoice in the amazing music once the season is over and we now sing the songs of the next season we should never drop the joy of Easter from our hearts.

Come and join us on the morning train — the train of Easter that brings us to the love of the Lord. The evening train may be too late — so let’s stay on the morning train which started that Easter Sunday morn. Go into the rest of the year singing: Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah and carry that joy into the world around you!

In Christ’s Peace,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — April, 2019

The April Jesus

While moderating the Taiwan Presbyterian Church session a question came up, “What would happen if Easter fell on April 1st? What would we do if when we said “Christ has Risen” someone responded, “April Fools!”? My reply was that the world has been saying that about Jesus’ resurrection since it took place. When it happened, many people found it hard to believe that Jesus had risen. And today there are still many who simply don’t believe. It is physically impossible so practically speaking those who don’t believe have a stronger argument than those who do. However, it is important to remember that nothing is impossible for God. After all we are surrounded by a world and universe that came from somewhere. I believe that somewhere is God.

It is sad that we live in a world where people would rather believe that Jesus was not resurrected instead of believing the Good News that he rose from the grave declaring that not even death can overcome God’s love for us and opening the door to everlasting life. Easter Sunday is an impossible day if we judge it by the world’s standards. But honestly what would you rather hold as your belief that there is nothing beyond this world and this life or that there is a whole universe of love opened up before us by the one who laid his life down for us?

For me the April fools are the ones who say there is no resurrection, there is no God. Our belief in a Risen Savior will be questioned time and again by the world that is around us. We will also find it hard to hang on to at times ourselves. But when those time come, turn to the one who was raised from the grave and you will find a companion who will walk with you and support you through all that life brings with it.

Join us for Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter as we walk with Jesus through his most difficult times. Often, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, it is hard for us to see the Risen Christ. And as we strengthen our bond with him, we will more easily see and feel his presence even in our most difficult times. Holy Week is the strengthening of our bond with Jesus. Christ is always with us in our journey, however sometimes it is hard for us see that Jesus who is walking right next to us.

Yours in Christ,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — January, 2019

The Richness of Scripture

Dear Friends,
As we begin the new year it may be worthwhile to ponder the first assigned Gospel reading of 2019: Matthew 2:1-18. The Magi (often called the three kings) after up to two years come to see the Christ Child. This beautiful story in Matthew uses the term Magi to designate those who came to pay homage to the baby Jesus. Magi is a foreign word to Hebrew and Greek. It perhaps denotes highly educated elite coming from the Middle Eastern to far Eastern world. It is also neutral in gender meaning it designates neither male nor female. We don’t know much about the Magi other then they come from afar and were willing to travel for at least a year to find this amazing baby and carried with them three gifts. We don’t know exactly who they were, how many there were, and we don’t know their gender. All of which I believe is intentional on Matthew’s part. We have foreign, amazing, persistent, and mysterious visitors coming to pay homage to this new child.

The Magi bring with them gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. It is from the three gifts that we assume there were three Magi, but there could have been more or there could have been less. Gold it is assumed to mark Jesus as an earthly king. Frankincense to denote that he is God — frankincense was incense used in the worship of gods. And myrrh was part of embalming dead bodies — so the gifts reflected Jesus’ life as earthly king, God, and his laying down his life for all on earth. The story of Jesus Christ’s life on earth foreshadowed in the gifts the Magi bring.

In the story we hear that King Herod takes great interest in the Magi. Why have they come? He wants to know. Where is this new king? He asks. Pretending to want to go and worship this new king himself. Of course we learn a little later in the story that Herod only wants to know this so he can find and kill this baby who has been designated by the scriptures to be king.

After the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to their home through Jerusalem but rather to take another route Herod realizes has been tricked and decides to take matters into his own hands. He sends his troops to the area of Bethlehem and there they kill all the children who were two years old and younger to assure that there will be no king coming from where Jesus was born. The Bible warns us that those who have power will do almost anything to keep it.

Mary and Joseph had been warned by God to flee Israel and go to Egypt. So the family become immigrants with a young child to find safety in another country. Sadly we see the same thing happening today, desperate families leaving their country to try and find safety in another. Luckily for Mary, Joseph and Jesus Egypt did not deploy troops to their border to stop foreigners from entering the country and once in the Egyptian government did not separate Jesus from his parents. It seems that after the long and exhausting trip on foot from Israel to Egypt this poor family were welcomed and watched over by the people of this foreign country.

There is much to learn from this powerful story. Our scriptures are amazing. There is far more to them then we often know. We also have to be careful to not make assumptions about them. We don’t know the gender of the Magi — they could have been male or female. In a male dominated world we simply assume male. We are warned about the dangers of those in power and how they will fight change to the point of murder. And finally they open our eyes to the need to welcome the stranger for if Mary, Joseph and Jesus and been treated as we treat immigrants today it is hard to know what would have happened.

Be ready to embrace the wonders of our scriptures. Keep ears open and minds clear to hear what God’s Word has to teach us in today’s world. And Happy New Year as we begin 2019!

In Christ’s Name,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — December, 2018

Dear Friends,
We are fast approaching one of the most special times of the year — the celebration and remembrance of the God breaking into our world in a way that only God could imagine. In the next weeks we will be celebrating with the shepherds, the angels, the Magi (often referred to as Kings), and of course Mary and Joseph. It will be time of remembrance and celebration, but most importantly it will be opening our hearts up to God’s presence in our lives and in our world.

It all starts so quietly with angel Gabriel sent by God to announce to Mary that she will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit and will give birth to a son and name him, Jesus. And “he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.” From there we move to the Angels in the field serenading the shepherds and the shepherds running to see this great event that been told to them by the most high God. And when they reach the stable they see a new born child wrapped in swaddling clothes laid in a cattle-feeding trough for there was not room in the Inn.

Of course this most beautiful story is only the beginning of the life of one that will change the history of the world. The one, that like his parents we will watch grow, and speak of God’s love for us, heal the sick, seek justice for the downtrodden, and ultimately lay down his life for everyone. Promising with that act new life for all who choose to follow, and hope in the midst of hopelessness.

Today we are called to step out of the shadow of fear and into a new life, a life where we live as the body of Christ on earth. As Paul writes so eloquently in 1st Corinthians 12:4-14:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

As we join in celebrating the Christmas story again let us also see that this story calls us to a new way of life that together as the Hartford Street Presbyterian Church we boldly step into the world as the living body of Jesus Christ reaching out to all a bringing that love that was so completely demonstrated on the cross.

God Bless and see you on Sunday,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — September, 2018

Dear Friends,
I am going to be on a short sabbatical leave for the next 3 weeks. During that time the Rev. TJ DeMarco will be covering emergency pastoral care. If you or someone you know needs care please let either Bob Christensen, or Michael Fitzgerald know and they will contact Rev. DeMarco.

The summer is quickly coming to an end, and we are about to start into the new Sunday School season. Rally Day (the opening of Sunday School) will be Sunday, September 16, with the “Blessing of the Back Packs,” the beginning Sunday School Classes.

We will celebrate communion on September 23.

We are headed to China (Shanghai) and Thailand. We are hoping to visit some of the famous places in Thailand, such are the Elephant rescue center and to go diving in some of the best diving in the world. I deeply appreciate this opportunity to rest and replenish my strength and look forward to seeing everyone when we return. Please keep us in your prayers!

Peace,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — June, 2018

Dear Friends,
In last week’s lectionary passage Paul writes:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:22-27

In the book of Romans the Apostle Paul brings us his most significant and deepest writing. In this section of the letter Paul opens with a sweeping statement that all of creation has been groaning in labor pains. The universe has been expecting this amazing event from its very beginning. And like a woman expecting a child the event is inevitable. And like the birth of a child it is both miraculous and life giving, but also life changing and Paul is convinced even all of creation changing.

The event Paul speaks of is not the birth of Jesus (which is miraculous, and life changing for his family), but rather his death and resurrection. That is a miracle beyond the limits of our universe. That is the event that changes all things. And now the labor pains are over the universe that was pregnant from the very beginning has given birth in the events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday! From the very beginning this was the very reason for creation, which is an amazingly bold statement by Paul.

But what if we hold on to this statement what if we decide that Paul is right? What does that mean for us? First it is life changing for all who place their faith in that which God ordained from the beginning of all things. Paul then asks us not only to believe this audacious statement, but he says we now have a choice, do we want to become part of this birth or simply live our lives as if nothing happened on Easter Sunday morning? If we choose the former and choose to be adopted by Jesus (adoption in the era that Paul lived meant full adoption, the one adopted would never be referred to as an adopted son or daughter, but rather a full son or daughter with all rights given, the word adoption disappearing), we become fully children of God.

And though we cannot physically see the path that comes to us through Jesus Christ it is there. As Paul says one does not hope for what is seen, because you know it is there. Rather we hope for what we cannot see, but which can be obtained. And how do we get to this amazing place? It is by opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us it is the Spirit will guide our hearts and our prayers. Our deepest sighs and deepest needs will be fulfilled by prayer when we let the Spirit guide us to become part of the greatest miracle of all times.

Perhaps what is most amazing about this passage is that Paul wrote it while he was a prisoner in Rome awaiting his death. Locked in a cell, unable to leave, limited in movement by stonewalls and metal bars, in a filthy prison, Paul flew on wings of eagles. His world seemingly smaller than we can imagine was actually larger than all of creation. Paul had found the connection to the infinite, to the meaning of all of things, to the very meaning of life, through his faith in Jesus Christ deepened, expanded and guided every minute of the day by the Holy Spirit. Talk about a miracle greater than all others, and it is only prayers away.

Join us on Sundays!
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — May, 2018

Dear Friends,
Over the centuries many Cathedrals have been built in the shape of a cross. With the nave (the area where the congregations sits) forming the vertical beam of the cross, and the transept forming the horizontal beam of the cross. The Hartford Street Presbyterian Church (HSPC) is not built in this manner. As a matter of fact the space in which we worship was originally meant to be the fellowship hall and the original sanctuary was to be built off the side of the hall toward Hartford Street. The remarkable part of HSPC though the building has never been finished, and we are not built in the shape of the old cathedrals, the church has lasted for many years and is still thriving while many of the massive and beautiful cathedrals around the world have become hardly more than tourist attractions with no active congregations.

It is not the shape of the building or even its grandeur that creates a living and vibrant church. It is truly the people and the congregation making a conscious effort to live as the Body of Christ on earth. When Jesus prepared to leave the disciples he said to them:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:34-35

A church needs to strive to be the “Body of Christ on Earth” and that starts with us learning to love each other as Jesus first loved us. Part of that means getting to know each other. The deacons are working to help us get to know each other better with potluck lunches and they are helping us to learn new ways to listen for God’s Word for our lives. To live as Christ’s Body it also means to work to heal the world around us as Jesus healed those he found who were sick and in need. It means to lift up the poor, to visit those in prison, to clothe the naked and to feed the hungry. Finally, in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gave the great commission to all his disciples across all nations and time:

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

It is not the shape of the building, or the name of the church, or its location, or even its grandeur — it is simply the people and their ability to love each other, care for the world around them, and live out Christ’s words to us. Let us live as the Body of Christ on Earth and let us tell all persons about his great love for every single human being.

In Christ,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — April, 2018

Happy Easter – He is Risen!

Dear Friends,
Our faith is based on the events of Easter. We believe in our very hearts that Jesus Christ after three days in the tomb was raised from the dead by God the Creator. It is from there that he now sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty where he comes to judge the living and the dead. We believe that the fate of our eternity is inextricably bound up with the one who loves us so much that he laid down his life for us. So on Easter Sunday morning we shout with deepest joy: “He is risen,” “He is Risen indeed!”

And the news is so amazing that the joy should lift us up like eagle’s wings throughout everyday of our lives. That first Easter morning has rung through the last 2,000 years of history and can ring through every day of our lives calling us to joy and faith in the love of our Savior in both good times and bad.

In line with the depth of God’s love for us the deacons at HSPC are taking on a new role. In the past the deacons have worked on building relationships between members of the church and bringing compassion to those in need. As we went through our training this winter we also realized that any relationship with each other is deepened and given greater meaning through our relationship with God.

The deacons are hoping to help us deepen our relationship with each other by deepening our relationship with God. They are going to follow the symbol of the cross: the vertical beam reaching up to heaven and down into the very foundations of creation; and the horizontal bar reaching out to the world around us. On Sunday, May 22 after our regular service the deacons will hold a potluck lunch. There you will get to meet your new deacon, have a delicious lunch and we will have a chance to learn new ways to deepen our relationship with God. The potluck lunch is entitled “Seeking the Movement of the Holy Spirit in our Midst.” Please put the date in your calendar and be ready to grow deeper in the joy of our Risen Lord!

Happy Easter!

He is Risen,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — March, 2018

Get Ready for the Earth Shattering Event

Dear Friends,
Easter defines is the heart of our faith. But to fully understand this amazing day, we need to wrestle with Holy Week, the week from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and Christ’s crucifixion. In the Gospel of Matthew it all begins with Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts of “Hosanna son of David” which though we often think is a greeting of joy actually means “Save Us!” The residents of Jerusalem were under the control of the military might of the Roman Empire and hoped that Jesus, the rightful heir of King David’s throne, would run the Romans out of their holy city.

This exuberant greeting lasts only a few days and by Thursday evening just after Jesus celebrates the Passover Meal (which will become Holy Communion) with his disciples, he is betrayed by Judas, arrested by the authorities, denied by his disciple Peter and paraded by Pilate in front of the people of Jerusalem. Charged with blasphemy (to deeply insult God) and sedition (to threaten the government) and now the greetings of “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday change to the cruel cries of “Crucify him!”

Jesus is led away by Roman soldiers to be placed on the cross (one of cruelest form of death ever devised). The disciples all flee and even the women who stood with him throughout his ministry do not try to intervene, but rather stand only at a distance. Matthew is not trying to blame any group of people for the events that happen, but rather tries to show us that everyone either turns on Jesus or abandons him. He wants us to know that this is human nature; we can be incredibly compassionate and caring people, but also we can be incredibly cruel or simply incapable of acting when we need to.

With that message in mind Matthew then turns to Christ’s death. Each Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) in the Bible makes it very clear that Jesus died on the cross. God had reached out to the world in the most loving way possible through his son and we had responded by rejecting that offer in the most powerful way we could: we killed him! Matthew then leaves the question in front of the reader for three days, what will God do?

It is not until Easter Sunday morning, the beginning of a new week, the beginning of a new era, and the beginning of a new religion that the answer comes to us. To our words of rejection God responds with the powerful Word of love: He raises Jesus from the dead. Prompting Paul, in 1 Corinthians, to ask: ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ Death no longer has the final word over humankind, God’s love does! It is in through the resurrection that we understand that God’s kingdom is coming into our world.

It is in the knowledge of the resurrection that we look at all events in Jesus’ life from his birth, through his ministry to his trail, death and crucifixion. Without Easter we would have no Church, no Christmas, and no Christian faith. It is with this faith that we can become new people, no longer holding on to past angers, no longer living in judgment of others. We do not deny that we live in a world that is filled with difficulties, people we don’t like, and challenges that are often feel beyond our doing. In Christ and his love we know that we have someone who walks with us in this troubled world and stands with us at our most difficult hours. When we place our faith in Christ we become part of God’s kingdom that is coming into our world and we become part of making our lives better and the world a new and better place.

Please, join us for Holy Week and Easter!

With the joy of the Resurrection,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — February, 2018

Hearing the Scriptures Anew

Dear Friends,
There is few things I enjoy more than learning something new and I would like to share what I learned last week.  

Since Jesus said to his disciples in Matthew 26:11 For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me, it has often been interpreted to say that we should do nothing about the poor, because Jesus said they will always exist.  On Thursday last week I attended a conference sponsored by the Presbytery of Boston and presented by Rev. Liz Theoharris founder of the “Poor People’s Campaign.”  She shared with the group that some people have even been angry with her in working to eliminate poverty because Jesus’ statement means that we must always have poor people. The day was spent unpacking and trying to understand what Jesus was actually saying in this passage.

The first thing we need to do is to understand where this phrase appears in the Bible.  In Matthew it is part of the story of Jesus’ anointing by a woman never named with a jar of expensive oil in Bethany just before the Last Supper.  The disciples complain that this act was too extravagant and the money should have been used for the poor.  Jesus then says the poor will always be with you.  Liz asked us to look at what comes right before this reading.  It is the story of the last judgment where Jesus condemns those who have not taken care of others in need.  She then asked us if we knew what passage out of the Old Testament to which Jesus was referring.  We then looked at Deuteronomy 15:11, Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’  (Emphasis added).  This passage is also preceded by how a society should be organized to continually help people out of poverty (read Deuteronomy 15:1-11). Clearly Jesus was admonishing the disciples by quoting from one of the strongest statements in the Bible about working to change the plight of those in need.  

I have also been greatly enjoying reading the recently published book by Amy Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” for which over 50 Jewish scholars have written explanatory essays. For Christian readers The Jewish Annotated New Testament offers a window into the first-century world of Judaism from which the New Testament springs. (Oxford University Press).  I have learned much as I have read this book.  Jesus was Jewish and he knew his faith well.  Just as he drew on Deuteronomy 15:11 he draws on the scriptures of the Old Testament in almost all of his teachings.  We really cannot understand what he is telling us today without understanding what his base was then.   

To help us better understand the teacher, and Savior we love so dearly Sureshkumar and I will be offering a Bible study on “Jesus and the Old Testament” during Lent this year and we invite you to join us.  The Bible Study will be on Wednesday evenings starting February 28 through March 21 at 7:00pm.  

In Christ’s Peace,
Pastor Eric