Pastor’s Letter — February, 2017

Why is Jesus so Amazing?

Dear Friends,
Why is Jesus so Amazing? Well, Jesus is God.  However, in Christian belief it is even more
amazing than that. We believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human. We believe that Jesus is
part of our God expressed as the Trinity (three), comprised of God (the Creator), Jesus (the
Redeemer), and the Holy Spirit (the Sustainer).  We believe that at the very heart of God is
relationship. God exists in relationship the Father (creator), the Son (Redeemer), and the
Holy Spirit (Sustainer).  Our triune (three in one) God longs for strong and healthy relationships with us, and strong and healthy relationships between us. I believe that it was this deep longing that moved God to send Jesus into our world. But Jesus did not come as solely God safe from any dangers (for nothing is capable of hurting God). Jesus came as fully human and fully divine as vulnerable as we are to each other and all parts of this world. I find it remarkable that God would so completely seek a relationship with us! That alone makes Jesus amazing.

What Jesus’ taught was also amazing and awesome. In our lectionary cycle we are about to begin Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 5:1-7:28. Here Jesus shares with those who have chosen to follow him: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” This is one of
the most daring requests in scripture or anywhere else and as Martin Luther King said “hate cannot
drive out hate only love can do that”.

In Matthew 6:19 Jesus shares with those who have come to learn: “Do not store up for
yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and
steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume.
and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be
also.” Again in 6:34 Jesus advises the crowd and us: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for
tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Great advise for all
of us who love to worry! In Matthew 7:1 Jesus teaches: ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be
judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the
measure you get. What we put into life is what we will get out of life!

Jesus welcomed the people with leprosy, he ate dinner with prostitutes, and he cared about those
who others rejected! He loved all, and sought out everyone no matter who they were. The Bible
tells us that while Jesus was on earth the kingdom of God was near and Jesus was curing every
disease and sickness among the people. Through the love that Jesus lived, taught and for which he laid down his life the world can be healed!

And at the “Last Judgment of the Nations” Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 tells us that salvation comes from caring for others: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Jesus had profound care for those who are left out of society. I believe that our world becomes a healthy place when the kingdom of God comes near and that happens as we open the door for Jesus to come into our lives. The love that Jesus has for us is so great that he laid his life down for us as he was placed on the cross. But Christ’s love will not die, for God raised him from the dead and through Christ all people are welcomed into paradise. Jesus calls us into a strong relationship with him and through that, good relationships with our world. Sometimes I wonder if the leadership of our nation and our world has any idea what will heal this world. Truly the love of Jesus Christ, undying, and seeking all people is where our healing and the healing of our world can begin. Jesus is amazing and the more you learn, the more amazing he is!

Peace,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — January, 2017

Dear Friends,
We have come to the end of another year. They seem to go by so fast that I can hardly remember
what year we are in. The best part of this time of year for our family is gathering to celebrate. And
the best part of gathering is that our daughters come home, if only for a few days. Christmas was
a mad house, as I am sure it was for many of us.

We opened presents between church services, had whole family celebrations, and called those
across the United States who couldn’t be with us.

On Monday after Christmas we went to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA to see an
exhibition on shoes. Though I had my doubts about the show, it was quite interesting to see
the many ways people have expressed their individual nature through their footwear. Those
who had come to see the show were also quite diverse. There were people of all colors, quite a
few languages, tall people, short people, different sexual orientations, some in wheel chairs, and
some mentally challenged, but it seemed that there was no judgment toward the many
different types of people who had come to see the show.  In a time when we seem heading toward greater judgment of those who are different, it was nice to see a place where that was not the case. I
have never shared with the congregation that I have a sister who is gay. It is not who she chose
to be, but the way she was created. She is wonderful, and slowly, but surely our family has
learned to love her for who she is. She has been with her partner longer than anyone else in our
family and is perhaps one of most dedicated persons I know to see this be a better world. I
love her very much and always hope that others will not judge her.

Why do I share this story with you? Because she is of course part of who I am as well. I love her
and find it very difficult when people speak negatively of people like her. Our world is filled with so many different kinds of people. People of all colors, people who are differently gifted physically and mentally, people who speak different languages, people who are drug addicted, and people who are “normal.” But what does normal mean? It depends on where you are and who you are. When I lived in my village in Sierra Leone I was the odd one. I can remember walking into villages where the children had never seen a white person before and one of the children told me that he felt sorry for me for having been born so ugly. Here my skin color is considered normal there it was strange. Luckily I was not judged for the way I was born. I am hoping with the New Year we can find it in our hearts to embrace and celebrate the many different and wonderful ways that God has created us.

In Christ’s Peace,
Your Pastor

Pastor’s Letter — December, 2016

Dear Friends,
As we begin one of the most sacred times in the life of our faith let us look at the challenges the Child from heaven calls us to live by.  And though It is easy to decide that personal piety is all that we need to worry about as Christians, our faith calls us to much greater places.  This Child from heaven calls us to live our lives with each other with compassion and mercy, love and respect, no matter the person.

In the story of the Good Samaritan a lawyer asks Jesus what he can do to inherit eternal life. It seems that the lawyer is hoping for a simple answer such as give some money to the poor, or live an upright life, or go to Temple every week, and give the appropriate amount and you will go to heaven. But Jesus expects far more out of each of us.  Jesus knows that God's covenant promises eternal life for the Jews, and for Christians we are promised eternal life through him.  His concern for the lawyer and all of us is how we live our lives in relationship with each other.

With that thought in mind Jesus asks the man, "How does the law read?" (the first five books of the Bible). The lawyer responds "to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."  And Jesus answers him "...do this and you will live."  Notice here he says live and not inherit eternal life.  The lawyer is not satisfied with the answer and asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" Which is a polite way of asking, “Who is not my neighbor?” or “Who does not deserve my love?” or “Whose lack of food or shelter can I ignore?” or “Whom I can hate?”

And it is here that we get the parable we call the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37.  I think most of us know the parable, but here is a quick reminder.  A man is beaten nearly to death as he is traveling between Jericho and Jerusalem.  A priest and Levite (both people of faith) see the man beaten nearly to death and, like many of us, take the route of convenience and go around the man. It is only when the man from Samaria (the Good Samaritan) sees the beaten man that he gets help.

Jews and Samaritans did not like each other and those listening to Jesus would have heard something like the "good radical Muslim terrorist" instead of the Good Samaritan.  However, it is this character, who Jesus' listeners would call despicable, who goes out of his way to help. He spares no expense and lavishes both short term and long term care on the person in need. At the end of the story, Jesus does not answer the question "who is my neighbor;" instead he asks the lawyer, "Who was the the neighbor to the man in need?" The lawyer asked Jesus, "What select few deserve my love?" Jesus answers, “Everyone deserves that love—local or alien, Jews or gentile, terrorist or rapist, everyone." (from "Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi" by Amy Levine.)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. commented on this parable: the question that the priest and the Levite asked was, If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ . . . But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’

"For the lawyer, and for Luke’s readers, the Samaritan does what God does. The divine is manifested only through our actions. “Go,” Jesus says, “and you do likewise.” To speak of loving God and loving neighbor does not require theological precision.... Loving God and loving neighbor cannot exist in the abstract; they need to be enacted." (from "Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi" by Amy-Jill Levine.)

In this time that we as a nation seem to be asking, "Who deserves our love and who can we ignore, or not help, or even hate?" we need to remember these words of the one whose birth we will soon be celebrating.  Jesus went so far as to say, "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you."  He commanded us to love each other as God first loved us, and by this love others would know that we are his disciples. Jesus asks us to not only believe what Jesus taught us, but to live those words everyday of our lives.  Because God first loved us we can and must love all those around us.

In the peace of the Child born in a stable on a cold winter's night.
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — November, 2016

The Seasons Come and the Seasons Go

Fall is quickly coming to an end and the cold of winter is not far behind. All of creation, is born, grows and eventually dies. Life like all other things is limited.

Psalm 90 speaks eloquently:
For a thousand years in your
sight are like yesterday when it is
past or like a watch in the night.
You sweep them away; they are
like a dream, like grass that is
renewed in the morning; in the
morning it flourishes and is
renewed; in the evening it fades
and withers.

My mother and father raised me and then they were no more and the same will happen for each of us. Our universe, world, and lives are caught in a never-ending cycle. Across millions of years, star spring up and burn out, and a new star ignites and takes the place of the one gone. Our lives are spelled out by generations rising up and dying. Our new community garden started this spring from seeds, grew to beautiful plants, came to fruition, and then as the cold weather came it was gone.

Psalm 103 tells us:
As for mortals, their days are like
grass; they flourish like a flower
of the field; for the wind passes
over it, and it is gone, and its
place knows it no more.

We are limited. We have but a mere handful of days. There is no permanence in our world. However, God stands outside of creation. God stands outside of time. God was, is, and always will be.

Before the mountains were
brought forth, or ever you had
formed the earth and the
world, from everlasting to
everlasting you are God.

We are mortal and God is infinite. The infinite chose to enter the finite with the birth of
God’s only son. Who was born, lived, and died, among us and it was with this sacrifice
that God changed all that is. We who are finite can be part of that which is infinite.

Psalm 90 assures us:
Lord, you have been our dwelling-place in all generations.

As we enter into the cold months of winter let us remember that this is a very special time of
the year. As the snow blankets the ground around us and the leaves fall off the trees, it is a time of newness and possibility for we are moving toward Advent and the time of preparation when God chose to break into our world and like the spring make all things new. As we prepare for this very special season let listen more carefully to God’s calling for our lives. Let us celebrate what God has done for us in the birth of the one who brings the forgiveness of sins and a depth of love for every human being. Let us be guided by the light of joy and love that can only come from that, which is truly eternal. This is the time to prepare for great rejoicing!

Peace,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — October, 2016

Dear Friends,
There are so many things going on at Hartford Street Presbyterian Church these days.  Our last spring’s confirmation class of 4 young people attended class for 8 months culminating in participating in a stunning movement piece during the Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance) service at Temple Israel.  Our Youth Group met throughout the year and participated in the “30 Hour Famine” raising nearly $1,000.00 for hunger in our neighborhood and across the world. 

We had the large contingent of church members participate in the Mission At The Eastward (MATE) housing project this year with 27 members and friends repairing 3 different homes.  Karen Olen and Bryan Takasaki were our chefs for the week and the food was delicious.

One again the church participated in Natick Days and our booth had over 100 visitors.  Those who came by learned about our Sunday school, Church activities, the community garden, and interfaith garden.  The Youth Group also hosted a fundraiser for the water project in Batibo, Cameroon raising $126.00.  It was a hot, but successful day.

This year the community garden was finally opened and vegetables grew in great numbers.  We formed an interfaith garden group that included members from the Christian faith, the Jewish faith, and the Muslim faith.  The interfaith garden group planted 4 of the raised beds and harvested over 300 lbs of tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, egg plants, basil, butternut squash, and green and Italian peppers, which were donated to “A Place to Turn.”

And of course in the midst of all these events the church kept up all its regular activities.

The knitting group provided a place for a group of women in the church to meet, socialize, and knit warm items for people who otherwise would be cold.  Sadly the group lost one of their long time members with Nan Gray at 102 passed away last month.

All the choirs of the church, Chancel, Alleluia, our Trio and sometimes Quartet sang at special services, as did our Youth and Junior Choirs. 

Sadly, we also lost another member of the church last month as well – Lucy Asangong.  Lucy had bravely fought cancer for 9 years.  She had seen her children beautifully grow into adulthood.  We will miss Lucy and her gracious ways.  The funeral will by on October 1 at the Plymouth Congregational Church, 582 Pleasant St, Belmont, MA 02478.  The viewing will be from 2:00 – 4:00 pm, and the service will be from 4:00 – 6:00 pm with reception to follow in the same location.  Please keep the family in your prayers.

Peace,
Pastor Eric

Pastor’s Letter — August & September, 2016

Dear Friends,
The book of James in the Bible tells us in 2:14-17: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But I also believe that works without faith is dead as well. When we place our faith in Christ as the Bible in 2 Corinthians 5:7 tells us: This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! In faith we are called to a new way of life. Jesus’ teaches us to reach out to all in need. The story of the Good Samaritan is profound in the way in which Jesus calls the lawyer (and us as well) with whom he is speaking to live a life of compassion to anyone in need.

The way that Jesus chooses not to judge Mark 7:25-30, but rather be compassionate to the Syrophoenician woman who of a different faith should be an example to us as well. And Jesus teaches us in Luke 10:27 that the most important law of the Bible is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Clearly works grow out of a strong faith. As a church we are the body of Christ on earth today. The way we choose to live our lives speaks loudly of our faith.

Over 22 members of our congregation are preparing to head to Maine for our mission trip through M.A.T.E.’s (Mission At The Eastward) Housing Ministry in Farmington Maine. Over the next week they will repair houses, paint steps, clean basements, have time together, take time for devotionals, and get to know new people. Their service motivated by their faith will be a powerful witness of God’s love for our world. Perhaps our world needs this kind of witness more than ever before. The news of our world can be dreadful with things happening in communities here in America and across the world that can bring tears to one’s eyes. We can’t all go to Maine to do mission
projects, but we can all live our lives in the love of Jesus Christ. We can reach out to our neighbors; we can help out someone in need, or simply give a friendly word of support to those around us. This week I would ask that you keep all those who are headed to Maine in your prayers!

God bless, and thank you!
Pastor Eric

Pastor's Letter - June July 2016

Dear Friends,
Our Bible study over the last month has been about the Holy Spirit. We often talk about God the
Creator/Father, and Jesus the Son/Redeemer, but how often do we think about the Holy Spirit? It can seem
like such an odd idea. I have had more than one person ask me, “Why do we even need the Holy
Spirit?” In chapter 15 of the Gospel of John, as Jesus prepares the disciples for his departure, he says to
them: “it is to your advantage that I go away.” I am sure the disciples did not see Jesus going away as a
good thing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus were still among us? That we could go directly to him, to ask
questions, to seek wisdom, to listen to him talk about our world and what we need to do to find meaning?

Can you imagine the crowds that would show up to simply touch the hem of his garment, to listen to his
wisdom, to be healed? In Jesus’ day the crowds were often so crushing that there were times that he simply
had to leave. Today it would be far worse. Even the largest stadium in the world, open continuously, could
not hold the number of people that would come.  There would be no chance to have an intimate
relationship with Jesus as the disciples did when their numbers were so small.

After his death and resurrection Jesus knew that each disciple would need to go out on his or her own. His
Word would need to be brought to the very edges of the world. One physical person could not accompany
all of them – and Jesus knew the faith would grow.  There would be hundreds, and then thousands, and
eventually even millions of disciples bringing the Word of Christ to all corners of the earth. There had to be a
way for all disciples to access Christ’s wisdom and strength. Jesus knew that would come to everyone
who sought it through the Holy Spirit.

Often today we lose sight of how important the Holy Spirit is in our spiritual lives. I have heard the Holy
Spirit compared to a modern day GPS, which we use in our cars to guide us to places. It is a pretty good
comparison, but the Holy Spirit is so much more. With a GPS you need to enter an address if it is to take you
there. In real life we are not even sure of our destination. We don’t know what roads to take and we
don’t know where we are going. God knows where we are meant to be. And with the help of the Holy Spirit
we can get there.

The disciples had the opportunity to have an intimate relationship with Jesus. We too have the same
opportunity, but as Christians we believe that opportunity comes through the Holy Spirit. When
Jesus walked out dusty roads, taught us, healed us, and went to the cross to show the depth of love God has
for every human being – though many had an opportunity to see him, the numbers were truly
limited. Today with the Holy Spirit there is no limit to what we can learn, and where we can go.

As a Christian community we also believe that we seek the direction of the Holy Spirit together. St. Paul
taught that we must always live as community seeking God’s Word together with mutual respect and love of
all members of the community. Let us all join together to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, so that we may find our true destination in a world filled with dead ends, and lack of hope. Through the love of God, the
grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the ever present nature of the Holy Spirit let us forge our way
through what often feels like a wilderness to the promises of peace and meaning given to every person
in the world.

Peace,

Pastor Eric

Pastor's Letter - May 2016

Dear Friends,


The new life of that springs from the ground after the snow blanket of winter is always a wonderful
time of the year. The congregational crew that came to ready the church and our property did a
great job in getting all to look good for the new season – thank you! Spring this year is also bringing with it the opening of the community garden. The idea for the garden started over 3 years ago and has made its way through all different twists and turns, but at last we have a wonderful addition to our property and
a great way to reach out to the community. If you come to the church and see people working in the
garden, please, take the time to greet them and let them know how pleased we are that they are
part of the community garden.
The interfaith gardening committee met two weeks ago. We had members from Temple Israel,
First Congregational Church of Natick, The Islamic Society of Framingham, and a good group from
our church present. We are planning on planting the three plots set aside for the group in the next
few weeks and ultimately giving what we grow to “A Place to Turn” and other food pantries in the
area.
Although we sometimes define ourselves by the building in which we meet, that is not who we
truly are. We are the living body of Jesus Christ here on earth. Jesus chose to serve all people and
chose especially to reach out to the downtrodden and the forgotten. Through Christ we are called to
serve our community and it is wonderful to see the ways in which the church is living out this
calling.
Let us head into this new season strengthened and called by the one who laid his life down for us, the
one who cares about all human beings, the one who has called us to be more than we could ever
imagine when we open ourselves up to his calling and let the Holy Spirit blow through our halls.


God bless,


Pastor Eric

Pastor's Letter - April 2016

Dear Friends,

We are moving into a very unstable time in the world. Forces are moving across the Middle East
wreaking havoc, death, and destruction as they go.  Many nations in Africa have also experienced
violence and death from forces that seem to have no respect for human life. Europe has been hit
hard with attacks in Paris and most recently Brussels.  And we here in the United States are not
unfamiliar with such violence springing up from within and from without. We need to keep all
these areas in our prayers. At the same time we cannot single out a one group of people or religion
and place blame on them.
As a congregation we have begun working with the Islamic Society of Framingham and Temple
Israel just down the block from us. Our relationship with the Temple has lasted for many
years.  Carol Skolnick shared with me a bulletin from the 50 Anniversary of the church. The
bulletin highlighted our relationship and its strength over time. Now we are beginning to
build a new bridge of understanding with another religious group in our neighborhood.
When I first went to see if the members of the mosque were interested in joining in our garden
project I had no idea how they would respond. I was afraid they would not be interested and the
visit would be in vain. However, when I drove over to the mosque and walked in the group I met
was very pleased that I came. They shared that they had been praying for a way to reach out to
the community and show that they cared and wanted to help make a better world. “You and
you church are an answer to prayer!” They told me with joy in their voices.
As Christians we are called to be witnesses to God’s love. Holy week and Easter are the most
powerful symbols of love that exist. Jesus did not have to choose the path that he took. He could
have chosen to walk away from Jerusalem and all its troubles. But he did not. He chose rather to
stand for God’s love in a time of great upheaval and grave danger. The power structures of the
world were shifting, but in the middle of the chaos Jesus put down an eternal marker of love for all
people.
The power structures of the world are once again shifting. There is danger from within and without.
There are those who call for hate and retribution in all parts of the world. If we have our placed our
faith in the one who laid down his life for us, we must cling to Jesus Christ’s marker of love. In the
midst of the shifting sands of time, in the midst of the violence and hatred being perpetrated in so
many places, in the midst of the chaos that is defining our world there is one place of calm and possibility – and that is in Christ Jesus. I invite all of us to stand together on the rock that cannot be shaken, the rock of God’s love.
In Christ’s Peace,

Pastor Eric

Pastor's Letter - March 2016

Dear Friends,
May the Lord bless you and keep you. We are in the middle of Lent and I hope you are finding meaning by setting aside some time every day to perhaps meditate, or pray, or read the Bible or find another activity that brings you closer to God. My wife has taken on the exercising each morning for about ½ hour to give her more strength to do her work with joy and she is also reading the Bible. I am taking some time each day to read the Bible and study commentaries on passages that I find challenging. Hopefully many of you got the Lenten devotional that the church gave out. It gives you a wonderful opportunity to explore your own spiritual life and deepen your relationship with the one who created us and came to be with us in human form.
Lent is a time of preparation for the events of Holy Week. Lent ends on the Saturday before Palm Sunday. It would seem that it ends on quite the high note with shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David.” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Hosanna literally means, “I beg you to save!” or “please deliver us!” The people of Jerusalem were tired of Roman occupation and the poverty that the city was starting to experience as the Romans placed heavy taxes on the people. They wanted Jesus to run the Romans out of town and they were overjoyed when they thought that is what he meant to do. Of course within just a few days – they discovered that is not what he would do. Jesus came to call us back to God, to bring a profound message of compassion for all people. He had spoken up about the unjust system that Israel was living under with the Romans, but in the end he was set on bringing God’s kingdom into every person’s heart. As the crowds came to understand that Jesus would not fix their problems, they got angry and demanded that he be crucified.
Like the crowds in Jesus’ day don’t we also want someone who will straighten out all our problems? If we listen to our candidates who are running for office they are making innumerable promises of how they will straighten out the mess that many of us perceive our country is in. But it seems to be common knowledge that those who get elected don’t deliver on their promises and it’s hard to tell if they ever meant to.
Jesus came with a vision of a new way for all people to live. He painted a vision of compassion and care for all people. He told us that God’s love is never ending and through that love we can learn to forgive and even love our enemies. Jesus brought a message of hope, but it was also a message that called for all people to change, to become something and someone new. He asked us to imitate him and become like him as best we can. Ultimately the people in Jerusalem did not like that idea and I don't think we do either. We
want someone to straighten things out for us and do it the way we like it. The problem is that each group in our country wants something different – so there is no way to find a common solution unless we work together, unless we find value and possibility in every single person. Jesus did, he found so much value in you and in me that he laid his life down for us. And on the third day God raised him from the dead. Let us become resurrection people, living our lives, not asking what someone else might do for us, but what we can do for others.
In Christ’s Love,
Pastor Eric