Jerry MeCaskey

Pastor Jerry MeCaskey has served at Evangelical United Church of Christ since November 1, 2000.  He has earned a B.S., Psychology at Middle Tennessee State University, and a Masters of Divinity degree at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
 
Pastor MeCaskey and his wife, Lori, have been married twelve years and have six children.  Their ages range from late teens to mid-twenties. Mrs. MeCaskey teaches music in a local elementary school and instructs high school choirs.

How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony… where the Lord has promised his blessing—life that never ends.”  (Psalm 133:1, 3b)
 

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Inferno

Inferno I have been reading Dante’s Inferno.

The tale is filled with famous people from early history, plus some from Dante’s time. Dante was born in Florence, May 1265, and died in Ravenna, September 1321. Inferno is the first section of a lengthy poem, The Divine Comedy.

Why am I writing about Dante? Well, it seems Dante’s vision of Hell has shaped much of what has been written and sung and filmed for subsequent generations of Christians. You may not know it, but there is most likely something in Dante’s Inferno that describes existence in Hell that you have spent time pondering.

Dante mapped Hell.

No, he did not go spelunking. Caves were not his pastime. Dante mapped Hell as a vortex, or whirlpool-shaped funnel of concentric rings, the further down and toward the center, the worse sinners dwelling in that circle of Hell were punished. Inferno is a tale of Dante being guided through each circle of torment based upon a particular form of sin, by Virgil.

There is Limbo, and circles for those who were lustful, gluttonous, greedy, wrathful, heretical, violent, fraudulent, and treacherous; about the time one arrives at treacherous, you join Judas, who is not exactly enjoying sharing space with the devil.

Dante is creative. Those who are lustful are driven by hurricane winds that never allow them rest. The consequences for more grievous sin are so graphic that I am unwilling to share them with you.

The idea here is that sin has serious consequences. Dante seems to understand how restless an activity sinning is, and how disruptive and destructive it is in the lives of those who are sinned against, and also the sinner. Inferno could be described as a cautionary tale given that people may recognize their sin and how sin shapes their lives, repent, and live life following Christ.

Dante tells quite a tale. He has me reconsidering my own sin. I am also reconsidering consequences. The idea here is to do what one must to be freed of sin and its consequences.

Blessings,

Pastor MeCaskey 

Three Days

Three holidays are on our minds these days: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Each of these holidays is unique. No two or more are exactly the same, though all overlap to some degree. They form a cultural triptych (a triptych is a three-paneled picture) of sorts.

Thanksgiving is both religious and secular. Thanksgiving used to enjoy a greater emphasis upon God’s generosity in granting settlers from Europe religious freedom, and a new home in a land of plenty. Christians give thanks for both God and Country on Thanksgiving.

Christmas, at least for practicing Christians, is a celebration of the Incarnation. Jesus is God in the flesh, come into the world to set us free from the burden of sin, and the condemnation sin engenders. Christians focus upon God’s work in history to redeem every human life, with little to no emphasis upon devotion to any other cause or historical institution.

New Year’s Day offers a fresh beginning, which has overtones of the Christian emphasis upon forgiving the past and living in a redeemed present. New Year’s Day is also the beginning of a new tax year! As practiced in our society, New Year’s Day is mostly secular, though people of faith often make use of the day to seek a new beginning.

These three holidays (holy days) offer ever so much to you and your loved ones. I encourage you to take advantage of every positive experience and lesson they offer. Each day has something to offer you personally, in your relationship with your loved ones, and in your relationship with God.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

Never Alone!

There were two men shipwrecked on this island. The minute they got to the island, one of them started screaming and yelling.  "We're going to die! We're going to die! There's no food! No water! We're going to die!"

The second man was propped up against a palm tree so calmly it drove the first man crazy.

"Don't you understand?!" We're going to die!!" the first man said.

"You don't understand. I make $100,000 a week," said the second man.

The first man looked at him quite dumbfounded and asked “What difference does it make? We're on an island with no food and no water! We're going to die!!!"

The second man answered, "You just don't get it. I make $100,000 a week. I tithe. My pastor will find me!"

7Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139: 7-12)

No matter where life leads us, lands us, or strands us, God is present. Even if we find ourselves feeling as if we are so far from God that we are stranded on a desert island, we can be confident that God is present.

“I once was lost but now am found” is one of the most meaningful lyrics in all of Christendom. John Newton was lost at sea, so to speak, and experienced God’s presence and was transformed from slaver to abolitionist.

We are never alone, and this is worth celebrating.

Blessings,
Pastor Jerry

Travel and Renewal!

The best thing about travel is the potential for renewal.

Most of us live in long-established patterns that have to do with our working and family lives. We tend to arrive at work in patterns based upon hours or activities that are scheduled in such a manner that we can predict where we will be and what we will be doing for weeks and months to come. We participate in family activities in established patterns, such as sports and television series that we enjoy watching together, in such a manner that we can predict where we are going to be and what we will be doing as a family for weeks and months to come.

Many people find comfort in these established patterns, as they confer predictability. Knowing what is to come and what shall be for the foreseeable future calms their minds and souls.

I am not one of those people.

Routine pretty much equals boredom, in my mind. I do not enjoy the idea that my life is tightly scripted.

Worship, study groups, school chapel services and so on, are experiences I highly value; and they are time spent well. I think of them as my “set pieces” of the work week. They bring me pleasure.  I enjoy these patterns!

What does not bring me pleasure is driving to work the same route every day. I do not enjoy eating in the same four or five places when I need a quick bite because I am in a hurry. (Lord only knows how many hamburgers I’ve eaten while on the run!) The same old problems that resist resolution are simultaneously a source of boredom and aggravation./p>

Vacation and travel are a welcome break from my everyday patterns. Lori and I have just returned from Ireland, and the trip was wonderful.

While in Ireland, I thanked God as the wind roared in my ears, fog rolled up out of a crevasse and covered me, and while watching waves cresting at the Atlantic coastline; thanked God while gazing upon a patchwork countryside that seemed to have been sewn together by walls made of trees and bushes and local stone; and gave thanks while discovering new foods such as soda bread. Yum! I thought of you often, and thanked God for the gift of being pastor in a place and with people who grant me and my loved ones time for travel and renewal.

It is good to have been away, good to be home, and good to feel renewed.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

Relationship, Relationships, Relationships!

Have you ever stepped into an elevator already occupied by others and not acknowledged them? It is an awkward experience, being shoulder-to-shoulder with other people in a confined space without greeting them. Often, people refuse even to look at each other.

When I pass through the church offices during the week, I make sure to say hello to Libby and Charlotte; I've been known to walk out of my way to go say hello to Tim, who is somewhat hidden away, down there at the end of the hall. I enjoy saying goodbye to Evangelical School students as they depart from chapel on Wednesday mornings. My usual line is, "Have a good day!" We wave and smile at each other, and something takes place: Connection! Relationships!

Jesus said, "And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?"

I believe we have to value a relationship before it exists.

It is tempting to think our greeters and ushers have us covered when it comes to welcoming visitors and members. Resist temptation! When I walk into Wal-Mart, someone often greets me, and they may offer me a grocery cart. When I visit retail establishments, I have to tell clerks that I prefer to shop alone; you know, the way some people say they worship God!

The pagans, and I'm employing the term with a light touch, even though the Wal-Marts of the world could hardly be described as churches, are good at greeting the strangers at their doors.

So, what we're doing Sunday mornings is a good thing, but it isn't necessarily the standard for greeting one another set by Jesus. Jesus encourages all of us to greet others, especially when we do not know them. It is good for them to know they have been noticed, and that we value the potential relationship that we would like to have with them at Evangelical.

I encourage you to do two things on Sunday mornings: first, smile, especially at people you do not know; second, say hello, or good morning, especially to people you do not know.

Remember, we value the potential relationship. We value it before it comes into being. We value the potential relationship so much that we are willing to work to bring it into being.

Blessings,
Pastor Jerry

Identity

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

John 15:15 “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” 

I have been giving considerable thought to the identity of our congregation. What do we believe about ourselves when we reflect upon the identity of Evangelical United Church of Christ? What is the personality of our congregation? How does our congregation relate to God? How do we relate to each other within the fellowship? How do we, the people of Evangelical, express the personality of our congregation in our community?

The scriptures that initiate this article are given for the purpose of helping you reflect upon how your behavior matches or fails to match your beliefs about your identity as an individual. These same readings can be applied to our congregation as a living expression of the Body of Christ: thoughtfully and lovingly created by God in such a way that the image of God is our image, too; our congregation enjoys a relationship with Jesus that is friendly and not an experience of enslavement, for he has set us free from sin and meaningless deeds; and, Evangelical United Church of Christ has been created by God for the purpose of doing ministry.

What is so important to you that you feel God calling you to do something about it? How is it that your call to ministry may be shared with others in our congregation? How can the people who are the congregation of Evangelical help you fulfill your call to service?

My thinking is that our congregation exists to fulfill our identity as the Body of Christ in a very particular way. Just as people with particular personalities think, feel, and live in harmony or discord with their sense of identity, so also does this congregation.

I am interested in your passion for the ministry to which God is calling you. I desire to help you reflect upon that call and put it into motion. I believe our congregation exists, at least in large part, to support the passion of church members for the ministry to which they are called. I think it is fair to say that the identity of Evangelical is to help Christians fulfill God’s call to ministry. 

What is your passion for ministry? Let me know; let others know. Evangelical exists for the purpose of doing ministry. It is who we are.

Happy Easter!

Jerry

The God We Can Know

In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of himself in several “I am…” statements. Jesus speaks of himself as Light, True Vine, Good Shepherd, and more. These “I am…” statements Jesus makes are metaphors that allow us to ponder just how it is that Jesus is Light in our lives. Jesus describing himself in these “I am…” statements offers us the opportunity to encounter him both rationally and mystically. Such an encounter with Jesus is worth your time!

This year our Lenten devotional experience is both study and contemplation. You are invited to learn from weekly video clips that were made in Israel (10 minutes in length) by the author of the book. There will be scripture readings and prayer. There will also be an opportunity to share what you are learning in small groups.

These gatherings will last no more than an hour, and I intend to hold to that time frame, especially in the evenings. I’m also offering to eat lunch with those who are interested in joining me for a bite to eat, after the morning sessions. Learning and growing spiritually is hard work!

I am thinking this devotional series offers you an opportunity to deepen your relationship with Jesus and other members of our community of faith at Evangelical. Everyone is welcome to join in the experience, even if you do not have a book yet; we will take care of that.

Devotional experiences begin Wednesday, February 25, at 10:00 a.m., and 7:00 p.m. Your presence will make everything we do more meaningful. You are important! I hope you will be a part of the “I am…”experience.

Blessings,

Pastor Jerry

Generosity

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:14)

Words are not adequate. I am deeply touched. Sunday was a wonderful day, and your expressions of love and appreciation will stay with me the rest of my life. Please take to heart that you have touched my heart.

Pastor Greg Lucas and Mr. George Bass made worship and brunch a joy. Greg is an unusually capable and insightful preacher; George specializes in teaching social and leadership skills. Both men were a blessing last Sunday.

My thanks to everyone who worked on the planning and serving last Sunday. I also appreciate every tasty casserole and dish prepared and shared with the congregation. Again, to everyone who worked so hard, thank you.

I was astounded to see so such a large crowd in attendance; it was humbling to see so many people I respect and care for being supportive. My family being there sweetened every uplifting moment.

May God bless you for giving me and my loved ones such a wonderful day!

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

December 2014

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

How amazing that about a couple handfuls of verses have come to mean so much. St. Matthew spends little time describing the birth of Jesus. These verses, though, mean so much.

Jesus is the Messiah, who will deliver Israel from bondage, just not the bondage the nation of Israel has in mind. Jesus will set people free from the power of sin.

Mary and Joseph will parent a little boy who will be born at a time that will have the gossips around Nazareth wagging their tongues. No doubt both Mary and Joseph are thought to be immoral, and Jesus considered to be a reminder of their sin. How ironic that the one believed to be born of sin is sinless; he will deliver them (even the gossips, if they will let him) from their sins.

Jesus is God’s presence in the world. As Emmanuel, Jesus is “God with us.”

Merry Christmas, my friends, for God is with us!

Pastor Jerry

Thanksgiving 2014

As Thanksgiving approaches, I encourage you to consider the many people and experiences that are a part of your life...and give thanks.

Give thanks for someone who inspired you in your faith.

Remember family members who have loved you...and give thanks.

Remember friends who have supported you...and give thanks.

Think of someone who changed your life for the better...and thank God.

Remember an influential teacher...and thank God.

Remember when the Lord guided you through a difficult time this year.

I am certain that you can create a personal list of people and life experiences for which you are thankful. So, let the above get you started. 

I would also like to give thanks for Evangelical, and for each of you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor Jerry

Time

Sunday, November 2, 2014, 2 a.m.

What is so special about the above date and time? Not much, really. It only has to do with moving our clocks from 2 to 1 a.m. on November 2.

Does it matter? Yes!

Yes, it does matter; especially if you plan to show up at church when other church members gather for worship at 9 a.m. If you do not pay attention to the time change, you could arrive for worship an hour earlier than other church members. How inconvenient!

Time and timing matter when it comes to church life.

How much time and timing matter is easy to illustrate. For example, Lori and I kept wondering when to tune our television to the correct station while the Cardinals were in the playoffs. Pacific, eastern, mountain and central time zones for game times were not always clearly shown on print or televised ads. This made us uncomfortable! We didn’t want to miss anything.

Congregations experience time and timing in relation to when and how they worship. Time and timing are a big deal in the lives of congregations.

Timing can be understood to be good or poor, correct or incorrect, and so on. Time and timing can have to do with what is effective and appropriate.

Soon, we will ask you to give some thought to time and timing at Evangelical. There is more information in this newsletter on the next page that I encourage you to read. After all, it would not do to miss out!

Blessings,

Pastor Jerry 

Acceptance

A Couple who had recently joined a church shared with their pastor that, in the early years of their marriage, they had gone through some rough times in their relationship.  They had even gotten divorced but then remarried each other several years later.  The pastor was touched by their story and thought, What a wonderful testimony to the redeeming work of Christ.

The pastor saw them arrive for worship the next Sunday and hugged them warmly and said, "I want you two to know that I appreciated your vulnerability at our house the other night.  I love and accept you."

The couple told the pastor that after telling him their story, they had worried all the way home about having told him their story.  They had shared their story with another church some years before, and members of that church had used their story against them, and piously rejected them because of their divorce.  The betrayal hurt so deeply that they had stayed away from church for many years.

However, just sixty seconds of acceptance from the pastor had changed everything!

Accepting one another is central to healthy relationships and healthy congregations.  Accepting one another is a form of loving one another.  I encourage you to give some prayerful thought to how you go about accepting others.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

Encouragement

John 13:34 reads, "Love one another."

Joseph Haydn one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the Classical Period, was 73 years old when he met Luigi Cherubini, a struggling musician thirty years Haydn's junior.

Haydn saw promise in the young musician and paid him the highest compliment an older and accomplished musician could pay a younger and still unmade artist.  Haydn handed Cherubini one of his recent and uncompleted compositions and remarked, "Permit me to style myself your musical father, and to call you my son."  Cherubini was so impressed that he could not keep back the tears as he took leave of the old man.  With one act of encouragement, Haydn had inspired Cherubini to pursue his dreams and reach his potential.

Loving one another is essential to being faithful followers of Jesus.  Loving words of encouragement are life-giving to a fellowship.  My experience in serving congregations leads me to believe that encouraging one another in matters of faith is a form of loving each other.

You will be hearing more from me about how we can lovingly encourage one another at Evangelical.  It is my thinking that the year ahead holds spiritual growth for us as we lovingly encourage one another in the name of Jesus to pursue our dreams and reach our potential.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

Sacred Travel

It is humbling to admit to having considered in only fits and stops the sacred aspect of travel until now, my fifty-fourth year of life.

How does travel come to be sacred?

Lori and I, along with Jeff and Sallie Heintz, were watching the moonlit tide washing ashore one evening last week while vacationing in Mexico.  We spoke with one another of how the light from the moon appeared to form a pathway linking us and that shining orb.  Jeff lightheartedly remarked to the ladies:  "That pathway of moonlight was made just for you."

I experienced an epiphany.

The ancient cosmos exists independently of our brief human existence.  Also, there is a sense in which the world is made "just for you" in that you see and experience the natural world as no other person ever has or ever will.  Whether a person beholds the moonlit tide in Mexico or Virginia Beach, Virginia, the moonlit path of light is seen and experienced as linking the beholder standing on the beach to the moon.

God creates the world independently of us and also within us.

My epiphany in that moment had to do with how generous God is in sharing the beauty of creation with us in such individual and invaluable ways.  Our experiences are sacred when they connect us to God and each other.  I treasure such moments.

I encourage you to take time during your travels and vacations this summer to allow the sacred a place in your experiences.  Allow yourself time to be moved to an experience of the sacred in creation and your place within it.  Behold the beauty of your relationship with the Lord.  Share it with one another.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

Remembering Our Mothers

Mother’s Day will turn 100 years old on Sunday, May 11!

We are going to do something special during worship on Mother’s Day to celebrate the place our mothers and grandmothers and stepmothers have in our lives.  This will require your participation to be a success.

There will be a time during worship on Mother’s Day when everyone in attendance will be invited to place pictures of their mother, grandmothers and stepmothers on the tables set up at the foot of the chancel.  After we have brought our photos forward and placed them on the tables, there will be a ritual of thanksgiving to God for the gift of our mothers.  The photos can be in frames or without, and you will be able to pick up your photos after worship.

I anticipate this service of worship will be a powerful experience.  Please make sure you are able to be present.

Please know that it does not matter whether or not your grandmothers, mothers, or stepmothers are still living; we are going to celebrate all of them.  It is my thinking that our loved ones who have passed on are part of the “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), so it is that I believe ALL of our mothers will know they are appreciated.

Eastertide blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

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