Lent and Easter

What does Lent lead to?  Easter!  What is Easter really all about?  Jesus' triumph over our sins and the deaths our sins foreshadow.  What does Easter lead to?  Resurrection!  Life!  Reunion!

The following poem is a tender vision of what Easter accomplishes for us and our loved ones.  How pleased I am to share this vision of heavenly life with you.

Resurrection
by, Vladimir Holan
(Translated by George Theiner)

Is it true that after this life of ours
we shall one day be awakened by a
terrifying clamor of trumpets?

Forgive me, God,
but I console myself that the beginning
and resurrection of all of us dead
will simply be announced
by the crowing of a cock

After that we will remain
lying down a while
The first to get up
will be mother
We'll hear her, quietly
laying the fire, quietly putting
the kettle on the stove and
cozily taking the teapot out of the cupboard.

We'll be home once more.

We make our way through Lent, toward Easter, seeking, searching for resurrection.  Can you think of anything more heavenly than being reunited with loved ones, never having to fret over being parted from them?  Me either.

Lenten Blessings,
Pastor Jerry

Blessed

Once again I am reminded of how blessed I am to be who I am.

How so?

Well, Lori has been at my side since I fell ill. She dropped everything and brought me to the Emergency Room. I feel her prompt action saved me. I've had my hand held and hair "scratched through" when that was the only comfort she could give.

The emergency room staff are of the highest caliber. They worked fast, fast, fast to ease my suffering and find solutions to my affliction.

My children have called and texted and--threatened to visit! From Emily and Emi, Tyler and Kathryn, to Lyle and Eric, they have all kept calling.

My parents and in-laws have been asking after me.

My congregation has been praying for me, and I continue to report that I feel your prayers. I was feeling really, really low this morning when I considered your prayers for me and realized I felt them.

About three seconds later Dr. Hoelscher came around the corner. He asked after me and I told him I was feeling low and a little scared about maybe needing more surgery. He patted me, listened to my tummy, and told me my surgeon would make the call, but added his words to those of others who were listening to my insides these past few days, saying: you sound like you're making progress. I felt better. Now and again the Lord sends a messenger my way.

My surgeon, Dr. Kliefoth was fantastic. He guided me along my journey toward recovery. He was thoughtful calm and caring. I am thankful for him.

Our staff took care of worship and more. I am appreciative!

The foodies gave me chicken noodle instead of tomato soup when asked. Every surgeon, physician, nurse, tech, x-ray tech, food tech and more have really looked after me.

It is a blessing to be Christian. It is a blessing to have known such Christly kindness when I've known such need. I feel blessed to be who I am because of the many living and breathing blessings around me.

Blessings,
Pastor Jerry

Anger, Hurt & Grief

I've been reading a variety of articles about the bombing in Boston. Reading what others are writing helps me sift through my own thoughts and form my own understanding of the matter at hand.

There are several writers focusing upon how the bombing in Boston is the result of U.S. foreign policy. These writers are promoting a viewpoint that the innocent are suffering because of the sins of the U.S. government. Who is doing the punishing? God.

There are also several writers focusing upon how the bombing in Boston is the result of U.S. internal shifts in law and culture offering gay people expanded rights. These writers are promoting a viewpoint that the innocent are suffering for the sins of an increasingly depraved populace. Who is doing the punishing? God.

My reaction to the above beliefs and understandings is enough to put the cussing in focus.

There is another understanding of the bombing in Boston. This one makes better sense to me. I believe it honors what we can verify. It fits my best understanding of God's character and behavior.

The understanding I embrace admits that human beings engage in murderous acts in the name of governments and gods and God without the approval of any. Their reasons exist within themselves, and although those reasons may have come to them from others with hatred born of history, their reasons are personal. They are responsible for their deeds.

My understanding of the character and behavior of God is that God allows human beings to do as they will, and I mean will in both senses of the word. People are allowed to love one another and are also allowed to kill one another. Free will.

My thinking is that governments, like individuals, are a mixed blessing. Like individuals, governments are guilty of sin. Like individuals, governments make justice possible. At their best, governments are a blessing to the citizens they serve.

God is neither guilty of sin nor guilty of inflicting horrific punishment upon the innocent for their sins or the sins of the state. Many fire and brimstone fearers and forewarners point backward, toward God's judgments against Israel. I remind you of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. The New Covenant has been established and maintained by Jesus' blood. God does not require blood sacrifice of us. Only people desire the blood of other people.

It is my thinking that God hurts for all who are suffering and grieving. It is also my thinking that when we feel the same way, and then act toward others with love and compassion, we become Jesus' disciples in a way that honors our devotion to Jesus.

I am angered over those who have been murdered. I grieve for these families who are grieving. I hurt for the maimed who are in agony.

My anger, however, does not mean God is angry in the way I am angry. So, I do not believe God is punishing the innocent out of being angry over cultural changes or national foreign policy.

I think these murderers believe(d) in a vengeful God. Be wary of finding yourself in agreement with them.

Pastor MeCaskey

Lent, Again

“My old friend, what are you looking for?
After years abroad you’ve come back
with images you’ve nourished under foreign skies
far from you own country."

The years do go by. Mirrors reveal changes we undergo less so than photographs. My morning ritual of chasing away whiskers with a razor never elicits an, "I look so different today than yesterday!" Images made while vacationing years ago are an entirely different matter, as I gaze upon myself with darker hair and fewer wrinkles. A gulf exists between me and the younger image of me fixed in a database, or upon paper.

I've lived through many decades, in numerous locations. Every season of life, every circumstance has been unique. The old Zen teaching, "You can never step into the same river twice" has been my experience. The only way forward is, well, forward. The arrow of time flies but one direction: into the future.

What does this have to do with Lent? Much.

Christians experience both a sense of moving forward and backward in time during Lent. We remember the story of Jesus' journey to the cross, which took place approximately 2,000 years ago. We recall images of Jesus' life that we have nourished over the years and circumstances of our lives. Still, remembering does not transform the present into the past.  Remembering reconnects us to the past while we live into the future.

Lent is based upon lengthening hours of sunlight and brightening love for Christ that we cultivate during these weeks of preparing to celebrate Easter. The fruits of Lent are bestowed as we move into the future, which is an untrodden river. 

You may wonder what the future will bring. Light. Christians live into a future filled with Light. 

In Christ,
Pastor Jerry

Spiritual Maturity

"Rend you hearts and not your clothing,"  reads Joel 2:13.

I’m thinking at least one important aspect of doing Lenten study and soul searching is reconsidering how it is that our way of Hying in the past may not serve us well in the present.

My experience of growing up in central Illinois in the 6Os and 70’s was shaped by daily experiences and entertainment. One of my favorite childhood memories is of going with my parents and siblings to TRIPLE FEATURE o John Wayne movies at the drive-in. We had brown grocery sacks blotched with grease that were filled with salty, salty popcorn. There were sodas and the fun of being out late at the movies. My father would adjust the level of sound on the metal speaker that hung on the driver’s- side window. Between films I would roam the pathways of the drive-in. How much more fun can a nine-year-old boy have?

John V\Jayne was the manly way of being a man to which I aspired at that time. A couple years later, The Duke sealed my ideological deal when playing Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit”, he called out to “Lucky” Ned Pepper, “Fill your hands... .“ Feel free to finish his words if memory serves.

Fight for the good and never, ever, ever, EVER be weak was the message I absorbed. It was very compelling: never let anyone hurt me emotionally; if wronged, punish the wrongdoer; shoot him if he resists. The sense of power and control and completeness I beheld in my film hero formed my understanding of the kind of powerful man I longed to become.

My problem was that I had a November birthday, which meant 1 was always the smallest boy in my classes. It didn’t help that I was so skinny that every bone in my body of any significance pretty much poked through my skin. Living the dream of being powerful and always in control and feeling complete was not happening. That did not keep me from trying.

Later in life, I learned that desiring the sort of powerfulness I saw on the screen in those westerns meant isolation and loneliness. Always being in control required a lot of energy, and feeling complete without vulnerability was a fantasy; and not a healthy fantasy. What worked in Hollywood fictions did not work so well in my life. So, I dumped that version of being a man.

I listen to the radio and watch television and behold the behavior of many men my age in our culture, and it seems the old Hollywood fiction of how to be a man is something many men have yet to set aside in favor of a fuller, more mature experience of a lifetime that is emotionally compelling and rewarding through an open heart that risks and sometimes breaks on behalf of meaningful relationships with people and a meaningful relationship with God.

If you have finally figured out that those old ways prescribed in our adolescent Hollywood fictions no longer work, perhaps you will choose the way of Jesus: a heart that is rent, open to God’s presence and will; without need to be powerful in ways that feed the ego; realizing only God has control over our lives; and, we are only complete through our relationship with God, and also other people. This way of life is more difficult because it is rooted in reality and the hard, hard work of living with an open heart. It is also an authentic way of life beyond looping reels of incandescent celluloid. In the name of Christ, all are invited.

In Christ,
Pastor MeCaskey

The Phenomenal Fisherman

My thanks to the forgotten source of this terrific story!

A man was a phenomenal fisherman. He was so good that his fame spread far and wide. When everyone else was catching two or three fish a day he would come back with two or three hundred. Eventually the local game warden decided to investigate because it just sounded too good to be true.

On a certain day, the game warden showed up at the man’s door, identified himself, and asked to go fishing with him. The man was agreeable to that and off they went to the lake. When they got into the boat, immediately the warden noticed that something didn’t seem right. The man didn’t have any fishing poles or bait. He didn’t even have a tackle box. All he had was a small duffel bag.

So off they went, chatting about this and that until the man maneuvered the boat to the middle of the lake. Without a word, he turned off the motor, reached into the duffel bag and pulled out what looked like a stick of dynamite. Before the warden could say anything, he lit it and threw it into the water. It exploded with a mighty roar and stunned fish by the dozens floated to the surface. The man calmly started his boat and began gathering the fish in his net.

The warden said, “Now see here. This is highly illegal.” But the man just laughed and steered the boat to another part of the lake. He did the same thing with a second stick of dynamite and sure enough more fish floated to the surface.

By this time the warden had seen enough. He said, “Mister, you’ve broken so many laws I can’t even begin to count them.” The man just laughed and pulled out another stick of dynamite. The warden kept on talking. “This is illegal possession of dynamite and illegal detonation of dangerous material and disturbing the peace and about a half-dozen other misdemeanors and felonies.” While the warden was talking, the man calmly lit the stick of dynamite and handed it to the game warden. As he did he asked him the question fishermen always ask, “Are you going to talk or are you going to fish?”

Are you going to talk, or are you going to fish? Haha!

Evangelism!  Perhaps there are more ways to share Christ than previously thought.  Please give thought to how you can bless others by way of inviting them into the boat. 

Blessings,
Jerry

Christmas

The golden ball sang.

You have to be kidding, I thought.

I rolled the musical orb over in my right hand the way I would a baseball, searching out its secrets.

The year was 1976 or '77, and I was employed by Osco Drug, at Fairhills Mall, in Springfield, Illinois.

I did not realize that I was about to enter the adult world of disdain for crass commercializations of Christmas.

"Just hang it up.  It'll play until you turn it off," my coworker said as she placed the plastic ornament in a green fir tree, also made of plastic.

Chirpy, electronic, and annoying, I thought.  Fake as fake could be, I decided.  I despised the latest technological leap in Christmas tree ornamentation, the inventor, and felt uncertain about people who purchased them.

They sold fast, as fast as we could stock them.  I was glad when they were gone.  Still, sample ornaments hung, beeping and bleeping away in the unliving limbs of artificial trees.

How many times can you listen to a loop of a handful of electronic Christmas carols during a five-hour shift without losing your mind?  Not many.  I began turning them off when I passed by.  One of our managers announced that the ornaments would sing, or we who silenced them would suffer consequences.  We who despised them became more careful; brief silences without consequences followed.

How do you get from Jesus to this?  I asked myself this question with growing frequency, as I beheld with new awareness how people prepared for Christmas Day.

Pastor MeCaskey

The Upside of Insecurity

According to Abraham Maslow, revered psychologist; a sense of security is a human need, shared by all human beings. 

Personally, I prefer feeling secure within myself.  I am at more at peace when I am secure within myself.  When I am at peace within myself, I have less need to make those around me uncomfortable.  So, it seems good to me to desire a sense of security.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Jesus tells a story in the Gospel According to St. Luke (18:9-14) of one man who feels secure and one who does not.  One man collects taxes for a living, and the other lives for God.  Oddly, Jesus approves of the man who is insecure in his relationship with God.  Why?  My best understanding of why Jesus encourages insecurity has to do with a deep truth: insecurity has the potential to foster self-examination and new growth in my relationship with God and with people.  This is, of course, a very uncomfortable way to live.  Yet I believe we must forsake comfort for the of insecurity.

Insecurity, as I have said, has the potential to foster self-examination, and  growth in my relationship with God and other people.  When I am feeling secure I run the risk of becoming complacent.  It is not so much that I seek the discomfort of insecurity, but that I desire the growth in my relationship with God and people that wrestling with my faults and my through failures has the potential to foster.

Perhaps you are willing to join me in partaking the upside of insecurity.  I can promise you discomfort.  I can also promise you, however, potential for growth in your relationship with God and other people.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

Loving One Another

Jesus said, "All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another."  St. Paul wrote, "All other commandments are summed up in the one command to 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"  (Romans 13:9)

At the heart of being able to fulfill the command to love each other is a person's ability to empathize with others.  Empathy, essentially, is being able to feel someone else's pain.  Empathy is the beginning of preparing to love one another.

It has been my mission at Evangelical to cultivate an atmosphere of shared empathy.  Most of my conversations bear within them the goal of shared empathy growing between us, between us and others.  It is from the wellspring of shared empathy that healthy, loving relationships flow.

I behold empathy in Jesus' love for the afflicted, impoverished, and disadvantaged.  Jesus was able to feel their pain and then choose to do something to help them.  It was in just this manner of feeling and doing that the love of God was revealed through Jesus.

As a follower of Jesus, it makes sense to me to keep working at becoming more empathetic.  Even so, my capacity of empathy is uneven, and I would like to come closer to experiencing and sharing the empathy of Jesus.  My thinking is that this sort of spiritual growth is not what Jesus hopes for; he expects it.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

The Gospel According to Pixar

Beginning with Toy Story in 1995, Pixar Animation Studios has taken American cinema by storm, setting a new standard of excellence in animated filmmaking and earning a fortune in the process. Their movies are both highly entertaining and surprisingly wise, displaying an all-too-rare gift for telling stories which speak about the reality of life and the complexities of the human heart -and making us laugh while doing so.

The Gospel According to Pixar looks at how each Pixar film portrays the basic concerns of everyday life and seeks to connect them with a Christian understanding of the world. It touches on themes such as love, identity, fear, freedom, guilt, purpose, and belonging - to name just a few.

The Gospel According to Pixar explores these common concerns in hopes of communicating the Gospel in a fresh, persuasive and, above all, fun way. We will begin enjoying the Gospel According to Pixar through viewing Pixar films on Wednesday evenings at 7:00pm beginning Wednesday, September 18th.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

Why?

Why does evil exist?

Why are so many people so ready to do things that are evil?

Why does God allow evil in our world?

When people refuse to do good, does their lack of doing good create
more evil in the world?

Is evil supernatural?

Our new selection for Book Club is "Why?", by Adam Hamilton.  The book is 96 pages in length.  Hamilton is a pastor, so the book is written in such a way that readers will not have trouble understanding an issue deep as understanding God's will.

I'm reading the book while traveling so I can answer questions church members considering reading the book may have.

Personally, I've so many ideas about the will of God running loose in my head that I welcome this opportunity to bounce them off Hamilton's ideas in his book.  I am also looking forward to the conversation book club attenders will share when we meet to discuss the book.

There is a sign-up sheet in the narthex for those who want to read this book.  Please indicate on the sheet whether or not you would like for us to order you a copy.  Of course, the book is available for download by way of Amazon.  Cost of the book if we order it for you is $11.00.

I am hoping you will join me and other congregants in our exploration of God's will.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

Summer's Busy Days

Well, things are moving fast at Evangelical.

Please be sure to join us for a celebration of Barb Jutting's service as principal of our Evangelical schools. Barb has been a transformational presence these past eight years, so there is much to celebrate. The celebration begins at 11:00am. Of course, we will give thanks for Barb during worship, too.

We've just elected a new consistory. The following leaders are currently serving:

President:  Mike Gargac
Vice President:  Diane Steele
Secretary:  Brian Hogue
Treasurer: Jeff Heintz

Elders:  Tom Doyle, Julie Hinesman, Carol Fritz, Sandy Olive, Brian Hogue, Julie Ziino

Deacons:  Marietta Bear, Diane Steele, Missy Chapman, Mike Gargac, Robert Bode, Chris Nicholson

Trustees:   Ray Graves, Jeff Heintz, Gordon Dabbs, Eric Thurston, Linda Mortland, Tom Brown

We will install our new consistory June 30, during worship. We will also ordain our new elders, Tom Doyle and Carol Fritz. It will be a time of blessing.

There's a new photo directory on the way! I cannot thank our team of leaders, brought into being by Emily Hejna. Also leading are Shari Lenhardt and Julie Ziino. They have been very busy. I feel worn out just reading the communications coming my way. I really appreciate their hard work.

Included in this newsletter is your copy of the most recent corrected and approved consistory minutes. I'm hoping this will keep interested folks current on consistory happenings.

Also, don't forget all the exterior doors now have new locks, you will not be able to gain access to the building with your old keys.  If you need a new key contact the church office at 466-6077. 

It is hot and humid outdoors, so come in and cool off during worship at 10 a.m. On Sunday mornings. Do not neglect worship of God during these busy summer days.

Blessings,
Pastor MeCaskey

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