Thoughts Between Sundays

Some of what crosses my mind between Sundays


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Sermon: “In The Waters”

Psalm 46
1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
8Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
10“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
11The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Isaiah 43:1-7
43But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

NJ beach

“In the Waters”
Rev. Julie Jensen
FPC Cartersville, GA
August 17. 2014
As a friend of mine used to say, “this week’s been so rough it should count as two.” She worked in the journalism field and this comment often surfaced after weeks where there were many major stories all unfolding all at once on multiple fronts. A local story might need extensive coverage while national news broke overnight, and then a major international incident would get folded into the mix. We have lost touch over the years but I often think of her in weeks like this week. There has been a lot of upheaval in our community, nation, and in the world. When we learn on the same day that people in Gaza are tweeting people in Ferguson, Missouri to offer advice on how to survive in riots, that less than three miles from where we are sitting a shooting rampage ended with a suicide and car crashing into a construction trailer, we might feel a little unsettled. The death of a celebrity that brings issues of mental health and depression front and center might make us feel all sorts of feelings. Added into the mix is all the other news we are exposed to and everything happening in our personal lives. Kids here are back in school, while college students made and are making their journeys back to dorm rooms and classrooms. I could go on and on – illnesses, divorces, job changes, financial stresses, care and concern for those we love, situations we cannot control – each of us deals with that every day.

It is in times like these that I come back to these two scriptures. Over and over again they show me the sovereignty of God, God’s grace and mercy, and remind me that I don’t have to fix it all, that I can’t fix it all. These seemed like words that we may need to hear today, and so I offer them to you.
We spent a good amount of time this summer focusing on the idea of being still. Ted preached a sermon series that led off with this reading. For me, being still is just one facet of this psalm that speaks to me. In 2001, Psalm 46 was the lectionary Psalm for the Sunday after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. The first time I ventured alone to Manhattan to explore I felt a little lost. The City is bustling. It is crowded. It is tall. Yet, in the midst of what we may remember from movies, from photos we have seen of Tomes Square, there are pockets of quiet. There are neighborhoods. There are tree lined streets with trash cans at the curbs just like we put out the trash here. There are churches and schools and everyday life. I happened to wander into a church that day and saw the words of verses 5-7 of this Psalm on a banner: 5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”

We all need a place to find refuge. A place to turn down the din that constantly surrounds us. In conversation with colleagues this week we noted that it is hard to find a place to be quiet. You used to be able to sit in a waiting room surrounded by the sounds of a receptionist working and the Muzak in the background. Now folks are on their phones – despite what the signs say, and there are usually multiple TVS showing either commercials disguised as news touting the latest health advances, or a news program at a really loud volume. It’s no wonder my blood pressure goes up in the waiting room. Airports are just as bad. When I was traveling from Minneapolis to Philadelphia this summer to meet the mission trip team, there was some weather that caused enough upheaval in my travel schedule to make me cry. After learning that my luggage was on the standby flight that I wasn’t, being rebooked 3 times, and learning that there were no empty hotel rooms in the city (thanks to the All Star Baseball Game) I was at my wits end. I needed a quiet place to think and figure out what to do next. And there was none. Even the chapel had music playing and a couple had taken refuge in there to have a yelling match about who knows what – I didn’t stay to find out. And in the loudness of the day, all I could do was stop and say a prayer that something would get figured out. And it was. God showed up in ways I did not expect – a text from friends that they had a bed in their room given that they were staying an extra night. A text from the mission trip in the van saying I was in their prayers. I got on the tram and for the first time all day was able to be still and see God in the midst. God in the midst of the chaos, God in the midst of it all. Even here, where we talk about The City and the County, about going into Atlanta for a big event, or for work, we can resonate with these words too. They can be read as “God is in the midst of the places where we think we are safe or secure, places that we think cannot be moved or shaken. God is in the midst of wherever we are, and that cannot be changed.” When it feels as if the nations are in an uproar, or our plans are in an uproar, we remember that God is present.

I was asked this week what we should do about the violence against Christians in Iraq. My immediate response was to pray. God is in the midst of the city. God will help it when the morning dawns. When the rivers of life overwhelm us, as we hear in our reading from Isiah, when the waters rise, God promises to be with us. So I have to believe that for those who are in places where the physical or metaphorical waters are rising, that God is with them. God does not cause the violence, God does not cause the suffering and pain, God does not want that for us. We, as flawed people are the source, we has humans with free will are right in the middle of it. Yet God does not leave us. God does not leave those suffering. So we pray. We pray that we will remember that it is God who is sovereign. We find the silence and stop trying to “do”, to “fix”, or to “solve” and instead pray that God will reign over all.

That sovereignty part is the hinge upon which both of these texts hinge. Neither the prophet or Psalmist denies that the rivers will rise, or that the earth shall not shake or the waves come up from the sea. Neither offers promises of calm, of everything going right. But both affirm that God is the one who takes the lead in providing refuge, in calming the upheaval, and walking with us through the waters. The message of both of these texts is that we can’t do it on our own. We are called as followers of Christ to work for the Kingdom of God, to serve in ways that promote peace and justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with God. But nowhere does God say “you be in charge now and do it yourselves.” We believe that God’s got this, whatever “this” is, and we are called to discern how God calls us to be part of that work.

11 of us answered God’s call this summer to go be part of the work done in rebuilding place where these passages have scary significance. There are families in Point Pleasant, NJ who lost friends and loved ones when the Towers fell. The entire community was devastated when the waters rose. Point Pleasant is surrounded by water – the bay, river, and ocean. Most f the damage done by the superstorm – hurricane – was not from wind, but from rising waters on all sides. During our last night the worship team had a communion service on the beach. I would like to share the words I spoke to them with you:
Whether we realized it or not, the water has played a major role in our trip this week. Each time I stand in the ocean and feel the power of the waves, I feel the power of God. The pull of the tide, the crash of the waves. It makes me feel so small to stand by the edge of what feels infinite. Yet these waves also contain in them the promises of God to each of us – that when we pass through the waters, we are God’s. It is not up to us anymore, but it is up to God. These words can offer comfort to us as we think about the power of water on this part of the country. The damage here from Hurricane Sandy was not from wind, but from the rising water. The ocean and the bay met, the seas rose, and people’s lives were forever turned upside down overnight.

And yet, God is in the midst of this. God is in the midst of the power of the storm, and the power of those who have reached out to rebuild. When we baptize, we promise to love, nurture, care for, and support in the faith the children of God. Those promises were made at our baptisms for us, and we make them each time we sprinkle, dunk or pour and proclaim the work that God has done for each of us in our lives.

The command in the mist of chaos is this – be still. Remember that God is God and we are not God. We cannot control the universe, the world, or one another. We are not in charge – God is. In the stillness we recognize that reality. In the stillness we cry out to God from our hearts and ask that God will impart God’s stillness in us. When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we come to God confessing that there are times when we have tried to be God, or be like God. That there are times when we forget God’s promises to be with us, and God’s promises to not overwhelm us. And then we remember that God welcomes us anyway.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Mission Trip Meditation: Allen Weirick

This is the meditation Allen Weirick preached on Sunday, the 29th of July at First Pres. in Cartersville

We tend to think of nature as a wonderfully beautiful gift of God, and in it we see the glory of God’s creation or a place to commune with God. Many of our favorite hymns or choir anthems deal with one or more of these themes: For the Beauty of the Earth, The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God, This is My Father’s World, and Morning Has Broken, to name just a few. God’s creation does indeed contain incredible beauty and scenes which foster grateful solitude and reflection. But what happens when nature seems to turn against us, as on that day in April last year when tornados ripped through the American south and mid-west with a destructive force that is beyond imagining? When I helped with tornado clean-up efforts here in Bartow County last year I was amazed at the destruction I saw, but as bad as it was it could not compare with the more wide-spread destruction that Tuscaloosa experienced. Having seen that in person, I cannot imagine what Joplin, Missouri experienced with its even larger and more powerful storm.

Numbers don’t give the whole picture, but they do give us an idea of how bad it was:
The guide on our tour of the tornado area told us that enough debris was collected to fill the University of Alabama football stadium – an immense structure that holds over 100,000 spectators – seven times. Over 1200 residential structures were destroyed and another 1600+ were severely damaged, as about 12% of the city of Tuscaloosa was destroyed. The human toll was huge, with 52 people killed by the storm and well over 1000 injured. Thousands of people were temporarily or permanently homeless, thousands of others became unemployed as their workplaces were destroyed, and pretty much everyone in the city was directly or indirectly affected by the storm.
So what happens to people’s faith when faced by such enormity? It is not surprising that some people lost their faith, and some gave up on their hometown, leaving, never to return. Others found strength in their faith and did not falter. By being there to help we were able to increase their hope and their confidence that things would work out for them. I am confident that our presence there and the work we did – along with that of the thousands of other volunteers, literally from around the country – provided part of the answers to many, many prayers by the people of Tuscaloosa.
The people who will be living in the houses we worked on are good examples. The man at the main site was handicapped, but he sat there in the immense heat to be connected with the effort emotionally. His faith was remarkable. I don’t remember his exact words, but he said something to the effect that he may be weak physically, but he was powerful in prayer, and we witnessed several examples of his powerful prayers.
The owner of the site where I spent most of my time was a disabled veteran of the first Gulf War, and his pelvis was crushed when his house collapsed on him and dragged him several yards. He clearly is not capable of putting in the sweat equity hours that Habitat for Humanity usually requires of people who get their houses, so we unfortunately did not get to meet him. Without Habitat for Humanity and the various groups of volunteers who rebuilt his house he would never have been able to rebuild on his own. His new house, which was on track to be turned over to him this past week, was built on the site of his old one, just better and much more secure. (All Habitat houses built in Tuscaloosa after the storm are built with a safe room in them.)

One of the women of our group spoke with a young man from the university who volunteered on his own at the build site, and he said he was the only one he knew of who was doing that, and added that he was disappointed that most local people seem to think only of themselves, and don’t care enough about others to help out. He didn’t see the big picture, though, and didn’t realize that many people were doing a lot – like the church where we stayed, which had made a mission – which they carried out very well, I might add – of providing space and support for groups to come to help out. They may not have been out on the sites helping to build, but they were making it possible for literally hundreds of outsiders to do more work than their own members ever could have. There are many other examples of churches, other organizations, and individuals who are helping in numerous ways with the rebuilding.

You know when you sign up for a mission trip that you are going to be surrounded by special people; they are pre-selected to include only people who care, because to put it bluntly: jerks don’t go on mission trips. You have people who volunteer to give up their time – in many cases, their valuable vacation time – to work hard to help people who are less fortunate than they are. Some I had known for years and have worked with on the Session like Nanette and Mary, or with other organizations, like Lori, whom I know more from her work with the Friends of the Cartersville Library. Some I barely knew, like the teenagers from our church, while others I met for the first time on the trip, like Xavier, a wonderful young man from Rockmart whom you should get to know if you haven’t already had the pleasure. It’s a whole lot easier to enjoy work when you are sharing it with likable people, and you want to make sure you do your part and don’t let the group down. I quickly learned that I am not capable of keeping up with Paul, whom I think of as the energizer rabbit because he just keeps on going and going, all the time with a great attitude and an ability to explain things and help out without ever talking down to us more-or-less beginners. Seeing these people in action is a very special feeling, and it makes me proud to have been a part of their team. I have always been impressed with the giving spirit of our church, and this mission experience has only strengthened that feeling. As others have said before, when you return from a mission trip, you are strengthened in faith, more connected with your church, and very tired, but it is a good tired, a very good tired.


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Mission Trip Reflection: Denise Manning

Denise Manning is one of the church members who went to Tuscaloosa last weekend.  I asked the group to provide some reflections, and sent them some guiding questions for their writing.  Here are Denise’s thougths about our time of service.

Why did you go on this trip?-I was so moved by all the coverage on the television and the devastation.  I just wanted to do anything to help.

How was it different from what you expected?-I was surprised at the clean up that has taken place so far but at the same time surprised at how much is left to do.  I really did not have many expectations.  I think on these type trips you know you may be walking into any situation.

Where did you see God during our time away?-I saw God in so many places while we were there.  One example that I kept going back to was the sun peeking through the clouds each day. I noticed that a number of times while we were there.  This made me think that God is always there even in the bad times when we think we do not see him, he is like the sun peeking through the clouds to give us hope and remind us he is always with us.  I also saw God in the many individuals we met.  From the stories we heard about people helping people they have never met to the many volunteers we met along the way.  It is refreshing to see all the good that does happen in the world that mostly goes unnoticed. The news was filled with the devastation all over the world but not the wonderful things that are happening in Alabama today.

Share one story from someone you met.-The one story would like to share is of the individual who I assisted at the warehouse.  She was looking to replace some of her things.  I was assisting her in trying to find some clothing etc.  She would ask me, does this look good together, what do you think?  Here is a person who has lost everything but trying to make the most out of what she can and really looking to me for assistance.  In truth I had no idea what I was doing but felt I truly am helping this person.  It broke my heart when we could not find some of the items she needed and made me realize once again how lucky we are each day.  Here is she wanting ANYTHING, she did not care of it matched or was used she just needed some items.  Even something little such as socks that no one thinks about.  Just imagine the items they do not have?!  I was helping her load the items she had chosen in her car and I asked her, did you lose everything?  She responded, “yes I lost everything, my trailer is completely gone.”  We cannot imagine what that must feel like to lose ALL of your possessions and your home as well.  She was not bitter though just thankful for everything she was able to find in the warehouse.  It makes me think about how much more I can/should do to help people in need.  It does not take a lot of time just a willing heart. 

How did it feel to see the damage firsthand?  How did that compare with what you expected? For me it was surreal to see the damage firsthand.  Seeing things on the television of course hurts your heart but being there is so vastly different.  On the television you do not see the people helping each other.  You do not hear the stories of what they have lost and how they all pitched in to help each other.  Neighbors who had never met were helping each other.  I do not think there are words to describe how you feel when you are seeing all the damage.  There is just no rhyme or reason.  Five houses may have tremendous damage and then one house right next to them is standing tall with no damage whatsoever.  It just does not make sense.  I took a number of picture but found again when I was sharing them with others they cannot feel what I felt being there and seeing it in person. 

What was the best/worst part of the trip?-The best part of the trip to me was getting to know some people in the church a little better and hearing the stories that people had to tell about assisting each other.  The worst part of the trip  would be the heat. 

How are you different now than you were before?– I would like to think I am a little more understanding and sympathetic to what people may be going through.  It is hard though when you are away from it and get back to the day to day to keep those images fresh. 

What else needs to be done in the area?  How can our church(es) continue to support this community? EVERYTHING.  They need so much help.  I mean we worked for two days and there were a number of volunteers at just that location and we could see there was still so much to be done.  We can donate our time, send giftcards so they can give to people in need.  We can send donations of specific needs etc.


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Mission Trip Pictures: Damage

These are some of the pictures I took in the Glendale Gardens Area of Tuscaloosa.  I’m having a hard time with uploading the photos to WordPress, so I will have to put the rest on Facebook.  If you click on the images below, you can make them larger.


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Mission Trip, Day 2: Pictures

I ran out of words last night (Friday night) to use to describe what we have seen and done.  Instead I offer you a few pictures.  On the itinerary for today is driving around and looking more closely at the damage, and heading back to the Temporary Services Warehouse to continue sorting and organizing.  Then a trip to TCBY and we will be on the road home!


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Mission Trip to Tuscaloosa, AL: Thursday

On April 27th, I had a meeting at church, and came home to watch a little TV and go to bed.  The weather was awful and so we hurried home.  All that was on TV was the news about the weather moving through our area – weather that had moved through Alabama earlier that day.  As I watched the weather people tag-team the storm progress, the sirens for the city sounded, and I herded the cats to our bathroom (and yes, it was herding and chasing cats — only took 4 tries to get them both in there).  Armed with my radio tuned to the local station and still watching the red and yellow and green move across the screen, I waited to see what would happen next.  I prayed, and the news announcers said “if you are in downtown, you are OK, the sirens are for….”  That was the news that I at least was safe.  It was an uneasy night to say the least.

In the months since, I have driven past areas that were damaged.  I have seen snapped trees from the roadside, the town of Ringgold as visible from the interstate just flattened.  In my head, I thought I knew what I was going to see when we came to Tuscaloosa today.  I was wrong.

We thought it was a big deal when our Hobby Lobby closed because the roof caved in after flooding rains.  We drove past one today (that I did not get a picture of) that was demolished.  The letters from the sign gone – rubble being the word to describe what we saw around us in the part of town we drove through.  But it is indiscriminate rubble.  Almost across the street was an upscale shopping center that looked like new – -untouched and undamaged.  War Zones look better than the little bit of what we saw today.  There are bilboards for attorneys who want to expedite tornado claims (ambulance chasers turned storm chasers?) and one billboard that simply said “God Bless Tuscaloosa” with the black and white checked ribbon on it.

Tonight we were welcomed warmly by the folks at University and we went to a local restaurant for dinner.  On the list of suggestions, the places that are still here are marked.  The others are either gone or closed.  It seems there is a strange balance of “normal” and “may never be normal again.”  Our dinner at a local college hangout juxtaposed with the shells of buildings we passed on our way into town will remain a strong memory for me.

As our team is here this weekend, we are going to be asking ourselves where we saw God each day in the midst of where we are.  Today I saw it when Suzanne, the woman who greeted us, said “thank you for coming to help us”, even as I was wondering if we will be able to make much of a dent in what we see.

The six of us on this trip will be blogging about it either while we are here, or when we get back, so you can see our experiences.  Please keep us, and this community in your prayers in the coming days.

Julie


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More Tornado News

This is a copy of an e-mail I sent out earlier tonight to update folks on some of the needs and the church’s response.  Please feel free to pass the link along to those you think may be interested.  Thanks!

Dear Friends,

I know this is not even close to everyone who would like to see this e-mail, so please feel free to forward this along to members of our church family.

Volunteers are beginning to be needed to help with cleaning up following last week’s storms in Bartow County.  There is a large clean-up day scheduled for Saturday, May 7th, beginning at 8:30 am.  Workers are to meet at Grace Baptist Church, 477 Old Cassville White Road, Cartersville, 30121. Wear long pants, work boots, or comfortable, closed toe shoes, work gloves, safety goggles, and bring any tools you think may be useful to clear large amounts of debris from property.  The major requirement is a heart that is willing to serve.   Directions from FPC can be found here:  http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&source=s_d&saddr=183+w.+main+street,+cartersville,+ga+30120&daddr=477+Old+Cassville+White+Road+Northwest,+Cartersville,+GA&hl=en&geocode=FdRNCQIdoQ_y-ilPsteKEU_1iDFXuowasHb7Yg%3BFU3kCgIdKMTx-ilBPm3oAFH1iDFd53V5CgdgbQ&mra=ls&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=28.611123,85.693359&ie=UTF8&z=12

Please call the hotline and let them know you are coming, so they can estimate the number of volunteers.  The hotline number is 770-382-6652.

As of this time, donations of supplies are not needed – the drop off point is overwhelmed and needs time to sort and distribute.  We will let you know when supplies will be accepted again.  We have places to send the supplies we currently have.

FPC is on the list for volunteers and work teams as they are needed.  If you would like to be contacted when we have more information, please call Angie in the church office and ask her to add you to the volunteer list.

The need will not be over this week, or this month.  As the saying goes, it is a marathon and not a sprint – our help will be needed for a long time to come.  Please continue to keep volunteers, victims, and workers in your prayers in the coming weeks and months.

Thank you for your outpouring of support and generosity.  It has truly been overwhelming.

In Christ,

Julie