My mother Dr. Gloria Lauer Grace was a founder of this church over 50 years ago.
Sadly last early Tuesday morning, 23 of June, 2015 we lost Gloria in her sleep, she was comfortable and content.
I am so glad my family and I were able to see her every day these last 3 ½ years.
We have a memorial service tentatively set for 2:30Saturday July 11, 2015 at Congregational Church of Northridge Church • 9659 Balboa Blvd, Northridge, CA 91325
I want to thank everyone in advance for their kindness and a special thanks to the caregivers who have been so good with her over these last few years. Gloria’s Facebook page for comments:
When Jesus and his followers visited his hometown of Nazareth, they didn’t receive a warm welcome. Actually, Jesus was ridiculed–he was called the son of Mary, and a carpenter, and they made fun of him because he brought his sisters were with him. Mark said that Jesus couldn’t perform any deeds of power there, because of the people’s disbelief. Just like today, it was easier for the people of Nazareth to look down on others, rather than to believe in them. They missed a great blessing because they couldn’t believe that God could be present in a humble carpenter. This story is a reminder that in order to see God, we must be willing to believe in people, to look up to them, not to be cynical or look down on others. Have we missed a blessing because we’ve been looking down? How can we look up to others, and believe in them? Communion will be celebrated.
Our congregation is saddened by the horrible shooting this week in Charleston, NC. Our prayers are with Mother Emmanuel AME Church and the families that lost loved ones. Following is a letter for our Conference Association, as the tragedy ripples to affect the UCC Community:
We are deeply saddened by the tragedy at First Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. This tragedy is especially painful as it touches one of our UCC family members in our National setting. One of Waltrina Middleton’s cousins was among those murdered in this senseless act of violence. Waltrina is our National Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership. She wrote a moving letter, which is reprinted below. Let’s keep Waltrina and our brothers and sisters at First Emmanuel in our thoughts and prayers. Let us continue our work to eliminate all violence, especially violence that seems motivated by race.
18 June 2015
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
My heart experienced the unimaginable late last night as the sun began to set in some places, and before the moon could peak through weary cloud-cast skies in others.
The very thing I fight and organize against-a deeply masked and far reaching culture of violence in our society has descended upon the steps of my family and matriculated its way into the sanctuary of the church. Last night during bible study and prayer service, a gunman entered the historical Mother Emmanuel AME church of Charleston, SC and opened fire on the 11 persons gathered there. There were only two survivors.
With deep sorrow, I write to share that my beloved first cousin was among the 9 fatalities. Her death was confirmed this morning and the unspeakable grief of this loss has knocked me and my family off kilter.
C.S. Lewis wrote that “it is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box…” But suppose your life depended on that invisible rope that is your faith? Today, the weight of that invisible rope tugs at my trembling heart and such invisible faith is tested as we walk through the valleys of the shadows of death all around us. We are reassured to fear not evil, but to trust in the rod and the staff for comfort, protection, guidance and perhaps understanding when the morning comes.
Please keep my family, Mother Emmanuel congregation, and all those impacted by this rampant culture of violence in the center of your prayers.
Let us come together for such a time as this to the sacred clearing-no matter our faith or practice, and be on one accord in the spirit of love, hope, and healing to seek justice and peace for these and other victims of hatred and violence.
Let us put our faith to action and be more than empty drums that have long lost their melodies or arrangements. Let us remove our instruments from the poplar trees and call the people, the public officials, and yes, the church to action to address the festering sores of racism, classism and militarism-as they intersect this culture of violence. How can we begin to eradicate this evil without acknowledging the realities of racialized policing, hate crimes, and the disproportionate acts of violence against Black and Brown bodies?
Alas, it is morning and tear filled dew drops fall fresh upon my face, with eyes watching God and a soulful lament. Our hearts are troubled, but our faith remains steadfast, trusting and believing in the reconciling power of God for the brokenhearted and the oppressed.
Yours in faith & justice,
Rev. Waltrina Middleton, United Church of Christ
National Minister for Youth Advocacy and Leadership
Our texts this week contain the well-known Sunday School story of David and Goliath, and the memorable gospel account from Mark of Jesus and the disciples nearly perishing in the boat, and Jesus stilling the storm. How do these two stories connect? In stark contrast to the fear exhibited by those around them, both David and Jesus act with confidence. During times of personal and collective uncertainty, how can we remain a non-anxious presence?
Faith in Small Things: In these farming parables from Mark, Jesus emphasizes the hiddenness and smallness of the quiet beginnings of God’s new creation and also underscores the sense in which the sower does not make the kingdom happen by force of
will; indeed the sower of the parable doesn’t even water or weed! The sowerjust sows and then sleeps and rises night and day, and the earth produces of itself, and the mustard plant puts forth its large branches. God’s kingdom grows organically. And inevitably, as day follows night, God’s hidden, mysterious work in the world and in us will be fruitful.
Pastor Jason brings a message from 1 Samuel 8: 4-11 (12-15) 16-20, 11: 14-15
Choosing Freedom: If the expression “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?” were around in Ancient times, Samuel from the Bible might have said it to the Israelites! The people of Israel complained that they were the only nation around that didn’t have a king, and they wanted one! They wanted to do what everyone else was doing. Samuel warned them that kings were sometimes terrible to their people, and that Israel had a wonderful heavenly king to lead them. Nevertheless, they began to appoint earthly kings to rule over the people of Israel, with mixed results. Our Pilgrim ancestors definitely sided with Samuel, leaving England and its King for freedom in the New World. Why do so many desire a strong authority figure, even ones who mistreat their subjects? How can we live as Pilgrim people today, choosing freedom in our own day?
In a familiar passage from the book of Isaiah, God wonders who will offer hope for the people of Israel as they face one of their greatest challenges – the Babylonian exile. Many felt that God had abandoned them or just didn’t care about them. Isaiah says that he is ready and willing to be this voice, and assures the people of Israel that God loves them passionately, the way spouses do, and that God will be with them during this difficult time. All throughout history, God has been looking for people to demonstrate God’s radical love with others, into our day. What do we need to prepare us for such a task? Maybe Isaiah’s experience can shed light on our own needs today.
Pastor Jason brings another message from Acts 1:1-21 this week:
The Universal Language: This Sunday we remember and celebrate the first time that Jesus’ followers experienced the power of God’s Spirit inside them. God had been at work in the world since creation, especially in Jesus, but now God was hard at work in and through them. The Spirit helps them see beyond differences in their neighbors’ language and culture, and helps them realize that God is now in covenant with the entire world. The Spirit has been nudging Christians to love in new and courageous ways ever since, and encourages us to do the same today.
This week we welcome a first time guest speaker, Bill Bartlett. He brings his message from John 12:
“Re-Created” – In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero writes: “The Bible does not spin the flaws and weaknesses of its heroes. Moses was a murderer. Hosea’s wife was a prostitute. Peter rebuked God! Noah got drunk. Jonah was a racist. Jacob was a liar. … And all these people send the same message: that every human being on earth, regardless of their gifts and strengths, is weak, vulnerable, and dependent on God and others.” Dependence on God means a letting go of false self and being re-created to be the children God created us to be.
Love, the Way Things Grow: Let’s be honest, loving well—especially our neighbors—is often a really burdensome task. Yet John makes this promise: this love is how we overcome the world, i.e. all of the things that stand in opposition to God’s kingdom, all of the things that scream out the opposites of humility, shalom, beauty, generosity, justice, mercy. How does love help us grow and overcome the world? And what is the connection between love and God’s commands? John says they aren’t burdensome, but does he recognize that there are 613 of them in the Bible—365 in the Hebrew Scriptures alone?!?!
Love Abides – One of the great metaphors for God that comes out of the Hebrew Scriptures (aka Old Testament) is of God as a gardener. God is the one who nourishes and grows the people of God. In this section of John’s gospel, Jesus affirms this metaphor for God and refers to himself as a vine that produces many branches. These branches grow strong and produce much fruit when they remain with the vine, just like Christians become more like Jesus when we study his teachings and have compassion on people like he did. The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint—it’s a way of life that helps us become more loving and more hopeful. Communion will be celebrated.
“When You’re Feeling Sheepish” This week’s scriptures are two of the Bible’s most well known passages. Psalm 23 begins by using a using a comforting metaphor for God—the metaphor of a faithful shepherd who accompanies us during the most difficult times in our lives, always seeking to lead us to still waters. In John 10, Jesus uses this metaphor to talk about himself, how he is the Good Shepherd who will accompany his sheep always and even lay down his life to protect his sheep. In what ways do we need to be God to be our shepherd right now? In what ways can we reflect our shepherd’s love for others?
“If You Are Willing” – A man comes to Jesus covered in leprosy; every part of his body in pain and highly infectious and there is no cure. The best doctors are impotent to heal. His family is powerless to help. Religious leaders call him unclean. His future is full of isolation, bigotry, shame, blindness, possibly loss of fingers and toes, starvation and death. He has nothing but despair and sickness to offer Jesus, and yet Jesus Christ does what?
“The Rest of the Story” – After Jesus’ Resurrection, Peter finally understands his significance and his teachings. He finally understands that the message of Jesus is for everyone, no matter what country we come from, what color our skin is, or how we’ve thought of God in the past. Jesus’ Resurrection signals a new day for all of creation. The fact that Peter finally understands Jesus is almost as shocking as the Resurrection itself! The Resurrection helps us understand that God often appears when we least expect God, and it has the same power to move us from despair to hope, and from sorrow to joy today.
“Peaks and Valleys” – When Jesus entered Jerusalem, people cheered! The crowd that was gathered there thought that all the rumors about Jesus being the Messiah might really be true, and that he was there to liberate them in a military operation. But they would be disappointed very quickly—Jesus rode in to town on a donkey, a symbol of humility and vulnerability, not pride and conquest. Jesus wasn’t there to overthrow the Roman occupiers; he was there to make one final demonstration of his love and identification with humanity. He would expose himself to the most difficult trials that we face—rejection, loneliness, and death. This willingness to humble himself to identify with us, Paul says in Philippians, is what Christian faith is all about. The life of faith is a life of humility, not pride. It’s a life of risk, not safety.
Pastor Jason Sisk-Provencio brings his exciting message from Jeremiah and John:
“Learning by Heart” – The prophet Jeremiah longs for the day when all people know God intimately. He longs for the time in which God’s teachings no longer have to be looked up in ancient scriptures, but are written on people’s hearts. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” is God’s vision for creation. This was also Jesus’ vision. So often religious elites would quote scriptures to justify violence or judgment, but Jesus told them that they misunderstood the scriptures. How do we as Jesus’ followers today avoid the dangers of reading the scriptures in a way that excludes others? How can we share God’s vision of people knowing God not through just scriptures, but through our own hearts also?