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WE’RE ALL FULL!  REGISTRATION FOR VBS IS CLOSED! 

Vacation Bible School is offered each year during the summer months as a way to reach out to the children in our congregation, preschool, and neighborhood. The date for this year’s VBS is July 24- July 27, 2017 from 9am – 12 noon.   Children ages 4 years to 5th grade are invited to attend. Children will learn basic Bible stories through the ‘structured’ station model which will have Bible stories, games, snacks, music, and crafts.

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Sermon – June 4, 2017 – Rev. Joe Moore

Today is Confirmation Sunday. At the 11:10 service, 8 young people will confirm their faith in God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit- and they will state their desire to follow God with faith, love, and hope. This year’s Confirmation Class has been meeting together for several months as we talked about who God is, what God does, and how God calls us to respond. It has been a joy for me to be with them and lead them in this part of their faith journey.

One of the things that I love about teaching Confirmation is getting to choose each kids Confirmation text. It is something that I give a lot of thought and prayer as I try to find the perfect Scripture to serve as their own personal watchword, as a passage that they can keep in their hearts and minds as they go through their lives. Hopefully the texts that I have chosen for this year’s confirmands will be as meaningful and memorable to them as my Confirmation Text is to me. On Palm Sunday 1983, Craig Troutman gave me Philippians 1:6 as my Confirmation text- I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Over the years, as I have taught confirmation, I will often also choose a Confirmation Text for the class as a whole; a text that serves to capture the experience of the class as they came together and formed their own unique community, a text that really says something about them, about who they are and where they are in their life and faith as a group. I remember one class at Fries Memorial that left me no other choice for a Confirmation Text than that shortest verse in the Bible- John 11:35 “Jesus wept.” But that was all in good fun, they didn’t really cause Jesus to weep, at least they hadn’t at that point in their lives. It was also easy for me to choose a text for this Confirmation Class- “Be still and know that I am God.”

Now, you may chuckle and think that I choose that text for this class because they had trouble “being still” and while that may have been the situation at times, it is not why I chose that as the class Confirmation verse. One of the things that we did every week was to think about, and talk about, the ways that we had seen God at work among us, how we had experienced the presence of God as we went about our lives- moment by moment, day to day. We even had a group text message that we would use to share those times that we had seen and experienced God’s presence.

But it wasn’t always easy. It is often hard to be aware of how God is present and working in our lives. That is why we need to “be still” and pay attention to what is going on around us, to allow us to know that God is God and God is present with us. “Be still and know that I am God.” is one of God’s ways of telling us to “Pay Attention.” That’s what Pentecost is about. It’s about God telling us to pay attention. The followers of Jesus had gathered, after his crucifixion and death, after his resurrection and ascension, they were all together in one place. And God told them to pay attention. It wasn’t in a silent, peaceful, reflective, “be still and know” kind of way. But more like a shout of “Hey! This is important!” The sound of a rushing wind filled the place and tongues of fire appeared and rested over each one of them. And they were suddenly able to speak in languages that they had never spoken before.

And that was a pretty good way to get people’s attention. It was a pretty good way of letting people know that something important was happening. It was a pretty good way to let them know that the Holy Spirit was among them. I imagine that if the same thing happened here this morning- if the sanctuary was filled with a rushing wind, if tongues of fire appeared on each of us, if we suddenly began speaking in languages we had never spoken before, I think that we would pay attention.

Pentecost was when it all came together for those followers of Jesus, it was when they became the “church”. It was when they realized that God was with them- God the Creating Father, God the Redeeming Son, God the Blessing Spirit. It was when they knew that they had all that they needed to do what God was calling them to do- what God had created them to do, what Jesus had redeemed them to do, what the Holy Spirit would bless them as they did, it was when they knew that they had all that they needed to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Pentecost and Confirmation is when it all comes together for us, too. It is when we are reminded to Pay Attention, for the Spirit is among us. It is when we are reminded
to Pay Attention, for God is creating, God is redeeming, God is blessing — right here and right now. We are called to pay attention to what God is creating, to who God is redeeming, to how God is blessing. God creates in faith, God redeems with love, God blesses in hope. God’s faith is in us, God’s love is for us, God’s hope rests upon us. God is here- God is creating. God is here- God is redeeming. God is here- God is blessing. God is among us, God is calling us, God needs us. And God is blessing us with all that WE need- to be who He has created us to be, to become who He has redeemed us to become, to do what He has blessed us to do. God is here. So Pay Attention.

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“Ride On! Ride On…”
Palm Sunday April 9, 2017  
Pastor Joe Moore

Today has been a Sunday that I have been anticipating for a long time. I just love Palm Sunday. It is one of the most joyful days of the year. It ranks right up there with Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday. So I was all geared up to preach a resounding, upbeat, joyful Palm Sunday sermon today.

I mean, how could I not be? Just look at this place! It is amazing how it has been changed from our beautiful sanctuary into a beautiful prayer garden. It is the perfect place for us to celebrate the coming of our Lord and Savior. Today, of all days is a time to focus on the joy; the joy of Palm Sunday, the joy of welcoming our Savior, the joy of preparing the way of the Lord, the joy of singing Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes!

For weeks now, I have been ready to “rejoice greatly” and “shout for joy” as we welcomed our Savior into our midst. And up until now, throughout all of this service, I was really feeling it. From the band prelude gathering us for worship, to the music of our choirs, to praying our Palm Sunday liturgy- “Sing O heavens and be joyful O earth for the glory of the Lord shall be revealed!” Hail to the Lord’s Anointed!, to welcoming new members into our church family, right up to hearing that familiar story of Jesus’ triumphant, yet humble, entry into Jerusalem. I was really feeling that joy!

Until just a couple of minutes ago, as we sang that last hymn, Ride On! Ride on in Majesty! It is one of my favorites, I can’t imagine Palm Sunday without it. But it’s not exactly joyful. It’s melancholy at best, and maybe even a bit depressing. The tune is beautiful but certainly not joyful. And the words…

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ your triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! The winged armies of the sky
look down with sad and wond’ring eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;
bow your meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, your power and reign.

As powerful and beautiful as they are, they make me, in the middle of this Palm Sunday joy, wonder about Jesus. I wonder about what he was thinking and feeling as he rode down the Mount of Olives. Riding on and seeing the crowds so excited by his arrival, so filled with hope and promise and anticipation and joy. Riding on and knowing that in order to meet their hopes and fulfill that promise, to live up to the anticipation and make their joy complete, it would require his death.

Riding on knowing that he would have to capture death (his own death) before he could conquer sin, the sins of the people around him and even the sins of all the world. Riding on knowing that even the angels in heaven couldn’t save him and sadly wondering why it was all necessary. Wondering why he must be the sacrifice for them, for all those following behind him. Riding on and seeing his cross and his death, his brutal and painful and humiliating death, and knowing that it was necessary before he could take his power and reign.

I wonder what that was like for him. It couldn’t have been fun or joyful, for Jesus knew where he was going. He knew where that procession would ultimately lead. But I wonder if he knew then what we know now. I think that he probably did. He told his disciples what would happen, that he would rise again after three days. But still I wonder if, riding on in majesty, riding on to his death, I wonder if his humanity got in the way of his divinity.

I wonder if he wondered, whether it would really happen, if he really would rise after three days. By then he knew that his death was inevitable but did he know that his resurrection was as well? Jesus was, as Paul wrote, in the form of God though he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Did he fully and completely believe that once he humbled himself, to the point of death, that God would then exalt him and raise him from death to eternal life? Riding on into Jerusalem could he see past the cross and the grave to the empty tomb? Could he see his Father on his sapphire throne awaiting him? Maybe he could. Maybe he had full and complete confidence that he would rise from death.

That confidence, if it is there at all, seems to falter as the week goes on, as he draws closer to the cross. Just before his arrest, Jesus prays in the garden, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” Certainly that request could be more about the fear of the pain of crucifixion than about any doubts of resurrection. Whatever it is about, it serves as a great reminder to us. It reminds us that Jesus was human, just like us; that he had doubts and fears, just like us; that he felt pain and sorrow, just like us. Yet, even though he was just like us, he rode on, rode on in majesty.

Jesus knew where he was heading, he knew where the journey would end. And he rode on anyway. In lowly pomp, he rode on to die. He rode on to approach the cross as the sacrifice, not for his sins, but for ours. He rode on and bowed his head to mortal pain. Despite his doubts and fears, despite the pain and sorrow he knew was waiting for him, Jesus rode on.

That is indeed reason for us to celebrate today, to celebrate with great joy. The fact that Jesus loved us, and all the world, so much, that he rode on is great cause to celebrate. For Jesus knew that everyone would desert him, betray him and deny him. And he still rode on! That is the paradox of Palm Sunday- that sorrow underlies the joy, that there is fear beside the hope, that death accompanies life. It is why the rest of Holy Week is so important.

We could easily go from the anticipatory joy of Palm Sunday to the overwhelming joy of Easter Sunday and miss all that comes in between. We could go from “Hosanna, Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!” to “the Lord is risen indeed!” … just like that. However that would be kind of like reading the first and last chapters of a book or watching the beginning and end of a movie, while skipping everything that happens in between.

Doing so during Holy Week, we would miss out on some of the most important teachings, some of the most important events in Jesus’ life. It’s no accident that right after Jesus says “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites” and proceeds to tell them why they are hypocrites, it’s no accident that right after that, he tells them what they should be doing instead: feeding the hungry and giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger and clothing the naked, caring for the sick and visiting the prisoners, doing for the “least of these”. It’s no accident that Jesus is sitting in the Jerusalem temple, just days away from his betrayal and arrest, his crucifixion and death, when he says that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love your neighbor. All of this is why Holy Week is important, it reminds us why we don’t want to miss out on all that happens in between Palm Sunday and Easter. The word “holy” means to be set apart. And the days of this coming week are meant to be holy and set apart. It is why we have set our sanctuary apart from its normal appearance and transformed it into this beautiful prayer garden. So that we can have a place to come as we set this week apart from our daily routines and schedules and we make time to come and worship. It is place that we can meet as we journey from Palm Sunday to Easter. It is where we can come and ride on with Jesus into all that lies before us- the sorrow and the joy, the fear and the hope, the death and the life.

Brothers and Sisters, let us set apart this holy week and ride on with Jesus. Let us be here, with him and with each other.

Ride on! Ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;
O Christ your triumphs now begin o’er captive death and conquered sin.

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Transfiguration Sunday – February 26, 2017
“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes” Rev. Joe Moore

 

It has taken awhile but I’m finally starting to feel comfortable preaching from up here in this high pulpit. Like almost everything else involved with coming here to New Philadelphia, it was a big change. Only once had I ever preached from such a high pulpit. When I was in seminary, serving as the student pastor at Nazareth Moravian, their sanctuary had a pulpit that was probably even higher up than this one. It was rarely used. But on one Sunday, when I was going to be preaching, the pastor told me that I needed to try out preaching from the high pulpit. He said, You never know, you might end up serving a church that has a high pulpit.” And here I am.

 

Like most changes, even insignificant ones, it seems daunting at first, but then with time, you begin to adjust, you begin to get used to it, you start to feel comfortable. Today is Transfiguration Sunday and it is a Sunday about change, specifically about change in appearance. One year, I even kind of had my own transfiguration Sunday, though it didn’t happen on the actual Transfiguration Sunday” it did happen on an important Sunday about 7 Sundays later. My transfiguration Sunday was Easter Sunday 2015.

 

That Easter was a big one for me. Earlier in the year, I was elected the Chair of the Salem Congregation Board of Elders. Among other things, that meant that I got to preside at the Easter Sunrise Service in God’s Acre. Having grown up attending that service, and having several generations of my family buried in that cemetery, it was a pretty big thrill for me to get to lead that service. But after leading 8,000 people in proclaiming the resurrection, it was a bit anticlimactic to lead the morning worship at Fries Moravian. So I decided to make a little change.

 

So, are you ready for this? On Easter Sunday, I wore a bow tie for the first time ever. Now that may seem insignificant but for me, it was a big deal. I had spent years rolling my eyes whenever I saw someone sporting a bow tie. I just didn’t like them and thought that they looked kind of silly. They definitely weren’t for me. Until that Easter Sunday when I decided to transform my appearance by sporting a bow tie. And I can’t really tell you why I changed my mind about bow ties. I can’t really give you a reason why I changed that part of my appearance but I can tell you that I liked it enough to keep on wearing bow ties. I haven’t really worn one here because I’m not sure how it would look with a preaching robe. But I still wear them when I can.  So change, even in something as trivial as me wearing a bow tie, can happen.

 

Change may take a long time to come about, or it may be instantaneous but when it happens it can be good and it can be lasting. In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is transfigured”. He is changed. His appearance changes. It begins as he takes Peter, James and John up on a mountaintop to pray. While they are there, while Jesus was praying, his appearance changes. His face becomes different. His clothes become dazzling white. And he just looks different.

 

While there is more to the story the fact that Jesus changes is the essence of Transfiguration Sunday. That is what it is all about. That is why we call it the Transfiguration.” That is what transfiguration means. It is a change in appearance that signifies more than a physical change. It is also a spiritual change. Actually, the physical change is just a sign of the spiritual change.

 

Think about that for a second: Jesus (the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God) Jesus himself underwent a spiritual change. I think that sometimes that idea kind of gets lost or overlooked in this story. We tend to focus on the physical change in Jesus–the altered appearance and dazzling white clothes- or on the sudden appearance of Moses and Elijah. Or even on the reactions of Peter, James and John; Peter wanting to build a shelter so that they could stay there forever. Or we focus on the voice of God, speaking from the cloud: This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him!” We focus on all of those important, amazing and exciting parts of this story. And, when we do, we overlook what it is really all about: that Jesus himself experienced a spiritual change.

 

The Gospel doesn’t go into the details of the spiritual change Jesus experienced. We don’t know the what or the why of the change that took place within him- the spiritual change that was seen in his transfigured appearance. But we do know that a change happened. And we know that very soon after Jesus was transfigured, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Prior to this moment, he had spent most of his ministry in and around Galilee. It was there, away from the center of religious and political power, where he preached and taught and healed. It was there where he proclaimed the coming of the kingdom- where the meek will inherit the earth, where the deaf will hear, where the blind will see, where the world is turned upside down.

 

Jesus had been there and he had done that. And now he was transfigured, he was spiritually changed. His face was set and he was ready to go and accomplish” what he needed to do in Jerusalem. He was ready to enter the city in humble triumph, to cleanse the Temple and confront the Pharisees. Jesus was ready to share a last supper with his disciples and to tell them to take his body and blood and to ask them to remember him in them. Jesus was even ready for Judas to betray him and lead his enemies to him to arrest him. He was ready for his trial before the Chief Priests and Pilate. He was even ready for his crucifixion.

 

After Jesus was transfigured, after that spiritual change had occurred, JESUS WAS READY. He was ready to die and rise to new life. And we all know what happened when he did. So, what about us? Are we ready? Are we ready to be transfigured? To be spiritually changed? To be transformed? Are we ready to die to our old lives and rise to new life?

 

We may think that we don’t need to be changed, to be transformed. But if it was necessary for Jesus, then it is probably necessary for us. And while we don’t know the what and the why of Jesus’ transformation, the what and they why of our transformation is easy to see:  we need to change to be more like him. We need to change to be more like Jesus.

 

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live our lives in such a way that when people look at us, they see Jesus. They see grace. They see forgiveness. They see compassion. They see faith. They see hope. They see love. So the change that needs to take place within us, the transformation that needs to occur, is for us to live as imitators of Jesus.”

 

Living our lives as imitators of Jesus is what the weeks to come are all about. The season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday, it is a time for us to examine ourselves. It is an opportunity for us to determine the what and the why of our own spiritual change. It is a chance for us to begin our own transfiguration. We do so as we ask ourselves what we need to do to be imitators of Christ, as we examine what we need to change so that we can be more like Jesus. The season of Lent is the time for us to set our face to Jerusalem” It is when we confront  those things  in our lives that we need to allow to die, in order for God to bring new life.

 

The next six weeks give us the chance to change to be more like Jesus. It may seem daunting at first, the idea that we can change to be more like Jesus. It may be something that we even resist. Being like Jesus looks like it is something that is hard to do. Living like Jesus looks like it is something that is hard to do. Loving like Jesus looks like it is something that is hard to do. Serving like Jesus looks like something that is hard to do. Can we serve others before we even take care of our own needs? Because that is how Jesus served. Can we love unconditionally? Because that is how Jesus loved. Can we live, not for what we want but for what God wants? Because that is how Jesus lived.

 

Those are tough questions. They represent changes that are difficult for us to even see, much less for us to make in our lives. But that is what the season of Lent allows us to do. It allows to see how we need to change to be like Jesus. During the next six weeks, the time between now and Easter, we have opportunity for prayer and reflection. We have the chance to study and learn. We have the chance to worship and serve. We have the chance to change to be more like Jesus.

 

Change is not easy. Transformation is hard. And it can’t be done alone, we need each other to help each other as we change and grow. The day of my transfiguration”,  that Easter Sunday when I wore my first bow tie,  there was one thing that I didn’t tell you about it. But I needed help to do it. I couldn’t tie my bow tie. I watched videos online and I tried and I tried and I tried. And I came close but never got it quite right. So I asked for help. I brought my bow tie to church and one of the church members helped me to tie it.

 

That’s important to remember.  No matter what change that we need to make in our lives. No matter what it is that we need to do to be more like Jesus. No matter how hard it is to do that, there are people who have already done it. People right here in this church. And they can help us. We can help each other. That is one of the reasons that God has brought us together.

 

As we enter into the season of Lent, let us set our faces to Jerusalem. Let us get ready. Let us get ready to change, so that we can be more like Jesus. So that we can live like Jesus, so that we can love like Jesus, so that we can serve like Jesus. The only way to be it is to do it. It is time to face the strange” things in our lives, those things that prevent us from revealing the image of God that dwells in each of us. It is time to face the changes that we need to make. It is time for us become imitators of Jesus. It is time for our transfiguration.

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Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017 – Home Moravian
Sister Fran Saylor
10 a.m. Coffee Hour
10:45 a.m. Music
11 a.m. Worship, Nursery Provided

Sunday, March 5, 2017 – Christ Moravian
Rev. Kelly Moore
2 p.m. Lovefeast, Nursery Provided

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – Trinity Moravian
Dr. Debbie Norris Lanier
11 a.m. Worship
Luncheon

Wednesday, March 15 – Ardmore Moravian
Dr. Robert Shackleford
9:45 a.m. Coffee Hour
10:45 a.m. Music
11 a.m. Worship, Nursery Provided

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 – Calvary Moravian
Rev. Dr. Nola Knouse
9:45 a.m. Coffee Hour
11 a.m. Worship, Nursery Provided

Wednesday, March 29, 2017 – Fairview Moravian
Rev. Dr. David Marcus
10:30 a.m. Band Prelude
11 a.m. Worship with Communion, Nursery Provided

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 – Konnoak Hills Moravian
Rt. Rev. Dr. Graham Rights
11 a.m. Lovefeast

April 9 – Palm Sunday
April 14 – Good Friday
April 16 – Easter Sunday

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For the fifth consecutive year, a Devotion Guide has been produced to accompany our journeys through the Lenten season.

Forty-seven authors from within the New Philadelphia congregation have reflected on scripture passages from the Moravian Daily Text, beginning with Ash Wednesday on March 1 and ending on Easter Sunday, April 16. Using the theme, Jesus the King, children in the NPMC Preschool have produced artwork to accompany the devotions. One thousand copies of the Guide have been printed and will be available during worship on Sunday, February 26.

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The Reverend Christy Clore, our Director of Christian Education, has accepted a call and a contract has been approved for her to serve as the Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Reidsville, NC.  This is a designated intentional interim position, so she will be helping this congregation transition from their retiring pastor while helping them move through a period of discernment for their future ministry. Christy is not leaving the Moravian Church, she is serving “on loan” from the Southern Province to the Presbyterian Church. 

After feeling led to pursue training in transitional or intentional interim ministry, she has been seeking opportunities to serve as either an intentional interim or installed pastor.  As an ordained pastor, she was granted permission from the Provincial Elders Conference to seek opportunities in Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations through our covenant partnership.  Just as many of you remember the Reverend Joel Long who served with us, a number of other Presbyterian pastors have served Moravian congregations.  Salem Presbytery is eager for the exchange to move the other direction and Christy brings collegial connections in both the transitional and educational ministries of both denominations to this relationship.

Christy’s last day serving the New Philadelphia congregation will be Sunday, February 19 and she will be delivering the sermon for the day.  We will also be celebrating our Preschool Program during the 11:10 Worship. She will begin her ministry with First Reidsville on Sunday, February 26 so that she may begin the Lenten season with them.

To thank Christy for her service to New Philadelphia, we will be having a reception in her honor during the Sunday School hour on Sunday, February 19. The reception will be in the Fellowship Hall.

If you would like to contribute to a love offering that we are collecting to give to Christy, you can send your contributions to the church office. Please indicate that it is designated for “Christy Clore Love Offering”

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Life or Death, the Choice is Ours – Rev. Joe Moore

February 12, 2017

 

I received an email this week from one of the members of Fries Memorial this week. It is always nice to hear from people like that, people who I have shared my life and faith with over the years. She was just checking in- to let me know how she was doing and to see how we were doing. She also mentioned how much she enjoyed, and now missed, our book club. Over the 5 years that I served at Fries, we had our book club sporadically. We would find a good book and spend a few weeks on it, then take a few weeks off, even a few months, till we found another book that we would want to do. We read a wide variety of books- from Henri Nouwen, to Harper Lee, to Peter Gomes, to CS Lewis.

 

Last summer, our weekly Book Club at Fries Moravian read a book called Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, written by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I have to admit that I was hesitant to suggest it for our book club. Even though Nadia Bolz-Weber is an ordained Lutheran pastor, a lot of people would say that she is one of the wrong people.” At least she would seem that way when judged solely by her appearance. Nadia definitely doesn’t look like a pastor. Even when she is wearing her clergy collar, she wears it with sleeveless shirts so everyone can see her muscular arms, which are covered with tattoos.

 

Despite her appearance and her rough language (she definitely uses language that I wouldn’t use in church or anywhere else for that matter), despite her not looking like we expect a pastor to look, or writing like we would expect a pastor write, we all really enjoyed the book. It inspired some very good discussion and offered some wonderful insights into our lives as Christians. Even though sometimes we still found ourselves talking about how she looks.

 

Towards the end of our study, we were talking about all of the tattoos that Nadia Bolz-Weber has, one of the members of the group said something along the lines of never being able to imagine a pastor with tattoos. It was not at all judgmental, it was more of a statement about how much things have changed over the years in the world and in the church. Hearing it, though, I couldn’t resist pointing out that I have a tattoo myself.

 

I was honestly surprised that it hadn’t been noticed before. It is pretty visible, if not obvious. My tattoo is right on the side of my left wrist and I got it on July 22, 2015, my wife’s birthday. And Kelly has one too, on the side of her foot. We went together to get them to celebrate her birthday last year. Honestly, I never EVER thought I would get a tattoo. And there was even less chance that Kelly would get one. But it just seemed like the right thing for us to do.

 

Our tattoos are both semi-colons and the represent the importance of not putting a period where God puts a semi-colon. A period signals an ending while a semi-colon is just a pause. Whenever a writer uses a semi-colon, it is a reminder to stop and pause, to take in and reflect upon everything that is going on. It’s not the end, it’s just stop and pause. As God is writing the story of our lives, he only uses a period once, on the day our life is meant to come to an end. But God uses semi-colons a lot.

 

Because as God’s children, our lives are a continuing story. A story that requires us to pause every once in awhile; to reflect on where we are and where we have been and where we want to go, and to reflect on who we are, who we have been and who we want to be. A semi-colon is a reminder to take time for that pause and that reflection.

 

Lots of people have semi-colon tattoos to reinforce that reminder. Kelly and I got the idea to get our tattoos from the Project Semi-Colon, which creates awareness of this need to pause by the symbol of the semi-colon. The Project Semi-Colon website describes it as a “movement dedicated to presenting hope and love to those who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction, and self-injury. Project Semi-colon exists to encourage, love, and inspire.”

 

Since you are still getting to know us and especially getting to know Kelly, she said that it would be okay for me to share with you that she struggles with depression. It has been a battle she has fought throughout her life. It is not something she is ashamed of, having depression is no different than having diabetes or high blood pressure. But it does carry a certain stigma, some people are ashamed of it. Even though they shouldn’t be.

 

In addition to Kelly’s depression,  we have both had family members who have suffered from addictions. So I decided (and amazingly Kelly agreed) that we should get semi-colon tattoos to remind each other, and everyone who sees them, of the importance of not putting a period where God puts a semi-colon; as a reminder of the importance of maintaining faith and hope; as a reminder of the importance of choosing life. It is a choice that we all face; to choose life over death.

 

As we read in Deuteronomy,  I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life…” So there it is. Life and death, blessings and curses are set before us. And the choice is ours. Certainly, for many people, it is very much a literal choice between life and death. Mental illness, depression, addictions, often lead the sufferer to consider taking their own life. They are unable to see life and blessings as belonging together. They see life as a curse, for them and for those that love them. They feel that the best way, the only way,  to end that curse is to end their life.

 

In 2014, more than 41,000 Americans chose to end their life. They chose death over life. That means on average, 112 people each day make this choice for death over life. Some people believe it to be the unforgivable sin.” I don’t believe that it is up to us to decide or determine what sins are forgivable and which are not. But it is up to us to help bring those numbers down. It is up to us to help EVERYONE choose life.

 

It is up to the church to be the place where those who are struggling with this choice, who are suffering so greatly from illness of body, mind and spirit that they are contemplating choosing death over life; it is up to the church to help them find ways to choose life. It takes more than simply telling them to pray more or read the Bible more. The church needs to be a place where these struggles can be talked about; safely, openly, freely. The church needs to be a place where these struggles can be addressed. Not with judgement or condemnation or exclusion; but with love and compassion and inclusion.

 

The church needs to be a place of the Semi-Colon.” The place where people can come to pause; and reflect on where they are and where they have been and where they want to go; and reflect on who they are, who they have been and who they want to be. The church needs to be this place where not people can not only come to pause and reflect, but also a place where they can come to be reminded.

 

Reminded that they are they beloved children of God; reminded that they are created in God’s image; reminded that they are loved unconditionally. The church needs to be a place where the choice that is set before, the choice between life and death and blessings and curses, becomes much easier to make.

 

This is a place that we all need. Whether we suffer from a mental illness or not, whether or not we struggle to choose physical life over death, we are all still faced with that choice. Each and every day we are faced with the choice between life or death, blessings or curses. Even when we are not faced with the choice of whether physically live or die, we are faced with the choice of what kind of life we will live. Will we choose a life of blessings or of curses?

 

            This may seem like a ridiculous question. Of course we would all choose a life of blessings. But while we may think that we (and everyone else) would choose a life of blessings over curses; our actual lives, our true choices, tell a different story. We far too often choose curses over blessings, or we just choose to focus on our curses and not our blessings. Whenever we complain about what we don’t have rather than rejoice in what we do have, we are not choosing the life God has created us to live. Whenever we allow our fear and anxiety rather than our hope and faith to guide us, we are not choosing the life God wants us to have. Whenever we judge and exclude others rather than love and welcome them, we are not choosing the life that God calls us to live.

 

The church does indeed need to be a semi-colon place.” It needs to be a place where we pause and consider our choices, and resolve to choose blessings over curses. The church needs to be the place where we choose the life that God has created for us rather than the lives we create for ourselves. The church needs to be the place where we choose hope and faith, where we choose to be loving and welcoming.

 

The church needs to be a place where we can all pause; and reflect on where we are and where we have been and where we want to go; reflect on who we are, who we have been and who we want to be. The church needs to be THE place where we can choose life; where we can choose to live a blessed and abundant life; where we can choose to share our blessings and our abundance with those in need.  The church, the Moravian Church, THIS church, needs to be this place. Now, more than ever, the church needs to be this place.

 

As I said last week, in a world that seems to be becoming more and more divided, in a nation whose citizens are growing further and further apart, the church, OUR CHURCH, needs to be a place where we can invite people to come together, to unify around Jesus Christ, and him crucified. We need to be caring, we need to be worshipping, we need to be encouraging, we need to be seeking, we need to be following. We need to be doing all of those things, we need to be BEING all of those things- caring, worshiping, encouraging, seeking, following- so that the world can look at us and see hope and peace and joy and love, so that the world can see Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

 

We need choose to live our lives in Jesus Christ. And we need to make certain that our church is where people who are struggling with life can come and have life and have it abundantly, to make certain that our church is a place where WE can come when we are struggling with life can come and have life.

 

Brothers and Sisters, it is time to choose life. It is time to choose blessing. It is time to choose hope and faith. It is time to choose love. God has set the choice before us. It is up to us to make it.  So let us choose life and let us choose to be the people that God has created us to be; people of faith and love and hope. So let us choose blessings and let us choose to be the people that the world needs us to be. Let us make our church the place that God created it to be and that the world needs it to be; a place of life and a place of love.

 

Amen

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