First Notes – January 2016

Year in and year out, we start out the month of January with the last five days of the Christmas season and the celebration of Epiphany. Normally, I’d begin the January issue of the Chapel Chimes with some reflections on the start of a new year, but this year I thought that I’d take a different approach and share some thoughts that came to me during the performance of “The Living Nativity” back in the middle of December.

It’s funny how certain thoughts come to mind at certain times. This year marked the seventh production of “The Living Nativity.” I’ve been fortunate to have portrayed one of the Magi during that seven year stretch, and the nature of the story or the staging doesn’t change much—except that this year we actually had a King Herod physically present in the drama. There is that scene where, after the Magi have offered their gifts to the Christ Child, they return home—not through Bethlehem and a meeting with Herod—but by a different way.

I’ve been familiar with the telling of that story in Matthew’s gospel since I was a small child and it’s been part of those seven years of staging “The Living Nativity.” Yet, for whatever reason, when we had a King Herod on stage, the words struck me in a slightly different way. Yes, we would not physically return over the same path by which we had arrived, but there seemed to be more to it than that. Perhaps the Wise Men returned back a different way emotionally and spiritually, as well, after having made that pilgrimage to see the child. It would be hard to imagine that the journey hadn’t changed them in some way, and that they would never look at things in quite the same way as before.

In that moment during the production, the thought came to me: Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if you and I returned on our way back from our celebrations of Christmas in a different way, too? Wouldn’t it be great if our celebrations of Christmas opened up our lives to greater understanding, greater kindness, and greater love? Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t just go through the motions this year?

It is my hope that this year’s celebration of the twelve days of the Christmas season may transform your hearts and minds through the light of Christ. It is my hope that you will find greater joy, gratitude, and love in this season. It is my hope that you, too, will go home a different way.

May you find blessings in these last days of Christmas, Epiphany and the start of 2016.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – December 2015

As I sit down to write this pastoral note on the Thursday before Thanksgiving, I will admit to you that I’m sure still carrying a heavy heart over the Paris attacks of November 13th. Like many of you, I could only take so much before I had to turn off the TV and browse other stories online. For the life of me, I can’t understand how ideology or theology can drive people to commit such heinous acts. I am heartsick over this series of events.

Yet, while the world continues to ponder and grieve over this tragedy, the church moves on towards the liturgical season of Advent ready or not. In its own way, that development can be both a source of sadness and a source of hope. The approach of Advent can bring us to sadness when we realize just how far short of God’s justice, mercy, and righteousness this world of ours is. We live in a world punctuated by episodes of violence, terror, and great cruelty. We live in a world of displaced people. We live in a world where human life and human dignity is treated so callously. It is easy to despair when we see the gap between where this world is and where God calls us to be.

However, the approach of Advent is also a source of hope, even in difficult times. Advent is a reminder that God is not finished with this world or finished with any of us, despite our nasty tendencies to botch things up. The world was no less a place of cruelty and violence when Jesus came to proclaim the good news of God’s reign. In spite of the odds against success, the seeds of God’s Reign were sown in the soil of human hearts. Some failed to hear the message, while others heard it gladly. And where it was heard gladly it bore fruit.

As the church, we are the resistance movement against the forces of darkness. We carry light when the world is surrounded by shadows. We are called to bear witness to the transforming love of God. We may not prevail in every struggle, but we remain part of the fight. Making the rounds in the social media these days is a creative interpretation of commentary that the ancient rabbi, Tarfon (yes, that’s two rabbinic quotes in back-to-back months, I realize) made about the passage of Micah 6:8. The interpretation runs something like this: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Advent reminds us that we’re still in the game and that God is with us.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

 

First Notes – November 2015

Given the practice of the modern church and the culture in which we live, we spend some time giving lip service to the notion of “gratitude” during the month of November. We are encouraged to be grateful for the things that God has entrusted to us. Yet, what exactly does this idea of “gratitude” involve? It is a simple recounting of all the wonderful things that have happened in our lives, or is it something more?

I’ve long believed that simply gathering in the pews to give thanks, or to gather around our tables on the fourth Thursday of November to list our blessings falls well short of what “gratitude” is all about. There needs to be something more. It’s not enough to be appreciative—although being appreciative is a good thing to be. Gratitude needs to be turned into action.

Every day contains an abundance of blessing and joy. These gifts were not meant to be hoarded away; they were meant to be shared and multiplied. How can we best use these gifts to make a positive difference in the lives of others? That, I believe, is the question that “gratitude” prompts us to ask. The ancient rabbi, Hillel the Elder, who lived in the time just before Jesus, posed this question: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”

We are not here to simply list the goodies we’ve been given but to be the best of our selves and the best of our church for the world around us. And there’s no time for that like the present. May our “gratitude” be an active, dynamic one—not just in this season of the year, but always.
Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert

First Notes – October 2015

Heading into October, the ministries of the program year are well underway. Choirs are rehearsing, church school children and their teachers are meeting on Sunday mornings, and the Confirmation program is in full swing. I anticipate that come October, folks will start to embrace the fall schedule of events in their lives.

I have no great issues or themes to share with you this month (aside from the ones that we preach in worship), but there are three reminders of events described in greater detail in the newsletter that I want to list, briefly.

First, there are one of our “5-For5” all-church offerings, Neighbors In Need (NIN), that we will be receiving on October 4th—World Communion Sunday. NIN is a special mission offering of the UCC that supports ministries of justice and compassion throughout the United States. One-third of NIN funds support the Council for American Indian Ministry. Two-thirds of the offering is used by the UCC’s Justice and Witness ministries to support a variety of justice initiatives, advocacy efforts, and direct service projects through grants. I urge folks to consider supporting this offering with a generous response.

Second, the Praying Hands Ministry is holding their first event on Saturday, October 10th, at 3:30 p.m. (fellowship begins at 3:15 p.m.). I am excited about this ministry: it was generated after our summer study on healing prayer and it is led by a core of church members who have a passion for healing prayer. If you wish to make prayers of healing a greater part of your life, this ministry may be of particular interest to you.

Last, Sunday, October 18th is Children’s Sabbath at Salem. It’s always a good thing when our youth contribute their talents as they participate in worship. The level of energy and enthusiasm is such a positive thing. I hope that many of you will be a part of this Sunday morning worship experience.

There are a lot of good things happening through the ministries of Salem. As always, I invite your prayers, welcome your participation, and encourage your enthusiasm.

Your servant in Christ, Rev. James Hoppert

First Notes – September 2015

As I begin this page, I am struck by one thought: man, the summer season sure went by quickly around here! In terms of actual church programming, the summer season may be a quieter time, but it isn’t a quiet time in terms of preparation for the upcoming months. Various committees and ministries have been quite active during these summer months and this has been one of the most active summers that I can remember during my time here at Salem.

Among some of the things that we’ve been doing this summer:

Our confirmation program has made some changes in the material that we’re presenting to the confirmands and we’re presenting more opportunities for worship and service.

The Mission and Stewardship Committee has spent much time looking at the mission of the church and how it presents that mission to the congregation. One of our mission emphases will be local: our neighborhood school, Fairview, and its community. We had a drive to help furnish school supplies this summer and other opportunities will present themselves to us in the weeks and months ahead.

Our Church and Ministry Committee has worked on ways of better connecting members of the congregation with one another, and has developed a questionnaire (included in this newsletter) which may help us to meet that goal.

Our adult Bible study on healing this summer has sparked interest in beginning a healing ministry at Salem. A ministry of healing prayer and special services of healing may well be the outgrowth of this summer’s study.

September will find us returning to our regular schedule of programming and the ministry that accompanies it. New things will be appearing on the horizon in the months ahead, so stay tuned to things as they develop.

One final note before I close out this front page: the Lectionary takes us through the Epistle of James from August 30th through September 27th. Since I’ve not spent a great deal of time with the themes of that letter during my ministry with you, I am going to turn those weeks into a sermon series on James. I believe that the Epistle of James has a great deal to say to us.

In the meanwhile, enjoy the waning days of summer.

Your servant in Christ,

Rev. Jim Hoppert