Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Showing up for Christmas

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. (Galatians 4:4-5 NRSV)


The saying goes, ninety percent of life is just showing up.   Indeed, showing up is a good way to explain what God has done in the story of the coming of Jesus Christ. God showed up to be with us in our world.  Jesus would be called Immanuel, Hebrew for the "with us" God. 

One simple thing that I have  through life learned is that people show up because they care. Some of the most powerful moments I have seen are when someone shows up to something important to me when I did not expect that person to be there. Likewise, some of life's greatest disappointments are when someone I counted on to be there for me failed to arrive. To show up or not, is a vote about whether we care or not. 

The people who really care are those who have the love to show up not only when they approve of things, or are comfortable, but those who show up when they are disappointed or know that arriving will bring mixed feelings.  This is the kind of showing up modeled in the coming of Jesus Christ through the miracle of the incarnation. This kind of showing up has a word to describe it, forgiveness.


What compels someone to show up in situations that are not easy, or even dangerous? How can we forgive those who have hurt us? The Gospel clearly shows that the motivation of this kind of thing is always love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:16-17 NRSV) Love is that which bridges the gap caused by sin in our relationships with God and others.

I am asking you to consider remembering those who showed up in your life when times were bad, and especially those who showed up after your actions had hurt them. These are those that love you.  These are those who have compassion for you. Compassion in popular parlance is synonymous with empathy.  In theological terms, compassion is much more; it sticks to its root meaning in Latin, to suffer with.  To forgive means to accept suffering for love, the person offering forgiveness always suffers a bit to extend it.  So yes, forgiveness hurts. The bible reminds us there is no forgiveness without some sacrifice. "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22 NRSV)

The word compassion is a great shorthand Gospel summary.  God has empathy and decides to come and show up to be with us in our time of need.  Even though our need has been created by our own failures, mistakes, and lashing out, God still shows up. This is love. This is the meaning behind the hope of Advent and the promise of Christmas.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Rule of Grace

Where Do You See God's Grace? 

This entire year throughout the world people have remembered, celebrated, and discussed the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.   The central tenet of the movement was a renewed understanding of God's saving grace.  Simply put, God acts first to bring us to him.  We don't act first to approach God.   This truth is revealed in the letter of Paul to the Ephesians "he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." (Ephesians 1:9-11 NRSV) The reformers asked the tough question; are our church's practices consistent with the person and work of Jesus Christ.   This is the critical question for our time today.   Are our actions reflecting the love shown to us in the life, death, resurrection and love of Jesus Christ.

A couple of key points to remember are:

1. God decided to love us by sending Christ, we had no choice in the matter. 

2.  Christ did the work of cross and resurrection without our help.

3.  God asks us to be gracious to others in the same way God has been gracious to us.

These points are summed up in Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.... For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, (NRSV)  

The Rule of Grace 

Intentional Christian communities often live by a rule.  The most well known being the Rule of St. Benedict.  The monastic rule is less a series of commands than a formula.   It is a way of going through the day in which one encounters God.  Time is measured through prayer and worship.  The time is allotted for meaningful work, meditation, tending relationships and rest.   It is through following this rule that communities hope to walk with God and be a blessing to their neighbors.  Like one would expect living in a mixed up world with mixed up people, sometimes this worked and sometimes it did not.   The times it did work was when the communities were guided by the higher rule (or as Paul would say the more excellent way).  This higher rule is one that binds all Christians.  We are to follow the Rule of Grace; we are to be a gift for the world, giving gifts to the world.

Using the above definition of the Rule of Grace, I would like you to think about applying it in three ways.   First, as challenge or command to be a person who is gracious in his or her dealings.   We are called to be people who understand that God's grace is not limited to spiritual things.  The material blessings we have, home, food, leisure, job, community and the natural beauty of this world are all evidence of a gracious God's provision.

Second, that we use the Rule of Grace as formula to guide how we should look at things, solve problems and contribute to the life of our community, country, and world.  When dealing with an issue we ask how does this stand in the light of God's grace.

Finally, we let the Rule of Grace rule our hearts and minds.  We approach God in prayer and understand that though we may try to earn, build or work grace, that is not what gives us dignity and salvation.  That has been already given by God through the person and work of Jesus Christ.   Being people of grace we humbly understand that it is our Lord who ultimately in control.  We are therefore freed from fear of sin, death, and rejection, because we know that God is good and God loves us. 

The World Needs People of Grace 

One things that seems to unite all sides in the debates raging in society today is a lack of graciousness. Partisans from all political, social and religious groups  have decided that demonization and judgement of their opponents (or convenient targets) is the only way to achieve goals.   Our Lord did not act like this, God gave grace precisely when it was not deserved or earned.  This changed the world.   Being people of grace is good news not just for us alone but for those who interact with us on a daily basis.  This is not just about us.  Grace is God's gift to the world.   So I am asking you to live by the Rule of Grace and let grace rule your life.

Be blessed
Pastor Knecht

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Holy Cross to participate in the Homeless Sabbath Weekend December 17th

Community Access Unlimited, Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, Family Promise of Union County, Gateway Family YMCA, HomeFirst, Iris House, Monarch Housing and the Union County Interfaith Coordinating Council are asking us to please join them for this year for a “call to action” on the second annual Homeless Sabbath Weekend December 15-17, 2017, on behalf of all people who are homeless in Union County. We at Holy Cross are pleased to be a part of this ministry! So we will remember the homeless in worship and show how our church is working to house those in need in our area.

What Can I Do for My Homeless Neighbors?

Donate – Union County has a full continuum of services for the homeless provided by non-profits. Even a small contribution can help their clients find a place to call home;

Volunteer – all the non-profits need volunteers to help in their work to end homelessness. Every age,skill and talent are needed;

Attend -- the Homeless Persons Memorial Day Vigil December 21 st 7PM at the First Presbyterian Church of Cranford to help remember our neighbors who died due to lack of housing and supportive

Engage – talk to your family, your neighbors, your co-workers and elected officials about homelessness in Union County and how we need to work together to end homelessness. To achieve

that goal, we need to change the conversation and focus on the needs of our neighbors;

Form a homeless ministry - Begin discussions that focus on what more your congregation can do to end homelessness.

Please share this with your neighbors and encourage them to join you in worship with us on the 17 th orthe vigil on the 21 st.

Thank you in advance for your participation.