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Pastor’s Post for December

Pastor’s Post:

Here we are, once again at the beginning of the liturgical year. I suppose it was the rhythm of the agricultural world in the northern hemisphere, the world that most of our ancestors inhabited until the last one or two centuries, that dictated that the drama of salvation would be played out in our worship during the winter months. For it is between now and Easter in the spring, that the lectionary takes us through the scriptures of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. In the old days, people had more time during the winter for the special holidays and feasts associated with the readings, while the earth slept and there was no sowing, growing and reaping.

It has become something of a tradition for pastors to sermonize against the materialism of modern Christmas. We all must admit that things have certainly gotten way out of hand in terms of the “getting and spending” that characterizes our Decembers. Our domestic economy is more or less built around the business that this special holiday generates. Long ago, Christmas became “secularized” so that millions of people who don’t worship or respect Christ celebrate it for all kinds of reasons. The beloved story, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens was, in fact, a powerful statement of how Christmas can be viewed as a moment in which the innate charitable impulse that lies within most humans is brought to the fore and celebrated, all with no reference to Christ himself, or even God.

Maybe a way we can salvage the original meaning of Christmas this year is to start Advent with a reflection on the other man who is featured in this Scriptural story, that being John the Baptist. Now, we know far less about John than we do about Jesus, but what we are told suggests that he was about as anti-materialist as you can get.

He was the son of a priest, and early in his life he took to an ascetic existence, residing for extended periods in the wilderness, learning to live like an ancient “hunter-gatherer,” a way of life that had more or less disappeared long before the time of Christ. So far as we can tell, his ministry was similar to that of a Baptist country preacher in the U.S. a century or so ago. He preached fire and brimstone, he called people to repent, and he baptized. The Bible does not attribute miracles to John—he wasn’t a healer so much as a disturber. You could say that he prepared the way for Christ by disturbing the complacency of the people, opening them to the possibility of a new way of understanding their relationship to God and to each other. That new relationship would be based on forgiveness and love, and we continue to celebrate it with the generosity of Christmas.

Maybe our time needs a new generation of disturbers, so that we might better appreciate the love in which God holds us in spite of our sinfulness. Old complacencies need to be challenged before the amazing news of God’s grace can be fully appreciated. “We should think of Advent as a time to disturb as well as to celebrate.”

 

Pastor Lou

Pastor’s Post – September 2017

From the Pastor:

I hope that each and every one of you had the opportunity to rest and recreate a bit during the summer months. I am writing this on Labor Day afternoon—a bright and beautiful end-of-summer experience. One can already feel fall creeping in around the edges of the sunshine, but then, the crisp, cool days we can expect during that season are a treasure to anticipate.
Something else to anticipate is the exciting progress we will be attempting this year toward a full and complete merger of our two congregations into one. There won’t be many dull moments! Although I know that we all have our fears and concerns about the process, we should also know that there will be a lot of inspirational conversation and creativity. For example, we shall soon be choosing a name for our new fellowship. I hope that all of you will be involved in this process.
We also will be selecting a new mission statement. Our “Plumbline Committee,” ably co-chaired by Marilyn Rodahan and Wendy Moran, convened again in August, and they are bringing to us a proposed Mission Statement. Here it is:
As an open and welcoming Community of Christian Faith, we accept and honor that responsibility as we partner with all faiths in bringing hope and love to our world. Using Christ as our example, we are committed to reaching out to one another, showing God’s love through service to our community, and seeking new and relevant ways to involve ourselves in meeting the needs of others. Through continual prayer, worship and study of scripture, we are an ever transforming church.
In addition, the committee is offering us a “branding statement” that could easily fit on letterhead, brochures and web sites:
Our Transforming Church:
Join us and develop a personal relationship with Christ through study, worship, and service.
Please read these statements over carefully and thoughtfully. Is this the way you think our church should represent itself to the world? Is anything missing? We will have an opportunity to vote on both statements in congregational meetings in coming months. Your thoughts about them at this moment are welcome.

Pastor’s Post – June 2017

What Will be Happening in Church This Summer

Summer is a time to relax, slow down a bit, and maybe try a thing or two new and different.  I know that many of you will be away vacationing part of the time.  When you travel, look for opportunities to worship with other congregations.  You may pick up ideas that will enrich our spiritual life here.

The Love We Share sermon series

During June, I will be delivering a special series of sermons on the subject:  “The Love We Share.”  (It turns out that I unconsciously borrowed this title from a song in a Disney animated movie about mermaids!)  We will explore together how God’s love for us informs our love for each other, including sexual love, and how the church’s understanding of gender and sexual orientation and marriage has changed and continues to change.  I understand that this remains an area of controversy in churches, and it is not my intention to sow discord, but it is important that we reflect together on certain issues as we strive to shape the mission of our new church.  At least one of the sermons will include an opportunity for dialogue with the congregation, and if there is a felt need for more conversation and study, we certainly can arrange that as well.

Pentecost:  Celebration of the Spirit

Sunday, June 4, the Day of Pentecost, we will be blessed by a special musical contribution by Justin Ramlall who plays the trombone.   Come on time so you won’t miss his prelude.

Honoring our children and young people

Sunday, June 11 during worship we will honor our Sunday School teachers and students and celebrate the achievements of our young people who are completing another school term, graduating or otherwise distinguishing themselves.

Guest Preacher

Sunday, July 9 I will be in St. Louis, attending the bi-annual meeting of PCUSA people known as the “Big Tent.”  The Rev. Mark Tammen, General Presbyter for Long Island, will be preaching at Massapequa.  It has been awhile since Mark has been with us, so please take advantage of this opportunity to hear Mark’s presentation and to greet him.

Worship and Recreation in the Great Outdoors

Last summer the Gathering wrapped up its year by going outside.  We shared a time of reflection and prayer at a nearby organic farm on a warm Sunday afternoon in late June.  This year, the sessions are inviting all members and friends to a special outdoor worship service and picnic on Sunday, July 16.  We will gather at 10 a.m. in Wantagh Park.  The lunch is potluck.  Our reservation allows us to stay as long as we wish through the afternoon, so there will be plenty of time to enjoy God’s creation and have fun together.

Special Music

Our music and choir director, Wayne Dietrich, will be away the first three Sundays of July.  Stella LaMassa and others will be arranging special musical contributions for worship that you won’t want to miss.

Lay Preachers in August

I will be away after Sunday August 6 until Labor Day weekend.  For three Sundays you will be blessed by messages from members of our churches who have volunteered to preach in my absence.  I am sorry I will miss these occasions, and if you are in town, you will really enjoy being in church on those Sabbaths.

Pastor’s Post – May 2017

From-the-Pastor-2

Dear Members and Friends: 

 Thank you to everyone who made Holy Week a special time of inspiration and communion with each other.  It is clear to me that we have a talented congregation that has much to offer to enrich our worship experience.  And this is not to mention the joyful Easter vigil hosted by Sweet Hollow Presbyterian Church on Saturday evening.  For the past two years we have benefited from the musical and liturgical gifts of our friends and neighbors in many Long Island congregations who come together for this special event.  It is a joyful experience to discover our fellowship in Christ extends to so many fine people all over the area. 

The life of faith is intimately related to the means of communication that are available to us. When Jesus lived, communication was so much slower than it is now, that it is hard for us to imagine how the Gospel spread from town to town.  Jesus did a lot of walking, and speaking to crowds, and preaching in synagogues.  After his death and resurrection and ascension to heaven, his disciples followed in his footsteps, walking out of Jerusalem and Galilee, travelling the roads to neighboring countries, boarding sailing vessels to reach all corners of the known world.  When they reached a new town or city, they would begin preaching in the town square and in the synagogues, if such existed there.  The missionaries, most notably Paul, then began to write letters to churches they had organized.  These letters probably traveled in the luggage of trusted members of the Christian community.  One can imagine that it would take at least several weeks for a letter to travel from Jerusalem to Ephesus or Rome.  Given these realities of communications, it took about four centuries for Christianity to become the dominant religion of the Empire.   

 Fast forward to the Protestant Reformation, almost exactly 500 years ago, and 1,500 years after the life of Christ.  The news of the Reformed faith was transmitted much more quickly than would have been possible in the ancient world through a new system of information sharing based on the printing press. It took less than one century for Luther and Calvin’s form of Christianity to take root in every corner of western civilization.  Of course, it did not become the dominant faith in many areas which remained in the grip of Catholicism, but the genie was out of the bottle in terms of the spread of information throughout the populace.  More and more people learned to read, and out of the rich soil of literate Protestant populations sprang the modern realities of representative democracy and an informed and self-determining laity and citizenry.   

 Today, we can look back on the last 100 years in which communications technology has increased the speed and the reach of information sharing at a breathtaking pace.  And now, it seems as though every year brings a new form of communication into our hands.  We have broken loose from centralized systems such as radio and TV networks.  Everybody has a chance to be a media phenomenon. Reputations can be made or destroyed overnight.  National leaders can put their messages directly into our in-boxes without the media filter we are used to.  In turn, in a matter of seconds, we the people can flood them with thousands or millions of individual messages on any given topic.   

 So far as communicating the Gospel is concerned, media technology is neutral.  The Good News can travel by word of mouth, by the printed word on paper, by preaching to an assembled audience, but it can also travel by e-mail, Facebook, You Tube, and Twitter.  Our worship is currently conducted using the printed word on paper, the spoken word using electronic microphones and speakers, and music using electronic instruments and our assembled voices.  We also use our bodies a little bit by shaking hands or embracing when we “pass the peace.”   

 As we build our new congregation, we have an important opportunity to experiment with all the new forms of communication that are available.  Money is, of course, an important limiting factor for us.  Yet, we will be doing the best we can with what we have.  As we proceed with these efforts, that started some time ago with the creation of web sites for the two congregations and Facebook pages, along with limited use of visual aids in worship, I hope you will find your experience of the Christian life being expanded in a positive direction.  Be sure to let me and the session know what you think about various innovations.   

 Three things that will be unfolding in coming months: 

1) Elder Scott Newsam is guiding us into the world of “Google for nonprofits” which promises to be a great platform for communication and work sharing within our fellowship.                                                   2) It seems likely that we will be purchasing the digital version of the new PCUSA hymnal, Glory to God.  Using projectors and screens, we will be able to enhance our music in worship with hundreds of new hymns and songs, many of which have been written in the past two decades.                                               3) We will be using projected images in worship on a regular basis.  Getting the set up to work well may take some time and effort. 

    Pastor Lou

 

 

 

 

Pastor’s Post for April

From the Pastor

Dear Members and Friends: 

 The Lenten home communions have been a delightful and meaningful experience for those who have participated.  The hour and a half that we have spent together on a week day evening has provided time to get to know each other in a way that is hard to do on busy Sunday mornings.  I want every member of both our churches to have the opportunity to attend a home communion, so we will continue to hold them in coming months, until everyone has been invited at least once.  I urge you to make time to attend, so that you can gain a deeper understanding of the congregation to which you belong.   

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 This year we are adding an early morning service to our observance of Easter.  At 7:30 Easter morning (April 16) we will gather on the lawn at Levittown Church (Miles Hall if it’s raining) to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. We will be featuring the musical and dramatic talent of our young people. Rod Sklar is organizing a sumptuous Easter breakfast that will follow the early service.  Come early! Stay late!  Attend the traditional 10 a.m. service to make a morning of it. 

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 A recent presentation and discussion at the Gathering laid on our hearts the challenge of including and supporting children and adults with special needs.  There is an active conversation continuing about how our church might be more involved in this important ministry.  This topic brings to mind the life and writings of the Rev Henri Nouwen who was a major figure in Christian spiritualty in the second half of the twentieth century. He taught at different times at both Yale and Harvard Divinity School.  In the last part of his life in the 1980’s and 1990’s he answered God’s call to live and work in the “L’Arche” community in Canada. This organization was launched in France to provide a supportive residential community for people with severe disabilities.  “L’Arche” emphasizes the spiritual life of both its residents and their caregivers.   Allow me to share two paragraphs from Rev Nouwen’s reflections on his experiences with L’Arche.  Here he is reflecting on the difference between human glory and

 God’s glory: 

 “. . .human glory is always connected with some form of competition.  Human glory is the result of being considered better, faster, more beautiful, more powerful, or more successful than others.  Glory conferred by people is glory which results from being favorably compared to other people.  The better our scores on the scoreboard of life, the more glory we receive.  This glory comes with upward mobility.  The higher we climb on the ladder of success, the more glory we collect.  But the same glory also creates our darkness.  Human glory, based on competition, leads to rivalry; rivalry carries within it the beginning of violence; and violence is the way to death.  Human glory proves to be vain glory, false glory, mortal glory. 

How then do we come to see and receive God’s glory?  In his Gospel, John shows that God chose to reveal his glory to us in his humiliation.  That is the good, but also disturbing, news. God, in his infinite wisdom, chose to reveal his dignity to us not through competition, but through compassion, that is, through suffering with us.  God chose the way of downward mobility.  Every time Jesus speaks about being glorified and giving glory, he always refers to his humiliation and death. It is through the way of the cross that Jesus gives glory to God, receives glory from God, and makes God’s glory known to us.  The glory of the resurrection can never be separated from the glory of the cross.  The risen Lord always shows us his wounds.

 Thus, the glory of God stands in contrast to the glory of people.  People seek glory by moving upward.  God reveals his glory by moving downward.  If we truly want to see the glory of God, we must move downward with Jesus.  This is the deepest reason for living in solidarity with poor, oppressed, and handicapped people.  They are the ones through whom God’s glory can manifest itself to us.  They show us the way to God, the way of salvation.”

 

Pastor’s Post – March 2017

 

From the Pastor

From the Pastor:

 

Special events this Lenten-Easter Season

 

This year, we are adding two activities that I hope you will support by your attendance.  First, we are arranging home communions to occur each week of Lent.  You will receive a personal invitation to one of these, a week or ten days in advance of the event.  The communion service will take place either in the home of a member or at one of our two church buildings.  We will meet at 7:30 on a week night and be done by 9.  People from both congregations will be invited to the evenings, to create an opportunity to get to know each other better as we move closer to merger.  In addition to sharing the Lord’s Supper, we will spend some time sharing about our respective church experiences and what we hope for from a merged and renewed congregation.  

 

Our second innovation will be an early Easter morning service on the lawn at Levittown Church.  We will gather at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 16 to celebrate the events of that long-ago Easter dawn when the world was changed forever.  (If the weather is bad, we will go inside.) This will be an act of public worship that will demonstrate to one and all the promise of our new life together in Christ.  There will be a breakfast following worship, and many of you I’m hoping will stay to attend the 10 a.m. service, also at Levittown.  

 

 -Pastor Lou

 

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Pastor’s Post – February 2017

From-the-Pastor-2From the Pastor:

I am pleased to announce that our two congregations will be presenting our Plumbline Report to the Presbytery Committee on Ministry on Tuesday, February 7 at 2 p.m. in the Presbytery headquarters in Commack.  Assuming that our report is approved, we will be placed on the docket of the Presbytery meeting that will be held on Tuesday, March 21.  Presbytery will move to appoint a  “commission,” which will be a small group drawn from both churches and from the Presbytery at large.  The commission will do a lot of the detail work involved in arranging the merger, such as the legal processes that will be necessary to dissolve two congregations and bring a new one into existence which will “inherit” the buildings and assets of the two older congregations.

While the commission is working on the details, the rest of us will be preparing for life together in the new congregation.  I am planning a series of small, week-day evening communion services during Lent, at which we will share the Lord’s Supper with people from both churches.  I will invite each of you to a specific service either in a home or at one of our church buildings.  Before partaking of communion, we will spend some time getting to know each other better and to talk about our hopes and fears for the future of our new congregation.  We will pray for the success of our new enterprise.

Please get out your copy of our Plumbline Report.  We mailed it to all members right around January 1, and I hope you still have yours.  If not, please give me a call, and I will get another one to you.  The third section, “What is God Calling us to Do?”  includes several commitments we are making to prepare ourselves for a dynamic new way of being church.  You will see in those paragraphs several important goals:

1) Deepening our worship experience through the use of silence, audiovisual aids and other innovations;

2) Training ourselves in conflict management;

3) Working to make our congregation truly open and welcoming to all inquirers;

4) Training ourselves to do effective outreach to people in our community including learning how to utilize modern forms of communication to stay connected with each other and to share our invitations with a wide audience;

5) Exploring the best ways to continue our commitment to the welfare of children in our communities, possibly moving toward comprehensive child care service;

6) Taking seriously the needs of our aging neighbors, many of whom are isolated and struggling with depression as well as physical infirmities.

With the cooperation of the sessions, I will be organizing events and opportunities to pursue these goals in coming months.  This will be an exciting and challenging year, and I urge you to think of it as an adventure in the life of faith, something that will carry Christ’s community far into the future.  Yes, we are blessed to be here, in this place at this time!  Thanks be to God.

-Pastor Lou

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A special note on current events:

It is difficult to talk about politics in the context of the church.  We all understand that we do not want political differences to get in the way of our fellowship in Christ, yet many of us feel strongly one way or the other about recent events.  I think it is important to recognize that our national political life has entered a time of unprecedented confusion and conflict.  If you find the news these days to be even more upsetting than usual, I want you to feel free to talk to me about it.  It is always good to be able to share our concerns about public affairs with a friend and to pray together.   Discussing things in a non-judgmental atmosphere helps to lower our anxiety level, and we can be reminded of the enduring value of Christ’s teachings and the spiritual and emotional comfort we gain from the presence of the Holy Spirit.