Showing Up

Dear South Church Member & Friends,

            First, a word of thanks to everyone who assisted with Holy Week and Easter Sunday worship. The helping hands of so many folks behind the scenes made for a wonderful and meaningful worship time. And I want to add a special “thank you” to our Music Director and Organist Al Adair, to the member of the Chancel Choir, and to the other musicians who participated in worship.

            Recently I read an article titled “Church Is What We Create with Each Other” by a writer named Erin O. White, who belongs to a small Methodist church in western Massachusetts. Here’s a portion of what she wrote:

For a long time announcements bothered me. I thought they kept us from what mattered, that they were housekeeping, business best conducted somewhere else. Was now really the time to talk about pancake breakfasts and broadband networks? But I’ve since come to understand that yes, actually, now is the time. Because I’ve learned—over many, many years—that church isn’t about order or quiet or even ritual so much as it is about showing up. For yourself, for God, and for the people around you who need to feel—just as you do—that the blessings and burdens of being a human are not theirs to bear alone.

            I thought about that article, especially the part about “showing up," when on Easter morning we read from John’s gospel 20:1-18. The story focuses on Mary Magdalene, who “showed up” at the tomb before sunrise. As far as we can tell, she didn’t come expecting a miracle or a resurrection but still she was there, perhaps to experience once again (as Erin White puts it) “the blessings and burdens of being a human.”

            Because she showed up and stuck around even after the disciples left for home, Mary Magdalene was the first to witness the Risen Christ, who called her by name. This is a powerful, enduring lesson for the church: that we are not mostly about order or ritual, but about showing up, faithfully and expectantly.

            As we move into the Easter season and into Spring (and hopefully to warmer weather!), I would invited us all to think and to pray about where we are being called to “show up.” Maybe it’s with family and friends who are in need of companionship? Maybe it’s with a group or community organization that needs our support? As the saint of the church Clarence Jordan once said, “The resurrection places Jesus on this side of the grave, here and now, in the midst of life…The Good News of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home to him, but that he is risen and come home to us.”

            I will conclude by mentioning two South Church programs that you might consider showing up to: First, our GriefShare grief support ministry continues to thrive and is a wonderful place of support. They meet again on Tuesday, April 17 at 7:00 pm. Second, this month we are starting a Cancer Support Group, that will meet on Tuesday, April 24 at 7:00 pm. Please consider “showing up”!

Grace and peace, Mark

Easter—A Fresh Start

            I’ll begin by expressing my gratitude for the vote of support and confidence from you, the congregation, on March 20 when you elected me to be your called and installed pastor. Both Pat and I are feeling very much “at home” in Bergenfield and are thankful for the warm embrace we’ve received. In my 10+ months as your pastor, I’ve sensed a growing level of both commitment and hope in among the members and I’m eager to journey together into the future God has prepared for us.

            On Easter Sunday we read the story of Jesus’ resurrection from Mark’s gospel. The women came to the tomb with spices expecting to find a dead body—a corpse. Instead, their expectations are shattered. The tomb is empty and the story is not over—Jesus has been raised! The resurrected Jesus is on the loose, going ahead of us into our ordinary and everyday lives.

            Just as Easter is a fresh start for Jesus’ disciples, it’s also a fresh start for you and me in our journey of faith. We don’t leave Jesus on the cross. We don’t hang around the empty tomb, wondering where he’s gone. He isn’t there. He’s in Galilee where he will meet us. Jesus is out where you live, at home. So, in the upcoming weeks, we in the church are challenged to take notice of how the Risen Christ is present among us.

            One place that we can be aware of God’s presence is in the beauty and wonder of Creation. All around us is a world that we often take for granted—fresh, easily available water, clean air to breathe, abundant sunshine and gentle rains, and plants and trees and animals. All of these are a gift from God’s gracious hand that makes human life possible.

            One way to honor this gift is for the church to actively care for the environment in which we all live. Recently the Mission Committee has created a Creation Care subcommittee, which will be responsible for coordinating activities that support the good stewardship of our resources. They will oversee programs like increased paper and plastic recycling, the PAR garden on the manse property, energy efficiency in our building, promoting and protecting wildlife habitat on church property (the Manse yard is already a Certified Wildlife Habitat), encouraging creation themes in worship, and more.

            A concrete action you can take is to participate in the clean of Cooper’s Pond on Saturday morning, April 9. Together with the Bergenfield Environmental Committee, Boy Scout Troop 180, the Bergenfield Garden Club, and the Borough DPW, we will help to clean up the park that originally belonged to South Church. There is a sign up sheet in the church house if you’re interested.

            As we move into Spring and the world blossoms around us, I’m reminded of a quote form the great Reformer John Calvin, who once wrote: “The creation is quite like a spacious and splendid house, provided and filled with the most exquisite and at the same time the most abundant furnishings. Everything in it tells us of God.”


The Holy Process - Lent & Easter

The month of March is upon us, which means longer days as we turn the clocks ahead, warmer temperatures (I hope!), and the coming of Holy Week and Easter Sunday. As we move toward the holiest and most significant of our Christian feasts and ponder again Jesus’ resurrection, I want to share a story that I told last year in a sermon.

It goes like this: Once upon a time, in a not-so-faraway land, there was a kingdom of acorns, nestled under the shade of a grand, old oak tree. Since the citizens of this kingdom were modern, fully-Westernized acorns, they went about their business on the ground with purposeful energy; they even engaged in many self-help courses.

There were seminars called “Getting All You Can Out of Your Shell.” There were recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their original fall from the tree. There were spas for oiling and polishing their shells, and various therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.

But then, one day, in the midst of this kingdom a stranger suddenly appeared—he was a knotty little acorn, dropped “out of the blue” by a passing bird. He had lost his cap (unlike the other acorns) and was covered with dirt, which made an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns.

Crouched beneath the oak tree, the stranger stammered out a wild tale. Pointing upward at the huge oak tree above, he proclaimed, “We…are…that!” Delusional thinking, the other acorns concluded. His drop from the sky must have addled his brain. How could a tiny acorn possibly be an oak tree?! That’s absurd!

But one of the acorns continued to engage the stranger in conversation. “So tell us, how would we become that tree?” he asked. “Well,” the newcomer said, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground and cracking open the shell.” “Insane,” they responded. “Totally morbid! Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore!” And the leaders of the kingdom quickly got rid of the stranger and his wild ideas of acorns becoming great oak trees.

 The point of the fable is clear: Something had been lost in the imaginary kingdom of acorns—their true purpose in life. We know, of course, that an acorn is only a seed; its nature and destiny is to become an oak tree. But an acorn can’t sprout on the tree; it must fall into the ground, and its shell must be cracked open.

As we conclude our Lenten journey this month and walk again with Jesus to the cross, I believe that we too are in a holy process of being broken open to new life and new opportunity. Our Easter faith calls us to a dying and a rebirth, like the acorn that must be buried before it can live out its true destiny.

 All around us—right here in our neighborhood and across the country—are people and communities in dire need of good news. Our true purpose as the church is not to remain inside, polishing our shells, but to break open our lives and share the good news with the world. Just as God came in human form to live among us and we willing to die, so too are we sent out as seeds to be planted.


The acorn story is from "Acornology" by Cynthia Bourgeault