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Pastoral Letter, January 25, 2023

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

To the Saints in the City of Saint Charles

January 25, 2023

Annual Meeting will take place after church this Sunday in the Callis and Elaine Center.

You have received plenty of information about this meeting already, but let me emphasize that the people who have a stake in the church and Mahany Hall have been working together to bring expenses down and income up. We have been so successful that our projected deficit for the coming year is well below what it was last year. Since we usually do not spend all that we budget for, Moderator Siv, the church council and I are confident that our financial situation will be even better a year from now.

Thank you all for your pledges, your attendance, your prayers.

Our worship service continues with Biblical sermons, lively music, illustrations from a variety of artists and a little bending, stretch and breathing to help us step lively and avoid falling.

Here are the readings for this Sunday:

Deuteronomy 5:1-6

And Moses summoned all Israel, and said to them, "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I speak in your hearing this day, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. Not with our fathers did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive this day. The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. He said: `I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.’

Mark 1:21-28

And they went into Caper'na-um; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God." But Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent, and come out of him!"

And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him." And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.

Here is last Sunday's sermon:

Zubulon and Naphtali were sons of Jacob, the founders of two of the twelve tribes of Israel. Their land, the Galilee, was the land of deep darkness of which Isaiah spoke when he said:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.

In the time of Isaiah, their part of the promised land, north and east of Jerusalem, was subject to foreign domination and so really was a land and people in darkness, but the prophet Isaiah foretold a time when this domination would cease and the people who walked in darkness would see a great light.

Jesus was a Galilean, from that very land of Zeb'ulun and the land of Naph'tali, and we Christians say that all the people of the earth saw a great light at the birth of Jesus. We might say today, after the winter solstice and the great rain, that we are coming out of darkness and seeing a great light, as Isaiah and all the scriptures have promised. Today's sunlight is a sign, an indication, a taste of the light from God that burst upon the world many years ago and continues to shine today.

The lectionary pairs this reading about light shining in the darkness with the baptism of Jesus.

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Putting today's readings together, we can say that God's salvation comes down like a light from above and arises from the depths below.

Do you remember your baptism? Of course, most of us don’t. I sure don't. I was baptized as an infant in Golden Valley, Minnesota, in July of 1951, which seems like an impossibly long time ago now. What was once a sacrament only for adults has now become mostly for infants, but it retains the fundamental meaning of the rite by which we are welcomed into the Christian community.

The church teaches that salvation requires a community. We are not capable, as individuals, to save ourselves. We need help. Jesus himself needed someone else to baptize him. In other Gospel accounts of this event, John the Baptist, recognizing Jesus, says that he, John, is not the one to baptize Jesus, but that Jesus should baptize him; nonetheless Jesus tells him to go ahead.

This first Christian Baptism then was a wonderful case of the first being last and the last being first, reminding us that in the church we are all in service to one another. We designate special offices – pastor, deacon, trustee – that some of us fill but we are all equal in the eyes of God. Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow. Even Jesus in his majesty played a number of different roles, in all humility, before taking on his final role as risen Lord who lives and reigns.

A few weeks ago I noted that ordinary people – shepherds, in this case – came to pay homage to the Christ child on the first Christmas. Then came the extraordinary, the mysterious magi, wise men or kings from far away. So people from high to low, from near and from far, the great and the not so great, witnessed this miracle of God and proclaimed the Good News.

We believe the extraordinary Good News that this resurrection somehow changed human life for the better, has brought down light from above and lifted us up from below. Our challenge in this time, as ever, is to live and proclaim this Good News, to rise to the occasion, to rise above the ordinary and be extraordinary .

- Pastor Richard Hyde Community Church of San Carlos

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