January 2018

January 29: Turning Points

According to Luke, when Jesus was 12 he went to Jerusalem and visited the Temple. He was amazed at what he heard. He had to stay and talk more to the teachers of God’s law and God’s word. He couldn’t imagine doing anything else. He couldn’t imagine anyone possibly thinking he could do anything else. His parents were worried: they couldn’t find him, and that possibly shocked Jesus. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ he asked.

The trip to the Temple was a turning point for Jesus. Finally, he found people with whom he could discuss the nature of God, the word of God, the presence of God. For three days he dug into the scriptures with the leading rabbis and teachers. He knew this was what his life was about: the word of God, for he was the Word who came to live among us.

It was a turning point for Mary and Joseph, too. Perhaps for the first time they really understood that Jesus was a different boy who had a different purpose in life. They saw his passion for the first time.

I remember a similar turning point in my own life. I was in high school and didn’t think much of church or religion. I thought it was all heart and no head, too touchy-feely for me. I thought Christians stopped thinking for themselves and became mindless robots. But then I had my turning point.

I read Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. It made me question. It made me think. It made me wonder. It made me desire answers. It made me read more. I started reading more books about Jesus, God, Christianity, and the church. I was thirsting for knowledge and I was filled with wonder. It’s why I decided to major in Religious Studies, and why I went to seminary. I found enjoyment sitting with the teachers of Scripture and just talking, asking, learning, teaching.

The turning point that led me to follow Jesus was a book that stirred my curiosity and wonder. We never know when a turning point might come in our lives, but what may seem like a simple trip to Jerusalem, a simple suggestion of a book to read, might put your life on a whole new path.

What was a turning point in your life? What moment made all the difference? I’d love to hear about it and thank God for it with you. I look forward to continuing to explore the turning points in Jesus’ life with you on Sundays, and what those moments might mean for our lives.

In common calling,

Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker


January 23: It Begins with Disconnection

I recently read a blog post about a remarkable teacher. Every Friday she asks her students to write down the names of four children they want to sit with next week. She also asks the students to nominate one student whom they believe has been an exceptional classroom citizen that week.

Every weekend she looks over each of those ballots privately submitted to her. She doesn’t do this to give kids awards for their self-esteem, or make her children happy by letting them sit next to whoever they want. She does it so she can identify patterns.

Who is not getting requested by anyone else?

Who doesn’t even know who to request?

Who never gets noticed enough to be nominated?

Who had a million friends last week and none this week? 

The author of the blog plost, Glennon Melton, is the mother of a child lucky enough to have this teacher. She says this teacher isn’t looking for exceptional children or popular ones; she’s looking for lonely kids.

She’s looking for children who are struggling to connect with other children. She’s identifying the little ones who are falling through the cracks of the class’s social life. She is discovering whose gifts are going unnoticed by their peers. And she’s pinning down, right away, who’s being bullied and who is doing the bullying.

The truth comes out in those little ballots the kids write, because they don’t even know they are betraying their prejudices, their faults, their exclusionary actions. They may not even know they have those things or do those things. But this teacher knows we all do, even children. We exclude, we judge, we bully. So much pain in the world is caused by disconnection.

It begins with disconnection.

One person feels the pain of being forgotten, ridiculed, and left out. That’s bad enough, but all too often that pain leads to more pain. So much of the violence in our schools, in our communities, and in our homes can be traced back to feeling disconnected.

This wonderful, probably overworked and underpaid, teacher found a way to identify the patterns, and was able to use the pattern for love. She was able to give kids what they needed most- approval, affirmation, and acceptance.

How can we find the patterns of disconnection in our jobs, in our communities, and in our church? Whether you’re a teacher, a driver, an executive, an hourly worker, or a small business owner, there are patterns at your workplace. There are patterns in our church. Who always sits alone at fellowship or a potluck? Who never gets recognized for their gifts? Who never gets asked to help or to join a group?

It begins with disconnection.

If we can identify those who are feeling disconnected, and help them connect to community, I believe we are healing the pain and helping to prevent future pain. It’s not just the job of our Elders, Deacons, and Sunday School teachers; it is everyone's job, in every part of our lives.

How will you begin to look for the patterns? What will you do about it? Will you speak up in love and compassion?

The church is a place of connection. We need to be intentional about making people feel loved, welcomed, and remembered. You do this with your phone calls, cards, visits to the homebound, the Care N’ Share team, delivering bread to visitors, and more. What more can we do to make sure Derry continues to be a place of deep and meaningful connections for all people, a place where no one ever feels looked over, looked down upon, or looked past?

In Christ,

Pastor Stephen


January 15: Star Gifts, Words to Ponder All Year Long

We gave out Star Gifts on Epiphany Sunday. A star gift is a star-shaped piece of brightly colored paper with a word printed on it. You are invited to ponder what significance this word might have in your lives, and how God might be speaking to you through that simple message.

The word is a gift. How may God bless you through that word this year or how might you bless others by it?

I love hearing stories of Star Gifts, and I’ve already heard several. I heard the story of a woman who said she could really use some hope this year as the children began passing out the words. She reached into the basket and pulled out a star. She turned it over and it said Hope.

Someone else told me how she's had a difficult time being on her own since her husband passed away. She received Solitude. She hopes she can find the blessings of solitude this year.

The wise men who traveled great distances to offer their gifts to the newborn Christ-child were responding to the gift first given to them. They received God’s gift, then offered their gifts to God. As we commemorate the arrival of the wise men and remember their offerings, we can delight in this paper reminder that symbolizes God’s generosity in our lives.

Our congregation is filled with compassionate people who spend hours working on the building and grounds, cooking meals for funeral services, delivering flowers to the homebound, writing cards to the sick, calling on people in hospitals and nursing homes, and praying for those in need to name a few things.

We are good at being busy and “doing” for God. Star Gifts represent a change in our routine; you will be offered the opportunity to “be still” in the presence of God and to receive God’s gifts. This is not because we have done anything to merit such attention, but simply because of God’s abundant generosity.

Like any other gift, Star Gifts can either be received with joy or discarded and forgotten. We hope you will consider your Star Gift to be an opportunity, a chance to reflect on how God speaks to God’s people. What might we learn from one word? What new ideas might evolve, what treasured wisdom might resurface?

Epiphany is the celebration of God’s presence breaking through to shine as a light in the darkness. With this tradition, each year our congregation can rejoice in the reminder of our generous, giving God—one star gift at a time.

I hope I will  hear more about your Star Gift this year and how God might be at work in your life through this word and this gift in 2018.

In common calling,

Rev. Stephen McKinney-Whitaker