Is anything too hard for God?

(Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7) By Rev. Rick King–Today, we’re recognizing those in our congregation who have graduated and are moving into the next chapter of their lives, whether that’s college, or graduate school, or work, or an internship. These “threshold” moments are fraught with a certain amount of anxiety for parents and children: we have to trust them to meet the challenges of this next chapter, and we have to entrust them to others, to the world, the Universe and an unseen Power greater than us. They have to deal with their parents’ trust issues, many times, as well as the balance of confidence and misgivings they have about the next steps they are taking in their life. And there’s always uncertainty involved.

Add to that the uncertainty of this particular graduation-time—with having finished school online, without milestones like Prom and with modified, online commencement ceremonies due to the pandemic—as well as the upheaval around the nation and the world as we confront the grip of white supremacy—and trust becomes even more challenging.

And yet, there’s a way in which life inexorably goes on, and we have to find a way to walk this path that doesn’t yet have a name, and somehow learn to have just enough trust to take those next few steps in spite of the uncertainty.

The story of Abraham and Sarah and the three visitors is a story of radical hospitality, of promise, and fulfillment, and trust. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get to thinking it must have been easier for people back in the Ancient Near East, or in first-century Galilee, to trust God or Jesus, just because they lived back then and were somehow closer to them, like a friend you just call up when you need encouragement, and they remind you, “You can do this!”

But how do you trust a God you can’t see, a stranger whom you feel so unacquainted with, and who acts in ways you’re not used to? It helped me to find out that it was difficult for Abraham and Sarah, too. Here they were, in their 90s, having been raised in the polytheistic, nature-based religion of their nomad ancestors, with whom they knew the terms of the relationship, what offerings to give which local gods in order to get what they needed: good weather, abundant crops or grazing land, and water, enough children to carry on the family line.

And suddenly they’re thrust into a relationship with only One God, Yahweh, who was invisible and who they couldn’t control, but who had appeared to them in visions and a mysterious voice that said, “Go to the land that I will show you and I will make of you a great nation, with descendants as numerous as the stars in the skies and the grains of sand in the ocean.”

Trust took a little while, for them. God visits them several times over the course of the chapters leading up to our story this morning, and one particular night when God was visiting and talking to Abraham, the two of them had it out. You see, the main thing God had promised to Abraham and Sarah, if they followed God to Canaan, was a child, an heir, who would be the seed from which their great family tree with all those many descendants would grow. And so far, no heir had come. Abraham had even slept with their slave, Hagar, in order to ensure a son to inherit the family name, and she had given birth to Ishmael. But God had disqualified Ishmael.

So, on the night they had it out, God had come, reiterating the promise, but Abraham wasn’t having any of it: “Offspring? I don’t see any offspring!” was essentially what he said when he told God off. Before the visit ended, God had made a covenant with Abraham, sort of a down-payment on the fulfillment of the promise. But for two more chapters, all we hear, along with Abraham, is God continuing to promise, and Sarah, who had never been able to have children and who was now well past her childbearing years, continuing to be childless.

And so by the time our story opens in chapter 18, they’ve all but forgotten the expectancy they once had for a child, and have resumed their daily lives of living in a tent, moving their flock of sheep to new pastures, cooking and eating and sleeping, and welcoming the occasional visitor wandering through the desert wilderness.

And yet, there’s something almost Buddhist in what happens next, and by that I mean that it’s in the midst of their daily chop-wood-carry-water existence that a theophany, or as the Buddhists would say, samadhi, an enlightenment occurs. Because of the extremity of what they’d been through and the hardships of their daily life, they had somehow been made ready for what comes next, even though they didn’t know it.

In the first verse, the writer of Genesis makes it really clear that what comes next is important, and we should take notice: “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre…” the story begins. But God appears buried in an encounter with what seem to be three traveling strangers who arrive in the heat of the afternoon; and it’s Abraham’s gracious, enthusiastic hospitality that makes a space—and holds that space open—for this to become the divine encounter that it is.

So often, God lies buried in the everyday: occasions provided by people needing welcome or help; in our first, halting steps toward a daily prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practice, like yoga or tai chi; in saying “yes” to engaging voters to work for change; or in having a fearless conversation with our child, partner, or parent about a life matter.

And as we live out our routines in the midst of having become used to a pandemic, and what Martin Luther King called “the fierce urgency of now” forcing us to finally have the conversations and take the actions on racism that we’ve been avoiding, we need to be alert to where God is showing up. Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, “The only time we ever know what’s really going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. We use these situations either to wake ourselves up or to put ourselves to sleep. Right now—in the very instant of groundlessness—is the seed of taking care of those who need our care and of discovering our goodness.”

And, I would add, rediscovering trust in God’s capacities, and our own. It’s in this discovery, and this rediscovery, that we hear the promise of God with us as more trustworthy than before—that God’s capacities are greater than we ever imagined. And it can be the source of great joy, even laughter at the audaciousness and ridiculousness of God’s goodness.

And we may hear God ask, “Is anything too hard, or too wonderful, for God?” May you see God show up this week, in the ordinary, and in some surprising ways. Amen.

One Great Hour of Sharing April 26

Each year we receive an offering for One Great Hour of Sharing, an ecumenical campaign that supports people-helping initiatives worldwide. Our OGHS offerings are invested in such things as education for girls and boys, vocational training, microcredit lending that helps people become self-sufficient, and other sustainable solutions that offer dignity to all. Through OGHS, we also support disaster relief and refugee initiatives.

This year’s offering is April 26. Since we can’t collect the offering in person, you can mail a check to the church (mark OGHS in the memo line) or, even easier, give online. Use our new text donation or eGiving portal and designate your gift for One Great Hour of Sharing.

Earth Day 50th anniversary live stream

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day will take place April 22 by live stream. Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light had originally planned for a multi-faith gathering at the State Capitol to demand climate action. But with most of us sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the gathering is being moved online.

Join other people of faith from 1 to 3 p.m. on April 22 for a live-streamed gathering of prayer, storytelling and action opportunities. Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, Rep. Frank Hornstein, Mahyar Sorour, Rev. Kristen Foster, Rev. Jim Bear Jacobs, Luisa VanOss and more will offer wisdom from diverse faith and spiritual traditions that empower each of us to face the combined coronavirus and climate crises and build a healthy, safe world for all.

Register here

Two new ways to give to FHC

There are now two new ways to give during this time when we can’t physically be in church to pass the offering plate.

By text. Text “Give” to 651-240-6681 (without the quotation marks). You will receive a response with a link to set up your donation and payment information. Select the account where you want the donation to go (plate, pledge, food shelf, etc.) and enter either your bank routing information or credit card number.

Via our new eGiving Portal. Go to https://www.elexiogiving.com/app/giving/falconheightschurch and follow the directions there. You will also find donation buttons at the top of the FHC home page and in the footer area at the bottom of each page on our website.

More info on text giving:

  • In case of a mistake, text “Refund” within 15 minutes to reverse the transaction.
  • To modify your giving account information, text “Edit” to the same number, 651-240-6681.

Giving by either method will link to your annual giving statement. You can set up recurring donations or pledge payments as well as one-time donations.

Many members of our congregation already give their pledges through electronic funds transfer (EFT). Whichever method you prefer, remember: Even though Falcon Heights Church is operating off-site during the COVID-19 pandemic, the church still needs your support to continue our ministries and pay the bills. Thank you for your support!

Holy Hammers coronavirus update

We are staying in touch with the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity office about plans for this year’s Holy Hammers build at 588/590 Wells Ave., St. Paul.

The Habitat office has closed temporarily because of the coronavirus outbreak. However, they are asking us, as well as the Holy Hammers Steering Committee, to please continue to sign up to volunteer for the build. The dates are listed below, and you can find the signup link HERE.

Falcon Heights Church assigned build dates

Friday, April 24 (Week 2, framing) – 4 people
Thursday, May 7 (Week 4, siding/soffit/radon) – 4 people
Wednesday, May 13 (Week 5, basement framing, exterior doors, windows/drywall) – 3 people
Friday, June 19 Women Build (Week 9, trim/closets/cabinets, exterior paint, porches) – 3 women

Falcon Heights has committed to fill 14 slots through the 10 weeks. After we fill our 14, we may have other dates available.

The status of COVID-19 will determine if the dates change or get cancelled. All of the Holy Hammers churches are signing up volunteers as if we are going forward with the build. We will let you know.

Even if you can’t help with the physical build, can you help financially? We know that money is tight for many of us, but every little bit helps toward our pledge of $3,000 toward the 2020 build. If you can help, please mail a check made out to Falcon Heights Church with Holy Hammers in the memo line. Send checks to Falcon Heights Church, 1795 Holton Street, Falcon Heights, MN 55113.

–Lynne Meyer

FoodShare drive extended

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the incredible and immense work food shelves have taken on at this time, the March FoodShare Campaign has been extended through April 30.

Our FoodShare recipient, the Department of Indian Work, cannot accept food deliveries at this time. In speaking with them, we found that the best way to support them financially is to visit their website HERE and click the “DONATE” button at the top. On the donation page, you will be able to specify the Department of Indian Work as the recipient of your gift.

If you choose to donate through their website, please email Chuck Gramith at chuckiegeee@msn.com with the amount you donated so that we can keep track of FHC’s overall giving.

Updated March 26, 2020

March Executive Board update

The Executive Board met on March 17 via the videoconferencing service Zoom.

COVID-19 response

The Board voted to close the church building to the public until April 6 and gave Rev. Rick the authority to shorten or lengthen the closure as circumstances warrant.

Engage a real estate agent

Our leaders have discussed finding one or more tenants who could occupy little-used space in our building. This would provide an additional revenue stream for our programming activities and building maintenance.

On March 12, Rev. Rick King, Marv Fabyanske, Office Manager Shannon Kaiser and Moderator Cor Wilson met with a real estate agent who has provided tenant matchmaking services for other churches. The Board authorized Rick and Cor to engage the agent to seek a tenant to “cohabitate” with us.

Outdoor signage

There has been interest among our congregation in a digital sign that can be changed to announce worship times and special events. Board member Mark Miazga met recently with city staff about this. He reported that the zoning code prohibits a “dynamic” sign in a residential area, although we could ask for a variance. Mark and Bob Olsen agreed to work with Rev. Rick on options and cost and report next month.

Revising the Constitution and Bylaws

Marv Fabyanske will reconvene the Constitution & By-Laws Working Group in the coming month to work on a proposal and timeline. The revisions would give Falcon Heights Church more flexibility to adjust to changing circumstances. The group will report at the April Board meeting, with a goal of preparing the revised documents for a congregational vote in the fall.

–Cor Wilson, Moderator

FHC’s coronavirus response

By Rev. Rick King — What a difference a week makes—along with an irresistible force like the coronavirus.

Things have been changing so fast, I want to update you on steps we’re taking at Falcon Heights Church to protect against community spread of the virus, keep us connected to God and each other, and care for those in our congregation who are in the more vulnerable groups.

Rev. Rick KingVirtuous virtual

We’re discovering that we actually can get used to using online video calling and live video streaming technology, and it doesn’t feel unnatural! One Facebook Live worship service down, who knows how many to go? We had been talking about livestreaming our Sunday service and doing some meetings via Zoom sometime in the future, but we’re up and running with these much faster thanks to COVID-19. I’ve led two Bible studies on Zoom, the Executive Board met on Zoom Tuesday night, and I’ve done two pastoral care visits on Skype. In addition, our church has a free conference call account available in addition to Zoom, where we can host a large group on a single phone call. Watch our Sunday morning live stream

Buttoned-up building

Tuesday night, the Executive Board voted to close our building to all church and community groups until at least April 6, in compliance with orders for social distancing to prevent community spread of the virus. This is subject to change, so watch the TAB newsletter and social media for further information.

Office Manager Shannon Kaiser and I are working remotely in the meantime. The best way to contact both of us is email: Shannon – office@falconheightsucc.org; Rick – revrick@falconheightsucc.org. I will be stopping by my office periodically throughout the week to check mail delivery and voicemails, but not keeping regular office hours at the church.

Online office hours

Want the comfort of a face-to-face conversation with your pastor? Need counseling, but want more than just a voice at the other end of the phone line? I will be holding office hours on the Zoom videoconferencing platform at my normal walk-in times of 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays, so sign up for a half-hour Zoom visit HERE and you’ll be sent the link and an access code to join the call at the time. OR if you prefer, you may simply sign up for a half-hour phone call.

Other steps we’ve taken

Shannon is maintaining a list of what some of you have already offered to do for others (run errands, watch kids while you get out, help you get set up with Instacart delivery from Cub Foods, etc.), and keeping track of needs you express. Charleen Prill, Linda Owen and I, along with Lynne Bradbury and the Membership Ministry Team, are teaming up to call everyone in our database to check on how you’re doing, what you need, prayer requests, etc. And Shannon is adding to the TAB a list of suggested activities, sort of a “survival guide” during our period of confinement. Read this week’s TAB

Not your usual Holy Week and Easter

We’ll continue doing Facebook Live webcasts of our worship Service at 10:30 (links at the top of the TAB, under “This Sunday”). To make this sustainable beyond a few Sundays, we need a couple of quick learners or people experienced with Facebook Live to get orientation from Noah Keitel, who is the primary caregiver for their kids AND a website developer. We’re also looking for donations for purchase of some basic equipment for producing this each week. Noah was good enough to use his own in the early stages, but we need our own at the church.

Communion on Palm Sunday, April 5, will be virtual as well. We’ll ask you to use whatever you have on hand for the Bread and Cup, and take communion in your home or wherever you are, together. Specific Holy Week and Easter plans are still in development, but this year we are not having in-person worship for these holidays.

Stay tuned for more information about worship and other adaptations to our present circumstances. And thanks for being a loving, flexible, connected faith community!

Love,

Rev. Rick

March 22 Sunday bulletin

Welcome to Live Sunday Worship Online!

Printable version of bulletin

FALCON HEIGHTS CHURCH, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST

March 22, 2020, 10:30 a.m.
4th Sunday in Lent: Creed

As seekers and servants growing in God’s transforming love, we will speak the truth in love, celebrate each other’s gifts and perspectives, and choose the good of the whole church over our individual preferences and comforts.

WELCOME AND ANNOUNCEMENTS

* OPENING VERSE

* SILENT PRAYER

* PRAYING TOGETHER (All)
Holy God, ever present with us, we are mindful of these times in which we live. Uncertainty, anxiety, and fear are present among us as we listen to and care for one another in these days. We ask that your peace and healing presence be with us, as we pray for and hold each other in love. We ask your guidance and direction as we live out your command to love one another as we are called to love you. In the name of the one who has called us and prepared us for these challenging days, we pray. Amen.

* PASSING THE PEACE OF CHRIST

CHILDREN’S MESSAGE FOR ALL OF US

READING: Psalm 23

MESSAGE: God Who Accompanies Us
Rev. Rick King

OPEN SPACE: A Visual Meditation

by Bobby McFerrin
(Click the link above to see and hear the video)    

SHARING OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE AND JESUS’ PRAYER (All)
Our Father-Mother, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. They will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil; for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

BRINGING AND DEDICATING OUR GIFTS

PRAYER (All)
All that we have, all that we give this day, Holy One, already belongs to  you. Bless these, our gifts, and give us vision to use them to glorify
you. Amen.

* BENEDICTION

Help with Project Home

Sign up to spend an April evening or overnight hosting families without shelter through Interfaith Action’s Project Home. New Life Presbyterian Church in Roseville will host these families.

Evening hosts greet guests, serve a snack (provided), converse with guests, and play with the children from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Overnight hosts continue with guests until lights out, then sleep in a separate room (beds provided). In the morning, they awaken guests and serve a light breakfast (provided). They will be serving from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays and to 9 a.m. weekends.

Learn more and sign up