The Rev. Joanne Martindale
Newsletter # 37
First Presbyterian Church Napa
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Someone asked me this week, “Why are you a Christian? It seems to me that you have to be nice all the time, if you are a Christian.” Being a Christian is not easy. In fact, it is often hard. When I first started thinking about this years ago, it occurred to me to wonder why people would choose to be Christians, if it is hard. There are some obvious answers to that, including the fact that one is not simply choosing to “be a Christian.” One is choosing God in Jesus and a way of life that is oriented to and grounded in Jesus Christ.
1 John 1 and 4
…we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…
…So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
We choose God as God has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin defines faith this way:
"Now we shall possess a right definition of faith if we call it a firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit."
If we were to say we choose to be Christians apart from God’s benevolence, we are speaking nonsense. To know only God’s anger is not to know God. Because we understand that God is love, we follow. This is a wonderful reason to follow Christ, of course, to follow the one who loves us.
Love implies a willingness to give and to focus on others more than we can even imagine. We have many experiences of what love demands, experiences that end up breaking our hearts, discouraging us, or grieving us. We cannot love God without opening our hearts to God, which means we put everything on the line, and we make ourselves vulnerable. In one sense, to follow God is to give up reliance on the things that have protected our hearts and minds, kept them as untroubled as possible.
We cannot follow God without following Christ into love for others, into the good of all in the good of each. Obviously, also, following the commandment to love one another entails wonderful experiences of mutual support, kindness, joy, and delight.
But there is at least one more reason for choosing to be a Christian even though it is a demanding life, even though it is hard. That reason is that life itself is hard.
It always has been and always will be until the work of God’s reconciliation of all things in Jesus is manifest. Life is hard. When we are choosing to be Christians (and this is often a choice we make every day, isn’t it, to follow Jesus) we are accepting Christ’s invitation into an ocean, an endless ocean, of light. An ocean of love. Where nothing
will hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God
as the water covers the sea.
This invitation is to participate in God’s work: to be where God is, to make life worth living for others and for all, even though it is hard to be alive, because God is love.
No wonder, then, that Jesus says,
“You are the light of the world…No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
It is our good works that shed the light abroad, that invite others to be part of this ocean of love and light, in which nothing hurts or destroys. In our communities we are never perfect, but a community that is actively doing good so that others are encompassed by God’s love sheds light even without perfection.
These good works do not earn us God’s love: God’s love is a given. But within the difficulty of life, we find abundant opportunities to give love to the richness of life by working with God for the world. (John 3)
This pandemic and what it has required of us, in order that we might look out for one another’s health, has certainly been difficult, and will continue to be. It has caused all sorts of people grief in a variety of ways and in differing intensities. The grief over what we have missed this last year also signals what we love, and, if we
…love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves
then new opportunities have been given to us to do exactly that, in new ways.
To be clear, I do not think that the pandemic in itself is a good thing. It has hurt and destroyed people physically, economically, spiritually, emotionally and socially. We are in the midst of what God is doing to bring to fullness a new creation of all that is, a new creation of ourselves and indeed all the universe beyond our comprehension. So even within the pandemic, we can see new opportunities to stretch and deepen our love for God, neighbors, and self.
And why not do that? Why not see what the pandemic is revealing in terms of racism and economic deprivation and the wellbeing of children? Not to condemn ourselves, but to say “oh this is how I can love!” We can actually do these good works in order to be light, to alleviate the harm and destruction in God’s beloved world, and join God in the labor of bringing God’s new creation to fullness.
For we are what God has made us,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
And why not embrace the many ways we can do this work of love? The love of God can be expressed in so many different ways: feeding others, peaceful and protesting activism that calls out injustice, checking someone’s tires to make sure they’re safe, sharing the beauty of music and art with those who are hungry for it, bringing a neighbors’ barrels in, listening to others with compassion, caring for children, doing any task or job “as to the Lord,” and the list goes on.
I close with
“I give you a new commandment,
that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”
Friends, have a wonderful week! You are loved.
First Pres Napa News
Ash Wednesday Service, 7 p.m., February 17, 2021
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of our Lenten journey to the Cross. Pastor Joanne Martindale will preach from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 in her sermon for this evening service at 7 p.m..
We will be celebrating the Lord’s Supper, so please bring your Communion elements of bread and juice with you to worship.
Note: We will be doing a self-imposition of ashes if you would like to participate. One suggestion is to use the ash from the wick of a previously lit and extinguished candle.
Please click HERE to join us.
News From Finance
- We ae asking each congregation member to pay their "Per Capita Presbytery fee" of $31.46 per person. Our church has had to pay $9,249.24 to the Presbytery of the Redwoods last month, but are asking each member to please pay their individual fees. Please click HERE for the Per Capita 2021 breakdown.
2020 Pledge Statements have now been sent out via email! If you have not received your statement, be sure to double check your spam or junk mail. Please be sure to look over all details. If you have any questions or concerns please call the church office at (707)224-8693 or email Lanard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Reminder- If you have been given credentials and are in charge of launching Zoom for your committee or small group meeting please be sure not to log in any time that is not slotted for your meeting. Logging in at a time other than your designated time will kick out another group who is currently using that account. If you have concerns about signing in, or wanting to test, please call or email Fransine Villasenor email@example.com.
- The office continues to be closed to outside visitors. Please contact Fransine Villasenor, our Office Manager, to make an appointment if you need to come in in person. She may be reached at (707)224-8693 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All groups and meetings will continue to remain virtual via Zoom. If you would like to start a virtual meeting group, we are happy to make that possible! Any in-person meetings will be scheduled on an as needed basis. For any questions or assistance, please reach out to Fransine at email@example.com.