Pastor’s Blog – “Seeking the Center'” by Rev. Hal Murry

For months now, even before Halloween in some cases, we’ve been receiving reminders about the importance of having a “perfect” Christmas.  According to our culture, this mostly involves buying the right gifts from the right stores; enjoying them in the perfectly decorated home; amidst a perfectly happy family!  We are encouraged to spend a lot of time and money trying to achieve this kind of Christmas.  But the truth is that many of us begin to feel a certain fatigue and emptiness and sadness this time of year, as we realize once again that our lives and our families and our budgets will never measure up to the kind of picture-perfect Christmas that we see on TV commercials.

For Christians, particularly in this era and in this culture, it has become important every year for us to find our spiritual center in the ancient stories describing the first Christmas.  In the first Christmas, God’s work upset comfortable religious expectations.  In the first Christmas, God overturned the most widely held social and political conventions.  For Joseph and Mary there was no flawless lead-up to Christmas – no elaborate preparation dictated by convention.  Concurrent with the first Christmas, there was wonder and scandal, confusion and courage, beauty and poverty, darkness and light.  There were unexpected guests, and a Savior, born to a teenage mother, outside an overbooked inn.  Most of all there was the hope for a better world that the presence of God always brings.

Amid our less than picture perfect Christmas, in our less than perfect homes and families and lives, in our less than perfect culture, God seeks our help in doing something new.  God never stops trying new things to make the world better.  And with whom does God seek to collaborate today?  With you and me.  Have you thought much about the ancient stories lately?  It’s time.  It’s Advent (time to get ready!).  “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now.” (Matthew 6:33, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson).

Sunday worship during Advent is 9:30.

Just one Christmas Eve service this year — at 7:30 p.m.


“You Must Be Reborn and Reformed Again and Again and Again” – Rev. Nancy Bickel – 10/30/16

Guest Preacher:

REV. NANCY BICKEL graduated from Lebanon Valley College in 1975 and then served as Christian Ed. Director and Choir Director of the Blue Ridge Charge in Dorrance, Pa. Along with her husband Ken and two daughters, she moved to Dubuque in 1990 and served as Director of Church Life at 1st Congregational UCC for five years. She graduated from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in 1995 and served as Minister of Church Life for sixteen years at 1st Cong. Nancy retired in 2015 and enjoys traveling, working on two novels, gardening, golfing and of course, her grandchildren!

Scripture Lesson: John 1:1-17 ( NRSV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

Mighty Deeds – 2/8/14

Introduction: Mark’s Gospel and Jesus’ mission
Today’s Scripture Lesson: Mark 1:29-39

1. A channel for power from “The Power”
2. “Everyone’s looking for you…” How to stay grounded?

Mark 1:29-39(Common English Bible)

29 After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. 31 He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.
32 That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered near the door. 34 He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.
35 Early in the morning, well before sunrise, Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer. 36 Simon and those with him tracked him down. 37 When they found him, they told him, “Everyone’s looking for you!”
38 He replied, “Let’s head in the other direction, to the nearby villages, so that I can preach there too. That’s why I’ve come.” 39 He traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and throwing out demons.

“Child of Destiny” – 12/28/14 – Rev. Hal Murry

Sermon Outline:

1. The importance of prophets
2. Mary and Joseph meet Simeon and Anna
3. Children of Destiny: God has hopes and dreams for all

Luke 2:22-40Common English Bible (CEB)

22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.[a]

Simeon’s response to Jesus
25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,

29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30 because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”
33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”

Anna’s response to Jesus
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Jesus as a child in Nazareth
39 When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.

Who Do You Say That I Am? The Light For All People. 12/21/14

Sermon Outline: “Who Do You Say that I Am? The Light for All People”

1. Imagine this mission!
2. Prayer for Illumination and today’s Scripture: John 1:1-14
3. The power of darkness
4. Light against the darkness

John 1:1-14 (Common English Bible)

Story of the Word
1 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.
2 The Word was with God in the beginning.
3 Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being
4 through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.
6 A man named John was sent from God. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him everyone would
believe in the light. 8He himself wasn’t the light, but his mission was to testify concerning the light.
9 The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.
10 The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light.
11 The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him.
12 But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children,
13 born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his home among us. We have seen his glory, glory like that of a father’s only son, full of grace
and truth.