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Lenten Study Group

Our Lenten study will begin on February 22 and end on March 29 (six weeks). We’ll meet on ZOOM from 7:00 to 8:30pm.

We’ll be studying “The Way – Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus” by Adam Hamilton. The study will be led by Pastor Jeffrey.

Using historical information, archaeological data, and stories of the faith, Hamilton follows in the footsteps of Jesus from his baptism to the temptations to the heart of his ministry, including the people he loved, the parables he taught, the enemies he made, and the healing he brought.

Paperback books are cheaper through Cokesbury than at Amazon. e-books are the same price at Amazon and Cokesbury. If you would like Susan to order your book from Cokesbury, please let her know by February 5. The cost will be $12.00.

If you would like to join the study, but order your own book, please let Susan know by February 17 so we can be sure you receive any pre-study information.

Pastor’s Note: I Would Have Despaired Unless…

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.  (Psalm 27:13-14)

As I write this Pastor’s Note, we are one week from the insurrection on January 6 and one week from the Inaugurationon January 20. You have all read the headlines, seen the pictures, watched the videos, and hit your social media platforms by now.

We are one week from the day the 45th President of the United States of America led a mob of thousands, via social media, to violently storm the Capitol. Members of congress hid under desks or escaped through secret passageways while angry, predominantly white, Trump loyalists carried out orders from their Commander and Chief, mounting an assault against one of our nation’s symbols for democracy, thereby temporarily halting the constitutional process of certifying the election of Joe Biden as the next President of the United States. 

We will likely not forget the images of that dark day anytime soon: Images of Trumps red-hat rioters dressed in maga apparel and/or camouflage uniforms and/or pajama bottoms and sweatshirts carrying American Flags, Confederate Flags, the Christian Flag, and the battle flags that bore Trumps name. Images of so called “protesters” pushing through barricades and barriers, breaking windows, destroying property, hell-bent on not only disruption but destruction of not simply property, but something much more precious; namely, democracy. And, for heaven and earth’s sake, if the image of the make-shift gallows does not make anyone gasp, then Trump has succeeded in leading this country to the edge of an abyss. All of this is disturbing, if not terrifying.

What is perhaps most troubling are not the images of violence or flag waving fascists. What is especially disturbing is how the image of a bare-chested, face-painted, heavily tattooed man in Nordic Costume complete with some sort of hat with horns, who goes by the name “Q-Shaman,” has become the poster child of this terrible event.

Originally, the term “poster child” was used for the image of a child suffering from a disease depicted on a poster in order to invite compassion and raise awareness to combat the disease. In this sense, on the one hand I suppose Q-Shaman (his real name is Jake Angeli born Jacob Anthony Angeli Chansely) is the poster child for a disease spreading across this land and we should thank him for raising awareness. On the other hand, if the events of January 6, 2021 are reduced to a delusional silly man in a costume, who reportedly still lives with his mother, complains about the lack of organic food while presently in jail, and thinks of himself along the lines of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, then the deeply troubling events can be too easily dismissed and, therefore, forgotten, which will a) likely only lead to more violence on the part of those who claim feeling dismissed or forgotten in the first place, and b) allow this ideology to continue to spread and infect more and more people regardless who holds the Office of the President post Trump.  

No, we cannot reduce January 6 to a silly man in a costume and, therefore, dismiss the events as easily as we might be tempted to dismiss him. Remember, people died. We must meet this moment in history, we must meet Mr. Jacob Angeli Chansely and all others like him, with courage, compassion, wisdom, a keen sense of justice, and love. Above all else, love. The only thing that is capable of freeing humankind from hatred and fear is love – a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13)

american flag waving in front of the sun

I have read more so called “protests” are planned at capitols in all 50 states across this great land on Inauguration Day.

  • We must pray for a peaceful transition of power.
  • We must be a peaceful people in thought, word, and deed.
  • We must pray: “God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.” And the lesser-known verse of the hymn too: “God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control thy liberty in law.”
  • We must listen with understanding, act with wisdom and compassion, and speak with courage.
  • Above all else, we must love our neighbor as ourselves…and our enemy too. (Matthew 5, Luke 7)

I would have despaired on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Come what may on Inauguration Day and thereafter, I will not despair. I will not despair because of the One whose hope strengthens the weary, whose light dispels the darkness, whose grace saves even a wretch like me, and whose love conquers sin and death. Be strong. Take heart. Wait for the Lord.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

Sermon Audio January 10

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall entitled: The River

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Sermon Audio January 3

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall entitled: The Work of Christmas

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Sermon Audio December 27

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall entitled: A Newborn Hand

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Sermon Audio December 24

Christmas Eve Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall

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Pastor’s Note: The Peace Light

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

These words of assurance remind us no matter how tragic the circumstance, no matter how dire the situation, no matter how grim the prognosis, no matter how disturbing the news, no matter how heartbreaking the headline, no matter how grievous the sin, no matter how broken or corrupt the system, no matter the darkness inside you or me, no matter if we believe in God or not the Light of all people has come into the world and cannot be extinguished.

United Methodist Pastor, Todd Outcalt writes the following:

A few years ago, our congregation started an Advent tradition with the Peace Light – a flame that is taken from the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, carried around the world in a miner’s lantern, and distributed from church to church and home to home via candlelight. The Peace Light usually arrives at our church a few days before Christmas Eve, and people from the church and community bring their own candles in order to retrieve the flame and carry it back to their homes.

The Peace Light has become a powerful connection in our community, and sharing the light of the one candle produces feelings of solidarity, unity, and support. This experience may especially be powerful for those who may be experiencing grief in their lives.

When people pick up the Peace Light, we also distribute a small slip of paper with various scripture readings, including the powerful words from the prophet Isaiah, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light” (quoted in Matthew 4:16), and the words of Psalm 23. Here, in this beloved psalm, we find words that have given aid and comfort to millions of people through the centuries – especially during times of loss. The psalmist, like Isaiah (and Matthew) echoes the promise of God’s light and comfort when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death…

We do not need a Peace Light from the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in order to experience God’s peace and love. God’s peace is available to us through the abiding presence of the Spirit who encourages us and offers light during difficult times.

single candle in the dark

This week I heard of a group of neighbors who agreed that during this time of living in the shadow of pandemic, isolation, quarantine, and loss one of the ways they could feel connected was to connect their Christmas lights from one house to another, from one front yard to another, from one neighbor to another around a corner and down the block. Indeed, it’s another example of light symbolizing a powerful connection in our community.

This year, Christmas Eve Candlelight Service is going to be different. We will not be together, as we have in the past, with faces aglow singing Silent Night in the sanctuary. No, this year we will be together virtually, our faces aglow by our computer as well as candle. This is not the Christmas Eve Service we hoped for, but we will still be together as a Christian community, as a people of peace…we will still be connected by the Light of all people that will never be extinguished.

Please plan to join us for our Christmas Eve Service Thursday, December 24 at 7:00pm. Please email us for the Zoom link.

May God bless you this Christmas Season!
Jeffrey

Origin of Las Posadas

In Mexico the tradition of Las Posadas begins on December 16th and is carried out in a series of festivities that have been held in Mexico since colonial times. The origin of this tradition is of a religious nature, in which Joseph’s and Mary’s pilgrimage to Bethlehem is represented; however, since the end of the 18th century festivities have been part of popular culture, organized by families in their houses.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Aztecs celebrated the arrival of Huitzilopochtli, who was the god of war. These solemn festivals took place during the month of panquetzaliztli, equivalent to the month of December, and lasted 20 days beginning on the sixth day of the month. Festivities included honoring their god by putting flags on the fruit trees and banners in the main temple. This tradition was known by the name of “raising of flags”. The people congregated in the courtyards of the temples and waited for the arrival of the winter solstice. On the night of the 24th and during the course of the 25th there were celebrations in all the houses. Food was offered to the guests, and they also were given some small pasta statues called “tzoatl”.

The anthropologist Fernando Híjar tells us that the tradition of Las Posadas commenced with the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico. The religious leaders in charge of the evangelization of the people replaced the cult of the god of war with the European practice of preparation for Christmas, focusing on Christianity. At first these festivities were called “Christmas Bonus Masses”, and since then they have been held from December 16th to the 24th in the atriums of churches and convents.

The celebration consists of proclaiming the mass together with Biblical passages and representations alluding to Christmas. Additionally, small gifts are given to the attendees, known as aguinaldos, or bonuses. The people congregate in the courtyards of the temples and wait for the arrival of the winter solstice. On the night of the 24th and during the course of the next day there are festivities in all the houses, in which food and some small gifts are offered to the guests.

Throughout time, the same people were adding more attractive elements to these celebrations such as candles, sparklers and piñatas. Ultimately they adopted these parties into their neighborhoods and houses. This transition from the temple to the streets was allowed by the church in order for these festivities to have a greater diffusion among the inhabitants. So the tradition has been transformed according to the culture of each zone or region of Mexico.

La Posada people in costume

Once the guests to this celebration have gathered, they prepare to represent the request for accommodation made by Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary on their pilgrimage from the city of Nazareth to Bethlehem. To symbolize this event, the guests make two groups. One group must leave the house accompanied by figures representing the pilgrims, Joseph and Mary, who ask for lodging at the door singing the following litany:

IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN I ASK YOU TO OPEN THE DOOR, BECAUSE MY BELOVED WIFE CANNOT WALK ANY FURTHER.

The people who stay inside must deny entrance at first, forcing the pilgrims to continue asking for an inn three more times. They play the part of the innkeepers and say,

THERE IS NO ROOM FOR RENT HERE.  GO ON, I CAN’T OPEN MY DOOR FOR YOU. DON’T PRETEND TO BE SOMEONE YOU ARE NOT. YOU ARE A SCOUNDREL.

To culminate this part of the tradition, pilgrims are granted asylum with the following litany:

ENTER, HOLY PILGRIMS. PILGRIMS, RECEIVE THIS CORNER, WHICH, EVEN THOUGH MY DWELLING IS POOR, I GIVE IT TO YOU WITH MY HEART.

It is important to mention that during the pilgrimage, all the members carry candles and a booklet with the litanies. Participants can read the litanies in one voice.

Once entrance to the inn is granted, the coexistence among the participants begins. It reaches its maximum splendor at the moment of breaking a piñata, which must be full of fruit, sweets, and snacks. The role of the piñata in Las Posadas symbolizes the triumph of faith over sin. It must have seven points on it that represent the seven deadly sins. Sweets and fruits symbolize the grace of God. The blindfold is faith. God is represented by the stick, and the people around it symbolize the church members who will show the way to overcome sin.

In these days of a pandemic, access to all the inns in many places such as our Church is suspended, closed for the safety of all. In a season without a pandemic, for many Hispanic and Latino children these are very special days, full of happiness and joy for all. During these days’ children receive many sweets and warm foods such as tamales and corn atole or hot chocolate at night. During the cold and dark of winter, with its candles or sparklers, people are happy, listening to beautiful Christmas carols while waiting for Christmas.

At San José First Church, in December 2016 we started this beautiful tradition so that the Latinos of downtown San José could remember their traditions and teach their children about Christianity. In their hearts they can revisit the stories about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in the way Latinos live it in their countries. These days are special for them and their children. The traditions are the same for many countries, cities, towns and villages in Latin America.

I have been thinking a lot about the children of the El Maguey neighborhood and how very sad Christmas time is going to be for them. It’s not that I feel like I can be a super hero and fix everything, nor am I a saint. I’m just a rural shepherd who wants all people to be happy—especially the children, since I was also a child. El Maguey does not have many traditions since it is a 17-year-old colony founded by the Mexican government. They decided to make small houses for some of the people of Atotonilco El Alto, a nearby 480-year-old city that became overcrowded.  They looked for the poorest people from different low-income neighborhoods and populated this colony with all these people. They are often discriminated against, since everyone knows that people were relocated there as a mode of segregation.

My house is located in this colony and serves as the headquarters of my church, Cristo Vive, which provides light and hope for the people who live there.

In consideration of the fact that I still have vacation time from church, and after much praying and asking God for direction, I have made the decision to go to Mexico. Besides taking care of some personal matters there, I can be in El Maguey in time to celebrate the first two services of the year, and broadcast them on Facebook. In this way Latino members of our downtown church can also have their time of worship on those days.

In the last 6 months, the Methodist Women’s organization and the members of First Church have made donations to buy grocery bags for the neediest people during this pandemic. This provides a way for children to have a plate with food at home. During my visit I will be helping the leaders of Cristo Vive to distribute the food. I am looking forward to greeting people with a gesture of respect and love from San José First and to pray for them and for the neighborhood.

I will also be able to carry out the celebration of the Epiphany or the Day of the Magi on January 6, 2021. My plan is to arrange to have three trucks with three men characterized as the Three Kings and to tour the entire colony, visiting all the streets. We will play Christmas carols and deliver sweets and toys to the children we meet on the street. Using this method will ensure that children do not accumulate in one place and will provide them with a surprise, making this a day that is happy and special.

I am very aware that we are in a pandemic, which is dangerous for them and for me. So I will be taking all the necessary measures to keep a healthy distance and follow security protocols. My faith is placed in God, so that I know I can stay well and return healthy and full of joy and have satisfaction in my heart for doing what God asks me to do. He wants me to love every human being with respect and solidarity. From my hometown I will be praying for you and your families so that next year is better for everyone.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2021, sisters and brothers in Christ!

Pastor Gerardo Vázquez-Padilla

Advent Study Week 4

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

In Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas, best-selling author Adam Hamilton examines the names of Christ used by the gospel writers, exploring the historical and personal significance of his birth.

A small group at the church is studying this book for Advent. We want to share the experience with others. Each week we will post questions from the previous study so you can follow along. Our prayer is that you’re able to find joy in this Advent Season in a time of uncertainty.

Blessings,
San Jose First UMC

Incarnation Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas book art

WEEK FOUR

Question 1:

“John records that Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12). … This is the point of Christmas. It is the celebration of light piercing our darkness, God’s light coming to us to enlighten our lives. We need not fear that we will stumble or become lost because we are no longer trying to find our way in the dark; we have the light of Christ by which we walk.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 130)

What Advent and Christmas celebrations most meaningfully convey to you God’s light “piercing our darkness,” and why?

Question 2:

“While Christians often speak about the Bible as the Word of God, the Word of God in its most decisive and definitive form came to us not as a book, but as a person. Jesus is God’s self-disclosure, God’s revelation of himself to humanity. God’s Word was incarnate in Jesus. All other words about God, everything else we read in scripture, must be read in the light of the Word of God that is Jesus. He incarnates the wisdom, reasoning, mind, and heart of God.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 134)

When has thinking about Jesus as the Word of God helped you understand other “words about God”?

Question 3:

We are God’s plan for changing the world. Let that soak in. … We are not just passive recipients of God’s love and grace. As we become children of the light, we cannot keep that light within ourselves. It is meant to spill out from us naturally and touch the lives of others. And every time it does, the light extends just a little farther, the darkness recedes bit by bit, the kingdom of God expands, and the world is changed.

“God sent Jesus to launch a revolution of the heart that ultimately leads us to take his light into the world. And how do we do that? It starts with watchfulness—paying attention to see where someone needs our support or our assistance.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 140-141)

How are you paying attention to the places and people to whom you can carry Christ’s light this Christmas?

Sermon Audio December 20

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall entitled: Only Love

Sermon Audio