Archive for From the Pastors

Pastor’s Note May 19

I am heartened by the news SJ First has received contributions totaling $3,000 for the El Camino Real District COVID-19 Relief Project for our neighbors who are without their visa and who have lost their jobs. As District Superintendent, Rev. Goto, wrote: “The purpose of the fund is to provide the basic support for their groceries, as well as other supply needs and expenses such as their medical fees.” All contributions designated for El Camino Real District COVID-19 Relief Project will count toward the District goal of $50,000. Thank you to all who have contributed. If you have not already done so and would like to support the Relief Project, you may write a check to:

“First United Methodist Church at San Jose” Or “FUMCASJ” Or “FUMCatSJ”
Memo: ECR Relief Fund

We continue to pay careful attention to our State and Local Officials, as well as our Episcopal and Conference leaders, during this time of shelter-in-place as restrictions are being slowly lifted. I know the past couple of months have been very difficult for some of us, and I am grateful for the ways all of us have responded with wisdom and courage while steadfastly being the church. While we don’t know exactly when we will reopen our doors again for what will no doubt be a “new normal” where it concerns day-to-day mission and ministry in downtown San Jose, the Vision Leadership Team will be meeting by ZOOM later this month to begin thinking through together the kinds of considerations, precautions, preparations and planning necessary to provide the safest possible environment for our church and members of the San Jose community for when the time does come to responsibly reopen.

In the meantime, let us continue to pray for one another, encourage one another, and love one another, knowing God is faithful and walks with us, offering comfort, support, guidance, and strength as we follow Jesus.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

Pastor’s Note April 22

I decide it’s time for a break from the blurred screen and computer camera that is hell-bent on capturing me in the worst possible light on yet another video conference call, so I head for the backyard with a book of poetry. It is Earth Day. The air smells clean. The sky is azure blue. Benefits, I am told, from a significant reduction in emissions due to the “shelter-in-place” mandate, the negative economic ramifications of which have been well documented, to include no less than 4 million Americans who are unemployed. I offer a heartfelt prayer for them, absent of inner chatter, and welcome a steady breeze, green leaves waving, that would make most anyone smile.

I watch a grey squirrel search for the perfect spot to bury his spoils next to a small patch of earth where my wife has planted some seeds. Some are starting to sprout, and I am reminded of Martin Luther who is quoted as saying: Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. During these anxious and fearful times, let each and every one of us plant our apple tree. Let us not resign ourselves to some bleak future that is not yet, or continue in outrage over a past we cannot change. Let us welcome both rain and sun and continue to plant seeds of kindness, care, compassion, love, and hope.

A poem for us on this Earth Day titled, The Sun, by Mary Oliver.

Have you ever seen
anything
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything

such wild love–
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
empty-handed–
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
Jeffrey

Pastor’s Reflection April 10

A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:29-30

Michael Renninger recalls a hospital visit he once made. The smell was of human frailty and bodily function. Of sweat and urine. Many of us, he said, don’t like hospitals for that reason. And on this particular day, the smell of the hospital hallway was exceptionally unpleasant. He owned the fact that he did not want to be there at all. “I had been a priest well over a decade, but I had never been called upon to do this. I was going to baptize a baby at the hospital. But it’s not what you think: The baby was not sick. It was the baby’s grandmother who was sick. In fact, she was dying, and we were no longer sure she would be alive on the date the baptism was scheduled at the church. So, we walked down that smelly hospital hallway, and we all gathered in the hospital room. And, there, on the grandmother’s bed, we would baptize her grandchild.”

The grandmother was propped up in her bed. Renninger placed a large plastic bowl on her lap, on top of her legs that could no longer move. Water was drawn from the sink. The door was closed to keep out the noise in the hallway. “I had trouble reading the Baptism prayers,” he said, “I had trouble because I kept looking at what was in front of me. Here was this child, now beginning its life. Here was her grandmother with her life soon ending. One life beginning. Another life ending. Death at hand for one, Death conquered for the other being baptized on that same bed. Life and death. Welcoming and letting go. Beginning and ending. As I prepared to leave, I stood near the husband of the dying woman. He was hugging the father of the baby we had just baptized. And through their own tears, I heard one of them say, “It’s finished.” To which the other replied, “But it’s not over.”

It’s finished…but it’s not over.

In the Gospel of John, the very last words of Jesus are “It is finished.” And, on so many levels, that is exactly right. By any ordinary measure Good Friday appeared as total failure. It is death on a cross. It is the crucifixion of hope. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God. Signs and wonders followed. Less than a week ago the crowds were shouting Hosanna. Today they cry for blood. The time had come to face the facts: it is finished. Jesus seemed to have failed. God’s plan, God’s love had been nailed to a cross and left hanging lifeless.

Barbara Brown Taylor notes at that same hour a parade of Passover animals into the temple began. Their owners slaughtered them while priests caught the blood and poured it on the altar. So there were two bloody places in Jerusalem that day: Golgotha and the temple. Both presided over by religious professionals who believed they were doing God’s will. That was one thing the clergy and politicians agreed on. By putting Jesus to death, they were doing God’s will. Life, Hope, and Love crucified. And it still happens today. It happens in ICU’s where a patient breathes their last breath on a ventilator alone. It happens on blood-soaked battlefields. It happens when police shoot unarmed black men. It happens in every mosque, or church, or synagogue blown up by terror.

Yes, when sickness moves over the face of the earth; when the plight of unemployment and poverty cover the land; when our marriages fail, when our hearts get broken, when our dreams die, when we cry out to God and the heavens are silent – all of this and more can feel like Good Friday has had the last word.

We can feel like it is finished. But, thank God, it is not over.

It’s not over because crooked and weak politicians will not have the last word. Self-righteous religious leaders and religious systems bankrupt of justice and peace will not have the last word. Hate, fear, and violence will not have the last word. Death will not have the last word. For in the beginning was the Word and the Word was God and he will not be silenced.

It is true: It is finished. But, it is not over because God will not allow it to be over. God did then, God does now, and God shall always have the last word. Just wait three days, and you will hear it.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. Jeffrey

Pastor’s Note April 1

As many of you have no doubt heard, Santa Clara County Health Department has extended the Shelter-in-Place through Sunday, May 3. This action was taken to minimize the spread of COVID-19, serious illness, and the very real potential for significant loss of life.

This week my prayers have not only been for each of you, but also for first responders, and grocery store clerks, nurses and doctors, unemployed families, children next-door drawing with chalk on the sidewalk, and the PG&E guy (Mike) who came out to our home late one evening to make an emergency call.

All of us experience Shelter-in-Place differently. For most of us, it means a place we call home. For the unhoused, it may mean a place they hope to eat a meal and rest their head for a night in a large room full of strangers. I pray for them, too.

This morning, I sat in my backyard and watched a family of grey squirrels (or maybe they were friends, or maybe they were strangers who became friends) play in the large tree in the northwest corner by our wooden fence. I could have just as easily watched them through the window, but I wanted to be outside. These days, I look for any excuse to be outside. And those squirrels were as good of an excuse as any. So, I poured myself a cup of coffee, sat under the broad roof sky, and read the following poem by David Whyte:

AT HOME

At home amidst
the bees
wandering
the garden
in the summer
light
the sky
a broad roof
for the house
of contentment
where I wish
to
live forever
in the eternity
of my own fleeting
and momentary
happiness.

I walk toward
the kitchen
door as if walking
toward the
door of a recognized
heaven

and see the
simplicity
of shelves and
the blue dishes
and the
vaporing
steam rising
from the kettle
that called me in.

Not just this
aromatic cup
from which to drink
but the flavour
of a life made whole
and lovely
through the
imagination
seeking its way.

Not just this
house around me
but the arms
of a fierce
but healing world.

Not just this line
I write
but the innocence
of an earned
forgiveness
flowing again
through hands
made new with
writing.

And a man
with no company
but his house,
his garden,
and his own
well peopled solitude,

entering
the silences
and chambers
of the heart
to start again.

On Ash Wednesday, February 26, few of us knew what pandemic
wilderness we would be entering during Lent. I certainly did not. On the
first Sunday of the liturgical season, we heard the language of
temptation, wilderness, solitude, and angels; but few (if any of us)
associated those words with COVID-19, cancelled, lockdown, and
Shelter-in-Place. For much of Lent, we have had to learn to be at home
with bees wandering our gardens; notice the simplicity of steam rising
from our kettles; contemplate a world that offers as much healing as it
does heartbreak; welcome no company, only the gift of well peopled
solitude; and enter, for the first time in perhaps a very long time, the
silences and chambers of our hearts to start again.

I pray these and other small graces are sustaining you while dark
clouds gather on the horizon of Holy Week and the Passion of Christ. I
pray you remember beyond this pandemic wilderness, beyond Good
Friday clouds looming in the distance, there is a frontier with clearer
skies, brighter fields, and sweeter waters where our hearts might be
baptized anew in the name of faith, hope, and love. The greatest of
these. Love.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.
Jeffrey