Archive for From the Pastors

Pastor Gerardo’s Message from El Maguey

Whoever is generous will be blessed,
for he shares his food with the poor.
Proverbs 22:9

May the blessings of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I am writing here to thank you for your help with the El Maguey community during these difficult times caused by the pandemic. In mid-June I approached Susan to ask if there were still funds from the last mission trip to El Maguey. When I heard funds were still available I then spoke at the next VLT meeting, to see if it was possible to send the remaining funds to El Maguey for the members of Cristo Vive. The response surprised me when the Methodist Women’s group raised their hands to offer help by giving $4000! In addition to this generous gift, the group, as well as members of the congregation, continue to donate.

Viewing photographs of the long lines of people outside my house waiting to receive a grocery bag, one can see that women, men, and their children have relied on this help. Seeing so many needy people made my heart begin to fret, and something told me that I had to go to El Maguey. My purpose was not only to deliver groceries, but to encourage the people and to pray for them. I felt that they needed to be fed spiritually, and I wanted to bring them the greetings of the Methodist women and the members of San José First Church and to show the generosity that is in their hearts. They needed to know that in the United States of America there are people who care about them. In spite of the warnings against traveling in times of a pandemic, I felt the responsibility to go to Mexico.

On August 19 of this year, Cristo Vive completed 13 years of service to the community. The leaders of Cristo Vive and I decided to make the biggest presentation to honor God for the anniversary. There was an attendance of more than 1,200 people including children, the elderly, and the disabled outside my house. That day we passed out 327 bags of groceries to families. We also provided salads, snacks and drinks to everybody. I was afraid we wouldn’t have enough food for so many people; however, as it turned out, we had plenty.

It was already 7:30 PM when I arrived at the front of the crowd to give my message and instructions. When I looked at the group of 300 children staring at me, my legs began to shake as they looked at me so intently. I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit watching me doing what He himself planned for El Maguey. I want to tell you that the blessings that came out of your hearts for the people of El Maguey were multiplied by God. He multiplies them in return, since all the people benefited from the aid you provided. These families bless you for your noble gesture of love for your neighbor.

May God bless you,
Pastor Gerardo Vázquez

Pastor’s Note September 19

Dear Friends,

As you read this Pastor’s Note, we will have just celebrated the 172nd Annual Conference Session of the California Nevada Conference. I hope and trust you found time over the past four days to watch the various sessions and worship services. I am grateful for our San Jose First Lay Members to Annual Conference, Ellen Shaner and Horacio Lopez, and I know they will have much to share about their experience of Annual Conference with our congregation.

I am so very thankful for our Episcopal Leader, Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, who presided over our first Virtual Annual Conference Session with skill, adaptability, and grace. I have the privilege to serve as Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry and, therefore, have occasion to witness firsthand her leadership.

I have come to value and deeply respect Pastor Gerardo’s ministry as a transformational leader, and so it was with pride (the good kind) and a privilege to make a motion on behalf of the Board during the Clergy Session to approve him under the category of Local Pastors approved and appointed to serve in a full time appointment. We are blessed with another year of his presence and ministry at San Jose First.

Throughout the Annual Conference Session, I was inspired by the many gifted people who spoke about Black Lives Matter. I am grateful our Bishop and Conference leadership provided the necessary prominent platform to prophetically speak to the sin of racism and the hope of Christ Jesus to heal us and make us whole in our church, community, and nation. As a congregation, beginning Monday, October 5, we will start a 5-week study on the book, Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, written by Drew G. Hart. I am looking forward to leading that study very much and believe we have at least 10 or 11 people who have signed up.

Sunday morning, I will drive to Sacramento to be present for the in- person Service of Commissioning, Ordination, and Recognition of Orders. Safety protocols have been established and will be followed. It is wonderful that you all will gather by ZOOM at 10:00 for fellowship and prayer and then view the Service in Sacramento via livestream. This is a tremendous moment not only for those being Commissioned, Ordained, and Recognized, but also for the annual conference as a whole. I know you will be praying for me, our Bishop, and for that very special service as I will be praying for you.

Monday, September 21, I will drive roughly 7 hours to Crescent City, located close to the Oregon border, in order to represent the Board of Ordained Ministry and assist Bishop Carcaño who will commission a candidate who could not be present for the Service in Sacramento on Sunday due to health considerations. In the hope of “catching my breath,” I will stay up in that area for a few days and return Thursday. I should still have access to WIFI, although it may be spotty, and so I plan to be present for the VLT Meeting and Pastor Check-in on Wednesday.

I would like to end this note with a poem that was shared by Retiring Deacon, Diana Bohn, at Annual Conference. The poem is written by Bonaro Overstreet. It did my heart good, and I thought perhaps we might carry it with us for a season. The poem is titled:

Stubborn Ounces
(To one who doubts the worth of doing anything if you can’t do everything)
You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good; they will never prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where Justice hangs in the balance.
I don’t think I ever thought they would. But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

Grace and Peace, Jeffrey

Pastor’s Note August 28

Dear Friends,

Sometimes, when I don’t know what to pray or how to pray, when I know my prayers are going to sound muddled and confused and maybe even a little crazy, like a schizophrenic on the street, I will pray a poem. We will get to the poem in a minute, but first let me tell you why I needed to pray a poem in the first place.

My heart has been troubled the past two weeks by several stories in the news. The three-ring circus that is American politics is disturbing. The DNC, the RNC, the halls of power have too many snake oil salesmen and women, con artists, power hungry politicians looking out for their own political interests, and bold-faced liars pretending to serve the public. Yes, there are exceptions but they’re not the ones doing most of the talking. It’s disheartening, to say the least.

Our state has seen some of the largest wildfires in California history, burning roughly one million acres in three of the five complexes. As I write this note, I am thankful evacuees are slowly returning to their homes and fewer people will have to clean their cars of ash. But these signs of the times, so to speak – ash falling from sunless skies, death and destruction left by hurricanes, a toxic political climate, and a pandemic – leave some of us wondering when the four horsemen of the apocalypse are going to arrive.

And, of course, there are the stories of Jacob Blake, a 29 year-old black man shot in the back by police seven times in Kenosha, WI; and Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17 year-old who is accused of fatally shooting two protesters and wounding a third, after which time he walked right past police officers while people were shouting he had just shot someone. There is still much to be investigated and uncovered about each of these tragic incidents, to be sure. However, what is fairly straightforward is that a black man was shot in the back and a white teenager shot three people and then walked down the street with his semiautomatic weapon in hand right past the police.

To pray about such things is sometimes not easy for me – floods and fires and politics and pandemics and racism and riots make it so I can barely get through a sentence. The real danger, I suppose, is that all these stories, and the stories I tell myself about these stories, will be so heartbreaking I will shut them out, close myself off, protect myself from the pain, stop working for abundant life for all humanity, stop caring, stop praying. Which brings me to the poem I have been praying titled, “Lead,” by Mary Oliver.

LEAD

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it, you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.

May my heart, your heart, our hearts break open and never close again. Because to do so would be to close our hearts not only to what we experience as painful, but also any possibility of the good that might come out of that pain. For example, the fact that tens of thousands of people – of all races, all religions, all sexual orientations – marched on Washington today, where Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech 57 years ago, demanding racial justice and an end to systemic and institutional racism in our country. The dream is still alive…so long as we do not lose heart…so long as we allow our hearts to break open and never close again.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

Pastor’s Note August 17

Dear Friends,

The other day, I was sitting in the backyard after a 3-hour ZOOM call with the Bishop and Annual Conference Planning Team wanting to enjoy a few minutes of peace away from the blurred screen. I sat down in the comfortable shade of the roof covering the patio to watch the green bell peppers grow and tomatoes ripen. My moment of Zen was seemingly interrupted by the sound of a thousand leaf-blowers and tree-trimmers. Wednesdays, I learned, are noisy days in the beautiful neighborhood where we are privileged to live. After I got over feeling a bit annoyed, and gave thanks that people had work as landscapers, gardeners, and tree-trimmers, I was able to hear the birds sing. The birds, of course, were chirping and singing all along. The unmistakable sound of the Mourning Dove, no doubt, continued through the storm of leaf-blowers, but I couldn’t hear the birds because I was not listening for them.

You see where I am going with this.

It’s especially important during these uncertain, if not turbulent times, to be able to say: “Yes, but I can hear the birds singing.” I can notice something good, beautiful, and true while not denying or even avoiding much in our noisy lives and world that is often frustrating, depressing, concerning, or disturbing.

Please do not misunderstand. I am not saying we should simply: “Look on the bright side.” I am not suggesting we offer the empty consolation: “Every cloud has a silver lining,” which is usually not consoling at all.

Life is hard. Suffering is real. Our bodies hurt. People die. Nuclear weapons have not gone away. Climate change does threaten our very existence. Unemployment is at a record high. Parents are struggling to make ends-meet. Children are not able to return to school under “normal” conditions. Some politicians are thoroughly incompetent. And the list goes on.

The LA Times headline made some noise this morning: “California becomes first state to pass 600,000 coronavirus cases.” With the subtitle: “The state has also notched another sobering milestone, as surpassed 11,000 COVID-19 deaths, a 10% increase from one week ago.” Yes, but I can hear the birds singing. Yes, but thanks in large part to Ray and Gerardo, SJ First delivered food from Second Harvest to 50 additional households.

The party politics and inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to draft an acceptable and much needed coronavirus stimulus bill. Yes, but SJ First UMW continue to lead our congregation in raising funds for the people in el maguey.

Wildfires scorching 100,000 acres in Colorado and California. Ex-FBI Officer to plead guilty to altering email during Russia Investigation. Real economic fragility, despite some optimistic reports. And so on. Yes, but I read this week of a man giving a testimony: “It made me feel like a human being again,” he said. He is a former inmate in San Francisco Prison, and now works with the San Francisco Garden Project, an eight-acre garden where prisoners grow vegetables, and the organic produce is then delivered to seniors, homeless, and other vulnerable populations.

Last week, Pastor Gerardo and I took time to stop by homes and socially distance visit with our youth. We have an amazing group of young people. The number one question they asked was: When can we come back to church? Gerardo and I were heartened that our youth feel so positive about SJ First they can’t wait to come back! Surely, the birds are singing.

In the midst of our noisy lives and world that is often frustrating, depressing, concerning, or disturbing – Church continues. Hope, love, kindness, and beauty are present.

This week let us pay attention and listen carefully so we can say: Yes, but I can hear the birds singing.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

Pastor’s Note July 29

Dear Friends,

As most of you know, Jennifer and I moved into the Parsonage on July 16. We know that significant renovations were made leading up to the move, particularly in the kitchen, bathrooms, floors, and painting, and many members of the church worked very hard to make this a lovely home for us to move into. We are so thankful for all of you who took time in your lives to help with this project, and also for those of you who may not have been able to help physically but offered your love and support through prayer.

As you can see, the picture is of the backyard and is one of our favorite features of the parsonage. These days I find myself in front of my computer in virtual meetings for several hours a day. So, I look forward to the opportunity to sit outside for a spell and enjoy the humming birds, butterflies, and roses.

There are many other aspects of the parsonage we appreciate and wanted to name some of them:

  • Well cared for front and back yard
  • Interior and exterior painting
  • Beautiful wooden floors – that creak a little (which we love!)
  • Light fixtures with lights that actually work
  • Ceiling fans you know won’t fly off the ceiling while spinning
  • “Barn-wood” style kitchen floor
  • New appliances
  • Microwave over the stove (allows for more counter space)
  • Deep sinks with good functional water fixtures
  • Plenty of cupboard and closet space
  • Renovated bathrooms

We are slowly unpacking and moving toward making the Parsonage our home. Thank you again to all of you who made this possible.

On a more somber note, brothers and sisters, I am troubled, if not disturbed, by the alarming increases of coronavirus cases we see in our state and several other states in the country. The last I read, infections were somewhere around 4.3 million with roughly 150,000 deaths nationwide. I am baffled by a nation that has chosen to go to war over whether or not to wear facemasks during this pandemic.

We will continue to look to our State and Local Officials, as well as our Episcopal and Conference Leaders, for guidance as to when it is wise to reopen our doors and safely meet together. As of today, I do not see this happening anytime soon. As we look ahead, please know your pastors and leadership of the church are meeting virtually to plan mission and ministry at SJ First, the San Jose community and beyond.

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 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