Archive for Shelter-in-place

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?

Advent Study Week 3

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 THREE

Question 1:

“I do not believe that God sent the coronavirus, but I do believe he is with us in the midst of this pandemic, doing what God always does—comforting, leading, consoling, and wringing good from the adversity and pain. There will be plenty of silver linings from this frightening turn of events. Even now, in the midst of the pandemic, the world has changed in so many ways for the better. There is tragedy and death, but there is life, hope, goodness, and love.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 90)

Where are you noticing God “wringing good” from the pain of the ongoing pandemic?

Question 2:

“This is what we mean when we speak of the Incarnation: God took on flesh and entered our world as a human being. It is clear in scripture that Jesus is not merely God wrapped in human flesh—God in a body. He became human in Jesus. He experienced what we experience as humans. In Jesus, God experienced temptation, love, hunger, joy, fear, friendship, grief, doubt, rejection, a sense of abandonment by God, and death. He wept, he bled, he suffered, he died. There is something profoundly moving about God actually knowing what we are experiencing as humans.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 102)

When was a time you found special meaning and comfort in God having become human in Jesus Christ?

Question 3:

“Matthew begins his Gospel telling us that Jesus is ‘God with us’—Emmanuel. At the end of his Gospel, he recounts Jesus’s final words to his disciples, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). It is not just that God was with us in Jesus, but that Jesus continues to be with us. He is still Emmanuel. And because I believe he is with me, I live differently; I have peace, I find strength, I live seeking to walk with him.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 109)

How do you live differently because Jesus was and continues to be “Emmanuel”?

Advent Study Week 2

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 TWO

Question 1:

“I’m reminded of someone who once said to me, ‘Why do Christians spend so much time talking about sin?’ For some people, it feels like sin is the only thing they hear about in church. I want to be clear: if all you ever hear about in church on Sunday is sin, you’re probably in the wrong church. But if you never hear about sin in church, you may also be at the wrong church. The good news of Jesus is not that we’re sinners, but that he is our Savior. But we can’t appreciate his role as Savior if we don’t know we need to be saved.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 51–52)

How would you respond to someone who asked, “Why do Christians spend so much time talking about sin?”

Question 2:

“My experience, after forty-two years of being a Christian and attempting to walk with Christ daily, is that I am still tempted to think, say, or do things God does not intend. But when I turn to Christ, I sense his strength, his help, and his deliverance. He has transformed, and is transforming, my inner desires. We call this sanctification—the process by which the Holy Spirit changes our hearts and minds so that we become the people God intended us to be.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 59)

When was a time you were aware of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in your life?

Question 3:

“Love came down at Christmas to a stable in Bethlehem, to two poor parents and a handful of night-shift shepherds. That love would be evident in the way he healed the sick, forgave sinners, welcomed children, fed the hungry, and cared for his disciples. But nowhere was that love more clearly seen than on the cross as he hung there, saying, ‘This much. God loves you this much.’”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 75-76)

Who has shared the message of God’s love for you in an especially meaningful way?

Advent Study Week 1

Be Transformed this Advent Season!

His parents gave him the name Jesus. But the prophets, the shepherds, the wise men, and the angels addressed him by other names. They called him Lord, Messiah, Savior, Emmanuel, Light of the World, and Word Made Flesh.

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.

This Advent season church families will come together to remember what’s important. In the face of uncertainty and conflict, Christians reclaim the Christ Child who brings us together, heals our hearts, and calls us to bring light into the darkness.

Now more than ever, we invite you to reflect upon the significance of the Christ-child for our lives and world today!

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 ONE

Question 1:

“This season puts into perspective all our political wrangling. … While our politics have divided us, Advent should bring us together, uniting us around the newborn King and his life, message, ministry, death, and resurrection. … Advent beckons all who consider themselves Christians—regardless of whether they are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, or Independents—to come to the stable and there fall on our knees as the shepherds surely did, yielding our allegiance, our hearts, and our will to the newborn King.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 17–18)

How are you experiencing unity among Christians, despite their political differences, this Advent?

Question 2:

“We live in that period between the triumph of Easter and Christ’s triumphant return when he makes all things new. We see a world where suffering still occurs, where darkness seems to reign, where the kingdoms of this world seem to have the upper hand. We continue to live as followers of the King whose kingdom is not of this world, but breaking into this world through his followers—through us.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (page 38)

How do you believe Jesus’s kingdom is breaking into this world through your community of faith?

Question 3:

“Today, nearly a third of the world’s population claims Jesus as their King. Far more have been influenced by the things he taught, the values he espoused, the life he lived. I don’t believe it is an overstatement to say that he is the single most influential person to have walked this planet. For those who count him as King, as I do, we awaken each day recognizing that our highest allegiance, our deepest devotion, and our greatest commitment is not to country or political party or even to family, but to Jesus the Christ, our King, whose kingdom is the climax of human history.”
— Adam Hamilton, Incarnation: Rediscovering the Significance of Christmas (pages 38–39)

What do you consider the most significant measure of Jesus’s influence on the world?

What Happened to the Glasses?

He who is generous prospers;
whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
Proverbs 11:25, NIV

On behalf of the CRISTO VIVE CHURCH I bring you the warmest thanks for the donations of your glasses. The recipients know that all of you kept them for some sentimental reason or to give them a better use. But we know that God’s plans are different from ours and those glasses had to reach a new owner who needed them. In Mexico–and especially in El Maguey–people have very low-incomes, and there is no way to purchase glasses. The frames are very expensive, and people prefer to buy food to eat.

People of El Maguey receive eye glasses donations

Adults over 40 years of age often begin to have problems with their vision. For example, they struggle to read the instructions on medicine bottles. Also, there are many children who do not have good vision, which results in difficulties learning at school. And there are some people who never know if they need glasses, since they have never had an eye exam.

Well, thanks to your generosity and solidarity, a suitcase full of glasses arrived for the community of El Maguey. Many children and adults have benefited by receiving them. I plan to share some photos so you can know what happened. You will enjoy seeing the happy face of a child who received his glasses. When he noticed the difference in his new view of the world, his face lit up! God has blessed you for your noble gesture.

Blessings
Pastor. Gerardo Vazquez-Padilla

Pastor’s Note October 5

Dear Friends,

Transform the World cityscape and globe

October is the time of year many United Methodist Churches offer more focused attention on the practice of Stewardship. Since 1847, loving and committed people like you at SJ First have labored for Christ and given generously in order to accomplish the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And, since 1910, you have continued to strive to be a bold witness in the downtown area for peace, justice, outreach, and inclusion on the corner of Fifth and Santa Clara. I am thankful Bishop Carcaño appointed me to serve a congregation with such a long history.

Due to COVID-19, much has changed in the world since I was appointed to serve you and the San Jose community July 1, 2019. I could not have imagined church the way it is today and, if I’m being honest, I have been slower than others to adapt. Pastoral transitions can be difficult enough, never mind throwing in a life-threatening pandemic within the first year. I want to thank you for being patient with me as I have struggled to learn how to minister in new and different ways during these rather unprecedented times.

While much has changed in the world, particularly since March, one thing has not changed; namely, the mission of the Church. We commit to persevere, to carry on, to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to feed the hungry, to forgive, to resist evil in all its forms, and to love our neighbors as ourselves with a resolve, a conviction, an unwavering trust in Christ’s promise that not even the Gates of Hades will prevail against us.

For 173 years, SJ First United Methodist Church has engaged in ministries that try to make a real difference in the lives of real people. Along with your prayers, your presence, your service, and your witness, your financial support grounded in the faithfulness of God is essential in order to continue making a difference in our community and world.

As good stewards, it’s important during this last quarter we remain faithful and give as we are able in order to meet our 2020 budget. I know God will lead each one of us to give generously in response to the many blessings in our lives like so many saints of SJ First have done since 1847.

Checks may be mailed to the church office and made out to “First United Methodist Church at San Jose” or “FUMCASJ” or “FUMCatSJ”.

STEWARDSHIP PRAYER

God, my Creator,
you made me all that I am
and gave me all that I have.
Help me show my gratitude
by using these gifts
to serve others in your name.

Jesus, my Redeemer,
you taught me the way to eternal life
by your example of loving service to others.
Grant me the courage to respond
to your Call to Discipleship
by following in your footsteps.

Holy Spirit, my Sustainer
be with me as I choose each day
to put you first in my life.
Let me be a model of Christian Stewardship
so others will come
to know you through my actions.

I pray, dear Lord,
you open the minds and hearts
of all the men, women
and young people of our church,
that we may joyfully accept your
challenge to be good stewards.

Amen.

Grace and Peace,
Jeffrey

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