Sermon Audio September 27

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall entitled: The Way of Humility

Sermon Audio

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

Sermon Audio September 13

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall entitled: A Way Through

Racial Justice Webinar

Racial Justice: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
A Conversation with Rev. Jim Lawson, Jr. and Rev. Phil Lawson

Saturday, September 12th, 1:00-2:30pm

The CA-NV Conference United Methodist Women in partnership with the CA-NV Conference UMC are proud to host a webinar conversation with Rev. Jim Lawson, Jr. and Rev. Phil Lawson about their lives as activists, their insight into today’s events, their hopes for the future and what will be required by all of us to build the Beloved Community in our land. We hope you will join us. All are welcome.

Please click the link below to join the webinar:
https://cnumc.zoom.us/j/99401514465

Read more about the webinar here.

Sermon Audio September 6

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall entitled: A Few Words from Paul

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

Sermon Audio August 30

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall entitled: The Benefits of a Broken Heart

Sermon Audio August 23

Pastoral Reflection by Rev. Jeffrey D. Hall entitled: The Keys to the Kingdom

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