Pastor's Blog

Surfer in wave

When I was eleven, after brief stints in several southern California towns, my family finally landed in the small beach town of Ventura, California, about thirty minutes south of Santa Barbara. In addition to traditional youth sports and other adolescent activities, as you can imagine in a beach town, surfing was very popular and cool!
I love the ocean! And during my days in Ventura, I was at the beach often, at least in the summer. And like any self-respecting Venturan, I tried my hand at surfing. I remember driving with my friends from high school on the northbound 101 freeway many summers, looking for the best waves between Ventura and Santa Barbara. And my bedroom walls were covered with pictures I’d cut out from my subscription to Surfer Magazine.
I loved the beach, and I loved surfing. But the fact is, I never got very good at it, unlike my brother, Mark, who moved to Maui after graduation and spent six months surfing amazing waves. Though I was a decent athlete and could hold my own in most of the sports I tried, I never really gained any proficiency in surfing, even though I played water polo and was on the swim team. 

Rock in the ocean

You’ve probably heard the sarcastic but too close-to-the-truth saying, Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. And yet, as we head into a new year, I imagine that we are all looking for some sense of certainty and clarity regarding the future; some solid ground on which we can stand to steady and guide us through the fog, frustration and fears that the year 2024 inevitably holds as we continue to hear about or experience disease and disaster or war and global warming, just to name a few issues that may keep us up at night. 
In times of uncertainty, some people look for confidence in their finances, surmising that even if they don’t know what’s going on, at least they’ve got money in the bank.  Others lean into their friendships and family connections, hoping that whatever comes, we’ll get through it together. Many others pour themselves into politics and activism seeking security in working to shape the future toward a better outcome – at least their preferred vision of what that looks like. Still, others find hope and meaning in service projects and in caring for their neighbors in need or a planet under duress. Finally, distraction and addiction through entertainment and substance abuse find their way into many of our lives as coping methods for the tenuousness and possible terror of the shadowy future.  

Round globe with image of Christ on the cross and people standing around the base

The beginning of the school year and the onset of fall may put us in mind to reconsider our priorities, refocus on our purpose and get reacquainted with our routines. Even if we have the privilege of being retired, the changing of the seasons affords an opportunity for reflection on our life’s direction and purpose. In that spirit, it seems to me to be a good time to reflect as well on the direction and purpose of our life together as Central Congregational Church.
In Matthew chapter 16, we find Jesus with his disciples in the city of Caesarea Philippi in the northern part of Israel – a strategic outpost of the Roman Empire, to the point of the title, Caesar, being appended to the original name of the city. It is not an accident that it is in this location that Jesus questions his disciples as to what the word on the street is about who Jesus really is, as by then Jesus’ teaching and miracles had gained him widespread notoriety. 
After the disciples report on what they’ve heard about Jesus through the local gossip – including that Jesus is the reincarnation of John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah – Jesus more pointedly asks his closest followers, “But what about you?... Who do you say that I am?” At which point the Apostle Peter unsurprisingly speaks out boldly for the whole group by declaring that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Then, after noting that Peter and the disciples didn’t come to this accurate conclusion by their own wisdom but rather by revelation from God, Jesus makes a bold and revolutionary pronouncement. In the very shadow of the Roman Empire, Jesus affirms that he is indeed the Son of God – which also makes him the rightful ruler, not Caesar – and that upon Peter’s confession of this fact and Jesus’ followers continued confession of his Lordship throughout the centuries, he will build his church, “and the gates of hell will not overcome it”.

Apocalyptic image with a clock and person

At the beginning of Matthew chapter 24, Jesus predicts the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. His disciples are understandably shocked and disturbed and ask Jesus the pressing question, “When will this happen…?” But they don’t stop there, they go on to ask the question that has burned in the minds of the faithful throughout the centuries since Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension, “what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

We can imagine that for Jews living in Israel under Roman occupation at the time of Christ, the utter destruction of the temple1 could easily be considered a clear sign that the end was imminent. Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled, as the Jewish Temple was indeed destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. And yet, here we are nearly two thousand years later still pondering and sometimes predicting the return of Christ and the end of the world as we know it, to borrow a line from the 80’s band, R.E.M.

Knees in a hammock with an open books

After months of rain,  cold, and gloomy weather, sunny, summer days are finally upon us. I know a few of you enjoy the cool, cloudy days, but I think I speak for most of us when I say, Thank you, Jesus, for the sunshine!
Looking forward to a vacation, or at least a bit slower pace to our days, our thoughts turn to various forms of relaxation. For many of us, this includes a summer reading list, and there is no shortage of suggestions in magazines, newspapers and newsfeeds this time of year. If this is you, as you compile your summer reading list, don't overlook the ultimate treasure trove of wisdom and inspiration—the Bible. Whether you are a person of faith or simply curious about the world's most influential book, including the Bible in your summer reading can unlock a realm of profound insights and timeless narratives.