For Such a Time as This

Every single day ordinary people are given the chance to do extraordinary things. In our current vernacular we call this “acts of kindness,” and sometimes we even add the expression “random” to it, but by doing so, we are missing the point. Exposure to current news stories is anything but encouraging. These are challenging times we live in. I hear the words of Jesus going through my mind as I open my newspaper:

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24.6-7).

We “commit” acts of “kindness” simply because we are the right person in the right place and at the right time. Take Nicholas Winton, for example. Nicholas was scheduled to take a skiing holiday in Switzerland when he received an urgent message from a friend in Prague, Czechoslovakia, who needed his help in assisting with some Jewish welfare work. Nicholas traveled to Prague instead of Switzerland, and once there, he put his whole dedication and ingenuity to work.

The time was December 1938, and Czechoslovakia was under constant threat of invasion through Nazi Germany, supposedly in order to free the German people living in the Sudetenland from their Czech oppressors. Winton singlehandedly established an organization to aid the children from Jewish families at risk by the Nazis. He set up an office at a dining table in his hotel room in Prague, and over the next few months he organized the rescue of 669 children (most of them Jewish) in an operation known as the Czech Kindertransport (children’s transport). Winton would arrange for the children’s safe passage to Britain in addition to finding homes for the children in Britain and in Sweden.

Nobody knew anything about what Nicholas Winton had done on the eve of the Second World War for half a century, until his wife found an old scrapbook while looking for something in the attic of their home. Inside this scrapbook Winton had diligently listed all of the names of the children rescued and other important documents. Once his story became known, Nicholas Winton was an overnight sensation, and the press called him “Britain’s Schindler.”

Nicholas Winton’s one act of kindness literally changed the world, because his brave action to save 669 children has touched the lives of their parents and descendants as well. All in all, Winton’s family, if you will, grew to over 5,000 people who are here today because of his willingness to stand up for what was right even when things became difficult and dangerous.

I am reminded of Queen Esther in the Old Testament book by her name. Esther, born to a Jewish family, becomes queen to a foreign king. When a decree goes out to have all of the Jews killed, Esther’s uncle, Mordechai, gets a message to Esther, urging her to do whatever she can to avert this tragedy: “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14).

The invasion and war in the Ukraine show us in vivid images humankind at both its worst and its best. The lies and misinformation fed to the Russian people, the Russian soldiers, and the rest of the world cannot change the stinking mess the Gremlin in the Kremlin has unleashed upon Ukrainian people and his own people. The outpouring of support and concern for the plight of people fleeing the war-torn country is a testament that good always wins over evil.

Every single day ordinary people like you and me are given the chance to do extraordinary things. May the story of Nicholas Winton inspire you to do extraordinary acts of kindness as you place yourself in the service of God. One never knows: Perhaps we are the right people in the right places for such a time as this!

Journeying towards Easter together,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

Spiritual Garage Sale-ing

Scripture: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Psalm 103: 8-10

We are a few days away from the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a word that comes to us from an Old Germanic word meaning “longing.” Just as people long for spring after a hard dreary winter, so the spirit longs for renewal and life in communion with God. Lent is the gateway we must walk through if we want to understand the events of Holy Week and Easter. There is no Easter without the cross, and there is no cross without us being prepared to carry it. Jesus offers us companionship on our personal journey through Lent. We begin the 40 Days of Lent with Ash Wednesday, and I invite you to come by Reed City UMC between noon and 1 pm on Wednesday, March 2. I will be in the sanctuary and offer each person the traditional sign of the cross on their forehead, signifying that we are committing ourselves to spend the next 40 days in a significant manner. Alternatively, I will offer an Ash Wednesday service at the Brooks Corners UMC at 6 pm that same day.

For many Christians today, Lent is a season of preparation and conversion: we acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives and we focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God. For some this means giving up something for Lent as a form of fasting. We can deprive ourselves of some small pleasure or indulgence and offer that sacrifice up to God. Or we might “give up” a bad habit as a way of positively turning our life back towards what God wants for us.

An experience of want, however temporary, can help us to appreciate the true abundance in our lives. And a small positive change can have a big impact that lasts beyond the 40 days of Lent. I invite you think about what you might want to give up this year. Is it something you enjoy that you want to sacrifice for a while, like your daily latte? Or is it a bad habit you want to conquer, like running late for meetings? Or perhaps you want to turn your mobile phone off for a few hours each day and not let it distract you from the loved ones you are with in real time?

Here is one more idea: Go into the basement and attic and storage closets of your heart and collect all the junk and rummage that has accumulated over time and hinders you from fully experiencing the life promised by Christ. Take all that junk and rummage and hold a spiritual garage sale. Don’t expect multitudes to throng to your place; they have junk and rummage of their own already! But do expect one buyer: God. God has promised us in Psalm 103 “As far as the east is from the west, so far [God] removes our transgressions from us.”

As you are getting ready for your forty-day journey through Lent, I wish you happy garage sale-ing in the Lord. We are on this journey together.

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

 

Do Not Be Afraid

Some Christians like to live by slogans. The more concise and pithier the slogan, the better for us to memorize it and recite it. Remember the “WWJD?” phenomenon from some years ago? It seemed that the whole world was wearing “What Would Jesus Do?” emblazoned bracelets, from cheap, colorful rubber bands to rather elaborate, diamond encrusted silver and gold bracelets.

Another slogan we like to invoke as a mantra quite often is “God is good, all of the time,” to which others are expected to respond with, “All of the time, God is good.”

As such, there is nothing wrong with slogans, but if slogans become something akin to magic formulas, then we get ourselves in trouble. We get ourselves in trouble because we substitute the real thing, faith, with some catchy phrase or pithy saying. It is one thing to proclaim, “God is good, all of the time,” but an entirely different thing when asked, “is that what YOU truly believe?”

Think about it: do you truly believe that God is good (i.e.: faithful, trustworthy, always present, etc.) ALL the time? How about during these challenging times of living in economically stressful and unpredictable times? United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase wrote in one of his blog articles that “If a congregation is driven by fear rather than faith, then it falls to us to keep the focus where it belongs—the ministry of Jesus Christ.”

How often do we find the admonition “Do not be afraid” in the Bible, and yet succumb to fear as we read or watch the daily news? And what are we to make with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about “Do Not Worry” (Matthew 6:25-34), and still give in to worry nonetheless?

“Do Not Fear” does not mean we avoid legitimate concerns, nor does “Do Not Worry” free us from making wise and often difficult decisions. But what Jesus reminds us of is that if we let worry win, then we lose. And “when worry wins, then the purpose and ministry of Christ gets hijacked, derailed, ignored and avoided,” to quote Robert Schnase one more time.

These are difficult and challenging days we are living through presently, but as people of faith we need not succumb to fear and worry. Someone once defined worry like this: “Worry is a lot like a rocking chair; it will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.”

So let us commit to make prudent decisions rather than panicked ones. When I look at the example the early Christians give us for this day and age, there is one thing that stands out very clearly: The early Christians did not let worry win. May we all learn from them as we follow Christ. And may we also remember that ‘this too shall pass away.’

In the awesome name of our Savior,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

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What on Earth is God Up to in 2022?

 

I write these words in the remaining days of December, with January 1st already in full view. We get our name for the first month of a new year from the Roman god Janus, whose depictions show him with two faces: one face looks back while the other face looks ahead.

We do a fair amount of looking back ourselves as the countdown toward 2022 takes place. We remember failures and accomplishments, deaths as well as births, endings as well as new beginnings.

         

And we spend a fair amount of time looking and thinking ahead to the year that lies before us like a book with blank pages, waiting to be filled with accounts of wonder, joy, and amazement. As a congregation we are naturally interested in the question, “What on Earth is God Up to in 2022?” Much we don’t know yet or could not even begin to imagine. But there are a few things we know already, and the excitement and momentum are building.

What we can know is that we will continue our commitment to make a difference to be a beacon of God’s eternal love as we gather for worship and, even more importantly, when we are dispersed as God’s people within our neighborhoods and our community.

We can also know that 2022 will be a better and bigger year as we will learn to live with the Coronavirus and resume even more being an active and vital part in making our part of the world a better place through engaging the larger community. Engagements such as Vacation Bible School, hosting an ALPHA Course, run a Rummage Sale, or through serving the needs in our community in different ways.

Will it be easy? Most likely not.

Will it be impossible? With God, ALL things are possible!

Will it be worth it? Yes!, Yes, and YES!

We are not doing these things just for ourselves, but also for our community, and most importantly for future generations of faithful, spirit-filled Reed City UMC people like you!

I am excited about the new year. I sense that God will bless us in ways we cannot even imagine today.

So let us step boldly into 2022. God is with us, here and now!

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

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All I Want for Christmas Is…

Advent is a gift from God to us. It is a time of preparation, anticipation, and expectation, not unlike the long 450-year period between the closing remarks of the prophet Malachi, and the moment the angels brought the wonderful news of the world’s Savior to a band of shepherds outside Bethlehem.

 

God has such a great sense of humor! Here the people were awaiting some superhero dropping from the sky to save them, or at least some sort of king or mighty military leader who would equip them and lead them into glorious victory over their oppressors, when God did the completely unexpected.

 

While people were watching the front gate of the royal palace, God entered our lives through the back door of history, as a vulnerable baby born in a barn!

 

I am afraid that quite often we rob ourselves of the anticipation and excitement of waiting for Christmas when we get so caught up in the busyness of the season. Our family enjoys the tradition of an Advent calendar, where, beginning December 1, we open up one little door, window, or frame to reveal an image of Christmas underneath it, until, finally, December 24 arrives, Christmas Eve, when the biggest window can be opened and a manger scene is displayed.

 

Yes, most people count the days until Christmas, but it is often only in terms of how many shopping days are left. Every year it seems that the first harbingers of Christmas come earlier and earlier, and every year more and more people find that the joy and true spirit of the Advent and Christmas season eludes them.

 

Advent begins the Sunday immediately following Thanksgiving, November 28. We will begin the season with celebrating Holy Communion on that first Sunday in Advent. The theme for this year’s Advent and Christmas season is All I want for Christmas is… .

Each Sunday we will explore a different aspect surrounding the birth of Christ:

November 28: All I want for Christmas is … HOPE

December 5: All I want for Christmas is … PEACE

December 12: All I want for Christmas is … JOY

December 19: Children’s Christmas Pageant during service

December 24: Christmas Eve Service at 7 p.m.

December 26: Music and Worship Service

 

I look forward to this season of Advent. I look forward the unexpected moments when we can simply take a deep breath and have time to prepare our hearts, anticipate, and expect the unexpected.

 

I pray for a restful and peaceful season of Advent, and I wish all of us the best of a blessed Christmas.

Pastor Daniel Hofmann