Many school church in our area go hungry on the weekends when they are not in school to receive cafeteria prepared luncheons. To help hungry children to have enough food when they are not in school, the Somerset County Food Bank has instituted a program where nourishing food is slipped into children’s backpacks at school so that they will have enought to eat on Saturdays and Sundays. Pilgrim Church supports this program by collecting necessary food items for the kids. Kathy Petricone, chair of Pilgrim Church’s Outreach Committee, and her husband Joe are pictured here as they get ready to deliver our collected canned goods to the Somerset County Food Bank.
ALWAYS REMEMBER TO LOOK UP
Back in the late 1960’s The United States of America was agog with the race to be the first nation to land on the moon. Night after night, we Americans would stay glued to our television sets, as the anchorman of choice, Walter Cronkite, would lead us through the exploits of the crew of Apollo Eight.
On one of his evening broadcasts, Cronkite was commenting on pictures the astronaut Bill Anders was taking of the earth rising beyond the moon, when it suddenly hit him, Cronkite said. “My God,” he realized, “we’ve come all this way to study the moon and its really the sight of the earth, that blue disk out there floating alone in the utter darkness of space, that’s had the most impact. It’s almost as if we were discovering the earth for the first time, it was such a welcoming sight.”
There are so many things in life that are truly welcoming, aren’t there: the open arms of a loved one, the sight of home as we turn into the driveway, the Christmas bonus check from work or the kisses and licks we receive from a furry four footed friend, especially when we walk through the door after a long day. It’s always so good to feel welcomed.
It certainly wasn’t that way such a long ago, though, when a truly tired expectant mother and her weary husband made their way into the little town of Bethlehem in the land of Judea. Granted the town was overflowing because Caesar Augustus had required that all the world should be enrolled. And each Jewish male had returned to his city of origin to be counted for the tax, Joseph and Mary among them. But when they arrived there was certainly no welcome, was there?
Surely there should have been some place of welcome for a woman in Mary’s condition, at the establishment of a midwife, at the home of a friend, at the residence of the local rabbi, but door after door was shut in their face. As the day wore on and they were turned away time after time, it’s not hard to imagine the sense of despair that Mary and Joseph must have felt. But at last the innkeeper of the only inn in town took pity on them and offered Mary and Joseph a bed in the stable out in the backyard with the sheep and the cows and the horses and donkeys. And so Jesus, the son of God, came into the world.
It’s such a paradox, isn’t it, that Jesus, the one who came to remind us of the welcoming love of God, found no real welcome at his own birth. Maybe that’s why he took such pains during his ministry among us to remind us over and over again, and to teach us, too, that there is nothing in this world that can ever get in the way of God’s great love for us, that when we fail, when we miss the mark, when we fall short, God is always there with welcoming arms outstretched to forgive us our faults, as we start over and try again.
Now, have you ever stopped to realize that that belief in a welcoming and loving Omnipotent God is something that finds its expression in churches all over the world, churches that throw open their doors Sunday after Sunday to welcome all who would come into God’s presence to find rest for their weary souls, or solace for the morrow or courage for the fray. Where would we be without churches like that? Where would we be without a welcoming church like Pilgrim Church?
But our church isn’t the only thing that needs to be welcoming. Each of us here this morning needs to be welcoming as well, welcoming of God as he comes our way this Christmas. Often we get so caught up in the trappings and commercialism of Christmas that we forget what this holy time of year is all about. And when we haven’t take the time to make a welcoming place for God’s way in our lives at Christmas, we end up acting and feeling like a Scrooge. “Bah humbug” we say about everything and anything. Even going to church at this most significant time of year can become another obligation rather than a privilege, because we haven’t allowed the happiness and peace and joy and meaning of this holy season to truly touch our lives. And then what have we really done ….other than cheat ourselves. It is so important that we, too, be welcoming this Christmas.
Doug Wildrick shared with me this fall a wonderful story that actually happened to him when he entered the seventh grade. As Doug tells it, going to junior high school was a hard adjustment for him to make. He had made great friends when he was in elementary school, but as it turned out, when the class assignments for the seventh graders were made at the Junior High School, none of Doug’s friends were in his class. And without the camaraderie and support of his buddies, seventh grade became a real drag, and Doug didn’t like it all. He says he would get off the bus and trudge with lots of discouragement into school each morning, just wanting to get the day over with, so he could get back home.
One of his teachers, Mr. Saxel, had a classroom on the third floor of the junior high school, on the side of the building where the students got off the buses. One day he pulled Doug aside, and said, “Doug, I’ve been watching you. I’ve seen you get off the bus day after day. Your head is always down and you’re dragging your feet, and it’s obvious you don’t want to be here. But I want you to remember, that in spite of the difficulties you’re experiencing this year, I’m very proud of you. You’ve got a lot of potential. You need to hold your head up high and be proud of yourself, and I don’t ever want you to forget that. And if you should ever doubt that I care about you, all you have to do is look up, and know that I am always watching you.”
Maybe you’ve come here on this Christmas Sunday because you’re discouraged and weighed down with a host of problems to numerous to count. Maybe you are here because you are grieving the loss of someone you loved deeply. Maybe you’re here because you’ve lost your way this Christmas and don’t know how to get back on the right track. Maybe you’re here because you feel so lonely, it hurts. Maybe you’re here because you no longer feel welcome in your own family.
Well, I’m here to remind you this morning that in God’s eyes you are a person with immense potential. He is so proud of you, and loves you so deeply, that this Christmas he has come to give you the most wonderful gift he can, the gift of himself in his son, Jesus the Christ, to console you when you grieve, and help you find your way when you are lost and comfort you when you are in pain, and to ease your burdens when you are overwhelmed, and welcome, always welcome you when you feel excluded..
And if you should ever call that into question, if you should ever doubt the great and welcoming love your Omnipotent God has for you, or the fact that he cares for you, please don’t allow any of these burdens, that would crush you or weight you down, to force you to turn your gaze earthward. Whatever you do, don’t look down. Please, always remember to look up. Look up and then let your gaze go higher to these lofty ceilings, keep on looking up to our steeple that points the way even higher, and finally, on to the moon which lights up the very heavens themselves. Yes, always remember to look up. No matter where you are, no matter what’s ahead for you, no matter what road you travel on in life, our Great God will always be watching you and looking after you.
So heaven’s sake don’t forget to raise your eyes this Christmas. For God’s sake, and especially for yours, don’t miss the bus and the whole meaning so this glorious season this year. And may the Great God, who even now is looking down and reaching out to everyone of us, grant us all the most blessed and merriest of Christmases.
At its 20th Anniversary Celebration on Sunday, March 24, 2013 Pilgrim Church’s Founding Minister, The Reverend Kent Estler, (on the left) was honored with a beautiful hand lettered scroll. The scroll thanked Kent for his dedicated service to the church, its ministers and members over the past 20 years. Our Minister Emeritus, The Reverend Dr. Ken Wildrick presented the scroll to Kent.