Footsteps To Follow
Laetare Sunday Rejoice!
By Ms. Tiffany Haller, Director of Faith Formation, St. Ann Roman Catholic Church
La what Sunday? Laetare Sunday. It is a Roman Catholic tradition celebrated during the fourth Sunday in Lent, this Sunday. Laetare translates from Latin and means “rejoice.” But, you say, Lent is a time for fasting (practicing self-control), prayer (seeking the Lord in scripture and meditation or contemplation), and almsgiving (sharing the gifts we have received from God, not just monetarily but of our time and talents as well). Yes, Lent is a period of forty days during which Christians remember the events leading up to and including the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus’s life and his teachings are the basis of Christianity.
Isaiah 66:10-11 states, “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exalt and be satisfied at her consoling breast.” This verse from Isaiah is the inspiration for the theme of Laetare Sunday. Even the liturgical (rite for public worship) color used for this day is celebratory: rose. The color rose represents a time of joy amid the somber Lenten period of fasting and prayer. The change in color from Lenten violet indicates a glimpse of the joy that awaits us at Easter. The timing is just before we enter the somber days of Passiontide.
The delight of Easter approaching is symbolized in a few other interesting liturgical options. During Lent, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal does not allow flowers on the altar. But there’s a temporary halt to these penitential observations on Laetare Sunday (as well as solemnities and feasts within the Lenten season). Bring on the flowers!
Here is another interesting, fun fact about Laetare Sunday: marriages were generally forbidden during Lent, but Laetare Sunday was an exception when marriages could be celebrated during this penitential season. Now marriages are forbidden on Good Friday and Holy Saturday only. But Laetare Sunday is still a fitting day for those wishing to be married in the church before Eastertide.
As we approach the darkness and horror of the days through Good Friday and Holy Saturday, Laetare Sunday is an opportunity to savor and remember what awaits us on Easter Sunday: the reality that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that our hearts will always be filled with happiness!
I hope the awareness of this tradition and its customs helps in understanding and appreciating the beauty of faith. So, celebrate this Laetare Fourth Sunday of Lent along with the rest of the Lenten season, the fifty days of Easter, and beyond. Why not take advantage of the richness of some faith traditions, old or new (if even just to you). It just might spark some joy! Rejoice!
Beginning Discussion About Injustice With Our Children
By Rebecca Logan, Retired UPMC Chaplain, Member of Lycoming Valley Baptist Church
All of any nation’s history is unjust because of sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, they set off a chain reaction to all of humanity that will never be finally resolved until eternity. Animosity, hatred, and taking advantage of others started as early as the first sibling. Cain deliberately went against what God said, and in his jealousy, possibly embarrassment, killed his own flesh-and-blood brother. That was complete injustice; his brother had done nothing wrong but was killed. Vengefulness, anger, and jealousy has consumed humankind since.
Injustice reappears in another family later in Genesis. We see Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery. The theme of bondage, slavery, and freedom is woven throughout Scripture. Many lessons can be learned from it. Why did people do that to others? What were their motivations? Where was God in all of this?
A Good Name Is Better Than Riches
By Apostle Dawn White-Gueary of Lite-Shine Ministries, Williamsport, Pa
How many of us are drawn to names of importance, such as a childhood icon, a movie star, a teacher, a leader, or a spiritual mentor? Names can carry a very strong presence, as well as either a good or a bad reputation. Proverbs 22:1 in the English Revised Version states that “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.” The Passion Translation reads: “a beautiful reputation is more to be desired than great riches, and to be esteemed by others is more honorable than to own immense investments.”
We know that Proverbs was written as the Book of Wisdom. This verse implies that while our names have been chosen, to maintain a good reputation is also important. There is a very specific reason why you have been given your name. Each one has been chosen with great thought, perhaps with much research and prayer. Perhaps it has even been given as a family heirloom to carry on the legacy of your bloodline. In the same way, how we refer to God is important. Just as God has His name, Jesus has His name, and the Holy Spirit has His name, each serves a specific purpose, while also working together in unity.
Let’s start with the beginning in Genesis 1:26 where it states: “and God said, let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” This not only means that He has orchestrated and designed us each by name, but that we have also been made in His image, which also exemplifies the importance of how we represent not only ourselves, our families, our loved ones, but God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
There are several passages in scripture that reveal we are God’s treasure, His hidden handiwork. Isaiah 64:8 states, “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 denotes that we are like fragile jars that are containing great treasure, which, in fact, is the greatest gift that we could ever behold. The greatest treasure that we could ever possess is to have Jesus living inside our heart and for the Holy Spirit to be our guide, our teacher, our comforter, our advocate, and our friend.
God is counting on us to represent Him well through continuing to remain postured in humility, obedience, and in daily surrender to Him. No matter what your earthly name, we have all been predestined into “sonship” and by the spirit of adoption through Christ Jesus in accordance with His pleasure and His will.
This not only adds a whole new dimension to our earthly name, but it also brands us with a seal through His blood and brings us into a place of favor and richness that we need to uphold and to protect. That carries much weight and accountability as to how we represent His name. It is not about vanity, nor is it about how great we are because of our abilities or even our failures, but it is about upholding our God-given responsibility to represent Him well and to guard the very treasure (anointing) that He has entrusted us with as His light bearers and His Glory carriers.
No More Cussing
By Rev. David Mansfield, Retired Disciples of Christ Pastor
Since retiring, I find I want to do a lot more cussing. I know; pastors are not supposed to curse, but hear me out, please. You see, my arthritic hands don’t work as they used to. I can’t open those snack bags anymore, and even those zip-lock ones cause me grief. I lose my grip on slippery bags, and the contents fall to the floor, requiring clean up. Bottles and jars are sealed tighter than they used to be, it seems to me, so that opening a simple bottle of water can be a chore. All these things I used to do without a thought, but now they are a source of frustration; thus, the choice words come flying out.
A few months ago, I was with a small group of pastors who I meet with for meditation and prayer once a month. When I was asked what I wanted prayer for, I said, “Pray that I stop cursing.” They looked at me with stunned silence, mouths hanging open. One person broke the silence: “Pastor Dave, I can’t imagine you ever cursing.”
I replied, “Well, I do” and explained my story. So they laid hands on me, and each prayed for me, some giggling under their breath in unbelief.
I am happy to report that those prayers were answered sometime later as I was gifted with insight into the spiritual fruit of gentleness. The nine fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (NIV). They are listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Love, joy, and peace are the ones that get top billing, but gentleness seems to get lost. Gentleness is a Christ-like quality. In Matthew 11:29, we read: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Gentleness is an attitude and an action. It is shown in how you love and care for others and how you act and speak. There is strong connection between gentleness and words. We read in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We all know the power of gentle words at the right time that can be life giving. Gentleness is revealed in daily life by an understanding smile, a comforting touch, the delicate use of compassionate words, a gentle feeling, and a gentle approach to self and others.
Gentleness is evoked by something that is precious and vulnerable like a newborn baby, a new puppy, the innocent question of a child, and an aging saint bound to her bed. Beauty found in a lovely rose or a work of art or experience of time spent in nature can also evoke feelings of gentleness.
We treat things gently because they are fragile and precious, like a flower or something that holds a sentimental value to one we love. Think of gentleness as what you do when you carry three eggs in one hand across a room. The eggs are fragile and precious (due to current rising costs).
If you are as I am, you find it easier to be gentle with others but not so easy to be gentle with yourself. Is it possible to experience myself as precious, fragile, and vulnerable?
Often, I feel disappointed in myself, frustrated by my limitations. Such condemnation does not give rise to gentleness. At such times, I want to “whip myself into shape” or berate myself for some failure. What if, instead of judging myself so harshly, I gently look at myself as a unique gift of God and admit and accept the weakness, which makes me a fragile, earthen vessel? Gentleness towards myself is only possible when I recognize and own my own vulnerability. I must be able to look at myself with a forgiving eye. What would happen if I treated myself like those three eggs in one hand being carried across the room?
So I am learning how to be gentle with myself, accepting my limitations as the circumstances God has placed me in. When I stop fighting my frailties and allow myself to be the earthen vessel that I am, my frustration level goes down, and those words get caught before they fly.
Interpretation Of The Scriptures
By Rev. James Behrens, Retired United Methodist Pastor
Sunday, February 19th, is Transfiguration Sunday. This year the scriptures are Exodus 24:12-18 and Matthew 17:1-9. Exodus focuses on Moses, who went up on the mountain and was covered with a cloud, which could be described as the Holy Spirit. The Glory of God shone upon him, which was witnessed by Joshua, his successor. In the Gospel account of Matthew, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain, where they witness Jesus being transfigured before them.
The three disciples were told not to share what they witnessed until after Jesus’ death. The Glory of God that day was seen by his disciples who also saw Moses (the greatest law giver,) Elijah (the greatest prophet) and Jesus. They were all present, as was God the Father and the Holy Spirit. In Exodus, as Moses was on the mountain, he was covered with a cloud. Similarly, in Matthew’s account, a cloud covered God the Father, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. A voice spoke from the cloud, which identified Jesus as God’s Son. Matthew 17:5 says, “While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (NRSV). It sounds a lot like the words heard when Jesus was baptized except for “listen to him.”
Later in the Epistle of Second Peter, we hear Peter witness to what he saw and experienced that day. Peter said in Second Peter 1:17-18, “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory…We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” Peter is testifying to his audience that he was shown the Glory of God and heard the voice confirm Jesus as God’s Son. He did not mention the other disciples who were present by name.
Not all of us have seen the Glory of God. Peter cautioned people then, and I want to do the same. I have been in many Bible studies and Sunday School classes over the years. Some of them were as simple as sitting at a table and reading the Bible and sharing our thoughts. Peter today says, “that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation.”
It is fine for us to share our thoughts with one another. But make sure that your interpretation is accurate and not just an opinion. It is nice to have different perspectives, and we can learn from one another.
I once knew a man who had read passages from Revelation. He came to me and began to interrogate me. He asked, “Where is the church in Philadelphia?” It took me a while to realize that he believed that the church in Philadelphia was Philadelphia, PA. We need to understand how others interpreted the scripture and why it was interpreted that way. We have too many people in society who seem to think that they are experts on everything. However, their reading and interpretation may or may not be true.
When I was a chaplain at SCI Muncy, I told the ladies when I preached to prove me wrong. If they proved me wrong, I was willing to change. Either way we both won; they engaged more with the scriptures, and even if they proved me wrong, we found the right answer. In Second Peter 1:21, he gives the following as the reason: “because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” There are many who will twist scriptures by their human will. They will make verses say what they want them to say to prove a point. On all scriptures, we need to understand through the Holy Spirit or the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Coins And Gifts
By Richard DeMarte, Board Member at Large, United Churches of Lycoming County
Exodus 30:13 states, “This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the Lord” (NASB).
Thank you for letting me put my two cents in.
Where To Find God
By Rev. Gwen Bernstine serves as pastor of Lycoming Presbyterian Church in the Newberry section of Williamsport
I have heard people ask what kind of God would allow such horrible things to happen. Others cry out in pain, asking what they did to deserve the catastrophe that has befallen them.
When we or those we care about are in trouble, we can desire a free pass to not assume any responsibility for our situation or to get out of our troubles safely. God does not give any of us a perfect life, free from human mistakes, accidents, or disasters.
We are, however, blessed to worship the God who created the heavens and the earth. This is the same God whose steadfast love and care we depend upon throughout all our days.
The 23rd Psalm speaks to God’s steadfast love for us. The first verses tell of God’s availability saying, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake” (NRSVue).
We are assured of God’s availability in good times and bad. David, the psalmist, continues: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
We are assured of God’s love all the days of our life as the psalm continues. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” The last verse of Psalm 121 makes it clear that “the Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.”
In the beginning, when the first people found God, they were in Eden. During the journey of God’s people, God was found in a burning bush and heard from the mountain tops. God led the Israelites in a cloud and sometimes dwelled in a tabernacle. We find God at church, on a walk in the park, as we talk to neighbors, and as we sit on our favorite chair.
Jesus showed us that God’s dwelling place is everywhere: everywhere throughout creation! It is within, beside, before, and following behind each of God’s beloved children. Yes, even you today! When we understand this, then the words of Psalm 84 bring even more joy to our hearts: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.”
No matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey (as the United Church of Christ folk are fond of saying) God loves you and is always near!
God Is Enough
-Peggy Thompson, Junior Church Teacher, Victory Baptist Church, Bloomsburg
Shining God’s Light
By Pastor Bob Wallace, retired United Methodist Pastor
Last month, we celebrated the greatest Gift of all time, the Gift of Jesus, God’s Son, the Savior of the World. As we journey into this new year of 2023, are we letting that greatest of all lights shine through us to God’s children around us?
We are in a season of darkness, the season of winter, that often pulls us down. God asks us to move through this season and every season empowered by the Light and Hope of His Son, Jesus. Are we choosing to do that? Are we letting our light shine in a way that points others to the Light and Hope for all the world, to Jesus Christ?
Looking upon our society, we see so much stress, anxiety, name-calling, division, and hurt. This is not unlike the society into which Jesus was born. What Jesus did and does is to point us all to the Light and Hope of God that is present, no matter what difficulties or heartaches we or the world might be facing.
In the midst of war, famine, poverty, sickness, hatred, and pain, God asks us, implores us, to point to and live our lives reflecting the hope, salvation, and love of Jesus. What greater good could we do for our hurting world in this new year of 2023 than to choose to love others, even our enemies and even those who are different from us, in the name of Jesus Christ?
A new family moved into a neighborhood that was very much the same as it had been for years. That family spoke Spanish as the first language. One of the children in the neighborhood heard others calling this new family names. The boy asked his mom why they were doing that. “Well, they are different,” she simply said. The boy thought about that for a moment and then said, “Mom, God tells us to love all people. Doesn’t that include our new neighbors and isn’t that what we should be doing?”
That very day, the mother walked with her son to the new neighbors, introduced themselves, welcomed them to their neighborhood, and gave them some homemade cookies. The new neighbors were very excited and grateful. The mother and son then invited them for an evening of food and games, to which the mother and son also invited many of the other neighbors. By the end of that evening, new friends had been made as the new family felt welcomed. Recipes were also exchanged and future dates were set to get together. The new family was invited to the mom and boy’s church and gladly accepted the invitation. God’s love was shining through, and the neighborhood was being enriched.
In this new year of our Lord 2023, may we commit ourselves to follow in the “Footsteps of Jesus” as we choose to love others as Jesus chooses to love us all. May this be a year in which we who follow Jesus allow the light and love of Jesus to shine through us to others to the glory of God.
By Joan Schell, Pine Street United Methodist Church, Williamsport
One of the women quoted in the Bible is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Scholars state that over 190 of her words are quoted. Mary is one of the five women named in the genealogy of Jesus, along with Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. The Living Insights Study Bible states, “As a devout Jew, Mary knew that God was with her and her people…She was the recipient of God’s grace, the one selected by God to help carry out [God’s] purposes…and plan through the promised Messiah, God’s one and only Son.” In addition to her genealogy, why was Mary selected for this important role?
To other people of her time, Mary was viewed as a young teenager, living a simple, sheltered life in a little village. It is hard for us to imagine how plain her life was. She was poor and only able to offer “‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons’” as a sacrifice at the Temple (Luke 2:24b NIV). Her future with Joseph was predictable and all planned out. There was no special reason that she would be noticed in life or remembered afterward. She probably looked very ordinary in her person and her dress.
However, God loved Mary and knew her potential. God said about another one of His servants, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5a). God then sent an angel named Gabriel who appeared to Zechariah, her relative’s husband, and then to Mary. Gabriel told her that she was “highly favored” and “the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). Although she appeared to be ordinary, God knew her and called on her to live an extraordinary life filled with challenges. Mary accepted Gabriel’s words even though she was “troubled” by them and needed to ask questions . She then said, “I am the Lord’s servant” (Luke 1:38a). The Jeremiah Study Bible tells us that Mary traveled forty miles to discuss these events with Elizabeth who said, “Blessed is she who has believed what the Lord has said” (Luke 1:45). There Mary created her praise song, “The Magnificat.” Although The Abingdon Bible Commentary suggests that Elizabeth created the song, her devout life more probably was one of the religious influences of Mary as a young person.
Mary’s song is a “bookend” to Hannah’s praise song in 1 Samuel 2:1-11. The Jeremiah Study Bible points out that Mary’s song and her wording have several parallels in the Hebrew Bible. This reflects Mary’s devotion to her religious studies. The Bible Reader’s Companion states that Mary may have heard Hannah’s song as she worshiped at the synagogue or from her parents’ religious instruction at home.
The Companion divides the song into four parts: “personal adoration and praise, celebration of God’s attributes, God’s correcting injustice, and praise for the mercy shown Israel.” Mary’s song starts in the present as she glorifies and rejoices in God. She describes herself as humble and being a servant of God. She accepts the responsibility of being God’s servant. Mary has “effect” and then “cause” statements. For example, she says, “all generations will call me blessed.” Why? Because “the Mighty One has done great things for me.” Then Mary talks about others, in the present and the past. She contrasts God’s treatment of the proud and mighty with the humble and disadvantaged. Mary ends by mentioning Israel, also God’s servant, and God’s covenant with Abraham. Her focus is on God.
Mary accepted God’s call in an intelligent, joyful way. She didn’t know that her future would hold so many challenges. She didn’t understand when Jesus stayed at the Temple, talking with the teachers. Later, she wanted Jesus to turn water into wine, even though he said, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4). She wanted Jesus to remain the head of the family, rather than leaving to start his ministry (Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-33). She witnessed Jesus’ execution. In spite of all this, she still retained her faith. Her story starts before Christmas and goes to and past Easter. Today this “ordinary” person from long ago is still known and remembered all over the world.
Prayer: Help us to remember Mary as we go through our lives. God loves us too and has known about us and our potential even before we were born. Let us listen for God’s call and meet it with joy and acceptance, based on our religious knowledge and faith. Let us have religious mentors like Elizabeth. Remind us that it is acceptable to ponder events in our hearts and to ask questions, as Mary did. Comfort us as the angel Gabriel did when he said, “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:30). Help us to face the challenges of the present and the future. Even though we may seem ordinary, help us to live extraordinary lives as God’s servants. Amen.