Wednesday, July 1, 2015


      “So whadjado on summer vacation?”  Lots of people will ask each other that after the Fourth of July weekend.

      For twenty people connected to First Congregational Church, the answer will be “I helped people!”  They are participants in our mission work trip for Habitat for Humanity, travelling to Pine Grove, West Virginia for the week, helping to build houses there.  There were large work groups from here that went to the Back Bay Mission in Biloxi in 2010 (adults) and 2011 (youth and adults).  Over the years there have been several Habitat mission groups, more recently to work with Tompkins-Cortland Habitat for Humanity in 2012 and 2013.

      Habitat is one of the country’s most impressive, long-running self-development and community-building programs.  Quoting the material, “Habitat for Humanity’s goal is that all God’s children have a decent place in which to live. Habitat is working toward eliminating poverty housing one house at a time. At the heart of this ministry are volunteers, who give of their time and energy and sweat in order to make a difference in the lives of others.  While volunteers build houses, they also build something just as important, hope.  May this summer’s work camp be one small part of bringing hope to those who are in need of a simple, decent place in which to live.”

      Habitat grew out of Koinonia Farm in Americus, GA in the 1970s under the leadership of Millard and Linda Fuller.  Its goal is to provide decent, safe housing, and it works from a Christian perspective.  One of its more famous features is the “build,” with hundreds of volunteers scrambling to construct a new, simple home or to renovate an existing structure under the supervision of professional builders.  Families are chosen carefully, offered ethical mortgages, and expected to invest their own “sweat equity” into their own and others’ houses.  Habitat also salvages materials from homes and renovations and uses those materials in Habitat builds and sells them at their “ReStores.”  There is a ReStore nearby in Corning you can support.

      While Habitat is most known for their on-site “stick-built” homes, Habitat in Corning and Painted Post have a different process.  Volunteers in the Southern Tier construct “Houses in a Box.” During the winter they fabricate panelized homes that can be trucked to a site and assembled very quickly.  It is a technique used elsewhere in the world but not as much around here.  However, work can continue all year in a large warehouse in Painted Post.  That “factory” is a popular service project for college students in the area during the school year.  Little did I know when I was interim in Corning working with congregation members devoted to Habitat who were supervising many Cornell and Ithaca College students that I would end up on this end of their commute to build a better world!

      So, here’s this week’s encouragement: surround the twenty souls with strong backs and arms and giving hearts as they are commissioned at the beginning of worship on Sunday, July 5, on their way to West Virginia.  And I mean “at the beginning of worship!”  Shortly after the call to worship we will have the commissioning litany, and then they will really walk out of the sanctuary and into the parking lot and get in the vans and start their pilgrimage to WV.  It’s a long trip, and they need to get on the road right away!  But we truly want to bless them on their way.  What did you do this weekend?  Let’s see them off with our best wishes and our prayers…. See you Sunday!

                                                                                                     In Christ,

Texts for Sunday
      From the Hebrew Bible            2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
      From the Epistles                    2 Corinthians 12:2-10
      From the Gospels                   Mark 6:1-13

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Lord Does Not See as Mortals See

            Centuries ago, the prophet Samuel was sent by God to find and anoint the person whom God had picked to be the next king of Israel.  Samuel obeyed; but in his mental baggage, he carried along his preconceived ideas of what a king would look like.  When he was led to Jesse’s eight sons, Samuel naturally figured the oldest and strongest would be the one God would tell him to anoint.

            What a surprise was in store for Samuel!  One by one God rejected them -- son after son -- till the strong, older ones were all passed by.  Samuel had counted to seven with no future-king chosen by God.  When Samuel asked if there were more sons, Jesse told him:  “There remains the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.”  And Samuel asked to see that young shepherd, David.  Amazed, Samuel was instructed by God to anoint David!

            Recently, a teenager explained a high-school writing assignment to me.  The class was taken to a public place, where people were walking, drinking coffee, waiting for buses and conversing.  The teacher asked each student to choose one of those people to observe.  Without talking, they recorded their person’s distinguishing physical characteristics:  gender, height, approximate age, body type, hair style and color, skin color, body art, piercings, and clothing.

            Then they returned to their classroom for the assignment. Using the written description, each student was to write a story about the individual’s life and personality. Based solely on the brief observation or external traits, the writer was to decide whether he or she was a business person, an artist, a student, a criminal, an addict, good or not, rich or not, humble or conceited.  The person’s life story was to be based on the physical traits the student observed for a few short moments.

            I asked the teenager what she supposed the teacher had hoped the students would learn from this assignment. The teenager concluded that the students would realize that it’s dearly-held stereotypes that shape our rapidly-formed judgments.  That superficial characteristics are not measures of a person’s merit.

            The Lord does not see as mortals see.  It’s easy to see clothing, hairstyles, tattoos, and bodily characteristics, and use them as a way to categorize people.  Looking deeper – to compassion, faithfulness and generosity of spirit – will bring us closer to the way God measures beauty and worth.  God told Samuel:  “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  (1 Samuel 16: 7)

            Throughout Biblical history, God has made a point of selecting whoever meets her qualifications for extraordinary work; and sometimes the people were not ones we would have chosen. For instance, the teenage girl whom God chose to be the mother of Jesus was not born into a family of royalty.  And Jesus himself chose ordinary fishermen to be his first disciples.  Remember what matters to God:  “the Lord looks on the heart.”  This is great news for us; God’s good work is waiting for each of us.                

                                                                                    Susan Fast


Texts For Sunday Worship: 
      From the Hebrew Bible          1 Samuel 17: 1a, 3-11, 19-26, 32-50            
      From the Gospels                   Mark 4: 35-41

Friday, June 12, 2015


      What a fantastic year it was for everyone participating in the Children and Youth Ministry Team!  And we all get to celebrate their growth and say thank you this very Sunday!

      I really, really hope you can be here as our children and youth lead worship, provide music, read scripture, usher, sing, and enact the Gospel of God’s love in a delightful skit.

      I once was the interim pastor in a church with a sorta sad tendency for many members to undervalue the end-of-the-year finale for the Sunday School because it was after the last Sunday the choir sang and it was just the children’s pageant, and so it wasn’t “really church.”  So lots of people took “kids’ Sunday” off.


      I am so glad this congregation really supports our children and youth and joyously shares the children and youth Celebration with them.  It is a fun chance for them to demonstrate what they have learned over the past semesters of classwork and mission projects and discoveries and accomplishments.  It is amazing to see how each age group has grown, how each child has grown, as the Bible says, “in wisdom and stature and God’s favor.”  Contemporary Christian Education has gone way past memorizing scripture passages or the stories of Jesus, or coloring and cutting activity sheets.  Our students are far more open to the needs and contributions of people all over the world, far more engaged in mission, and far more concerned about others-- involved in things like Linus’ Blankets at the younger ages and going on the Habitat for Humanity work trip in July for the older youth.  Sunday School seeks to connect the Bible and our personal faith with how we live in this world and help others and celebrate God’s love for all.  There is as big a change in the how and why we develop our rising generation’s spiritual formation as there is between their classroom videos and use of tablets and computers from the old flannelgraphs of the past.

      Sunday we will also marvel in the musical gifts of so many of our young people, not just in the songs the Sunday School sings but the junior handbell choir and the youth band.  We will also delight (seriously, I’ve listened to the rehearsals, it’s delightful) in the skit they will present.  Even this preacher thinks their way of recounting the Gospel of God’s love is a lot more appealing than listening to some guy talk.  As a wonderful moment this year, we celebrate the faith of four folks in the confirmation class, including one being baptized.

      I close with my huge appreciation for the involvement of not just the youth and children and their parents and grandparents who help them get here, but also the faithful and creative Children and Ministry Youth Team who not only plan and support so much but do it while folding themselves into those little chairs in the upstairs classroom for their meetings.  Many souls have taught and helped, and we will say thank you to them, too.  And I have been amazed all year by our CYMT staff, Diane Beckwith and Stacy Wilder.  Thank you all.

      First Congregational has a fantastic knack for growing thoughtful and compassionate young Christians, and this is the week we celebrate that ministry.  See you Sunday!

                                                                                                            In Christ,