Weekly Update 9/11

This Sunday: This Sunday is Charter Sunday, a celebration of the founding of the church in 1967.  When the church was founded and for many decades before that, the large oak tree was a guardian of the church.  The tree was taken down last summer because of disease and rot.  On Charter Sunday, the image of the tree will guide our thoughts about the identity of the church.  


New Members: will be received into the church family and there will be Fellowship after the service.  Looking forward to Sunday!


Church to Participate in Climate Strike: LUCC will participate in the local expression of the International Climate Strike to call attention to global warming.  The gathering will be Friday Sept. 20 at noon at St. Petersburg City Hall (175 5th St. N.).  Look for the church banner.  This is a chance to let people know that the church cares about the climate and the environment!  Join Rev. Wells and others for this one hour witness.


Lakewood Day Trippers: Patti Cooksey and Carol Shores would like to offer day trip opportunities to visit old Florida attractions, for entertainment and education to destinations that can be traveled to and toured in a day trip to the Lakewood congregation and friends.


LUCC Joins Pinellas Coalition for Immigrant Justice: At their meeting last Sunday, the LUCC Advisors endorsed LUCC becoming a sponsor of the newly formed Pinellas Coalition for Immigrant Justice.  COALITION MISSION STATEMENT: “We advocate that all people who approach our borders receive compassionate, just, and dignified treatment, whether asylum seekers, refugees, or those in search of a better life.”  Many thanks to Sue Sherwood for being LUCC’s liaison to the Coalition.  Patti Cooksey, Lucille Ruga, and Carol Shores have also been involved.  There will be opportunities for the church to engage in advocacy in the weeks ahead.


Peace Sing A Long: Come to church early, at 10:15 a.m. on September 22nd, to sing songs in honor of International Day of Peace which is Sept. 21.  Be part of celebrating peace in song!


Jason Charos Ensemble: Jason Charos graduated from the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School in 2017. He is currently completing the third year of his undergraduate degree at the University of Miami Frost School of Music. The Jason Charos Quintet seeks to play repertoire from the straight-ahead jazz tradition that is not commonly performed as well as original music. The sole intent of the ensemble, though, is to provide the listener with an uplifting experience through music that is just swinging. The concert begins at 7:00 p.m. on September 13th. Suggested donation of $20. All proceeds go to the artist. Please feel free to contact the church with any questions! lakewooducc@gmail.com or call at 727-867-7961.


Mountain Dulcimer Lessons: Second lesson with master mountain music master Randy Wilson for mountain dulcimer. Bring your dulcimer and a music stand and willingness to play! $10 suggested donation! All levels welcome. Join us September 17th and 24th at 4:00 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.


Fun Socks Drive: Lakewood UCC collected over 350 socks.  The school is having crazy Sock day this week on Tuesday.  The children who come to school without a pair of crazy socks will be given a pair by the school social worker.  https://lakewooducc.org/2019/09/11/fun-socks-at-maximo-open-house/


Violin Update: The church in partnership with Bringe Music has been able to provide a violin for Kai’Lyn Washington.  Best wishes to Kai’Lyn on her musical journey!


Lectio Divina: Have you been feeling the need for a deeper spiritual connection in your life?  Do you need to rediscover that source of hope and inspiration to inspire and inform your social activism?  Please join us from 7:00 – 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 11th in the Sanctuary at Lakewood UCC for an evening of Lectio Divina.  Lectio Divina is a Christian spiritual practice that has been around for hundreds of years.  It involves contemplative scripture reading, prayer and meditation which focuses on deepening our connection to the God of our understanding. It is a reflective and devotional process which can be practiced privately or with a group. Please RSVP to Jim Andrews @ 727-510-4170 and feel free to ask questions!


Lakewood UCC Choir: Please consider joining the Lakewood UCC choir. There’s no audition, no requirement to read music, no long-term commitment, no cost, no stress…the only requisite is a love of music and a desire to sing. The choir practices are Sundays at 9 AM.


Come Out St. Pete: This street festival and parade will be taking place Saturday Oct. 5 on Central Ave. between 22 and 31st Sts.  Wally Leblanc will be having a booth that will include information about the church.  If you can help volunteer at the booth, please let Wally know.  wally503x@gmail.com Many thanks!


Operation Attack: Operation Attack is very much in need of clothes for men, boys, and girls as well as diapers and peanut butter and canned fruit. Donations may be placed in the shopping cart in the entryway to the sanctuary. Operation Attack is an ecumenical effort serving families with children located a Lakeview Presbyterian Church, 1310 22nd. Ave. S., St. Petersburg. LUCC was a founding member of Operation Attack in the 1960’s!


Hearing Augmentation: Devices are available from the usher in the sanctuary during worship.


September Birthdays: Kim Wells 9/19, Joanne Reid 9/22, Wilbur Reid 9/22, Donald Ritchie 9/27, and Carlolyn Moore 9/30. Someone missing? Contact the church office with birthday information.


Circle of Concern: Sherry Santana, Carolyn Moore, Ann Quinn, Maggie Brizendine, and Ann Rogers.


Recent Posts:


Weekly Update: If you are involved with an activity or event that you would like to share with the LUCC family, please send the information to the church office by Tuesday since the Update usually is sent out on Wednesday.

Fun Socks at Maximo Open House

Giving out crazy socks at Maximo Elementary’s open house was a great and meaningful event.  A lot of energy there! There were many highlights ~ the little boy squealing when he found the pair he wanted; the small child giving Claudia a big hug; the parent who looked over the church brochure and was heard saying “This church is in my neighborhood.”  It was a super start for our ministry with Maximo on many levels.

The community liaison, Ms. Jones, confirmed that there are 80 homeless children at the school.  Lakewood UCC collected over 350 socks.  The school is having crazy Sock day this week on Tuesday.  The children who come to school without a pair of crazy socks will be given a pair by the school social worker. 

Thank you Claudia Rodriguez, Patti Cooksey, Emily Bell, and Olivia Gibson for attending the Open House at Maximo Elementary and giving away fun socks donated by the congregation.

Claudia Rodriguez, Patti Cooksey, Emily Bell, and Olivia Gibson 

Sermon 9/11 Who or What is God?

Scripture Lessons:  Luke 14:25-33 and Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18                           

Sermon:  Who or What is God?

Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Smoke.  Fortress.  Fire. Hen.  Warrior. Wind.  Light. Silence. Nursing mother.  Love. And yes, father. These are just a few of the imaginative ways humans have envisioned God in the Bible.  And there have been many more imaginative renderings of God since the Bible was written. And we note that God is not confined to Christianity or Judaism, so there are many, many more examples of imaging God in other religions and spiritual expressions.  This should not surprise us because G-O-D is a three letter word that is a symbol. A symbol points to something. It is not the thing itself. And symbols often have multiple meanings. 

In addition, the many images and descriptions of G-O-D should not surprise us because we are told in our foundational origin story that humanity was created in God’s image:  The creature made in the image of the creator. So, the creature has creative powers. We are meant to create. Among other things, we are meant to create meaning. And so we create words and symbols that imply meanings.  

As we think about the long tradition of our Christian religion, we see that the symbol G-O-D functions in many different ways.  We are given images of God creating, punishing, forgiving, liberating, sustaining, destroying, saving, nurturing. There are many ways of describing the impact and influence and character of the concept G-O-D.  This is because people have created the meanings associated with G-O-D according to what was needed at the time or in a given circumstance. So the concept G-O-D has always been changing and evolving. This is nothing new.  When we read the Bible, it should not surprise us at all that there are many different renderings of G-O-D. And some are contradictory and conflicting. Why? Because people construct meaning for the symbol according to the context.    

So, as a people of faith gathered in this sanctuary this morning, what are some of your thoughts about who or what is God? 

Here among us today, in this context, we associate many different meanings with the symbol G-O-D.  It’s not surprising because we are tasked with making meaning for this symbol. That is part of what we are to do as creatures created in the image of a creating God.

In the scripture lesson that we heard this morning from Luke, there is reference to building a tower and preparing for battle.  The one who is going to build a tower assesses the site, as well as the materials and labor needed for construction. There are many factors to take into consideration when building a tower.  Much money is needed. The builder needs to have everything in place to complete the project. 

The same kind of assessment and preparation is referenced regarding battle.  A commander evaluates the circumstances, the strength of the enemy, the weaponry and soldiers and supplies that will be needed for battle.  This is part of being strategic and prepared and effective.  

We can apply this kind of thinking to our circumstances today and the symbol G-O-D.  In today’s world, with the circumstances and problems that we are facing, what kind of God do we need to move forward?  To make this world a place where life flourishes for all? What kind of meaning needs to be associated with the symbol G-O-D to create a peaceful, nurturing human community that protects the planet and the cosmos?  Our scriptures task us with this kind of creative endeavor and it has always been part of human culture since the creation of the symbol 

G-O-D.  

Here, again, we think of the scripture that we heard this morning.  We heard a story of Jesus telling his followers that they have to be willing to give up family and even life itself, leave all behind, to follow him.   Moving into the future on a path that is consistent with the way of Jesus means leaving things behind and being willing to pay that price.  In thinking about creating meaning for the symbol G-O-D, we want to keep in mind that we may need to leave some ideas and associations behind that may have served us well in the past.  As we think of what is needed now from the symbol G-O-D to address our current circumstances and the situation ahead, we may need to let go of some past images and concepts. This is to be expected.  And it may be very difficult; as drastic as the call to leave behind family to follow Jesus.  

This work is very important.  As we noted, Jesus tells people it is more important than family.  The implication is that the meaning associated with the symbol G-O-D is the most important thing in our lives.  As we heard in the Psalm our very beings are enmeshed with the Divine. So our concept of God is part of who we are.  It’s significant because it is the thing that we orient our lives around. G-O-D is to be the symbol for what is of ultimate significance in our lives.  So we want to be very careful about how we image God because God is to come before all else in our lives including family. How we conceive of God will inform our family relationships and all of our relationships.  

Our concept of God defines who we are and determines our choices, behavior, priorities, and values.  So Jesus encourages his followers to be very intentional and conscious of how they are defining G-O-D.  What they are making most important in their lives.  

Jesus confronts people about their concepts of God.  Some have a concept of God that ties in to greed. Some associate God with their power and status.  Some feel entitled by their God to lord it over others. Jesus talks about people who associate their money and possessions with God.  How we define and envision God makes a difference in our lives and is of ultimate importance.  

Jesus makes it clear that we are all spending our lives, giving our lives away.  He wants us to think about what we are giving them to. What are we devoting ourselves to?  When we look at our lives, what does our behavior show us about what really matters? Jesus wants us to think seriously about this and consider committing our lives to the God that he shows us.  This is not a God promising wealth or status or power or comfort.  

So, we are to think about how we are making meaning associated with the symbol G-O-D.  Given what we know of the God Jesus shows us and considering our current context, we are to create meaning for G-O-D that serves the needs of our lives and our world today.  We are living in a context where tribalism is rampant and global warming threatens life as we know it; where people feel alienated and powerless, and greed increasingly threatens lives and communities; at a time when we need to work together globally and we have the capacity to do so, so, what kind of God is needed?  What attributes and characteristics are needed to create constructive meaning for the symbol G-O-D?

What are some of your thoughts about that. . .

There are some people who argue that the whole idea and concept of G-O-D is outdated, archaic, primitive, and no longer suits our contemporary circumstances and future needs.  I am not going to argue against atheism or agnosticism. They have their place and certainly people have the right to their individual beliefs.  But here is why I think the concept of G-O-D is important. The symbol G-O-D not only helps us to honestly see ourselves but it takes us beyond ourselves, outside ourselves, and connects us to a greater whole.  Given today’s fragmentation and alienation, I think that is very important. I believe the concept G-O-D can have a very positive, healing, reconciling influence in our world today that is desperately needed.  

Eighteenth century French philosopher Montesquieu said, “If triangles had a god, they would give him three sides.”   Yes, we have made God in our image. We know that. So we can use that knowledge and turn it around. We can create meaning for G-O-D that meets the needs of the world today.  Leaving behind what needs to be left behind, we can imaginatively create meaning for the symbol G-O-D for our context and for the future. It is our responsibility, created in the image of God, to construct meaning for G-O-D which promotes the flourishing of all life, the planet, and the cosmos.  Amen.  

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

Church School Begins!

There are exciting plans for Church School which begins this Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019.

A Ministry Team has been actively working on making LUCC more welcoming to families with
children and youth. One effort is the family friendly seating area in the sanctuary.
Another is the Church School program. Church School will be oriented to middle school
students and elementary school students. Preschool students are welcome in childcare with
Claudia.

The Church School curriculum being used this year is called A Joyful Path. It is published by
the Center for Progressive Christianity. It has wonderful lessons that encourage young people to explore their spiritual lives and learn more about following Jesus.

Olivia Gibson and Patti Cooksey will be the lead teachers with others helping out along the
way. The Ministry Team chose people in the congregation to teach on themes that tie in with
their interests. This way the students get to know more of the adults in the congregation.

Church School will be held during morning worship. Everyone will be together in the sanctuary for the beginning of the service. Then after the Youth Moment, the young people will go to Church School. There will be no Church School on Communion Sundays, the first Sunday of the month, but childcare will still be available with Claudia.

The Ministry Team has also created an attractive gathering space in the classroom in the
Fellowship Hall building.

A handout was recently created about the Church School program at LUCC for the Maximo
Elementary Open House. In it we declare, “The spiritual life of young people deserves respect and nurture.” That is the goal for the Church School program at LUCC.

Here is the schedule for the weeks ahead:

9/8 Who or What is God? Teacher: Olivia Gibson
9/15 Creating a Mission Statement Teacher: Olivia Gibson
9/22 Who Was Jesus? Teacher: Dana Cosper
9/29 The Bible and How We Use It Teacher: Chip Cosper
10/6 World Communion Sunday No Church School
10/13 Divine Energy Flows Through Me Teachers: Genie Terrell and Patti Cooksey
10/20 God in Nature Teacher: Malcolm Wells]

As you can see, there are wonderful plans for the children and youth of LUCC.

We are all excited about serving together.

Sermon 9/6 The Greatest and the Least

Scripture Lessons: 1 Corinthians 13 and Matthew 25:31-46
Sermon: The Greatest and the Least
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

“The least of these.” This is one of the best known phrases from the Bible and the
teachings associated with Jesus. Concern for people who are suffering or
disadvantaged runs throughout the Bible. These words are an iconic example of
that. “When was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick
or in prison. . .?” And so Christianity, as most religions, has always had a heart
for helping others. I’ve only been in one church in my life that wasn’t collecting
food or money or doing something to help meet the material needs of other people.

But there is more going on in this story. First of all, the gospel writer presents
Jesus telling this story. So, there is Jesus. In the story, there is the reference to the
Son of Man, the Chosen One, coming in glory. Son of Man is a title that Jesus is
thought to have used to describe himself. It has roots in the Hebrew Bible. So,
this Son of Man figure is associated with Jesus. In the story, the Son of Man
comes with angels and sits on a throne. That sounds like God. So the Son of Man
figure is also associated with God. So through this chain of associations, Jesus, the
Son of Man, and God are connected. The identities overlap and mix and merge.

But there is more. There is the line, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Who is me? The Son of Man?
Jesus? God? Yes. So with this last line, humanity is added into the mix. So the
identities of Jesus, the Son of Man, God, and humanity are merging and mixing in
the story. There is a blending of Divinity and humanity; poor people and Jesus
and God and everyone. And there is a sense of relationship and unity among all of
these different characters in the story.

So this story becomes much more than an endorsement of charity. It conveys a
reality in which the identities, the interests, and the energies of humanity and
Divinity are linked. There is a unity, a oneness, a wholeness to reality and to life.
All are in relationship. All are to help each other. The wellbeing of all is interconnected. Life, including human life, is Divine. The Sacred, the Divine, God is expressed in life, including human life.

The image of the least of these removes the concept of “other” from the
understanding of reality in the kin-dom of God. God is not “other”. Jesus is not
“other”. The person who is the least of these is not “other”. All blend together.

So God, Jesus, and all of humanity are one with the least of these. The least of
these are not other, different, alien. They are us. They are Jesus. They are God.
In thinking about the least of these as described in the story, today we might say
something like this: Who is the least of these? The one who lives in the projects
and is thought of as too lazy to work. The homeless person panhandling for
money for beer. Refugees, immigrants, and those in detention camps. Those who
are made so poor that they have no clothes. Those with HIV and opioid addictions.
Those who are dark skinned and who may very well look like Jesus yet are easily
profiled by law enforcement. The least of these, Divinity and humanity are all
united in the sacredness of life. There is no “other.”

This story of the least of these is not only about helping people who are in need. It
is about having a concept of reality in which we know ourselves to be one with
those who are in need and one with the Source of everything we need.

Now we turn from the least to the greatest. This wonderful description of love was
written for people who were fighting with each other and competing for status and
recognition. At the end of this passage we are told, faith, hope, and love abide and
the greatest of these is love.

Let’s think about that for a moment. Faith is important. Faith is about what we
trust in our lives. What can we count on. What really matters. What we have faith
in can determine a lot about who we are and how we live. It can influence our
values and our choices and our behavior. What we place our faith and trust in is
very important. But faith is not the greatest among faith, hope, and love.

And what about hope! Hope is about our orientation toward the future. It, too,
shapes much about how we look at life and how we act and the choices we make.
Hope is what can keep us going through difficult challenges and tragedies. Hope
helps make the world go round. Hope is very important. Yes, but in First
Corinthians we are told that it is not as important as love.

So, what is it about love that makes it greatest? Love is oriented beyond the self.
Love is about relationships which necessarily involve other people beyond
ourselves. Love moves us from selfishness to concern for others. It moves us
from competing with other people to cooperating with other people.

In the story of the last judgement and the least of these what happens to those who
do not help others? They are sent to the eternal fire of hell. I don’t believe that
hell is place people go after they die. But the story is telling us that these people
will not have a good life. They will suffer. They will be miserable. What prevents
that outcome? Love. When we choose to live by the practical instructions about
love as described in First Corinthians, we find that love saves us from the tortured
life of selfishness. When we aspire to be patient, kind, not jealous or boastful or
arrogant or rude; when we are not irritable or resentful; when we don’t insist on
our way; when we are not happy about others getting in trouble, we find that love
frees us from the tyranny of the self. Actions based on love rescue us from a small
life of self absorption.

Choosing to live the way of love connects us to others. It causes us to be
concerned about others and so saves us from being tied up by our own interests and
desires and wants. By choosing love and helping others we save ourselves. We
rescue ourselves from drowning in self centeredness; the equivalent of the torture
associated with the concept of hell. So by choosing love and helping others we
pursue our highest good and our well being.

We are the least and we have the capacity for the greatest. When we combine the
teachings of the least of these with love, the greatest of these, we see the essence of
the beauty of the Christian life. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in
this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church
of Christ.