Tuesday, December 13, 2016

“The Night of the Father’s Love” Christmas Concerts - Dec 16, 17 & 18

“The Night of the Father’s Love” celebrates the Christmas Story in song
A 38–member choir and 15-piece orchestra, under the direction of Amador County Band Director Steve Chambers, will offer a special musical Christmas story presentation, “The Night of the Father’s Love”, to be performed in four separate locations the weekend of December 16-18th.
The first performance will be at Our Lady of the Pines Church on Tiger Creek
Rd. in Pioneer on Friday evening December 16th at 7pm.
On Saturday, December 17th, the group will perform at 7pm at the Ione United Methodist Church, 150 W. Marlett St., Ione.
On Sunday December 18th the first performance of the day will be at Faith Lutheran Church, 22601 Hwy 88, Pioneer at 10:30am. The second performance (and final presentation) will be at Community Church of Pine Grove, 14045 Ponderosa Ave, Pine Grove at 3pm.
This one-hour musical program will feature music that will engage and please all ages, including eight original songs by composer/ arranger Pepper Choplin, with orchestra scoring by Michael Lawrence. The short program will also include a very special arrangement of “Mary, Did You Know?” for choir and orchestra.
“This is the eighth year we have done one of these special presentations” said Chambers, “and each year the choir and orchestra has grown in numbers. This particular work is a fun and very beautiful cantata with extremely unique writing…you’ll hear new melodies intertwined with some favorite Christmas music…very enjoyable for the listener…and the audience can sing along in a few places if they like…and the composer’s musical styling range from a true hoe-down to gospel blues to a beautiful rock ballad to classical…and more”.

“We are blessed to have so much talent in the area…singers, musicians, and helpers that volunteer their time each year to put together such a wonderful and moving experience…and very grateful also for the churches that have volunteered to host the performances again this year…we can’t wait to perform this special music!”
The performances are free; bring the whole family for this delightful event and enjoy yet another memorable engaging musical experience. Performances will begin strictly on time!
Contact Faith Lutheran Church at 295-4545 for any further information.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Sermon: Cultivating Joy

Cultivating Joy
Readings:  Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146: 4-9 Advent 3/A
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt
Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA    12/11/16

On April 29th 2015, eight convicted drugs traffickers were executed in a maximum-security prison on Nusa Kambangan, Indonesia.  Having been sentenced to death years earlier, they were given just a few days’ notice of their execution.  During the long years in prison, they had changed and became upstanding members of the prison system.  Brian Houston, a pastor, spoke about this transformation:  “They not only accepted the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, but have made a positive contribution to the lives of other prisoners, and sought to pay their debt to society.”       
These convicts ended up dying in the same way they had learned to live: by praising God. In their final hours, they sang hymns like Amazing Grace.  They refused to wear blindfolds as they faced the firing squad. And as the final seconds of their lives counted down, they started to sing a new song that they had learned called 10,000 Reasons.  This singing of hymns and praising of God at death’s door are perhaps the most profound examples of joy.  For joy is not the absence of sorrow but the presence of God.  “Joy is the final word in Christianity.”  What I would like to talk about today is cultivating joy in our lives.  This is a wonderful gift we can give ourselves & the world for Christmas! 
I don’t know about you, but when I want something in my life, I don’t just simply wish for it or turn to God as if God is a pseudo Santa Clause.  Instead, I set out to partner with God by making concrete steps in my own life to achieve the goal.  Cultivating more joy in my life is one of the spiritual goals I have worked on for the past 5 years.  Joy does not always come naturally to me and so I have to learn how to cultivate it.  Maybe it is my personality or the burden of responsibility or my difficult past that creates a barrier to experiencing joy.  Whatever the cause may be, I do know that with God all things become possible. And so my relationship with God is key to enhancing my joy.
One of the ways I have taken active steps to experience more joy is through the spiritual practice of gratitude and the Advent practice of watching and waiting.  To that end, I started writing down moments in which I experienced joy and reflected on why these events heightened my joy.  Then I ponder ways to further cultivate this joy through mental discipline, meaningful actions, and service to others.  Let me read a few entries from my journal:
-  “Sitting in my chair, drinking a cup of coffee, relaxing and praying.  This gives me joy.” 
-   “Joy is going to the zoo and seeing monkeys with moustaches.” 
-  “Joy is the feeling I have after watching the series “Call the Midwife.”  It is noticing human triumph in the face of great struggling.”
-  “Joy is kicking up my heals to the music of “Sister Act.””
-  {Wisdom from my readings}:  “When your interpretations change, your emotions will change.  Your job is to keep the emotional spiral pointing upward.” 
         The concept of joy and the discipline required to sustain it, is hard for us mainline Christians to grasp.  Why?  Because frankly, our religious life is often not our primary concern.  God may be important to us, but often times, our spiritual practices are not fully integrated into our busy lifestyles.  Many settle for the immediate gratification of happiness that comes and goes with circumstances while spending little time cultivating a life of joy.  For instance, some folks spend an awful lot of energy and money in trying to create a “Merry Christmas.”  This might include a Christmas dinner, plenty of drinking and celebrating, the gathering of friends and family around the tree, gifts, lights, music, mirth, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire.  Sometimes, it all works out, and for a moment people experience a temporary happiness, that state of pleasure and well-being. 
         But oftentimes, external circumstances interfere with our happiness, like our children acting out, or a broken oven that dampens the holiday feast.  Because happiness depends on things of this world, it can easily be sabotaged.  While joy and happiness have a lot in common, one thing that they don’t have in common is that joy is permanent while happiness is fleeting. Joy is from God and happiness is from us.  Our happiness comes and goes but joy will remain as long as our relationship with God is nurtured.  If joy and happiness were friends, happiness would be the unfaithful one of the two.
         In today’s reading from the Isaiah, the prophet offers a vision of a future that entices the people of Israel to respond with joy.  At this point in the story, the people of Israel have been exiled from their home land and taken to Babylon, which today is modern day Iraq.  Having lost their land, their freedom, and their temple, they long to hear words of comfort and hope.  The good news that Isaiah offers them is the reassurance that the God does not abandon God’s people to their despair.  Instead, there is a promise of a future where sorrow will come to an end and new life will spring forth.
         In this particular passage, Isaiah paints a picture of a joyful creation:  “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” {Is. 35:1}  The general theme is that desolate, dry places will be transformed into a paradise. Overnight, even a small amount of rain can change a dry desert into a vibrant landscape.  And so it is with our own lives.  With only a small change in perspective, our lives can change drastically for the better.  While there is little reason for the exiles to experience happiness in their current situation, joy is possible because joy originates from God, not from their captives.
         Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart that places its confidence in the power and presence of God.  Joy isn’t just a smile or a laugh but something deep within us that remains even when life gets tough.  Since joy is given by God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, developing and deepening our relationship with God is the recipe. That is why prayer, worship, meditation, confession, and service can ultimately enhance one’s joy.  There are also other concrete practices that you may like to try in order to enhance your joy as the season of Christmas approaches.  Here are a few:
         *Make praise and gratitude a habit:  Praise God from who all blessings flow and remind yourself by writing down your blessings in a joy journal.  Make a habit of giving thanks and then watch your joy grow.
         *Fill your mind with music that connects you to the Holy One.  Listen, sing, and meditate on music that draws your heart nearer to God and God’s word.  This should be easy during this season.
         *Take the long view.  Investors advise their clients not to worry about the daily ups and downs of the stock market and neither should we worry about the daily ups and downs of life.  Place your burdens on God, be open to grace, and take a long view of today’s events.  They are not permanent and need not have the power to sap your joy unless you allow them to.
         *Connect with your loves ones in a meaningful way.  Go beyond talk of diets, forbidden foods, and Facebook postings.  Ask how someone is doing and really listen to the words.  Then bless that person.
         *Do something that you love.  Create a list of simple pleasures and then make time for them.  These are small acts that bring delight and cost little in terms of time and money.
         *Focus on self-care and self-compassion.  In summary, be good to yourself!  Silence that inner critic and negative thinking that can drain the joy from your life.  Instead, replace those thoughts with God’s thoughts of you, a beloved child made in the image of God.  Get in touch with your true-self rather than accept the broken image imposed upon you by your inner or outer critics.
         Today is Gaudete Sunday, which means rejoice.  We began the service with the lighting of the pink candle on the advent wreath and with the singing of the opening hymn:  “Rejoice, rejoice, believers and let your lights appear...”  It is a wonderful hymn that reminds us of the bigger picture and encourages us to rejoice in God.  The key to cultivating joy is to deepen our relationship with God, nurture those we love, and respect all the creatures of the world.  In summary, we are to rejoice in all that we are and all that we have.

         In closing, I would like you to quietly listen to the song 10,000 Reasons which was sung by the transformed drug traffickers right before they were executed.  Then I want you to imagine your own life, filled with joy, no matter what the trials and tribulations that you are currently facing.  And maybe, just maybe, as Christmas draws near and joy fills your heart, you too will be moved to sing songs of praise for the birth of Jesus and the Light that has come into the world.