A Message from Rev Kevin Conley

 

May 2016

Dear Friends,

 

            The great heavyweight boxing champion Mohammed Ali was famous for both his boxing skills in the ring and his talking ability outside the ring.  His boasting and bragging enabled him to generate publicity for his fights and intimidate his opponents even before the bell sounded.

 

            Sometimes, thought, his extreme self-confidence could get him into a little bit of trouble.  The story goes that Ali once boarded an airplane and forgot to fasten his safety belt.  At takeoff time, a flight attendant reminded him to buckle up. 

 

            However, Ali laughed at the suggestion.  “Superman don’t need no safety belt,” he replied flexing his muscles. 

 

            But the quick-witted attendant immediately responded, “Superman don’t need no airplane either!”   

 

            None of goes through life for very long without discovering that we are not Superman (or Wonder Woman either).  There are times when our own strength, our own ingenuity, and our own energy will not be enough to accomplish the task at hand.  All of us would love to find some secret source of strength, inspiration, or vigor.  We may not care to admit it, but even the strongest among us needs a power supply.

 

            Thankfully, Christians know that such a power supply exists.  It is not a magical “something or other” that gets into us, but rather Someone who comes to dwell in and among us.  Our “power supply” is the Holy Spirit. 

 

            At the end of the Season of Easter, we celebrate the Day of Pentecost and remember the promise and power given to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Our communion with the Holy Spirit can energize us and strengthen us so that we can do things we had previously believed impossible.  The Holy Spirit can teach us new ways of looking at our life and our service to Jesus Christ.    

 

            I am excited about your ministry here at First Presbyterian Church of Kernersville.  I feel confident that this church has been a tremendous witness to the love and power of Jesus Christ in this community. 

 

            This was especially evident last Sunday when we presented over $10,000 from our Easter Egg Ministry to various community agencies and church missions.  You could see it in the Holiday Market in November and in the backpacks of food provided for kids in local schools during this year.   And I expect this congregation to be an even greater witness to the Lord in the coming years. 

 

            If we want to be realistic, though, we recognize that all congregations face occasions when they seem to be stuck.  There are problems that appear insurmountable.  It may seem that it takes us a supreme effort to launch new programs, make necessary changes in old ones, or even to summon up enthusiasm for worship on Sunday.  I am sure that you remember such times in your own life or in the life of the church. 

 

            When these situations or these feelings arise, do not forget the Holy Spirit.  As long as we continue to gather around the name of Jesus Christ, he has promised us that the Holy Spirit will be present as well.  The Spirit’s presence can teach us, empower us, inspire us, and lead us if we will be persistent in seeking him out and following where he leads. 

 

            God has great things in mind for First Presbyterian Church to accomplish.  Let us look to his Holy Spirit for the energy, strength, and wisdom we will surely need for the task ahead. 

 

Grace and peace,

Kevin


March 2016

Dear Friends,

 

            The resurrection stories in all four gospels agree that Jesus was raised from the tomb.  But it is interesting to me that both John and Luke suggest that the disciples did not know the resurrected Jesus when they first saw him. 

 

            In John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene spoke to Jesus on that first Easter morning believing that he was the gardener.  Luke tells us that Cleopas and another disciple walked with Jesus for quite a while on the road to Emmaus, but they did not recognize him. 

 

            The presence of Jesus can be hard to discern in our lives especially in the midst of tragedy or turmoil.  As Christians, we want to claim the promise that Christ is with us always.  Yet disciples like us are no different from these disciples of long ago.  It is not always easy to recognize the presence of the risen Christ.

 

            Luke writes that Cleopas and his friend did not recognize Jesus until they sat down to eat.  Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them.  And it was then that their eyes were opened.  Jesus disappeared just after that, but they reflected back upon the walk that they had just shared.  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” they asked.

 

            Luke seems to indicate that it is at the table where Jesus breaks the bread and offers it to us that we learn to recognize his presence.  For most Presbyterians, this brings to mind the Lord’s Supper.  But the Lord’s Supper is not the only place where our hearts may burn within us.

 

            Have there been times when your heart has burned within you? 

 

            Have there been times when you have received unexpected strength and courage? 

 

            Have there been times when you have experienced a peace and joy that could not be explained? 

 

            Have there been times when you have been changed or transformed in a way that you could never have imagined?

 

            Could this have been the Lord at work even if you did not realize it at the time?

 

            I believe that the risen Christ is with us always even if we do not always recognize him in our midst.  As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper this Easter, I hope that our eyes will be opened and we too can recall those other moments when our hearts burned within us.  Let this be a time when we may reflect upon and celebrate his presence in our lives. 

 

Grace and peace,

Kevin


February 2016

Dear Friends,

 

            I am told that an old wooden door hangs on display in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the city of Dublin in Ireland.[1] And in the center of that door, there is a rough, rectangular hole that appears to have been hacked out with an ax or a sword.

            The story goes that two prominent families, the Ormonds and the Kildares, were feuding back in 1492. The Earl of Kildare had attacked the Earl of Ormond and his followers. So they sought refuge in the chapter house in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

            They bolted the door behind them. Some time later, however, the Earl of Kildare grew weary of the fighting and concluded that this feud was foolish. There they were. Two families worshipping the same God, in the same church, living in the same country, and trying to kill each other.

            He called out to Ormond. But Ormond did not respond. So Kildare took his spear and slashed a hole in the door. And then, he thrust his hand through that hole.

            For a moment, no one knew what would happen next. Kildare had taken a great risk. Ormond could slice off his hand with a sword. Or he could simply flee to another hiding place.

            But Ormond took hold of Kildare’s hand in friendship. Soon, the door swung open and the feud was ended as the two men embraced one another. And that incident gave rise to an Irish saying that still exists this day. To reach out to someone with great risk with no guarantee of success is called chancing your arm.

            According to Paul, God has chanced his arm. In Jesus Christ, God reaches out to us with an offer of grace. And so now is the moment when we discover what happens next.

            We can reject this offer. We can run away and hide. We can bolt the door shut and remain separated from the One who so greatly desires to be in the relationship with us.

            Now, in this season of Lent, let our relationship with God be restored. In Christ, God stretches out his hand toward us. In Christ, God draws near. So now, in this season of Lent, let us turn toward Christ and draw nearer to him.

            We may do so through the daily reading of scripture.  We may do so through the practice of daily prayer.  We may do so by visiting those who may be sick or homebound.  We may do so by volunteering to help in our community. 

            Let us not receive his grace in vain. Let us take his hand. And let us take hold of reconciliation.

Grace and peace,

Kevin
 

[1] http://www.stpatrickscathedral.ie/Chancing-Your-Arm.aspx

 


January 2016

Friends:
 

“Christmas in July”

Matt. 1:18-25; Titus 2:11-14; Isa. 9:2-7

 
            Somewhere in my parents’ house, there is probably a picture of me at about six or seven years of age sitting on Santa Claus’ lap.  It looks like many other photos of a child with Saint Nick.  The big guy is smiling.  I’m grinning from ear to ear after having told him just what I wanted under the tree that year. 
 
            What is unusual, though, is the way that I am dressed.  I’m outfitted in a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of shorts.  It’s an odd outfit for December in the mountains of western North Carolina to be sure. 
 
            Yet this picture was not taken in December or November.  It was taken in the middle of summer at a place called Santa’s Land in Cherokee, North Carolina. 
 
            If any of you have been there, you know that it is always Christmas at Santa’s Land.  It is a theme park that is open from May through October
 
            At Santa’s Land, it’s Christmas almost all year round.  And wouldn’t that be something? 
 
            We could use some Christmas in January.  And we could use some Christmas in February and March.  And we could use some Christmas in June, July, and August. 
 
            We could use some of that peace and goodwill that can be so evident during the Christmas season.  Sometimes, it seems as if everywhere we look, there are people smiling, people singing, and children laughing. 
 
            But then, after December 25, or January 6, if you are one of the few who still keep the entire twelve days of Christmas, it will be over and everything will go back to normal.   
 
            Or does it?  The gospels promise us that God is with us.  Jesus promises that, wherever two or three come together in his name, he is there among them.  Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s gospel are a promise that he will be with us always to the very end of the age.
 
            Christmas is not the story of how God was with us back then.  Christmas is not just hoping that God will be with us some time in the future.  Christmas is the message that God is with us always.  God is with us here and now.  God is with us all year round.
 
            The promise of Christmas is not that God is with us if we bring him along with us.  The promise of Christmas is not that God is with us if we ask him nicely.  The promise of Christmas is not that God is with us if we do everything just so. 
 
            The promise of Christmas is that God is with us.  Period.  And because God is with us, things will never be the same again. 
 
            Friends, God is with us.  He comes to us with open arms.  And all he asks is that we receive him.  All he asks is that we take hold of Jesus Christ as he reaches out for us.  God is with us.  Look for him and you will see him.  Seek him and you will find him.  Trust in his presence and you will have Christmas in January, February, and all year round. 
 
            The following poem was written by Ann Weems, a Presbyterian ruling elder and writer.  These words remind us that Christmas has a meaning that extends far beyond a few weeks in winter.  I pray that they bless you during this season and throughout the new year.   
 
Boxed
I must admit to a certain guilt
about stuffing the Holy Family
into a box in the aftermath of Christmas.
 
It's frankly a time of personal triumph when, each Advent's eve,
I free them (and the others) from a year's imprisonment boxed in
the dark of our basement.
 
Out they come, one by one, struggling through the straw, last
year's tinsel still clinging to their robes.
 
Nevertheless, they appear, ready to take their place again in the
light of another Christmas.
 
The Child is first because he's the one I'm most reluctant to
box.
 
Attached forever to his cradle, he emerges, apparently unscathed
from the time spent upside down to avoid the crush of the lid.
 
His mother, dressed eternally in blue, still gazes adoringly, in
spite of the fact that her features are somewhat smudged.
 
Joseph has stood for eleven months, holding valiantly what's left
of his staff, broken twenty Christmases ago by a child who hugged
a little too tightly.
 
The Wise Ones still travel, though not quite so elegantly, the
standing camel having lost its back leg and the sitting camel
having lost one ear.
 
However, gifts intact, they are ready to move.
 
The shepherds, walking or kneeling, sometimes confused with
Joseph (who wears the same dull brown), tumble forth, followed by
three sheep in very bad repair.
 
There they are again, not a grand set surely, but one the
children (and now the grandchildren) can touch and move about to
re-enact that silent night.
 
When the others return, we will wind the music box on the back of
the stable and light the Advent candles and go once more to
Bethlehem.
 
And this year, when it's time to pack the figures away, we'll be
more careful that the Peace and Goodwill are not also boxed
for another year!
 
 
Grace and peace,
 
Kevin Conley
 

December 2015
 
Friends:
           

            A Lutheran writer named Roger Sonnenberg tells the story[1] of his son Jacob’s first birthday.  He and his wife had been so excited about planning his first birthday party and buying his first birthday presents.  They wanted it to be a special time celebrated with family and friends, a special time rejoicing over this precious, tiny gift that they had been given.

            But then, some days before the big event, Jacob came down with a virus.  He became sick and weak, unable to do the things that a one year-old ought to be doing, unable to do much of anything except lay there and cry and sleep. 

            The Sonnenbergs knew that the illness was serious when their pediatrician insisted that Jacob be hospitalized.  And so Jacob had to spend his first birthday under an oxygen tent in the children’s wing surrounded by nurses and beeping medical devices rather than family members and toys.

            Over and over again, the stern-faced nurses told Mrs. Sonnenberg that Jacob would never get better unless he was kept under that oxygen tent.  But his cries pierced her heart and, in her rush to calm and comfort him, she often forgot her instructions and lifted him up out of the tent to hold him and rock him gently until he fell back asleep. 

            She knew that the nurses were right and she knew that she had to follow their orders if Jacob was ever going to regain his health.  But she also knew that she would never be able to stand by idly while her child cried out for her. 

            And then, one night after she had taken him out of the tent again, it hit her.  She had an ingenious plan, a truly inspired idea.

            Gently, she placed her baby underneath the oxygen tent.  And then, as awkward as it was, she climbed into the small crib with him.  It was cramped.  It was uncomfortable.  The walls of the oxygen tent slapped against her face again and again.  She could not sleep that night.

            But Jacob could sleep that night.  His mother was with him.  That night, he knew peace.  That night, he knew joy.  He knew hope.  And he was well on his way to being healed all because his mother cared enough to climb into that crib.

            God has done the same thing for all of us.  The world is sick and weak.  It cries out for help.  And God has heard those cries and has responded to them.

            Jesus Christ was born, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  There was no cradle, no bassinet, and no baby bed for him.  There was only a manger, a feeding trough.  There was no guest room, only a stable.  He was surrounded not by angels and the heavenly host, but by shepherds, donkeys, and oxen. 

            It was cramped in that manger.  It was uncomfortable.  For the first time, God knew firsthand about hunger pangs, cold chills, and indigestion.  This world was uncomfortable for him that night.  And if you know anything about his adult life, you know that it remained uncomfortable for him.

            This world is a sick and weak place.  There is fear.  There is pain.  There is violence.  There is suffering. 

            But at Christmas, we remember that God was and is with us.  So we too can know peace.  We too can know joy.  We too can have hope.

            Because of this child, this world is slowly but surely being healed.  We are being healed because God cared enough to climb into that crib. 

 

Grace and peace,

Kevin

[1] Best-loved Passages of the Bible:  A Devotional, p. 176.
 
 
November 2015
 
Friends:
 

I love the holiday of Thanksgiving.  There are parades to watch in the morning, my favorite football team playing in the afternoon, and family and friends gathered around a bountiful meal capped off by my favorite dessert, pumpkin pie.  There are no presents to buy, no cards to send, and very few decorations to put up.  The only expectation is that we show our gratitude for all the blessings we have received from God. 

Therefore, I want to share with you a list of things for which I am thankful.  I’m sure that you have your list as well.

  1.  First, I am thankful for the wonderful hospitality you have shown to my wife Bernadette and me.  We have felt welcome from the first moment we set foot in the door of First Presbyterian Church in Kernersville.  We have been here only a few weeks, but FPC has already begun to feel like home.  The staff has also been patient as they adjust to yet another interim pastor. 
  2. I am thankful for the way you offer your gifts and talents to this church.  Your generosity is expressed through your pledges of financial support and your use of your gifts and talents in the worship, mission, and administration of FPC.  I firmly believe that Christ never calls a church into being without supplying them with all they need to live faithfully and serve effectively in their community.  The Spirit is alive and well here and ready to do new and amazing things.
  3. I am thankful for the Holiday Market that took place on November 14.  It was fantastic to see all the hand/homemade items that were donated.  My son picked up some preserves and I purchased a little Christmas present for my mom.  And somehow, we ended up with three tasty loaves of bread to take home.  Folks were laughing and enjoying breakfast.  Best of all, all of the proceeds from that day will go to help needy Kernersville families.  You can’t beat having a good time while helping others! 
  4. I am thankful for your Pastor Nominating Committee.  The PNC is beginning to look at Personal Information Forms (resumes for PCUSA ministers), which is the first step in calling a new pastor.  There should be no shortage of candidates.  Today, I checked the statistics on the PCUSA website and there are currently 19 congregations in North Carolina seeking a pastor.  There are 368 pastors open to a new call in North Carolina.  And there are an additional 755 pastors who are willing to consider a call in any state.  Keep praying for your PNC and I have faith that God will provide the right woman or man to serve here. 
  5. Finally, I am thankful for being a part of the PCUSA.  Our denomination is brimming with creative and compassionate people of all ages who desire to love the Lord and their neighbor.  You can get a sense of the exciting work of the Holy Spirit in the PCUSA by going to http://www.onethousandone.org/inspire/stories/video-healthy-churches-start-new-churches.aspx.  I am also grateful to be a part of a church who responds to the great need in the world and seeks to show the love of Christ in tangible ways.  Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has been working in Syria since the beginning of the civil war in 2011.  You can learn more about this at http://pda.pcusa.org/situation/syria/.  PDA also supports relief efforts closer to home such as in Oregon after the horrific mass shooting at Umpqua Community College and in South Carolina following the flooding just a few months ago.  And I am grateful to belong to a church that prays with heart, mind, and soul.  The following is a prayer offered by Rev. Laurie Ann Kraus, coordinator of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in the wake of last week’s deadly terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad.

God of mercy, whose presence sustains us in every circumstance, in the midst of unfolding violence and the aftermath of terror and loss, we seek the grounding power of your love and compassion.

In these days of fearful danger and division, we need to believe somehow that your kindom of peace in which all nations and tribes and languages dwell together in peace is still a possibility.

Give us hope and courage that we may not yield our humanity to fear, even in these endless days of dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death.

We pray for neighbors in Paris, in Beirut, in Baghdad, who, in the midst of the grace of ordinary life–while at work, or at play, have been violently assaulted, their lives cut off without mercy.

We are hostages of fear, caught in an escalating cycle of violence whose end can not be seen.

We open our hearts in anger, sorrow and hope: that those who have been spared as well as those whose lives are changed forever may find solace, sustenance, and strength in the days of recovery and reflection that come. We give thanks for strangers who comfort the wounded and who welcome stranded strangers,for first responders who run toward the sound of gunfire and into the smoke and fire of bombing sites.

Once again, Holy One, we cry, how long, O Lord? We seek forgiveness for the ways in which we have tolerated enmity and endured cultures of violence with weary resignation. We grieve the continued erosion of the fabric of our common life, the reality of fear that warps the common good. We pray in grief, remembering the lives that have been lost and maimed, in body or spirit.

We ask for sustaining courage for those who are suffering; wisdom and diligence among global and national agencies and individuals assessing threat and directing relief efforts; and for our anger and sorrow to unite in service to the establishment of a reign of peace, where the lion and the lamb may dwell together, and terror will not hold sway over our common life.

In these days of shock and sorrow, open our eyes, our hearts, and our hands to the movements of your Spirit, who flows in us like the river whose streams makes glad the city of God, and the hearts of all who dwell in it, and in You.

In the name of Christ, our healer and our Light, we pray, Amen.

 

Grace and peace,

Kevin