Pentecost …

Brothers and sisters,

It is hard to believe it, but June is upon us! The (very) high temperatures are becoming more regular and the sun is shining longer and longer each day. To me at least, it feels like Easter was just a couple weeks ago, not a month and a half! But as the Easter season comes to a close this Sunday we are invited, as a church, to contemplate the arrival of the Holy Spirit and what that arrival means for us as Christians. There are three main symbols used by the church to reflect on Pentecost and what it means.

The first symbol is a flame. Drawing on the story from Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples as tongues of fire, the church has used fire imagery to symbolize the arrival of the Spirit. The church talks about the Holy Spirit “lighting a fire” in us to go and do the work of the kingdom. You’ll hear people say they have a “burning passion” for something. Famously, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, spoke of attending a church service and having his “heart strangely warmed.” That moment renewed his faith and spurred him to continue to preach. The Holy Spirit creates a kind of energy that fire represents so beautifully — strong and persistent.

The second symbol you’ll see on Sunday is a dove. This is actually a symbol that gets moved from where it originally started over to Pentecost. The dove descending from heaven comes to us from Christ’s baptism in Matthew 3. Jesus goes down into the waters of baptism, led by John the Baptist, and as he emerges from the waters, “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw God’s Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16). And so the dove comes to us as a heavenly symbol of the Holy Spirit’s presence.

Finally, you’ll notice a lot of red in the sanctuary on Sunday. The paraments, the scarf on the cross, even Amy’s and my stoles will all be red. On the surface, the red symbolism is pretty simple — it hearkens back to the tongues of fire. Heat and fire can be represented by the color red. But for a long time now, the color red, as a liturgical color, has symbolized a desire for justice. It has come to represent the arrival of God’s Spirit, yes, but also a church that speaks up for those whose voices are ignored. I particularly like this symbol because I think it speaks to the main point of the Pentecost story. Yes, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples with power, in the form of flaming tongues. God’s presence is reestablished with them, but the Spirit then immediately sends them out into the world to care for people. The Spirit immediately sends them out to continue Christ’s ministry. It does not descend upon them for no reason! The Holy Spirit comes to guide them to the people who are hurting and give them power to help them.

As we come to Pentecost this year, seek the Spirit’s presence in your own life. Who may the Spirit be calling you to? How might God be calling you to help those people? Jesus’s ministry was centered around his conviction that every person was a child of God. How is the Spirit leading you to continue that ministry?

I look forward to seeing all of you on Sunday in your brightest red!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

“Spirit Dwelling”

“Spirit Dwelling” – Rev. Benjamin Wines

When the day of Pentecost had come,
[The disciples] were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
And it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them,
And a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit
And began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
That I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh,
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon My slaves, both men and women,
In those days I will pour out My Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
Then everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.” – from Acts 2

We hope you will join us for Worship – in person or via livestream – starting at 11:00AM on Sunday, June 5th. We will be reading from Romans 8, and Rev. Benjamin Wines will bring the message, “Spirit Dwelling”.

Services This Week

This is the last Illuminator before our joyous celebration of the resurrection and so I want-ed to be sure to write a little bit about the special services we have coming up.

The first is Palm Sunday—this Sunday—at 11:00 AM in the sanctuary. You are invited to join us in worship as we celebrate and commemorate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We will celebrate Christ’s arrival as the arrival of a different kind of king, one who will bring true peace to his people.

Our second special service will be on Wednesday, April 13th at 6:30 PM in our sanctuary. This will be our hand-washing service where we will seek to imitate our Savior by washing each other’s hands as an act of love and service. We will make sure to perform the hand-washing in a Covid-conscious manner that is safe for all involved.

Our third special service will be on Good Friday, April 15th at 7:00 in our sanctuary. At this service we will read through and ponder the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. It is a more somber service as the Christ light will be extinguished, the altar will be stripped of all decoration, and the service itself will end in silence and darkness. It should be a powerful service that re-minds us all of the tremendous faith and courage of Jesus.

Finally, please be sure to make plans to be with us on Sunday, April 17th at 11:00 for our Easter Sunday celebration! The good news of the Gospel is that while Jesus may get laid in a tomb on Friday, he doesn’t stay there long! Come as we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord and declare that Christ has risen!

Make plans to be here with us for as many of these services as you can! I look forward to seeing you all throughout this coming week!

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

Ash Wednesday

Other than Good Friday, Ash Wednesday is one of the services of the church year children are least likely to attend. This is unfortunate because there is much for children to learn from seeing their parents and the leaders of the congregation wearing ashen crosses, and even more from wearing ashes themselves:

  • When children see all the adults they love and respect wearing ashes and they themselves are marked with ashes, they know they belong. They are one of God’s people. Other days they may know that with their minds, but on Ash Wednesday they know it in a powerful way with their eyes.
  • Because we are all marked not with golden markers but with messy black ashes, children learn that all of us mess up and are forgiven. Knowing that the most loved and respected adult they know messes up just like they mess up is important life-shaping information.
  • When we include children in these unique ritual moments they form a stronger connection with the community, with their tradition, and with their own faith for it is by hearing, touching, tasting, and experiencing these signs of grace and love that they are able to identify them as their own.

I encourage you to bring your kids to this year’s Ash Wednesday service. Let them see and hear and participate in the Church’s acknowledgement of the hard edges of reality—of our sin and its consequences. Though admitting “I am a sinner” is not an easy confession for children who are repeatedly told that they are “wonderful” or “if you try hard enough, you won’t sin,” it sets these words within the presence of every-one else making the same admission.

The Gospel calls us to open up our lives, to live honestly in light of what the world is and who God is—even if it means wrestling with truths about ourselves that we don’t like. Recognizing that we are all sinners who depend on God’s grace and forgiveness is an important first step in helping children (and all of us) grow not only in their understanding of what it means to become a Christian, but also why we celebrate Easter!

Regathering Team Update

Hey everyone,
I wanted to take this space to inform you of a decision made by the Regathering Team and Church Council. The Regathering Team met Tuesday, January 25th to discuss whether or not to reopen the church for in-person services. After looking at the same metrics we’ve been using since we resumed in-person services last year, the Regathering Team recommended to the Church Council that services remain virtual through the month of February. The Church Council accepted our recommendation.

There is a caveat to this decision. The Regathering Team will meet again in two weeks and look at Covid numbers, particularly case positivity rates. If there is a consistent, down-ward trend in Covid numbers and case positivity rates drop down to where they were back in December 2021, we will consider reopening for in-person services before the end of February.

This was not an easy decision. All of us agreed that we want to get back to seeing each other in person. But we also all agreed that it is not safe to do so right now. Omicron has run rampant and so we want to do what we can to protect ourselves and our neighbors. We are all praying for our church, our city, and our state as the pandemic drags on.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

Music Notes

A big shout out to the musicians of HVBC for all of their hard work and for sharing their musical gifts with us during the pandemic. Through crazy rehearsal schedules, learning musical parts from audio files made from my piano at home and sent via email, taping services on Friday evenings for months, singing with individual microphones as our A/V team so capably live-streamed the services, and finally learning an entire body of music for multiple Advent and Christmas services, the musicians have shown their amazing talent and dedication. THANK YOU ALL!

And now we begin a new year full of hope for a normalcy that may or may not happen. We will, of course, “Carry on and Sing, Play instruments, Livestream, and Praise God!”

Thanks be to God.

Souper Bowl of Caring

On Sunday, February 13, we will be joining with churches around our country to help hungry people through the Souper Bowl of Caring emphasis. More than 25 years ago, the Souper Bowl of Caring began with a simple prayer from a single youth group:

“Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those without a bowl of soup to eat.”

Coinciding with the day of a fairly significant football game during which many people will snack and eat more than plenty, this emphasis invites us to bring canned goods and some loose change to church to support hunger ministries and those who don’t have enough to eat. Bring canned goods into the worship service, and we will collect them as part of worship. Also, there will be children & youth at the doors at the end of the service to collect money you might be willing to donate. All food and money collected will go to support the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC. You can also write a check for this event. Please denote that this is for the Souper Bowl of Caring.
Also, if you have a wagon that we could use on February 13, please let Robin know.

COVID 19 Updates as of December 31, 2021

I wanted to write a quick note here about the next three Sundays—January 2, 9, and 16. Due to the rise of the Omicron variant and the increased travel that has happened over the last two weeks, the Regathering Team and I felt it best to go virtual for the next few weeks. That means that we will livestream our 11:00 am worship services on our church’s website January 2, 9, and 16. Sunday School classes will not meet at the church. Your Sunday School teachers will be in touch with you about what Sunday School will look like for these three weeks.

We felt we ought to do this as a proactive step to make sure that we do not unintentionally spread Covid within our congregation. Many of us have traveled and been around groups of people we’re not normally around very much. We hope that no one in our congregation has picked up Covid. We hope that we can come back to in-person services on the 23rd with no problems. But we think it is best, in the interest of safety, to take some time for folks to stay home, see if they show symptoms, and, if they do, get the treatment they need.

Again, I’m hoping to see all of you in person on January 23rd! Until then, remember that a church is not a building—it’s a group of people coming together to worship God.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Ben

The Prophets Sing

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His host!
Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all you shining stars!
Praise Him, you highest heavens,
And you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the Name of the Lord,
For He commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever;
He fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Let them praise the Name of the Lord, for His Name alone is exalted;
His glory is above earth and heaven.Psalm 148:1-6, 13

The Prophets Sing – Rev. Benjamin Wines

We hope you will join us for Worship today, either in-person or via live-stream, starting at 10:45AM. We will be reading from Luke 2:21-38.