Forsaken

Forsaken

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
  Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Psalm 22:1

During Lent, we often reflect on our mortality. And Lent concludes on Good Friday, when we think of the mortal side of Jesus. One Good Friday tradition is to reflect on the Seven Last Words of Christ, the last sayings Jesus made while on the cross:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43

“Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” John 19:26-27

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34

“I am thirsty.” John 19:28

“It is finished.” John 19:30

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Luke 23:46

I would guess that I am not the only person who thinks at some point during every season of Lent, “why did it have to happen like this?” That is, why did Jesus have to suffer to save us? I remember my internship year, so many years ago, at Immanuel Presbyterian in Los Angeles. We did pretty much every Holy Week observance, including a full-on all-night Saturday Easter Vigil, which is really a beautiful service. On Good Friday, we led a Via Cruces walk all around Koreatown and a service of the Seven Last Words, with different people speaking on each of the words. I got “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I reflected on that moment when even Jesus felt abandoned, when even Jesus gave up hope. After I was finished, drained by the weightiness of the message and having gone without sleep for a few nights (those Holy Week rituals don’t plan themselves), I sat down, and started sobbing.

We all may know of people who are feeling like the burden of life is too heavy, and feel out of touch with God, as if God isn’t listening anymore, or God has turned away. The ones I know happen to be men, and I wonder if part of their suffering comes from the sense that they should be able to withstand any burden, or deny their feelings of grief or abandonment. Being Japanese, I was taught that I

shouldn’t cry, especially in public. And yet, sometimes the best thing we can do is to cry out our pain, or have a good sob.

For whatever reason, whenever I think of Jesus’ cry of anguish from the cross, I also see the slightest glimmer of hope even in this pit of despair. Actually, those old Christian leaders who put the

lectionary together gave us a hint. Yesterday’s Psalm reading is the second half of Psalm 22, which begins with that cry of anguish that Jesus uttered in his suffering. And most of the first half of Psalm 22 acknowledges the suffering that sometimes fall on us humans. But by verse 21, the Psalmist moves from crying out for help to an assertion that God has already rescued them, and the Psalmist can then give testimony of God’s saving grace to all.

And the lectionary reading, starting at Psalm 22:23, proclaims to future generations what God has already done:

23 You who fear the Lord, give praise!
All you offspring of Jacob, give glory.
Stand in awe of the LORD, all you offspring of Israel!

24 For the LORD did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
neither is the LORD’s face hidden from me;
but when I cry out, the LORD hears me.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear the LORD.

26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied.
Let those who seek the LORD give praise!
May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall bow before God.

28 For dominion belongs to the LORD,
who rules over the nations.

29 Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust,
though they be dead,
shall live for the LORD.

30 Their descendants shall serve the LORD,
of whom they shall proclaim for generations to come.

31 They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying, “The LORD has done it.”

Maybe because I cannot live forever in that moment of abandonment and despair, I like to think that when Jesus uttered that cry of anguish, he chose to quote the 22nd Psalm, knowing that even when we think God has forsaken us, God will save us. Indeed, God already has saved us!

Yet it is hard to remember this when people are suffering. As I wrote this, I received a message from a Palestinian peace activist who is such a strong and caring person. She just wrote, “so much destruction, so many many deaths . . . I can’t take it anymore, my heart is breaking . . .”

As we continue our Lenten journey, as we face the fragility of our human condition, as we witness the third year of aggression and violence in Ukraine, as we hear of vengeful killing by bomb and starvation in the land that Jesus loved, let us preserve the faith that even in this moment of utter loneliness, the seeds of hope and eventual new life are just starting to germinate. God has not forsaken us. And yes, there will be spring. There will be blossoms of beauty. There will be life, and life everlasting.

In the peace of Christ,

Wendy

Tended by Angels

Tended by Angels

He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.                                                           

Mark 1:13

We are now in the season of Lent. There have been many meanings and practices associated with Lent. One early practice of Lent was to use this time to prepare through teaching and self-examination those people seeking to be baptized, which was traditionally done on Easter. Of course there were parallels drawn between the 40 days of Lent and the 40 days Jesus was in the wilderness. These days, Lent is generally acknowledged by Christians as a season to reflect on God’s love through Jesus Christ, and our need for God’s grace, as mortal, broken humans. Some fast in some way, whether it be as an act of penitence, or cleansing, or to help us resist the things that we risk trusting more than God.

Whatever your practice, the first observance of Lent—the Ash Wednesday service—reminds us of our mortality. We are marked with ashes, and told that we are nothing more than dust. And we are often reminded to think of our vulnerability, and our sinfulness that can only be cleansed by God’s grace. So it’s no surprise that yesterday, the first Sunday of Lent, I heard a sermon about weakness.

The sermon started with a reference to the muppet Elmo’s online check-in, “How is everybody doing?” Many people responded to Elmo with poignant notes about their emotional states—some positive, some worrisome. When the preacher asked us “How are you doing?” I almost started to cry. I’ve been sharing with folks how so many people are struggling, especially with multiple, seemingly disconnected health concerns. A vibrant young woman gets bronchitis that turns into pneumonia and she ends up in the ICU. A strong and able man struggles to balance possible organ damage, depression and anxiety, and susceptibility to every virus floating around (and there are a LOT of viruses floating around). One mother who worries about her young adult son keeps experiencing symptoms that seem to point to lupus, then ends up in a hospital getting a pacemaker, then ends up in the hospital again due to tuberculosis. And the few people who are healthy are spinning around trying to keep everything going—and, as one of Elmo’s responders wrote, “Elmo, we are tired.”

One of our pastors shared how he is faced with challenges in his family’s health, and several folks in the church are struggling as well. I said that it seems like we’re in a different world now, when the level of uncertainty is such that it seems foolish to make plans, because things can change so radically without any warning. We weren’t sure if there was a time when life was more stable and we could plan things out, and have confidence that the plans would go as we expected, or if we were just fooling ourselves. Honestly I do think we have had enough privilege that shielded us from the vagaries of life. Most of us have shelter to keep us warm and dry, good food and medical care to keep us healthy, and we live in the part of society when people are able to pay their bills on time, control their own schedules, and access resources to help us take care of our loved ones when needed. Nowadays, we are experiencing medical conditions that the doctors could not predict and can’t even diagnose, folks are living in a gig economy that does not provide for a steady and predictable income (or a manageable schedule), and especially those in “sandwich” generations are stretched to care for aging parents and dependent children. How can we take care of each other, and get everything done?

It occurs to me that for some of us, the thing we need to fast from is not chocolate, or meat, or whatever popular Lenten practice we habitually fall into. Perhaps we need to fast from thinking we can do it all, that we can create perfection (or control) out of chaos. Maybe we need to go into the wilderness as Jesus did, and see if God will send angels to wait on us as we need it. That means we dare to stop trying to make everything work, and step back and try to slow down our too-busy lives.

We might then notice that just as we were fooling ourselves into thinking that we can make everything work the way we planned it, we have also failed to notice the ways God takes care of us already.

Instead of giving thanks for God’s care, we work to show that we earned everything we receive. But there might be angels waiting on us now—or trying to—whether or not we notice. I recently shared the ancient saying which comes to me quite often these days, “Bidden or not bidden, God is present.” And God provides, whether or not we appreciate the many ways we are loved, protected, cared for, and saved every day.

As I think you know, I’m a doer, so I don’t always give God credit for God’s extraordinary grace showered on me. I continue to live by the simple rule that we do the best we can, and turn to God for what we cannot do. For some of us, perhaps Lent can be a time to slow down—maybe even stop for a breather—and appreciate how God takes care of us, if only for a moment, or for 40 days. Because even during this season of humble reflection, we cannot forget that we are already a saved people, tended to by the life-giving power of the love of Jesus Christ. Even when we are in the wilderness, may we never forget that. And may we uphold in prayer and hope those who are even deeper in the wilderness—God’s children who may wonder if those angels know how to find them too.

In the peace of Christ,

Wendy

Black Presbyterian Excellence

Black Presbyterian Excellence

Lift up your eyes and look around;
  they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from far away,
  and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.

Isaiah 60:4

February is Black History Month, and on January 30th we had an opportunity to begin the month with gratitude for, and inspiration from, the life of Mrs. Erma Walks. Her memorial service was held at Claremont Presbyterian Church, and it was a celebration of her life and impact, of her accomplished and faithful family, and of their ministry with South Hills Presbyterian Church. You can see the full memorial service by clicking HERE—you might want to fast forward about 26.5 minutes in, when the service actually starts.

Erma Walks and her husband, Rev. Ivan Walks, have something in common with many of our San Gabriel Presbytery members in that they were immigrants to the United States, having come to Southern California from Guyana in 1959. She carried on her family’s tradition in education; her mother was a deputy headteacher and Erma taught in Guyana, and then gained additional training at USC and Claremont Graduate School. For 23 years, she worked in the Pomona Unified School

District as an innovative teacher and administrator. As a school principal, one of her students was Tim Sandoval, the current mayor of the city of Pomona. Mayor Sandoval spoke at her memorial about her impeccable style and professionalism, but more importantly, the caring encouragement she gave to him that enabled him to seek elected leadership at a young age. As it turns out, she had that impact on many young people, at her schools and at South Hills church, telling young people, “You can do it!” even before it was clear what the “it” was.

Her focus on education, the confidence she had in the potential of all children, and her partnership in life and ministry with Rev. Walks propelled her own children and grandchildren to colleges like Harvard, Morehouse, Spelman, Duke, and Boston University, from where they entered the professions of medicine, law, and of course education. Her daughter Cecille married Rev. Dwight Peace, another PC(USA) pastor, who was once a member of San Gabriel Presbytery and now serves in Maryland.

Erma was vice moderator of San Gabriel Presbytery, and the leadership of Erma and Ivan and their significant work partnering with community leaders—and raising up community leaders in school and at South Hills—is one of the pillars on which our presbytery stands. The legacy of South Hills lives in the people of the church and their children, and also in the ministry of Interwoven New Worshiping Community, whose vision also includes seeing and nurturing the potential in young people. Erma and Ivan’s son, Dr. Ivan C. A. Walks (aka Claremont), has stored the considerable wisdom with which he was raised, and I remember that when South Hills closed, he shared how he saw his children acting with compassion to others, and he realized that the lessons he learned at South Hills had been passed on to his children, and so South Hills was not contained in a building, but lives through the people of South Hills. The people of South Hills include not only the Walks family, but leaders such as Rev. Dr. N’Yisrela Watts-Afriyie, Rev. Dwight Peace, Elder Yvonne Harmon (now with Northminster, and currently the Moderator of the Synod of Southern California and Hawai‘i), the extraordinary international opera singer Nmon Ford, and so many others.

I only got to meet Erma Walks once, but I give thanks for her faithful wisdom and leadership in our presbytery. And I give thanks for the next generation of leaders in our presbytery family such as Rev. Harlan Redmond and Dr. Tracey Shenell, who are bringing us into the future with their own wisdom and compassion. This last Saturday, Tracey began the Lenten series “Becoming the Beloved Community,” and participants were enthusiastic as they learned some important concepts in social justice but also shared with each other with laughter and depth. Tracey’s leadership has beautiful facets of insight, intelligence, humor, humility, and organization that create an environment where we all are learning. Tomorrow we begin the Zoom-based meetings; if you want to join you might email her at info@traceyshenell.com and see if she can put you in a group.

There are many other people who personify Black excellence, in our world and in the Presbyterian Church (USA), but as we seek to know ourselves better as San Gabriel Presbytery, I want us to remember those whose faithfulness, strength, love, and leadership contributed to the kind of faith community we are today. I pray that we take the time to give thanks for past, current, and future leaders of all cultural backgrounds who have helped and who now form San Gabriel Presbytery’s ministry, for today and tomorrow. As we enter Lent this Wednesday, may we reflect on who we are, and who God is, and how much God loves us. And as we cannot help but feel grateful—for the saints who go before us and most of all for Jesus Christ who gave his human life for our sake—may we commit again our lives to serve our God, who raises us up and fills us with the Holy Spirit, in whose power we are free to serve and love.

 

Giving thanks,

Wendy

WinterFest—Presbytery Recap

WinterFest—Presbytery Recap

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

Last week, 73 people from 22 San Gabriel Presbytery churches and worshiping communities attended one or more WinterFest sessions, and 70 people from 27 San Gabriel churches and worshiping communities attended the Presbytery meeting, with about 60 people staying for the WinterFest Plenary, led by our newest pastor, Dr. Tracey Shenell. We have received positive feedback on all the sessions. What a great week! Thanks to the EEE Committee for organizing WinterFest, JPM for their excellent work on the panel “Responding to Our Unhoused Neighbors,” Tracey Shenell for her inspired leadership, Amy Marmol for her fantastic administrative support, and Northminster Presbyterian Church for being a wonderful host for Saturday.

 And, of course, thanks to all the WinterFest session leaders. We recorded the Zoom-based sessions and hope to make those available soon. Some folks provided resources that have been included in the “Resources” section of the Monday Morning Update. I will list each session, the leader(s), and whether there are resources available from the session. 

  • “New Voices Panel: pastors for the next generation” was led by Candidate Veronica Ota (FirstPresbyterian Church, Altadena), Rev. Beth Putney (San Marino Community Church), Rev. Harlan Redmond (Interwoven New Worshiping Community), and Dr. Tracey Shenell (Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church, Azusa). What an inspiring and stimulating session full of ideas,challenges, and reminders of the basis of our faith!
  • “We Are Here: Listening to the First Peoples of this Land” was led by Elder Mona Morales Recalde, of La Verne Heights Presbyterian Mona is a member of the Gabrieleño-Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, an elected commissioner with the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, and a member of our Justice Peacemaking and Mission Committee. Mona led a session last year, but even those who heard her last year were moved and inspired by her compelling presentation. Mona is able to present hard facts with enduring and hope-filled faith and grace, and reminds us that San Gabriel Presbytery is unusual in our support of our Indigenous hosts for many decades. Mona has put a variety of excellent resources on the Indigenous people,especially here in Southern California, at https://linktr.ee/GabrielenoTongva. She also helped us with a land acknowledgement that will be used at the beginning of every Presbytery meeting; the text is in the MMU “Resources” section.
  • “Nuts and Bolts Legal Training for Church Leaders” was led by Rev. Kevin Haah, who is also an attorney. This session was chock-full of legal information in three key areas that impact most or all of our churches: Mandated Reporting, Exempt and Non-Exempt Employees and the MinisterialException, and the three forms of Property Tax Exemption. Kevin had a PowerPoint presentation which is included in the MMU “Resources” section.
  • “Panel on Responding to Our Unhoused Neighbors” was led first by Debbie Mota (Union Station), William Shelby (Friends in Deed), and Reggie Clark (Volunteers of America Pomona), and thenLisa Hansen (Pasadena Presbyterian) and Patrick Perry (Knox Presbyterian) shared their church’s responses to their unhoused neighbors. Attendees appreciated both the expertise of the people who have dedicated their professional lives to working with folks impacted by food and/or housing insecurity, and the personal perspectives of our own siblings in the San Gabriel family. This session was a response to a survey that was given last summer, when many of our folks expressed a need for training and resources as neighbors in need approach our churches. In addition to this session, the Justice Peacemaking and Mission Committee (especially Patrick Perry, Vikki Randall, and Lisa Hansen) put together a resource list (food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and other services)—that resource list is in the MMU “Resources” section.
  • “Nuts and Bolts Financial Training for Church Leaders” was led by Renato Halili, CPA, and focused on financial statements and reporting requirements, with some discussion on the new rules on restricted and unrestricted donations, property valuation, and various questions raised by the attendees. Renato shared a very thorough Treasurer’s Manual that was developed by the PC(USA) and has been updated by Presbytery of San Jose—and yes, this is now in the MMU “Resources”section.
  • “Becoming the Beloved Community: An Introduction” was led by Tracey Shenell. Even though the Presbytery meeting ended late, which compressed her time, Tracey gave the participants a taste of how the Presbytery-wide Lenten series will go. There was lively conversation and sharing, and Tracey led the session with content, compassion, and humor. The Lenten series kicks off this Saturday, February 10, 10 am-12 noon at the Presbytery Center, 9723 Garibaldi Avenue in Temple City. Everyone is welcome to come, whether or not you have registered. The Zoom-based Tuesday evening sessions begin on February 13 at 7 pm. This upcoming Saturday session is not a repeat of last Saturday, and each session builds on each other, so you will get the most out of the series if you attend every session—but if you cannot make every session, come anyway. We will be sending Zoom information soon.

And just for fun, the Education Equipping and Empowering Committee awarded $100 gift cards with Homeboy Industries to five intergenerational church teams attending WinterFest. They can be used at https://shophomeboy.com/ but better yet—go see what God is doing in downtown LA and get a great meal at Homegirl Café! Congratulations to Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church (Azusa); First Presbyterian Church, Altadena; Knox Presbyterian Church (Pasadena); San Marino Community Church; and Shepherd of the Valley (Hacienda Heights).

In our Presbytery meeting, we welcomed RE Carrie Kohler, our new Stated Clerk for Administration, commissioned Tracey Shenell to be pastor of Filipino Community United Presbyterian Church (Azusa), and welcomed back TE Tom Rennard, who has retired to Monte Vista Grove and has served in several capacities in San Gabriel Presbytery. We introduced TE Michael Roffina, who is doing a short-term fill-in at Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena, and we elected RE Melinda Forbes to the Administration and Finance Committee, Class of 2026. We installed Moderator TE Peter Tan-Gatue (Praise, Covina) and Vice Moderator RE Helen Darsie (Westminster, Pasadena), and gave thanks to outgoing PEC Moderator TE Dave Tomlinson (Retired) and new PEC Moderator RE Pat Martinez- Miller (Calvary, South Pasadena). Thanks to so many who contribute to the ministry of San Gabriel Presbytery in so many ways! In our meeting, we approved a land acknowledgement which will be read at the beginning of each San Gabriel Presbytery meeting, and I shared an adaptation of a communion liturgy for Black History Month which was written by Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown (UCC) and Rev. Amantha Barbee, a Presbyterian pastor now in Maryland. The land acknowledgement is in the MMU “Resources” section, and the communion liturgy can be found on the More Light Presbyterians website at https://mlp.org/document/black-history-month-communion-liturgy/.

In a time when conflict, dislocation, and illness seems to be flaring near and far from us, this last week was a bright spot for San Gabriel Presbytery. Thanks to all who made it happen, especially our God.

Peace

Wendy

Joint Heirs with Christ

Joint Heirs with Christ

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Romans 8:14-17

This week, we are embarking on am ambitious season of meetings in San Gabriel Presbytery. On Wednesday evening, we begin our annual leadership training event, WinterFest, which continues on Thursday and Friday evenings. On Saturday morning, we have a brief Presbytery meeting, followed by the plenary session of WinterFest. Then, a week later, on February 10th, we begin a Presbytery-

wide Lenten series, “Becoming the Beloved Community,” which will meet on Tuesday evenings from February 13th-March 19th. After a break for Holy Week and Easter, we will have a closing session on April 6th. I strongly recommend you participate in any and all of these events. Click HERE to register for the Presbytery meeting, and/or WinterFest. And for the Lenten series, we have heard that folks are having a hard time committing to every session. We invite you to come to the first sessions if you can, and see how it feels. And though we are hoping folks will make this commitment as their Lenten practice this year (and we hope the small groups will get to know each other better each time they meet), we are no longer requiring people to attend every session.

As I think about some of our upcoming activities, they offer glimpses of life as joint heirs with Christ. As we take on the identity of being children of God, who become our family members? 

Some of our WinterFest sessions help us expand and deepen our vision of who is in Christ’s family:

  • On Wednesday, we will hear from some of our younger pastoral leaders about their vision for the future The qualification for their presence on the panel? As they have connected with our presbytery, they have used terms and described ministries that have baffled us! Their visions areintriguing and enlightening as we look not at how to polish up the old way of doing church, or even get “back to normal” post-COVID, but how to look at the concerns and lifestyles of the next generation of God’s family.
  • On Thursday, we can listen to an Indigenous Christian voice in Mona Morales Mona is not only a ruling elder of La Verne Heights Presbyterian Church, she is a member of the Gabrieleño-Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians and an elected commissioner with the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission. Because of the Christian church’s earlier coercion and violence against Native Americans, it is a rare gift to have in our familysomeone who has been able to hold her Indigenous identity and Christian faith together, and who is willing to invite us to journey with Christ’s Indigenous siblings in a path towards healing.
  • On Friday, we can learn how to respond with compassion and respect to the children of God who are without shelter. Homeless people often turn to churches seeking a safe place to rest and have a meal, and in a recent survey we heard from many of you a need to learn how to respond when they approach We will hear from some of the key agencies in San Gabriel Valley who work with our unhoused neighbors: Union Station, Friends in Deed, and Volunteers of America in Pomona.
  • On Saturday, we will begin to explore how to come to know each other better as siblings in Christ, beyond the assumptions and false controlling narratives that keep us from seeing all that we are. For the ten years I have been with this presbytery, you have expressed a desire to buildrelationships across the presbytery, and learn about the diversity of God’s creativity by learning from each other, in this little branch of God’s family tree. 
  • On Thursday and Friday, we also have the opportunity to confront the fear that the world puts on After all, don’t we often react with fear when we think about financial management and legal issues? We are grateful to have experts in their field—Kevin Haah on Thursday, pastor and attorney, and Renato Halili on Friday, CPA and former controller of Forest Lawn Mortuary—who are also faithful Christians to help us live out our faith in the midst of the structures of the world.

And just for fun, the Education Equipping and Empowering Committee is offering $100 gift cards with Homeboy Industries for intergenerational church teams attending WinterFest. You can use them at https://shophomeboy.com/ but better yet—go see what God is doing in downtown LA and get a great meal at Homegirl Café!

On a more serious note, I have heard that many people are struggling these days. Several people have had clustered or lingering health problems; someone just texted me as I have been writing this column that he was out for a month due to pneumonia. I just heard about a concerning survey of pastors that reveal a rising number of pastors who are suffering from loneliness and burnout, and are considering leaving the ministry. This would be a time for people to fall into the enslaving spirit of fear, of anxiety, of exhaustion. Thank God for this family of faith, as we can be reminded that we are not alone, we are strong in Christ’s presence, and we can be inspired by our friends who are excited about their ministries. We can know the glory of Christ, and the love of God, but also a bit of the suffering he sustained for our sakes. Even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not fear, as we know the comforting guidance of our God.

Recently I mentioned to some folks that I have never seen so many times when God broke in to give extraordinary providence and grace as in the life of this presbytery. May we take confidence in the knowledge that God is with us, and acts for us, and works through us. I hope to see you this week.

In Christ’s love,

Wendy