Reflection: Fathers and Daughters

Reflection: Fathers and Daughters

Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

Luke 8:41-42a

I was sitting in a church meeting where the congregation was beginning a discernment process before searching for a pastor.  The man sitting next to me picked up his phone because it beeped; his eyes went wide with shock and he whispered to me “Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash.”

In ways that surprise newcomers to Los Angeles, LA can act like a small town, and our folks have reacted to this news similarly to any other small town mourning the tragic death of their hometown hero—though rather than gathering at the town church or town hall, folks were gathering outside the plaza of Staples Center, intermingling with celebrities coming to attend the Grammys.

Tributes poured in, lionizing this still-young man not only for his supreme skills on the basketball court but also for his business savvy, intelligence, character, and family life.  Every once in a while people would admit that he wasn’t a perfect man, that he had made mistakes.

As it happens, my friend Bertrand, who is still detained at Adelanto, called yesterday.  He said that the detainees were shocked by Kobe’s death.  They had just seen the tribute LeBron James gave the night before (an amazing coincidence, that Kobe’s last known tweet was congratulating LeBron for passing him as the third-highest scorer in NBA history).  I joked with Bertrand that he is truly becoming an American, as most of us are bound together by news sent to us by television and social media.  I asked him if he had known about Kobe in Cameroon.  He said absolutely, and that he was revered for someone who had so much success, and without scandal.

I told Bertrand that Kobe was not without scandal.  Back in 2003, when he was 25, Kobe was accused of rape.  The trial was ended as he issued a thoughtful apology and he and the woman made a private civil settlement.

Of course I do not know the details of the situation, but in this time of “no apologies” his statement seemed to demonstrate an understanding of the pain the woman experienced, and his reputation and marriage survived.

Kobe and his wife had four daughters, and by all accounts he was devoted to them.  Sadly, one of the daughters died in the same crash.  Much has been said of his connection with Gianna because of her interest in basketball, but he didn’t push that; his oldest daughter plays volleyball.  In his interviews, what is clear is that Kobe has evolved from the young man abusing a woman at a hotel to become a proud father of four young women, and a strong advocate for women in sports.  In a social setting that does not lend itself to advocacy for young girls, Kobe reminds me of Jairus, another leader in a male-dominated circle who yet demonstrated profound love for his daughter—and for that I am glad that Kobe’s legacy is in these young daughters he loved and respected, not for his worst bad act.

I do not tell this story because I’m such a huge Kobe Bryant fan (though he was impressive in his multilingual abilities and his eloquent manner, and hey, I have loved basketball—one of the more memorable communions I’ve experienced was when I was served communion by Marques Johnson).  I share this because I have been thinking lately about God’s call to repentance, and the freedom that comes with repentance, and—most importantly—whether we as “good church folk” forgive as God forgives.  Do we in fact allow people to repent and move forward as Jesus calls us to do, or do we continue to see people through the filter of their worst bad act?

We all fall short of the glory of God.  Some of us make spectacularly bad acts; some of us just live in the lukewarm integrity of risk aversion.  We are all offered forgiveness for our sins of commission—or omission—but are called to forgive others as we have been forgiven.  

Thank God for second, and third, and many more chances to live, and forgive, and be forgiven.  Thank God for fathers who come to care for, learn from, and advocate for their daughters.  May all of us learn from the circumstances of our lives, and share our wisdom with others.

In Christ,




Reflection: One Voice

Reflection: One Voice

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

(Ephesians 4:4-6)

It has been a very full week in the life of Christ’s church.  Last Tuesday we gathered for the first Presbytery meeting of the year.  It was a very full meeting, with good participation, many decisions, and lots of prayer.  We officially welcomed Rev. Ally Lee as Administrative Presbyter and Associate Stated Clerk, and approved or renewed several pastoral calls.  We installed Karen Sapio and Deborah Owens as Presbytery Moderator and Vice Moderator, and thanked Becca Bateman and Roberto Ramirez as outgoing and incoming moderators for the Presbytery Executive Commission.  And we gave grants to Community Presbyterian Church in El Monte for their food pantry ministry, and to Puente de Esperanza in La Puente for their CaliCenter community center for families.

But last Tuesday’s Presbytery meeting will be most remembered for three major actions:

  1. We examined and approved for ordination Peter Hawisher-Faul, who is being called as co-pastor with wife Rev. Kelsey Hawisher-Faul to Radford Presbyterian Church, Virginia.  Last night, Peter was ordained at Pomona Presbyterian Church, and we celebrate and bless him and Kelsey as they begin their ministry together.
  2. The Presbytery’s policy on minimum compensation for pastors was consolidated, updated, and expanded to include different forms of paid leave such as Sabbatical, Personal Time Off (which incorporates sick leave, personal leave, jury duty, etc., in one leave of 12 days per year, as long as three days are always available for sick leave), and Family Leave (providing for 8 weeks for critical life events such as the birth or adoption of a child, or caring for a parent with critical medical needs).  It also brings together several policies that have been approved over the years, and reaffirms that all pastors are compensated equivalently.
  3. The Presbytery voted to dismiss Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church, responding to several years of discernment on the part of the church, and over two years of work between teams appointed by presbytery and church to pursue reconciliation and, having determined that reconciliation was not possible, negotiate terms of dismissal.  Those terms can be summarized as $1.5 million ($500,000 upon dismissal, then $100,000/year for 10 years), and a 10-year reversionary period (ATLPC must continue doing ministry in the Reformed tradition in their location for 10 years before the Presbytery releases any claim on the property).

This last weekend were the memorial services for Tom Duggan and Jake Kim, attended by Presbytery members at both.  Tom had passed away back in October, and the service was a time of shared love and thanksgiving for the many decades of ministry and family unity that marked Tom’s life.  I was at Jake’s service, at Church of the Valley in Apple Valley, where Jake had just been installed as pastor in October.  Church of the Valley had been dismissed by Riverside Presbytery to ECO, so we had just released Jake to ECO last September. 

Jake died suddenly from an aortic aneurysm three days before Christmas.  He was 48, and leaves his wife Yuni and two young sons, Ari and Avi.  If you would like to share your condolences, you can send cards to Yuni and contribute to Ari and Avi’s college fund by sending checks made out to Church of the Valley, 20700 Standing Rock Ave, Apple Valley, CA 92307.

The suddenness of Jake’s death, right after starting this most promising ministry and after this move to a new community for his young family, has shocked all of us, and a couple of the memorial speakers shared their anger over this tragic death.  As hard as it was to say good-bye, the congregation asserted our faith in God by singing “How Great Thou Art” at the end of the service.  The hymn was sung with all the power, all the anger, all the faith that was held in the hearts of the people, as if we were giving it all to God—or trying to convince ourselves that God understands and has a purpose, even though we cannot understand any of it.

The last time I felt the power of a congregation singing their emotions and their faith was at the beginning of the meeting with the congregation of Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church, when they confirmed their support for the terms of dismissal.  Tears were shed during the singing of both these hymns, as we considered the depths of the bonds that were being broken.

But for myself, they demonstrated how unified we still are, even in the face of death and division, because we know that mortal death does not separate us, and denominational differences do not permanently divide the one church of Jesus Christ.  We continue to share memories and learnings, hymns and prayers, traditions and worship, personal relationships, and the possibility for ways to still be Christ for each other and the world.  When we sing these old hymns with the force of memory of so many lives joined in Christ, we are all still one.

In life and death, our temporary divisions fall away.  I noticed that during Jake’s service, the PC(USA) was mentioned several times, though ECO was never named.  The reception was like a family reunion; Don Maddox was there, as he had served as an interim for Church of the Valley years ago.  A woman serving at the reception told me that she knew we were praying for them because Bill Hansen (their former pastor who lives at Monte Vista Grove) told her so.  I told her that we named Jake during our Presbytery communion, remembering that at Christ’s table we are joined with saints across time and space—and she wept.

Thank God for the Lord’s Table, for beloved hymns, for the Lord’s Prayer, for all the ways that we can gather even in the face of death and division, and with one voice, one faith, one plea for peace, we can witness to our one Lord, who is above all and through all and in all.

In Christ,




Reflection: Beginnings and Introductions

Reflection: Beginnings and Introductions


The new year is a time for resets as we all begin afresh after the hussle and bussle of the Christmas season. At the beginning of this new year and this new decade, I am beginning a new position. I have been involved with the Presbytery of San Gabriel since I began working as the Office Administrator at Knox Presbyterian Church back in 2010. My first introduction to the Presbytery was through Twila French, who ably guided me through the dozens of questions I had about Knox’s statistical reporting and shared mission giving. I was grateful again for Twila when she guided me through the initial paperwork for becoming an Inquirer and kept me on track for meetings throughout that process until my ordination in 2017. It is with great joy, I celebrate becoming a co-worker with her and joining the Presbytery staff ten years later as the Presbyter for Administration and Associate Stated Clerk.

Over these last ten years, I have served in various roles at Knox Presbyterian Church working as the Office Manager and now as the Temporary Associate Pastor. My experiences have taught me that administration is like setting the table for a meal. It is an opportunity to make everyone feel welcome and valued. I look forward to enjoying many conversations with the members of our presbytery both over meals and meetings. As we gather together, I hope to encourage the gifts and talents of our members to flourish as we come together to further the Kingdom of God in the San Gabriel Valley and beyond.

A little about me, as I mentioned I am serving as the Temporary Associate Pastor half-time in addition to my work with the Presbytery. At Knox, I work with our children’s and adult education and spiritual formation ministries. I am married to Brian Lee, and we will celebrate our 10th anniversary in March. Brian is writing his dissertation for a Ph.D in Religion, Ethics, and Politics from Princeton University. In June 2019, our daughter Johanna Sequoia was born. We live in Altadena near Farnsworth Park and enjoy walking around our neighborhood with our two dogs. I am originally from the Southeastern United States, so I enjoy potlucks and BBQ.

You can reach me by email at or by cell at (626) 353-0828. I will be at the Presbytery Center on Tuesday and Wednesdays from 9 am to 4 pm and Thursday mornings from 9 am to noon each week. Other days of the week, I am regularly checking email and answering the phone and am available to meet.

Grace and Peace in your new beginnings,

Rev. Ally Lee 

Don’t forget:

Our first Presbytery meeting of 2020 is tomorrow, Tuesday, January 14, 7 pm, at Monte Vista Grove Homes in Pasadena. There will be two pre-Presbytery meetings, starting promptly at 6 pm, for people who have questions about the proposed dismissal of Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church to ECO, or the recommended amendments to how San Gabriel Presbytery defines minimum pastoral compensation for the pastors of our churches. We will also have the opportunity to examine and bless Candidate Peter Hawisher, who has been called to Radford Presbyterian Church in Virginia.

And remember to register for WinterFest, February 8, 9-2:30, at Arcadia Community Church. You can register at



Reflection: Epiphany for All of Us

Reflection: Epiphany for All of Us

When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

Happy Epiphany!

Today is the day of Epiphany, when we consider the revealing of God through Jesus Christ.  I have always believed that Epiphany commemorated the arrival of the Wise Men to greet the newborn King of the Jews.

I was tooling around the Internet looking for the root words for epiphany (all I could remember was that “-phany” means “appear”).  I was surprised by a mention that different traditions relate Epiphany to several different events in Jesus’ early life.  In the Western church, it usually means the moment when Jesus is visited by the Wise Men.  In the Eastern church, it regularly refers to the Baptism of Jesus, which is in our lectionary for this coming Sunday.  But early church leaders varied quite a bit, describing Epiphany as the birth of Christ, the visit of the Wise Men, the baptism of Jesus, or even the miracle at the wedding at Cana and the feeding of the crowds.

In considering these varied views on Epiphany, I wonder whether this reflects varied understandings of when the divinity of Jesus was revealed to the world.  If we celebrate Jesus as God come to earth to save us, was it enough that the baby was born to Mary?  How important was it that even foreign Gentiles were attracted by a special star in the sky to honor this child as King of the Jews?  Or was it in Jesus’ adulthood, when he presented himself to John for baptism in obedience to Scripture, when the Holy Spirit came down on him and the blessing of heaven was announced?  Or did we need to wait for the signs of Jesus’ miraculous power to be revealed to the public, by turning water into wine or a few loaves of bread into lunch for thousands?

There are indeed several ways that Jesus’ divine nature was demonstrated to the world, and we know that witnesses to these events responded in varied ways—many responded with belief and gratitude, but others (especially those with worldly power) responded with suspicion and fear.  According to Matthew, the baby Jesus was targeted by King Herod, who feared the political threat of this newborn King of the Jews—and this led to Joseph and Mary taking the baby Jesus to seek and find asylum in Egypt.  Of course, we know that Jesus faced resistance from church and political leaders, all the way up to his execution.  And even at that moment, some were led to see, in his sacrifice, that truly this man was God’s Son.

Regardless of how and when individuals came to recognize God in Jesus, we as Christians do believe that Jesus’ appearance on Earth was God’s ultimate method for helping us to know and return to God.  We also believe that the world continues to need to find God today—and how do they do that?  Jesus no longer walks the earth as an individual, but is manifested in every church, acting as the body of Christ for every time and place where the church lives out God’s mission.

That means you!

So your church embodies Jesus, God’s will for salvation, for your community in our time.  Is it enough that your church was started?  Or that others, even strangers, are attracted to God through you?  Or that your people are claimed, cleansed, and empowered through baptism to serve God?  Or do the faithful actions of your church—like praying for healing and forgiveness, feeding the homeless, standing up for the powerless, and any number of other miracles of faith—get the attention of the world, making people wonder at the power and mercy of God?  Does that faithfulness sustain you even in the face of criticism, reaching all the way to your very existence as a church body?

Happy Epiphany, and happy 2020.  May we live out this year, remembering that in the life of the church, as we reflect the love of God for the world, every day can be Epiphany Day.




Our first Presbytery meeting of 2020 is next Tuesday, January 14, 7 pm, at Monte Vista Grove Homes in Pasadena.  There will be two pre-Presbytery meetings, starting promptly at 6 pm, for people who have questions about the proposed dismissal of Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church to ECO, or the recommended amendments to how San Gabriel Presbytery defines minimum pastoral compensation for the pastors of our churches.  We will also have the opportunity to examine and bless Candidate Peter Hawisher, who has been called to Radford Presbyterian Church in Virginia.

And remember to register for WinterFest, February 8, 9-2:30, at Arcadia Community Church.  You can register at

Scroll down for other upcoming events, like the Homeless Count (required orientation session January 13), and a workshop on worship music, February 21-23, at Calvary Presbyterian Church in South Pasadena.

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

This last Saturday was our annual WinterFest training event, which continues to be the largest and most vibrant gathering of the presbytery each year. I give thanks to the Education Committee – chair Jennifer Ackerman, Sophia Alecci, Ally Lee, Pat Martinez-Miller, Deborah Owens, and staff Jake Kim – for their excellent planning and coordination for WinterFest.

This last Saturday we heard from Jake Mulder, director of the Fuller Youth Institute, who gave some encouraging data on ways that churches can connect with young people. Actually, some of what he shared sounded like advice that helps us connect with any group who are underrepresented in our churches-make the effort to reach out, don’t make assumptions that block you from real connections and care, make a commitment to Jesus and to neighbors and young people, and offer them respect and leadership opportunities. At least this is what I heard-for the real content, go to Fuller Institute.

For myself, I got some new perspective on San Gabriel Presbytery on Saturday.

Marking our 50th anniversary as a separate presbytery (we were formed when the Los Angeles Presbytery was split up on January 4, 1968), we shared with each other memories of the last 50 years, gifts and values we hold dear, and hopes for the future. We remembered those who passed into glory in 2017, including San Gabriel members Bob Linthicum, Don Berns, Deane Hendricks, and Gayle Beanland, as well as dear friends Ed Tanng, Art French, Hazel Harken, Gordon Douglass, and Art Edwards. Let us gather this weekend to celebrate the lives and ministries of Art French (Friday at 2 pm at Pasadena Presbyterian) and Hazel Harken (Saturday at 3:30 pm at Westminster Gardens).

We looked at who we are now, with the representation report for 2017, including the statistic that our presbytery leadership is 39% people of color-which is closer to our full membership than I had thought, so that’s good news. Our Justice Peacemaking and Mission Committee began to fulfill their two 2018 priorities (stewardship of Creation and immigrant justice and advocacy) by introducing the use of compostable supplies at meals, and presenting the General Assembly overture “On Responding to the Current Syria Crisis,” endorsed by our Claremont and Knox churches, to advocate for a ceasefire, reconciliation, care for the suffering of the Syrian people, and to deepen our relationships with Syrian Christians. Several of our churches are actively involved in connecting with Syrian churches and/or helping Syrian refugees, so the Presbytery decided, after some lunchtime discussion, to approve this overture.

And there was an incidental new look at our Presbytery, as we met for the first time at our new Presbytery Center in Temple City. It seems that Presbytery members were comfortable in their new home base, and enjoyed the hospitality of the shared ministry partners at the Center – Mideast Evangelical Church, who led the morning worship and offered breakfast (and whose gifted leaders supervised the renovation of the Sanctuary and installation of the video and sound system); Grace Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, who led the afternoon worship and helped with lunch; and Playfactory Preschool, who helped with registration and lunch (including making cookies!).

Thanks to Jennifer Ackerman, who planned a worship service that incorporated the languages of the Presbytery Center hosts (Arabic, Taiwanese, and English), as well as the other main languages of the Presbytery (Spanish and Korean). It was fun to sing in Taiwanese-and it occurred to me that Taiwanese may be the language that is spoken by more of our members, after English. Because of that, I was so happy that we could receive not only retired pastors Huw Christopher and Martin Miller-Hessel, but also our friend and Stated Clerk (and now transitional pastor for Westminster Temple City) Diane Frasher, AND the young and gifted Taiwanese pastor Yanchih “Yank” Lee, who will start at Shepherd of the Valley on April 1. Our offering went to help with the rebuilding of the Presbyterian Church in Joquicingo, Mexico, after it was destroyed in the 2017 earthquake. We received $850 on their behalf; if you would like to contribute please send in checks to the Presbytery by the end of this month. The offering was introduced by Margarita Reyes, who grew up in that area.

Finally, we have reason to hope for the future, as we see new and renewed leadership with Becca Bateman as Moderator of the Presbytery, Roberto Ramirez as Vice Moderator, and new leaders such as Education members Sophia Alecci and Ally Lee, and newly-elected Bong Bringas (Committee on Representation and Nominations), Karen Sapio (Vision and Strategy), Mark Carlson (Personnel), and Karen Berns, Tony Garcia and Frank Hsieh (CPM).

I thank God for this hopeful start to the new year, and pray that we continue to grow even closer as the body of Christ for San Gabriel Valley.


Praying for a life-giving 2018,



Reflection: Shepherds

Reflection: Shepherds

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Luke 2:8-9

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, when we keep watch for the Bethlehem birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Do you relate to any particular part of the story?  Some women connect with Mary, as they remember the wonder and excitement and nervousness that comes with the birth of a baby.  Some politically-minded people think about the intrigue in the palace of King Herod, as he receives news that a new king is rising, perhaps threatening his power.  Some relate to the wise men, attracted by a star to seek the new king in a foreign land.  Recently I asked this question of the partners sharing our Presbytery Center in Temple City, and one of the Mideast Evangelical Church members was humble enough to liken himself to the hay in Jesus’ manger, his only hope was that he could provide some comfort to the newborn baby.

This year, I have been thinking the most about the shepherds.  I think it’s because the shepherds were out in the dark night, possibly cold and lonely—the last folk who you’d think God’s angel would approach to announce the birth of the new king of Israel.  Shepherds were hardly well-placed and important, but rather poor, unskilled, and illiterate.  I like that at first, in the text above, there was just one angel, and the glory of the Lord shone around them—so the glory didn’t shine around the angel, but around the shepherds.  But rather than revel in that, this terrified the shepherds.  How often do we experience God’s glory in a way that is so extraordinary, it terrifies us!

During this Advent season, my mind is occupied by two people.  The first is Bertrand, the young Cameroonian man Steve Wiebe and I met at Adelanto Detention Center last month.  He continues to be hopeful and positive, participating in a prayer group of fellow asylum-seekers awaiting the decision of whether he can stay in this country that he traveled for six months to reach.  As our Immigrant Accompaniment Organizer, Kristi Van Nostran, pointed out, many detention centers are intentionally placed in remote locations, away from population centers, just as the shepherds were living out in the fields, likely some distance from towns like Bethlehem.

The other person on my mind is, of course, Jake Kim.  Jake completed his interim term with Northminster a year ago, and continued as Associate for Ministry Development for San Gabriel Presbytery, inspiring churches with his passion for ministry and creative energy.  It was only two months ago when he left to be installed as senior pastor of Church of the Valley in Apple Valley.  It seemed like a wonderful blessing—a good-sized, energetic congregation in a community that was quieter than metropolitan Los Angeles, where he could buy a house.  But a little over a week ago he suffered an aortic aneurysm, and has been on life support since then.  I haven’t heard news for a few days, but we continue to pray for Jake and especially his wife Yuni and two young boys Ari and Avi,

I think many of us know something about sitting in a hospital room, as patient or visitor, during the holidays—or worse, having to say good-bye to a loved one when it seems the whole world is partying.  But just as we remember that our Lord came to us in a little baby born of a poor unwed mother—just as the Lord came to us in a barn, temporarily homeless and displaced by imperial edict—just as the Lord came to us as a young child, whose family was forced to seek asylum in Egypt—we are also reminded that the Lord’s coming was announced not only to royalty, but to all the world in a shining star, and God sent an angel to announce the good news of Christ’s birth personally to poor shepherds living out in the cold, outside the city.  And though sometimes we feel outside polite society, far from the holiday festivities, let us always remember that God never forgets us, and will even go to great lengths to reach out to us.

This word cloud is made up of the word “peace” in the languages of San Gabriel Presbytery—or at least the languages that influence us.  On any given Sunday, San Gabriel Presbytery speaks peace to a frightened world in English, Korean, Taiwanese, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Cantonese, Indonesian, Thai, occasionally Filipino and Japanese, and we might reference the biblical text in Hebrew or Greek.  We are the living example of God’s reach to all the world, and our commitment to let our neighbors know, in a language they can understand, that Jesus Christ is born, and lives, in and for all of us.  So whether you are busy and happy and warm, or lonely and grieving and cold, God’s love comes to all of us.  May we take a moment to hear the angel say “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.”  And together, let us all sing:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
     and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”

Peace to you all, and see you in 2020,




Reflection: No Going Back

Reflection: No Going Back

All the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.  But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy.

Ezra 3:11b-12

We are coming close to Christmas.  Churches are deep in their Advent activities and getting the word out for their Christmas Eve services.  For Presbytery staff, we are more closely involved in year-end activities, but honestly Presbytery-related business is fairly quiet since most folk are involved in Christmas plans.  However, because our January Presbytery meeting is January 14th, 2020, we are already looking ahead to that meeting.  There are a few important items of business that will be considered in that Tuesday evening meeting at Monte Vista Grove:

  • We will examine for ordination Peter Hawisher, who has been called to Radford Presbyterian Church in Virgina.  If the way be clear (as we say), he will be ordained at First Presbyterian Pomona on Sunday, January 19th, at 6 pm.
  • We will consider the recommendation of COM to adopt a revised and expanded minimum compensation policy for San Gabriel Presbytery pastors.  This was discussed at our last Presbytery meeting, and there will also be a pre-Presbytery meeting at 6 pm on January 14th for people who have questions.
  • We will consider the recommended agreement by which Alhambra True Light Presbyterian Church would be dismissed to ECO with their property.  There will be another pre-Presbytery meeting for those who want to discuss the proposed dismissal more closely.

Since the Presbytery office will be closed December 23-January 1, we are trying to work ahead.  As announced last week, Twila French is passing the baton to Ally Lee, who is learning how to support the Presbytery meetings.

But I jump ahead.  We are still in Advent, still trying to imagine what it was like for that occupied nation, having already waited for centuries for the restoration of Israel, perhaps wondering whether the promises voiced by the prophets would ever be fulfilled.

Yesterday I heard this text from Ezra.  It struck me, partly because we don’t pay much attention to Ezra, but moreso for the surprising relevancy of the text.  This passage reports the rebuilding of the Temple, an important sign of the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exiles were allowed to return from Babylon.  This might be an architectural, religious symbol of restoration that foreshadows the restoration of the nation, the chosen people of YHWH.  The building of the Second Temple was accompanied by many nods to the raising of the First Temple, perhaps to confirm the legitimacy of this new house of God.

In spite of the great celebration for the building of the new temple, there were some who wept at the sight of this new structure.  Can’t you just hear their words and bittersweet feelings, which are repeated countless times in our churches today?  “It’s just not the same.”  “I remember how beautiful it was, the real Temple, when I was brought there as a child.”  “We are just getting settled; it’s too much and too fast to take on this huge project right now.”  “We did fine without; why are these people trying to come back and act like the last 70 years never happened?”

This last statement might have come from a different group.  Since the Babylonians exiled the leaders of Judah, there were people left behind to make do.  So the return of the exiles (the old leaders) and their attempts to rebuild and regain their status as leaders may not have been totally welcomed by those who managed to live amidst the ruins of Jerusalem.

I have worked with enough churches in their transformation efforts to realize that even when the transformation is good, and even when the oldtimers rationally understand that the change is faithful and helpful, there is yet sadness that we can’t go back to our most beloved memories of the past.  There are leaders of old who wonder why the old ways don’t work anymore, and there are more recent leaders who resent efforts to go back to the “good old days,” and may even resist any contribution the oldtimers might want to make.

Too often we confuse “restoration” with “transformation”—the people of Israel kept yearning for restoration, but the Bible tells us that while we can hope for restoration in our relationship with God, there’s no going back to our past lives.  Early on in my biblical studies, it was pointed out that the culmination of God’s plan of salvation is not a return to Eden.  Indeed, we do not go back to a simple life alone with God in a garden, but celebrate the triumph of a wounded Lamb amidst throngs of believers in the eternal city.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, let us consider how radically different he was from the new King David, the restorer of all that was, whom the people of Israel were expecting.  And likewise, may we accept in faith that the birth of Jesus in our hearts is not a sentimental return to what was, but a new dawn to a future that we cannot even imagine.  May we recognize, and share, the myriad ways that God’s future, a time not just of restoration for some but of new life for all, is held in the potential of that little baby in Bethlehem—but also in each of us, as children of God.  Let us trust that whatever we loved in the past is not as great as the glory of what is to come.

Looking ahead for the Dawn,