From the Pastor’s Desk – “Big Things in Small Packages” (7/12/21)

BIG THINGS IN SMALL PACKAGES

   Some significant gifts come in small packages. A diamond ring is encased in an exceedingly small box. Two $100 bills are enclosed in a congratulatory card. A $500 gift card is found in a tiny envelope. A concise, informative, erudite concept emerges from a 52-page book. It is the latter that captured my attention this week.

   Vernard Eller, a past-professor of religion at the University of LaVerne in California and author of over twenty books, has become one of my favorite authors of things related to religion and the church. Eller thinks outside the box and adds imaginative perspective. Even though his writings are several decades old, they remain relevant to the present age, in my humble view.

   The book alluded to in the opening paragraph of this article, written by Eller, is entitled Proclaim Good Tidings: Evangelism for the Faith Community. The e-word, evangelism, frequently elicits anxiety and fear primarily because it is associated with telling (speaking) the good news of Jesus Christ in a manner that will entice people to come along, to join the company of Jesus followers. Moreover, evangelism invokes images, maybe nightmares, of well-defined programming wherein “evangelists” are trained with tools to convert non-believers to the way of Jesus, to Christianity. Anxiety and fear kicks in when those of a more timid nature are concerned about speaking to strangers. What if difficult questions are asked or the good news is rejected? OH MY! Those more outgoing have less trepidation about visiting with others, but…OH MY!…there isn’t enough time to squeeze in a training program!

   Eller, consequently, eases these evangelism burdens. Instead of boxing evangelism into a programmatic monster to be tamed, he develops a portrait of evangelism as a community effort of radiating the essence of the Jesus way. In other words, the body of Christ, the church, or the community of Jesus followers, simply needs to let their manner of living serve as their witness. This manner of living “speaks” volumes, not always in words, but unquestionably with actions. Eller calls this “evangelism through body language.”

   A paragraph from Eller’s 52-page gem provides a nice summary of his thesis. He writes: “The calling of the church is that it function (sic) as ‘the body of Christ.’ Thus, within the body, the members are to operate, not for their own enjoyment or enhancement, but to the end that the body as a whole is built up. When the group is functioning so, its body language is such that a chance observer can read it and be moved to fall down and worship, crying, ‘God is certainly among you!’ And what is going on here is nothing more nor less than evangelism.”

   Eller also helps us to understand that evangelism is not a one-person enterprise. Sharing the good news of Jesus and the Jesus way is most effective when it is done together, in partnership, as the whole. It isn’t a programmatic enterprise, either. It is, at the most basic level, a way of being, acting, and living, revealing evidence of the Spirit of God moving within and acting upon our individual and collective lives.

   So, if the e-word puts you into a state of panic, take heart. Simply be who you are shaped and informed to be in the Jesus way, joining with the company and gifts of others. The rest, in a manner of speaking, will take care of itself.         

CCOB to Offer Services Online: Message from Pastor Kevin Kessler

I continue to hope and pray that you are safe and well. If at any time you need to visit or you have thoughts and concerns you need to share, please contact me by phone (cell: 309-224-4828), text (same number), or email (cantoncob@gmail.com).

Because we are social beings, having the ability to continue meeting together on Sunday is important The online platform Zoom provides us with a means of connecting electronically. It isn’t the same as being present with each other in the same location, but it is a platform that allows us to be present with each other by video/audio or audio from the safety of our own homes.

Therefore, for the next 2 Sundays, March 22 and 29, we have the opportunity to connect with each other using Zoom at our regular meeting time of 9:30am. If you have access to a computer, microphone, and camera (fairly standard laptop) you can easily access the Zoom connection. Even if you do not have this equipment, you can still join in by phone. Using the phone does not provide video but at least offers connection by voice (you can share and you can hear others who are sharing). A few directions will follow.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, June 2018

The following post was taken from the CCOB Newsletter, Volume 2018, Issue #6. 

We must loathe lukewarm people. This message is found throughout scripture. Those who are violent are better off, even if initially they do evil. We cannot expect anything from souls who are slumbering; from those who do good – or think they do good – by abstaining from evil. A heart that is on fire, even if it bewilders us at times, is equipped to serve. God freely chooses his saints from among the great sinners, but never from among those who are lukewarm – from those who do not risk anything.

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From the Pastor’s Desk: April-May 2018

The following post was taken from The April-May edition of The Canton Chronicle, Volume 2018, Issue #4. 

In our backyard are two crabapple trees. One has pink blooms and the other white. Usually I would contend that the one with pink blooms exudes more beauty. But this year was different. The one with white blooms was gorgeous to the point of being nearly radiant. Interestingly, though, the radiance was short-lived. On about Monday or Tuesday the blooms were at peak. By Saturday not a bloom was left on the tree. Beauty is fleeting.

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DE Ponderings: May 2018

The following post was taken from The Reflector, a publication of the IL/WI Church of the Brethren Newsletter May 2018: Volume 15/Issue 4. 

Neal F. Fisher, president emeritus of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, offers these thoughts in an article in The Christian Century:

What morality, we might ask, does one culture or social group create that another with equal authority could not revoke? On what basis should my personal perceptions make a universal claim? The issue here is not to challenge universal moral claims. The point, rather, is that many of those who make universal claims disavow any reasonable basis for explaining how that claim can be made,” 

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From the Pastor’s Desk: March 2018

I have an appreciation for the classics in literature. I like the author Thomas Hardy. I’ve slogged through War and Peace and can’t tell you much about the giant novel except there are too many characters of which to keep track. Les Miserable offers great lessons about grace. I had to read The Scarlet Letter twice, the second time very slowly, to understand the full magnitude of a wonderfully written and emotionally entwining work of art. And I’m presently enjoying Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, February 2018

The following article was taken from the Canton Chronicle Vol. 2018 #2 issue written by Pastor Kevin Kessler and edited by Martha Harr

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:25-32 NRSV)

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DE Ponderings, January 2018

The following article was taken from Volume 15 Issue 1 of  ¨The Reflector¨ a publication of the IL/WI District Church of the Brethren.

Last week I caught up on a few chores at home that I´ve been neglecting, one of which was cleaning an old stereo system. The components of the system were all separate, so I carefully removed each one from the stereo cabinet. When cleaning the 5-disc CD player, I tilted it in such a manner that 2 CDs slid out the front. I finished cleaning, replaced the components in the cabinet, turned on the CD player, opened the drawer, and found 3 more CDs. After removing them I pushed the button to close the drawer. All was not well. The drawer did not close completely; it remained about a third of the way open. I could not get the drawer to close no matter what I tried.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, January 2018

¨It is a mistake to sharpen our minds by narrowing them. It is a mistake to look to the Bible to close a discussion; the Bible seeks to open one…. The Bible is no oracle to be consulted for specific advice on specific problems; rather, it is a wellspring of wisdom about the ambiguity, inevitability, and insolubility of the human situation…. The Bible makes us comfortable with struggle but uneasy in success…. [The Bible is a signpost, not a hitching post].¨ –William Sloane Coffin, The Courage to Love (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), 7-8

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Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference Proclaims Good News

This article was taken from the Church of the Brethren Newsline on November 17, 2017. It was written by the District Executive minister and Canton Church of the Brethren Pastor Kevin Kessler.  

The Illinois and Wisconsin District Conference on Nov. 3-4 was held at York Center Church of the Brethren in Lombard, Ill., on the theme, “Don’t Be Afraid, I Bring You Good News” based on Luke 2:10. The conference was capably led by moderator Allegra Hess, a member of the York Center congregation.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, October 2017

Taken from the The Canton COB Chronicle Volume 2017, #7

A few days ago, I left the office around 11:00am, drove home, picked up Tammy, and went to CEFCU. We went inside, took care of our business, and then came back to the car to move on to a couple other errands. As normal, I inserted the key in the car’s ignition switch, turned it to start the car, and just as it sounded like the car would start, everything stopped. The lights on the dash went out. Turning the key to start produced absolutely no sound. And when I tried to turn the key to off and remove it, I could not do so. We all have many “firsts” in our lives; this was a “first” for me. I’ve experienced turning the key to start and nothing happens. But I’ve never been unable to remove the key from the ignition.

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DE Ponderings, September 2017

Taken from September 2017 edition of “The Reflector” (a publication of the IL/WI Church of the Brethren District Newsletter)

I have an appreciation for the writings of Vernard Eller, one time professor of Religion at the University of LaVerne, primarily because his views are cutting edge and sometimes cutting. I never knew him personally, but I gather from his books that he was a person comfortable in his own skin even if what he said or wrote stirred thoughts and emotions in others.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, August 2017

This article was taken from “The Canton Chronicle” September 2017, Volume 2017: Issue #6.

Tammy and I recently made our first trek on the new walking/bicycle trail that extends from Lakeland Park to Wallace Park. I’m not sure why we waited so long to check it out. It’s a peaceful place to walk while enjoying the beauty of nature.

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DE Ponderings, August 2017

Article taken from “The Reflector”  a publication of the IL/WI District of the Church of the Brethren August 2017 Volume 14, Issue 7.

I enjoy reading, especially a novel in which the author delves into a variety of subjects relevant to our human condition. George Saunders does this spectacularly in Lincoln and the Bardo. He is also, in my view, a master at character development. These two literary accomplishments alone put the book high on my list of good reads. However, one particular scene in Saunders’ novel sheds brilliant light on a matter that has been coursing through my mind most recently, which can be articulated best with a question: In all of our human diversity, what will open the door for us to exist in harmony while still holding on to and utilizing our unique identities?

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From the Pastor´s Desk, July 2017

On Wednesday, July 26, we will begin a study on Judaism. I have been fascinated with all I’ve learned in preparing to lead this study. What I found most interesting, though, is how the Jewish tradition approaches scripture. The Jewish emphasis is not about searching the scriptures to find ancient answers that speak to life matters for all time. Rather, the focus is more on asking questions about the text in understanding its relevancy for a particular time, or more to the point, for the present time, and to learn how the Divine becomes evident through the text.

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DE Ponderings, July 2017

The following article is taken from the IL/WI District Church of the Brethren newsletter  ¨The Reflector¨ July 2017, Volume 14, Issue 6.  If you´d like to subscribe to the Reflector, please leave a message in our contact box and we will have one sent directly to your inbox. 

Approximately one month ago, I served as the moderator for a public forum on the State Budget Impasse, which was held in the community of Canton. The forum focused on educating persons within our county about the adverse effects the state budget impasse was imposing on school districts, nursing homes, community colleges, and other social agencies, all of which depend on state funding for operational needs. Persons no longer receiving services from these agencies or who were likely to no longer be served as a result of the impasse stood to lose the most. For those of us who put the forum together, the impasse posed not so much a political matter but more so a justice issue.

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From the Pastor´s Desk, June 2017

The following post is taken from the Canton Chronicle, Vol 2017 #4. 

Edward Bernays may not be a familiar name. Yet his philosophy permeates our lives, our culture. In this way we know him.

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DE Ponderings, May 2017

The following article is taken from the IL/WI District Church of the Brethren newsletter  ¨The Reflector¨ May 2017, Volume 14, Issue 4.  If you´d like to subscribe to the Reflector, please leave a message in our contact box and we will have one sent directly to your inbox. 

Late night show host Jimmy Kimmel opened his program Monday May 1, with an emotional monologue about the birth of his son which occurred just a few days before. Shortly after the birth, a nurse noticed that the baby’s color was purple (Kimmel´s words). A doctor was summoned and upon further testing it was discovered the baby had been born with a heart defect. Efforts began immediately to call in a specialist who within hours performed surgery that saved the little boy´s life as well as helping him avoid complications later on in life. Kimmel expressed thanks to all those instrumental in providing such great care for his newborn son. He also spoke with emotion about other children in the Children’s Hospital where his son’s surgery was performed.  He noted that his son and these other children had the opportunity for a future because of medical knowledge and care, and also because of medical insurance. He wondered what it would be like for children in need of such significant medical treatment without the availability of insurance. It was a plea for the insurance benefits available to all to continue. It was a plea for justice, for life, a voice for the most vulnerable–children and those unable to afford high-cost medical treatment.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, May 2017

Taken from the The Canton Chronicle 2017, Vol. #3.

I recall visiting the Senate chamber in the Illinois State Capitol and being quite amazed. I had expected when the session opened that the senators would be in their seats being quite attentive to the business-at-hand. What I witnessed was a chamber with many empty seats, senators and staff frantically moving around, and several mini conversations happening here and there while business was being conducted. I may be exaggerating to a degree but not much.

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Poverty Forum Summary Report Part 1 of 5

Throughout the week, we will post portions of our summary report from the forum on poverty. This first post highlights remarks made by our panelists speaking to the factors that contribute towards poverty in Fulton County.

Introductory Remarks

Pastor Kevin Kessler – Moderator

  1. ¨Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man made and can be removed by the actions of human beings.¨ -Nelson Mandela
  2. The US Census Bureau indicates that over a 3 year period, 1/3rd of all US residents slip below the poverty line at least once for 2 months or more.
  3. We are all affected by poverty in some way and it is in the interest of all that we come together to work out solutions for eliminating poverty for the wellbeing of everyone

Defining the Problem

Question 1 – What are the major factors contributing to poverty in Fulton County?

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From the Pastor’s Desk, March 2017

Taken from the The Canton Chronicle 2017, Vol. #2

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple. 3When he saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked them for alms. 4 Peter looked intently at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,[a] stand up and walk.” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 All the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and they recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. –Acts 3:1-10 (NRSV)

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DE Ponderings, February 2017

Taken from the February 2017 edition of the IL/WI Reflector

I am concerned with the level of priority our national leaders are giving to protecting our country. Know that I value safety but the present protectionist ethos seems to give substantial importance to retaining what we have come to believe is rightfully ours. In my humble view, this attitude portrays a sense of selfishness, and, subsequently, leads to greater division within the global human community. Recent protests around the globe in response to certain political maneuvers seem to support my hypothesis. I’ll readily admit that I’m basing my conclusions on observations rather than fully researched and scientifically calculated information. Nevertheless, my concern remains.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, January 2017

Taken from the CCOB Canton Chronicler, Vol. 2017 #1

Another section of this newsletter will contain information about the Dignity emphasis in which we are engaged, including objectives from the 5 passion groups. So, I’ll refrain from touching on those details in this space. However, I will express my delight and excitement about the momentum being gained through our ongoing conversations and work.

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DE Ponderings, January 2017

Taken from the IL/WI District Newsletter, January 2017

Stanley Hauerwas in War and the American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity states: “…the church does not have an alternative to war. The church is the alternative to war. When Christians no longer see the reality of the church as an alternative to the world’s reality, we abandon the world to war.”

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From the Pastor’s Desk, December 2016

‘Tis the season for bright lights, decorations, holiday music, parties, programs, office dinners, family gatherings, sending cards (along with those ubiquitous family letters), taking photographs, shopping, eating out, attending religious services, and being abundantly cheerful. (The last three words of the preceding sentence brings the needle scratching across the vinyl disk, the turntable coming to a screeeeeccchhhing halt, and a deathly stillness overpowering the mellow holiday tunes previously playing.) ‘Tis the season we hope for abundant cheerfulness, but the reality is, dare I say, frequently the opposite.

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DE Ponderings, November 2016

From the IL/WI District November Newsletter

A Ted talk I recently watched states that we often begin divergent dialogue with each other at the wrong place. We frequently begin with political correctness. Political correctness requires us to be careful what we say, to be forthright but smoothing off the edges of sharpness. If we speak in politically correct ways, then we cause less harm to the other whose views are distinctly different. However, being politically correct may leave room for misinterpretation. Those in dialogue then begin to speak past one another, unsure of what the other has said. What is intended as unharmful can be misinterpreted as disrespect.

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From the Pastor’s Desk, November 2016

While I continue to read, my reading time has been significantly reduced this year. Maybe that has something to do with moving and spending more time wielding a paint brush. Now that painting is finished, or nearly finished, books will regain their seat of importance. My non-substantive rambling aside, I thought I’d share a few thoughts about books that I have read this year that I found entertaining, educational, and enriching in the manner of expanding my mind.

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