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New life.  Starting over.  A fresh beginning.  Rebirth. 


Every year for the past 25 years or so I’ve been taking personal retreats to the Abbey of Gethesemani monastery in Kentucky.  Sometimes I’m there for a few days, other times I’m there for just a day.  But, I try to take at least one multiple day retreat there around New Years.  Every retreat that I’ve taken there has been fantastic.  It’s simply a time to relax, refocus, and have some time to get beyond the distractions and listen to rhythms of your life with yourself, with others, and with God.


I came to Gethsemani a couple of years ago with a lot on my mind and on my heart.  2013 was a hard year filled with lots of questions and a time of seeking out some deeper understandings of myself and what God is doing in and through me.


I also came to Gethsemani with a deep realization that there are so many folks in our communities in Cincinnati  that are also in a place of searching and yearning for something more in life.  They, like me, all of us really, have a deep desire for belonging.  Belonging to God, others, as well as a need to see themselves and others as God sees them.


On my third day of the retreat, I went for a hike through the woods surrounding the monastery.  I hiked to one of my favorite spots where the philosopher/theologian/writer monk Thomas Merton would hang out.  I sat there for a while and read some scripture, wrote some of my thoughts and prayers in my journal, listened…and was given a word:  “rebirth”.


I didn’t experience any earthquakes or a lot of deep emotional responses.  I didn’t dance.  I just had a seed planted that I believe will continue to grow in some beautiful ways…rebirth isn’t easy, it can be painful, but it does bring beauty!


Rebirth is really just a start, a new beginning, a new chapter.  The old is behind me, I can learn from the past, but there is a far greater future ahead.  I can’t save myself.  But, I can experience a renewal, a deeper reminder or recognition, that God is at work and doing new things in my life and in the lives of those that live in my community.


So friends, out of darkness, Jesus shines a light and our lives are found and renewed in relationship with him, with ourselves, and with others.  He gives relationship to us and God’s Spirit moves in the relationships around us, making all things new and redeeming everything.


When I think of Immanuel and being its pastor for a relatively short time, I also think of “rebirth”.  In a short time, Immanuel has been a place where I’ve been experiencing a sense of “rebirth” in so many ways.


Immanuel is also going through a period of rebirth.  Ithas been through a lot over its 134 years of existence.  It’s had some amazingly hard changes in just the past dozen years or so.  Yet, here we are today, in the beginnings of a “rebirth” in so many ways as a parish.  We are moving into a sense of newness as we become more community focused than ever before.  We want to be a Presbyterian parish that is a blessing to ALL in this community.


If you have been at Immanuel for a while, or maybe you’ve stopped coming, or have never come to Immanuel, I’d invite you to come and see, check us out!  Maybe even consider being a part of this rebirth that is happening in and around us.   With rebirth comes the hope and promise of growth in our lives, and in the lives of others as we come together.  We may even change the world!


So friends, receive this blessing:  “may we live into that reality and experience rebirth in our lives…may we know that in Christ, we belong, and that belonging brings hope for rebirth and new beginnings”.


So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land!


That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country.


-Romans 6:1-5, The Message.

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