We continue our journey through the season of Lent in the Gospel of John.

This Sunday’s gospel includes the phrase,  “When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  When Jesus saw her weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.  He said, “Where have you laid him?”  They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept. – John 11:32-35

The above passage from John contains the shortest verse in the Bible, a sentence consisting of just two words: “Jesus wept.”  He wept for all the reasons mourners weep—because he had lost his friend Lazarus, because he felt helpless, because this is a stinging encounter with the fragility of life.

Some biblical commentators express puzzlement that Jesus would weep over the death of Lazarus when he is about to restore his friend to life.  But death is painful even when we know that eventually it will be swallowed up in victory.  Grief is baptized with tears even as it enters into the promise of new life.

The shortest of sentences—”Jesus wept”—is an arresting reminder of a very big truth:  Jesus was human.  He joins us in our grief so that we join him in his victory.

May we, in this season find ourselves walking ever more closely in the journey with Jesus. 

Reminder – Congregational meeting this Sunday, April 2nd, after worship.

For our Passion and Easter Services – see the announcements below.

Blessings upon your week,

Pastor Laurie

Subject:     Informational Resource to Prepare

Members to Vote on April 2, 2017

On the Resolution to Become a Sanctuary Church

Dear Friends,

Your Skyline UCC Council has resolved that on Sunday, April 2, 2017, immediately following our 10:00 service, we hold a special meeting to vote on the Resolution below:

Proposed Resolution

That the Skyline Community Church declare itself a Sanctuary Church committed to protecting, supporting and advocating for those being targeted by the current administration such as immigrants, refugees, Muslims, women, Black Lives Matter activists, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community.

As such, we share the goals of the current Sanctuary Movement:

  1. Make Visible the Invisible – giving a voice to those who have no voice – and revealing the unjust suffering of millions of families (bearing the image of God) at the hands of the immigration system.
  2. Inspire members of congregations to raise their voices to call for public policy to address the needs of these families.
  3. Heal the trauma experienced by families facing the wave of anti-­immigrant sentiment.  We will support and/or actively engage in one or more of the following activities:

Physical Sanctuary for someone facing Final Deportation:

  • Discern if your congregation would be willing to offer Sanctuary for a person facing final deportation orders in a humanitarian emergency. Most often, these are people who have been long term residents, already have children, family and community ties to the area and have exhausted all other legal options to remain with their family here in the United States.
  • By offering Sanctuary, your congregation is willing to offer physical sanctuary on religious property, as a way to protect them from the reach of ICE.  Your congregation would be supported by other congregations and community groups committing to be part of a local network of Sanctuary by assisting with hospitality, protection, and advocacy.

Accompaniment of Immigrant Families or Youth: 

Individuals and congregations can immediately help accompany immigrants in urgent situations and need of accompaniment.  This can include newly arrived migrant families, unaccompanied minors, people facing deportation crisis, those just released from detention centers.  Trained volunteers can help to provide courtroom accompaniment, access to services, and concrete and emotional support and/or transitional housing to help those in a period of crisis.


  • Advocate at the Local, State and National level for policies which protect the due process of immigrants and promote their full dignity and integration into our local communities.
  • Advocating for policies which help to prevent mass deportation and fear by creating clear separation between ICE and local law enforcement and civic institutions, for example strong sanctuary city and county policies.
  • Engage in local public actions and activities to shift public discourse towards immigrants, Muslims, and refugees, and bring attention to our responsibility to address root causes.

Networks of Protection & Rapid Response

  • Join a Rapid Response Network to respond to ICE workplace raids, home raids or other enforcement activity.
  • Connect with targeted communities to help develop relationship and networks of protection.

Note:   It is not necessary to commit to or perform all of the four actions described above to fulfill the Sanctuary objectives.

In depth information has been identified by our Champions for Justice – Nancy Taylor and Mirtha Ninayahuar.   The links to this information are as follows:

This meeting is not intended to be “informational” and, therefore we are assuming that the congregation will have taken advantage of the various informational resources made available the two weeks preceding the meeting.  We will, of course, answer any lingering questions you might have.

We need to personally discern the admonition to act with compassion.

What does the Lord require of you?  But to do justice, and to love kindness, and to work humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8).

We prayerfully look forward to the April 2, 2017 Resolution Action Meeting.

David Byrens

Skyline UCC Moderator

Particularly now, in this age of unrest and uncertainty with the endless wave of inhumane executive orders, we can be tempted to give in to  the emotions of fear, rage, and despair.   It is so important to learn how to acknowledge all of our feelings so that we do not react, repress, or succumb to them.   It is so important to learn how to choose our response by cultivating a sense of peace within ourselves. 

We have much to learn from the great spiritual traditions of this season, especially the contemplative practices including prayer, yoga, and seated and walking meditation.  I invite you to join us for our weekly hikes, or get in touch with me about our ongoing prayer group and meditation sessions.  Also stay tuned for more Taize services coming up. 

© Kutt Niinepuu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

There are some who would dismiss these methods as passive,  escapism, and being too inwardly focused. Yet, consider the power of such leaders as Gandhi and Dr. King  who transformed society through peaceful, non violent civil resistance.  Cultivating balance is so important in this age of unrest. 

I’d like to share with you a short video to inspire you in these challenging times to cultivate mindfulness, understanding, clarity, and renewal:   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/zen-and-the-art-of-activism_us_58a118b6e4b094a129ec59af?section=us_religion

Blessings upon your week. 

One of my favorite quotes is from Alexis de Tocqueville,  America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.  I believe that we are called to make America great, by making America good, by imagining what it would be like to be born again, as the most vulnerable in this world and in this country.

In religious circles there’s an overused phrase called being “born again.”   I believe that it’s time to reclaim it. I believe it’s time to ask ourselves, what would it would be like if I were born in Syria, or born in Honduras, or born into poverty in this country? What would it be like to be living in this country, as a Muslim? As an undocumented person? As a transgendered person? As a poor child of color, who’s family cannot afford health insurance or must choose between housing and education and health insurance?  

Over 65 million people are living displaced on this planet we call home; men, women and children fleeing from war, persecution, and poverty. What if we were born into such unimaginable realities?

Here in this country, the world’s wealthiest nation, prior to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act 47 million people were uninsured. With ACA, 20 million additional people were covered. What if we could not afford health insurance because of the circumstances we were born into? 

I am grateful to our denomination for taking an early stand in joining the ecumenical movement to safeguard the lives of immigrants and refugees. I am certain in the weeks and months to come our denomination will take a stand for affordable healthcare as well. 

I am also grateful to the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro for declaring themselves sanctuary cities; and to this congregation for entering a time of discernment about our call to advocate for those most vulnerable.

Join us this Thursday, at 7 pm at the Justice and Witness meeting to learn more about where we are in the process with the sanctuary movement.

Finally, here are a few articles about the UCC’s efforts to safeguard immigrants and refugees. 

UCC Joins Ecumenical Effort to Safeguard Immigrants and Refugees

UCC Leaders Condemn Revised White House Travel Ban

© creativecommonsstockphotos | dreamstime

The journey into the wilderness begins.

On Wednesday, March 1, at 7 pm we begin the journey together in the ancient ritual of Ash Wednesday. Our heads are anointed with ashes to be reminded of our mortality; that we are dust. 

For forty days, like Jesus and like Moses, we are invited to be led by the Spirit into the wilderness of our own lives. Why? To be reminded that yes, we are dust, but not only of the earth, but also of the stars in the heavens. To be guided on our journeys, to be strengthened for the journey, and to be reminded that we, too, are God’s beloved. 

So much in our society shouts out its bad advice to us. We live in a world where in order to be considered normal we must conform to society. Our lives and the world at times seem filled with overwhelming hardships and challenges. 

Sometimes, if we really listen, we may hear the voice of God speaking to us through those least conformed to the patterns of this world, as David Guerra experienced last week in his strange and beautiful encounter with Heaven

Lent is a time of entering the wilderness of our lives, and recognizing, among the many voices competing for our attention, the voice of God, within, that is with us always. 

I leave you with the words of Pulitzer prize winning poet, Mary Oliver, in her poem The Journey, about stepping out into wilderness of our lives. 

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

by David Guerra

I got a message from Heaven last week.

It was a chilly Tuesday afternoon, where scattered clouds scurried across the sky to deliver bursts of showers.  I was taking some self-care time in a walk around Lake Merritt when I took a detour to my favorite place, the bird sanctuary.   I was thinking about the sounds of life; the repertoire of the songbirds, the gentle whir of wings, the drumming of the rain on the water.  As I approached the fenced-in area, I heard another sound: a human voice lilting on the breeze. 

I saw him; a black man seated on the bench looking out at the sanctuary, his eyes half closed as he sang an intricate melody in a language I didn’t recognize.  He didn’t seem to notice me as I walked by. 

A few minutes later, I walked back.  The man was still singing and I was curious about his music.  I slowed down, hoping to make eye contact.  He wore layers of old clothing and a large knitted cap which bulged with the hair beneath.  He stopped singing and looked up.  

“What are you singing?” I asked.   

“I am chanting.” His voice had a strangely beautiful accent.    

“Chanting,” I murmured.  “What language?”


I nodded.  “It’s beautiful.  I wondered what you were saying.”

“They are praises to God,” he said.  Then he explained that all things use breath: the animals, plants and people.  We share that in common – breath – and it connects us.  We are all created by God.  God is in us, but we are not God.  And God gives us a certain number of breaths in our lives. 

“Some people choose to waste their breath,” he said.  “I choose to use mine to praise God.”

I was dumbfounded.  This conversation had traveled so deep, so fast.  I thanked him for talking to me.

He looked at me and smiled.  “What is your name?”


“I’m Heaven, David.” 

“Pleased to meet you, Heaven.” 

So that’s the message I got from Heaven, on a Tuesday afternoon under leaden skies by a place of personal retreat.   Heaven is a black man, an angel, with words I needed to hear.   

© creativecommonsstockphotos dreamstime

When I’ve been under pressure reading too much news and too many theological journals, and spending way too much time indoors during these rainy days, and it’s all beginning to get to me, I know it’s time.  It’s time to get my boots, my pack, a bag of raisins, and drive west to the land of the Great Spirit to climb the great west hill, the sleeping maiden as the Miwok’s called her, or as we affectionately refer to her here in the Bay Area as Mt Tam. I need to head for a summit where the wind and the light and the view are waiting to welcome the lonely walker who has no other purpose than to be there for an hour or two. I imagine in this sense I’m not so different from you, or from Jesus for that matter. We all need to take time away, to get a new perspective, to listen for the voice of the Holy. 

Climb up the mountain to Skyline this Sunday, to share in some peak experiences with us!

Sometimes the news gets so discouraging that it’s hard to wake up in the morning. I invite you to listen to this musical tribute, entitled “Mornin”  to the great musical legend and inspiring human being Al Jarreau, who died last Sunday.  This tribute is sung  by our very own music director, Benjamin Mertz. 

Join us on Sunday morning as we lift up our hearts and voices, including a song of tribute to Al Jarreau entitled, “We’re in This Love Together”.

Blessings, Pastor Laurie 

Friday Night, February 3rd, Oakland Museum of California

We will enjoy the food trucks, music, family activities, and see the exhibit:  ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE: BLACK PANTHERS AT 50.  Coinciding with the Black Panther Party’s 50th anniversary in October 2016, this exhibit presents a contemporary view on the legacy of this visionary group, told from multiple perspectives. Meet at the museum, or carpool.  Coordinate with Nancy Taylor 510-325-4957 or ngtaylor94619@yahoo.com.

Friday Night, February 10th: Movie – Hidden Figures,  We’re going to the Grand Lake Theater to see the Academy Award nominated movie HIDDEN FIGURES.  Show starts at 7:00 pm.  Contact Nancy Taylor to carpool or meet at theater. Film synopsis: This true story, which takes place in the early 1960s, as the U.S. seeks to surpass the Soviet Union in the space race, three mathematically and technologically gifted African-American women must cope with racism and sexism while performing vital tasks at NASA’s segregated Virginia facilities.

Weds, Feb 22, 7:30-9:30 PM:  “Defamation”
Valley Center for the Performing Arts, 3500 Mountain Blvd., Oakland, CA

MORE THAN A PLAY  Contact Nancy Taylor.

The Play explores the highly charged issues of race, religion, gender, class and the law with a twist: the audience is the jury. The premise is a civil suit: A South Side African-American woman sues a Jewish North Shore real estate developer for defamation. The legal issue is whether or not she was falsely accused of stealing his watch and causing her financial harm. Through deliberations and post-show discussions, audiences engage in civil discourse that challenges pre-conceived notions and ultimately delivers the verdict. Free to the public, seating is limited.

Sunday, February 26th, JAZZ at Scott’s.  Enjoy brunch while listening to Tony Pegram on drums with the jazz combo.  Lunch/Brunch at Scott’s in Jack London Square.  Contact Philippia Pegram or Nancy Taylor.

Tuesday, February 28th, We will gather for an afternoon matinee  to see the documentary movie “I Am Not Your Negro”, on the works of James Baldwin, and then have dinner afterward to discuss the film.  Time and place to be announced as the date draws nearer.  See Laurie’s blog post on this film.  Nancy Taylor.

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Skyline UCC
A United Church of Christ
12540 Skyline Boulevard
Oakland, CA 94619
(510) 531-8212

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