08/18/2019
Sermon 2019_08_18
Series: (All)

Last week, we took a dive into FAITH through the first half of this chapter of Hebrews, and this week, we complete that dive into history with an even longer list of ancient heroes of the Abrahamic traditions. So what are we do with these superheroes from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. Do we know any better the lives and promises of this group of believers? What books do these stories all come from anyway? Last week I asked if we knew most of these stories, and this week we have gotten even further afield from what we might readily recall out of memory the ancient stories of the Isrealites.

Last Week it was only Genesis that we walked through, this week it starts with Exodus, but then it starts to fast forward through Exodus to… well, lets see what highlights the authors hits, shall we? Get the bible….

Joshua 6, Joshua 2, 6, 23, Judges 4,6,11,13, 14, 1 Samuel 16-30, 2 Samuel, 1 Samuel 1-12 for Elisha and Elijah, Daniel 3, 6, 1 Kings 17, 24 2 Kings 4, 2 Maccabees 7, 2 Chronicles 24, 1 kings 19, Jerimiah 26, 2 Maccabees 5, 6, 10

Close bible

Whew! And after that deep dive into these stories, we come back to the original question last week. What is faith? Do we have a better idea of what that looks like? I’m not sure. And other than making even seminary trained pastors feel inadequate, what do they tell us?

Certainly, they highlight a world of violence, of weapons and power, armies and martyrdom. And all of these because God loved the people. All of them pleased God and showed their faith. To the people who first received this letter, who were being persecuted in their daily lives, and fearing actual stoning or beatings, these memories of the ancients who endured help to build up the hope that they too might endure. But, I’m not sure they are all fully helpful for us, in our time. Our world has become so visual and so attracted to violence that these lives of danger and faith change into stories of domination and power, rather than a caring divine figure who stands on the side of the oppressed. For God to have stood for these people, brought back loved ones, assured release from pain was an act of true heroism. This was the point of many of these stories. That God loved the people. It was a love story of God staking a claim on the lives of an entire nation of people and descendants.

But for us now, we resort to violence because, as ethicist Glen Stassen has said, “we have been unable to conceive a better way of dealing with conflict.”

If violence is our way of dealing with conflict, we, as a human race need to spend a lot of time dealing better with conflict, and working to resolve it with patience and equity. We need to turn to our cloud of witnesses to seek a better way. Maybe this is part of what the story of the Hebrews continues to have to say to us these thousnads of years later.

I believe that one of the enduring legacies of our scripture is that it can continue to point us to truth in our own time. We are no longer the people who were given this letter, craving a word of hope from the author. But we are a new people who receive this letter craving a word of hope. Hope that we can overcome the sins of hatred and division that reign in our world. Too often, these stories of the ancients divide us more than they unite us. They divide us as to who is right and who is wrong. And that division begins to control us. We put our trust in division rather than unity. The unity the author alludes to in the Great Cloud of Witnesses. As we run the race before us, we seek out the hope we need from the stories of the past, from our neighbors and our loved ones, to have FAITH in the universe that God is here among us even now. And that God will provide, care and challenge us each day.

Our faith may lead you into new places, new situations big or small. And it is faith that perceives the hand of god in that space. Who is in your cloud of witnesses? Who has gone before you that can tell a life of faith story?

Before I went to seminary, I was just an ordinary church member. Sam in fact was the one with more regular church attendance, because she was the nursery attendant for all the kids under 3. And I’d go with her early on Sunday mornings, but never felt a need to be in the faith formation classes, so I’d sit in the parking lot and read a book until church started. Not exactly what you might expect right?

One morning, Janet walked up to my car and knocked on the window, and asked me if I’d ever thought about teaching adult education. Janet is part of my faith story.

While in seminary, one of the couples at the church I worked at invited me to their home. Living in the Oakland California hills, they built their house to highlight the natural beauty and to provide for the animals, and especially the birds in their area. Both Kay and Rhea had a vision of God in the world, their world, that sought to create a balance with the nature outside their home to feel and show the sacred in all places. Kay and Rhea are part of my faith story.

In my last church, I was tasked to be the pastoral support to the sanctuary church work the church was doing with immigrants. In that work, I met a man, who heard about the church’s stand with immigrants and came to talk with me about his case. Through several meetings, we came to find that his case was not one we could help with and it broke my heart. He was caught between systems, arriving as a refugee from the middle east as a child, but not having completed the process to achieve full citizenship, we was now stuck. He has no passport to his country of origin and no path to citizenship here. Neither country could he claim. This man is a part of my faith story.

It is by the people I have met that my theology has been founded. I have seen the sacred right here in the world, the beauty of strangers becoming friends, of the sacredness in asking questions and learning as a path to unity. I have seen how seeking justice and respect is a constant sacred call to build up God’s kingdom here with compassion. And it is this cloud that hold me when I am at my most disturbed, or frustrated, or feeling spiritually empty. Because we all have those moments when our faith doesn’t feel like enough. When the race we are to run with perseverance feels like a marathon. The text says that the cloud is what supports us as we attempt to rid ourselves of all that keeps us from being our best, what breaks our relationships with God’s sacred web. We need each other in that cloud. We need the witness of our community to center us on what builds us up. We need those in our lives to center us on how God’s world is right here and now in the beauty of the seasons and care of the orphan, widow and stranger. From the stories of our faith to our own experience in the world, we can envision God here with us.

As the author of Hebrews puts it, we must keep our eyes on Jesus who leads us. And it is into this world that we also hear these words of Jesus calling for fire. For a change to everything. Most versions of this scripture use Jesus calling for division, but the version we heard this morning from the message gets more I think to the heart of this statement. Jesus is not looking for strife I believe, but for all people to pull themselves away from the pain we inflict upon ourselves. Jesus calls us to imagine transforming initiatives in following the way. Jesus wants us to love the world as it truly is. Not to play nice, not to gloss over our rough edges, but to get into the nitty gritty of being human. Jesus shows us that is it needed for us to confront that which separates us from God’s love, so that we can be real in our loving neighbors truly as ourselves. It is hard work, and even Jesus seems to grow weary of it. How I long for the hard work to be finished and compassion to rule the day. Jesus has come to disrupt the pain of this world and turn it into empathy. Jesus comes to show us that resurrection is part of our DNA, the resurrection that comes from turning a life of conflict to peace. I said when we began that violence is what we come to when we have been unable to conceive a better way of dealing with conflict. That is the kind of disruption and confrontation Jesus calls for. The disruption of our violent ways, violence that seeks to divide us more and prove one side over another. God is calling us to something more through the example of Jesus. Confronting our violence and calling for peace, justice and God’s love story to continue with us. What is your faith story? Who is in your cloud of witnesses? Who calls you to be more than you are and serve the needs of the world?

Follow Jesus, that’s what it comes down to. So lead on chosen one. Will you rise as you are able and join me in singing Lead On Eternal Sovereign #573

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  • 08/18/2019Sermon 2019_08_18
    08/18/2019
    Sermon 2019_08_18
    Series: (All)

    Last week, we took a dive into FAITH through the first half of this chapter of Hebrews, and this week, we complete that dive into history with an even longer list of ancient heroes of the Abrahamic traditions. So what are we do with these superheroes from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. Do we know any better the lives and promises of this group of believers? What books do these stories all come from anyway? Last week I asked if we knew most of these stories, and this week we have gotten even further afield from what we might readily recall out of memory the ancient stories of the Isrealites.

    Last Week it was only Genesis that we walked through, this week it starts with Exodus, but then it starts to fast forward through Exodus to… well, lets see what highlights the authors hits, shall we? Get the bible….

    Joshua 6, Joshua 2, 6, 23, Judges 4,6,11,13, 14, 1 Samuel 16-30, 2 Samuel, 1 Samuel 1-12 for Elisha and Elijah, Daniel 3, 6, 1 Kings 17, 24 2 Kings 4, 2 Maccabees 7, 2 Chronicles 24, 1 kings 19, Jerimiah 26, 2 Maccabees 5, 6, 10

    Close bible

    Whew! And after that deep dive into these stories, we come back to the original question last week. What is faith? Do we have a better idea of what that looks like? I’m not sure. And other than making even seminary trained pastors feel inadequate, what do they tell us?

    Certainly, they highlight a world of violence, of weapons and power, armies and martyrdom. And all of these because God loved the people. All of them pleased God and showed their faith. To the people who first received this letter, who were being persecuted in their daily lives, and fearing actual stoning or beatings, these memories of the ancients who endured help to build up the hope that they too might endure. But, I’m not sure they are all fully helpful for us, in our time. Our world has become so visual and so attracted to violence that these lives of danger and faith change into stories of domination and power, rather than a caring divine figure who stands on the side of the oppressed. For God to have stood for these people, brought back loved ones, assured release from pain was an act of true heroism. This was the point of many of these stories. That God loved the people. It was a love story of God staking a claim on the lives of an entire nation of people and descendants.

    But for us now, we resort to violence because, as ethicist Glen Stassen has said, “we have been unable to conceive a better way of dealing with conflict.”

    If violence is our way of dealing with conflict, we, as a human race need to spend a lot of time dealing better with conflict, and working to resolve it with patience and equity. We need to turn to our cloud of witnesses to seek a better way. Maybe this is part of what the story of the Hebrews continues to have to say to us these thousnads of years later.

    I believe that one of the enduring legacies of our scripture is that it can continue to point us to truth in our own time. We are no longer the people who were given this letter, craving a word of hope from the author. But we are a new people who receive this letter craving a word of hope. Hope that we can overcome the sins of hatred and division that reign in our world. Too often, these stories of the ancients divide us more than they unite us. They divide us as to who is right and who is wrong. And that division begins to control us. We put our trust in division rather than unity. The unity the author alludes to in the Great Cloud of Witnesses. As we run the race before us, we seek out the hope we need from the stories of the past, from our neighbors and our loved ones, to have FAITH in the universe that God is here among us even now. And that God will provide, care and challenge us each day.

    Our faith may lead you into new places, new situations big or small. And it is faith that perceives the hand of god in that space. Who is in your cloud of witnesses? Who has gone before you that can tell a life of faith story?

    Before I went to seminary, I was just an ordinary church member. Sam in fact was the one with more regular church attendance, because she was the nursery attendant for all the kids under 3. And I’d go with her early on Sunday mornings, but never felt a need to be in the faith formation classes, so I’d sit in the parking lot and read a book until church started. Not exactly what you might expect right?

    One morning, Janet walked up to my car and knocked on the window, and asked me if I’d ever thought about teaching adult education. Janet is part of my faith story.

    While in seminary, one of the couples at the church I worked at invited me to their home. Living in the Oakland California hills, they built their house to highlight the natural beauty and to provide for the animals, and especially the birds in their area. Both Kay and Rhea had a vision of God in the world, their world, that sought to create a balance with the nature outside their home to feel and show the sacred in all places. Kay and Rhea are part of my faith story.

    In my last church, I was tasked to be the pastoral support to the sanctuary church work the church was doing with immigrants. In that work, I met a man, who heard about the church’s stand with immigrants and came to talk with me about his case. Through several meetings, we came to find that his case was not one we could help with and it broke my heart. He was caught between systems, arriving as a refugee from the middle east as a child, but not having completed the process to achieve full citizenship, we was now stuck. He has no passport to his country of origin and no path to citizenship here. Neither country could he claim. This man is a part of my faith story.

    It is by the people I have met that my theology has been founded. I have seen the sacred right here in the world, the beauty of strangers becoming friends, of the sacredness in asking questions and learning as a path to unity. I have seen how seeking justice and respect is a constant sacred call to build up God’s kingdom here with compassion. And it is this cloud that hold me when I am at my most disturbed, or frustrated, or feeling spiritually empty. Because we all have those moments when our faith doesn’t feel like enough. When the race we are to run with perseverance feels like a marathon. The text says that the cloud is what supports us as we attempt to rid ourselves of all that keeps us from being our best, what breaks our relationships with God’s sacred web. We need each other in that cloud. We need the witness of our community to center us on what builds us up. We need those in our lives to center us on how God’s world is right here and now in the beauty of the seasons and care of the orphan, widow and stranger. From the stories of our faith to our own experience in the world, we can envision God here with us.

    As the author of Hebrews puts it, we must keep our eyes on Jesus who leads us. And it is into this world that we also hear these words of Jesus calling for fire. For a change to everything. Most versions of this scripture use Jesus calling for division, but the version we heard this morning from the message gets more I think to the heart of this statement. Jesus is not looking for strife I believe, but for all people to pull themselves away from the pain we inflict upon ourselves. Jesus calls us to imagine transforming initiatives in following the way. Jesus wants us to love the world as it truly is. Not to play nice, not to gloss over our rough edges, but to get into the nitty gritty of being human. Jesus shows us that is it needed for us to confront that which separates us from God’s love, so that we can be real in our loving neighbors truly as ourselves. It is hard work, and even Jesus seems to grow weary of it. How I long for the hard work to be finished and compassion to rule the day. Jesus has come to disrupt the pain of this world and turn it into empathy. Jesus comes to show us that resurrection is part of our DNA, the resurrection that comes from turning a life of conflict to peace. I said when we began that violence is what we come to when we have been unable to conceive a better way of dealing with conflict. That is the kind of disruption and confrontation Jesus calls for. The disruption of our violent ways, violence that seeks to divide us more and prove one side over another. God is calling us to something more through the example of Jesus. Confronting our violence and calling for peace, justice and God’s love story to continue with us. What is your faith story? Who is in your cloud of witnesses? Who calls you to be more than you are and serve the needs of the world?

    Follow Jesus, that’s what it comes down to. So lead on chosen one. Will you rise as you are able and join me in singing Lead On Eternal Sovereign #573

  • 08/11/2019Sermon 2019_08_11
    08/11/2019
    Sermon 2019_08_11
    Series: (All)

    Today’s lesson from Hebrews is an interesting one. The scripture verses read this morning, tell the cliff notes version of the story of Abraham. And if we had read the whole selection, we would have also heard the stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, before delving into Abraham. All ancestors of Abraham, the ancestor of three major faith traditions. This is a huge delve into thousands of years of history, and expects a lot of us to know about their stories. So why these ancestors? Certainly they are more of the famous stories of the early Israelite faith. But there must be more to it. Well, lets see. This week in Thursday Bible Study I asked if anyone at the table knew the stories of all of them. And so I ask you as well, when you hear the names Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, what can you think of? Do we know their stories well enough to know the promises made to them and the ones they made? Do we know what their lives of faith were?

    In many of these stories, we find the stories of promise. In Noah, God promised in the symbol of the rainbow a covenant to trust humans, and not flood the earth out of rage again. But also the story of family division after the flood as his sons fight amongst themselves. In Isaac, Abraham begins to realize his promise of descendants as numerous as the stars. In the story of Jacob, and his brother Esau, we find another example of division in the family when Jacob takes Esau’s birthright. And we have more promises of home and descendants. Following Jacob, we have the story of Joseph and his brothers who again divide and travel as foreigners in new lands.

    “Descendants as many as the stars and innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” Was the promise to Abraham for this faithfulness? According to the author of Hebrews, all these “died in faith without having received the promises.” All these people died as strangers before the land of Israel was given to their descendants following the story of Moses. So they were all precursors to the big promise of home.

    And this is part of what the author of Hebrews wants us to focus on. That distance from the promise, that frustration at not seeing the fruit of the promise. It can be hard to live in that space. That space of never ending barriers. And in that space, it can be hard to lift up hope.

    Multiple times in the last week, I have had friends on Facebook post about how hard it is to sustain hope right now. Last week’s gun violence, racial, political economic, and gender inequality, hate on a large scale has taken hold of the news cycle, and our own personal lives, and it can be hard to live in that space. Depression and aggression are on the rise. The frenzy and fretting of an anxious world can easily take hold of our minds. When the future you were promised is withheld, it is hard to hold out the hope that change will come.

    The book of Hebrews was written partly to combat such melancholy and to encourage Christians who were having trouble holding onto hope when Christ did not return immediately after his resurrection. In their view, Jesus promised the end would come and they would be saved from this life of pain and hostility. The world was not kind to Christians in the 1st century Christians, trying to make a new way in the world. And that struggle had become a constant daily effort to sustain an alternative vision amid hostility and ridicule. So the author is calling the people to have faith. Here faith presents itself as courage.

    Courage to do good in the world. Courage to follow the example of ancestors who also followed a promise of a new world. Who followed the promise laid out before them to follow the holy path God laid out for them and their families and to trust in that promise to support their children, and their children’s children. Generation after generation promised the world.

    What exactly is the promise that the writer of Hebrews holds forth for his readers? Is it otherworldly, a ticket to heaven? Is that the promise the ancestors were given? No, it is more akin to a homeland, a place where we can be fully at home, free of the conflicts and contradictions that fill our present existence.

    All these stories the people have found an answer from God, but we are still waiting, and this story is what reminds us that generations of people have followed the path, and sought an answer to the meaning of life. To live by faith, to see the tests, travails and opportunities ahead of us, “in the better country”

    All these stories of ancestors also tell us that Faith is not adequately defined by a single individual or community. It took ages of ancestors from Adam to Moses to tell the BEGINNING of the story we find here. The beginning of the story is yet to be told, but in each generation, each story, we build row upon row of hints and clues to a life in faith. None of us could live without others around us. We need the stories of those around us to build our experience. The stories of parents and siblings and even the ancestors of the faith to build up our own stories. Previously, you could be an island making your own clothes, growing your own food, living in isolation. Today, however, we have to have faith in the people around us. We have to trust the food prepared at the restaurant, trust the pilot of the airplane, and trust the caregiver at the day care and having faith in all of them gets harder each day, it may be something you struggle with yourself.

    “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith our ancestors received approval. This is what the ancestors were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, even that which is invisible.”

    By faith we take on the history of people long ago and find our own story there too. Each week we say that “Wherever you are on your journey, you are welcome here.” And that includes the stories you walk in with. All the ancestors you have brought with you here from your own lives. All the ancestors of the people whose land we stand upon. All are welcome here, and indeed needed here to tell the story of the journey. Because none of life is easy, but going through it alone is much harder. So we turn to our neighbors, our family, our friends, to manage the small traumas, and the heartbreak of big losses. The confessions of our souls limited by fear.

    By faith we are invited to trust in the future as our ancestors have. The promise and the surrounding presence of the Divine. And when that trusting feels false, we can stand tall by listening for the still small voice of God in the stories of those ancestors. “Do not be afraid” our reading from Luke began. And in Hebrews, we are told a similar thing. So take heart my friends, because even in this time, there is hope on the horizon. The journey we walk together has been walked by others, who have shared their stories with us. And we will shape that future together, around a common table, with common ancestors, and common respect for the whole diversity of life. Amen

  • 08/04/2019Sermon 2019_08_04
    08/04/2019
    Sermon 2019_08_04
    Series: (All)

    August 4, 2019

    Sermon

    This week I came across a parenting reminder of two styles of parenting, parenting by teaching empathy, or fear. The first is like this, Once upon a time, a child walked down the road. Teaching through the story of another teaches children what it feels like to have a specific experience, without having that to actually have that experience. The other style is to just give commands, Do not walk in the road or you will die. Empathy is what the author of Hosea is striving for here in this story. Even though as a prophet, Hosea is known as the prophet of doom, the condemnation for the community of Isreal is told through the story of a family feeling broken. And Hosea certainly has had his share of breakage in the relationships of his family. Throughout his prophecy, he tells the story of his wife’s infidelity, an interesting tie in to the reading from Colossians this week where we are told to turn away from the exact lives Hosea’s family seem to be playing out as an allegory to Israel in this time right before it falls to Assyria.

    As he interprets history and God’s relationship to the people of Isreal, we are asked to think through our relationship with God. When have you felt like God’s child? When have you felt betrayed by your relationship with God? When your child took their first step, were you there to see it? Did you rejoice with family at each milestone? We should right? Every development is a revelation of our relationship as family. And here, Hosea is speaking to those memories. Tender memories of growing up are evoked by this passage, and remind us that God would feel the same for us. God loves us. No matter what, God’s love is real and expressed in our daily lives. Even, when we have strayed away from the deep abiding love and tender moments of God’s kindness. If there is anything we can take away from this prophet, it is that it starts with love. “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.” There is nothing we can do to earn that love, nor is there anything we can do to lose it, even, though we seem to want to try. Much like teenagers and toddlers push hard against the bounds of loving parents, so we humans push against God’s love, trying to find the edge of the unending grace. We push, with a me first attitude, bombs and weapons, hateful words, environmental destruction. We push against God’s grace to see if there is a point that we can go when we will not feel that love. And Hosea here shows us God’s experience as that tender loving parent in all that testing and boundary pushing. It never feels good to be the caregiver watching pain happen, even when self inflicted. “How can I give you up, How can I hand you over?” God asks. Hosea seems to be asking the ancient question, ‘why does God allow bad things to happen?’ But he isn’t asking from our perspective but from God’s. Have you ever asked that question Why did God make this happen? Even the best answers we can give to that question paint God in a bad light. Are we really to believe that God has made terror, war and death happen just to help us learn something? Does a God of love kill thousands, millions, billions just to test us? If so, is that a God of love? Here God is struggling with that same question. We say often that we believe in a God of compassion. A god who walks with us in the hard times of our lives and would not abandon us.

    For all those who do see God as the architect of pain, we return to Hosea to remind ourselves that God herself speaks of restraint to pain. “My heart recoils within me. I will not execute my fierce anger, for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst and I will not come in wrath.” The outcome is compassion. Hosea shows us that God is one who bends down and lifts us up like loving parents, not like arbiters of agony. This is what God is like, heartsick with our willing return to enslavement.

    To be the holy one in this crisis is to liberate God. Liberate God from being the creator of injustice, and rather see the image of God’s lion’s roar as one who stands with us in every layer of life we live. The end of the text from Hosea says the people “shall come trembling like birds from Egypt and like doves from the land of Assyria.” Assyria, the conquering country at this point in history. And the people, we hear, come as doves. Peace. Doves of peace are what the roar of God calls us back to.

    74 years ago, the world added the nuclear bomb to its repertoire. A war against more than just an enemy, a nation, but a weapon of worldly killing. We must hope that God will once again liberate us from our headlong return to the nuclear route. And as we hope for God to liberate us, we recognize we must do the work ourselves to build it here and now.

    Colossians calls us to live a new life in Christ centered on turning from greed and anger, rage and malice, lies and pain. When we place our focus on the God vision of grace, doors swing open. Doors to the peace we know is possible, and that Hosea’s God wants from us.

    We are living in a land of plenty, we are the rich brother who calls out from Jesus to arbitrate his inheritance, living on a land of amazing beauty, but never feeling like we have enough. And in our attempts at war, we seek to assert our greed for more upon the world. So remember what Jesus called to the man, “Take care. Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” If we are to bring the vision of Peace needed here in this place and time, we must be the ones to bring it. The Bible starts with creation, God speaking the earth and all its bounty into the light of day. And yet, we seem to forget those beginnings too often when seeking to get what is ours, what we believe is OURS to hold. But holding the earth’s inheritance is much like grasping water in your fist. The harder you clench, the more falls away from you. Is this truly the world we had hoped for? In the parable Jesus tells of the man who focused his life on the wrong facet, we see a man grasping a fist of water. His work became his obsession, without time spent on building up the other areas of his existence, and so all that he truly needed slipped from him.

    Peace too is slipping through our fists 74 years after the tragic bombing. We continue in ways that are not producers of peace, or of empathy. Rather, we seem to have placed our trust in God the parent who parents by fear. We continue to store up our earthly treasures of US and THEM, our treasure of being RIGHT, of having OUR WAY built bigger and bigger. We fill barns and silos, train yards and battlefields with our high opinion of ourselves and the disregard of our neighbor. And into that world, Jesus reminds us to be rich toward God. The God in our neighbor, the God next door, the God who we denigrate. This is hard important work we are called to do. Today and everyday. But today, in a world continually at war, we seek today to find peace. Seek peace because God loves us, and God loves them. Seek peace because it isn’t us or them, it is us and them. Seek peace because “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.” May Hosea’s words ring out in our hearts as we seek the real treasure, the treasure of Peace in God’s Kingdom here on earth. Not in some time beyond life, but this place, right here.

    Amen

  • 07/28/2019Sermon 2019_07_28
    07/28/2019
    Sermon 2019_07_28
    Series: (All)

    How do you pray? Who taught you to pray? What do you pray for? These are questions we would all answer differently, if asked, but most often, we never think to ask this of our friends or family members. We treat prayer as if it is something wholly confidential between you and God. Which, it is. But it is also NOT that. Prayer is communal, prayer is individual, prayer is a reminder that God is with us in relationship and our part of that relationship is to remain in communication. Not to give God the silent treatment. Prayer can be done in innumerable ways, and we are often taught how to do it from an early age. So what makes this specific prayer special? Is it that Jesus was specifically asked to teach the disciples? Or is it because of how it speaks to our human needs and our wishes for divine intervention. Is it the simplicity?

    Today our worship service has included multiple retellings of the prayer, using it in ways that might speak to different parts of our lives, different emotions or life situations. But in all of them we can find a moment of unity with most of the Christian world. In other languages, in traditions as far away from ours and right across town, this same prayer is spoken, whispered, said from memory or written out.

    Prayer was a deeply integral part of Jesus life it seems. We hear often about Jesus going off to pray, of praying before blessing food, praying before making important decisions of discipleship, and so much more. Prayer was deeply held and seen often in Jesus life, so it is really no shock that his friends ask him to tell them about it right? Each instruction invites them into a relationship, involves conversation and conversation begins with a word.

    So he tells them to use this format, start by noting your relationship with the Divine. OUR creator… then call on that divine one to be divine, then speak your needs, needs for yourself, needs for your community and the world. The Catholic Church calls out four types of prayer: blessing, petition, intercession and thanksgiving. A pastor friend I worked with long ago added in discernment as an additional prayer type. And all of these are included in this short little prayer here, and form the basic structure of all the retellings we’ve used today. Affirmation, Gratitude, Intercession, Thanksgiving.

    For me, potentially the most radical thing about this prayer is how close a relationship Jesus is telling the disciples to have with God. We know HE prays and is close to God the father, but here, he is also telling the DISCIPLES to call out Father in prayer. By aligning all with God, he shows us once again that we are all Children of Divinity, or as the buttons at the UCC booth at Pride said yesterday, Beloved Child of God.

    After asserting our intimate relationship with God, we then move onto the needs of ourselves and the world. We pray for food. For that so basic need that all people must have. We pray for bread, for the simple sustenance, not for a banquet or million dollar plate. It doesn’t require that we make something of ourselves before we ask for that sustenance either, there is no conditionality before the ask. It is just simply ask for what you need. There is no expectation, on the other hand of what God will provide to our ask, but that our humanness is allowed to be on display.

    Then we are to ask for a rebuilding of community, the forgiveness at the base of having a mutual relationship. Community, friendship, family, all are based on an equality of understanding. And as humans, we are infinitely fallible, in need of fixing a break in relationship, forgiveness.

    Following the continual relationship building of our community in forgiveness, we then ask for salvation from evil, or the time of trial or other ways of saying it. For after we seek the needs of communal restoration, we turn our attention to all the world, all of creation. For in our attention to our neighbors and our selves, and the world, we finally come to a place where there is peace.

    And once again, there is no guarantee there, just a line of hope spread out in prayer. A hope that unity and love can be shared. In my research for this Sunday, I came across one version of the prayer a little different than the ones we have read and prayed today. This one, called Kitchen Mother by George Ella Lyon has a pretty different feeling,

    Our Mother Who Art in the kitchen

    cooking us up

    hallowed may we see

    all that is Your kingdom here

    delivered into our hands

    Your will in children

    and trees leaping out on earth

    as if it were Heaven.

    Give us this day

    bread we could feed the world

    and snatch us bald-headed

    if we try to swallow it all.

    Don't forgive us

    till we learn it is all for giving.

    That salve you've got in a pot

    on the back of the stove

    only heals when everybody has some.

    And heed us not

    if we believe You look like us

    and love us best

    and gave us the True Truth

    with a license to kill Others

    writ inside.

    Deliver us from this evil.

    for it is Yours, this kitchen we call Universe

    where you stir up our favorite treat,

    the Milky Way,

    folding deep into sweet

    our little sphere

    with its powerful glory

    of rainforests and oceans and mountains in feather-boa mist

    forever

    (if we don't blow it up)

    and ever

    (if we don't tear it down)

    Amen

    (Ah women, ah children

    Ah reckon She's about fed up.

    We better make room at the table

    for everybody

    before She yells - OUT!

    and turns our table over,

    before She calls it off

    this banquet we've been hoarding

    this paradise

    we aim to save

    with bombs.)

    This Kitchen Mother God protecting her kitchen we call the universe is not pulling any punches. We call upon this God to help us save each other, not for the world after, but for this one right now. So that we can be empowered to save the trees and the oceans, the children, and ourselves. And that we might save it not for our own exploitation, but in hopes that all might see they have enough and we can share. Or as it says in the original, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone those indebted to us.” Because we are always indebted to one another. We are living in a culture of mutuality whether we notice it or not. And Jesus here is trying to get his early disciples to see that web of care that hangs off of them in all directions like a parachute.

    So maybe this is why this one prayer is the one that even lapsed Christians remember years after leaving the church. Why we repeat this Godzilla of prayers every week here, and why many of you probably repeat it to yourselves outside of church. Because in this prayer, we share relationship. It does not require that we become anything we are not already. It is a deeply human kind of prayer, a prayer for creatures in need of each other. No one, human, creature or Creator exists in isolation from the others, God in this prayer is God with us. And in our inante humanness, we pray not to be pious, not as a merely religious act, prayer Jesus wants the disciples to know, is the act of human beings who know how hard it is to be human. That is what we can come to when we pray. Being real with God. Not faking or putting on our best image of ourselves, but truly coming as we are. Finding enough self-knowledge to recognize the depth of our need and enough humility to ask. And that humility is at the heart of why when we began I said prayer was both deeply personal, and yet not. Because if you are honest in your prayer, you will bare your self, your soul before the divine, and that is not a route most of us are comfortable with taking in view of others.

    There is a story that former evangelical pastor Rob Bell tells of a time when he told this congregation to come to lay down anything that is weighing them down on this big table. It was an exercise for a series in his community, and they just let everything stack up there, Some would come in with baskets of THINGS. Others would drop off any number of memorials of their lives, computers, junk, addictions, hatred, or even just paper. One couple he said came in and stood before the pile and dropped a single sheet of notebook paper and then left. And at the end of it, he made it all disappear. That’s it. It’s all gone. Everything that has weighed you down for years, decades, days. It’s all gone. And that is the brutal kind of honesty with which we should all come to prayer. If we could, we might find the same kind of relief Bell’s community found that radically hopefully day when each participant bared their entire relationship before God, and their neighbor to have it lifted from them. It’s an ancient idea, and yet still a radical one. Total honesty and love. Persistence in prayer is where we must begin. So be honest in your prayer today. Be honest in your relationships with others, and the world and be willing to engage with the deeply intimate web of mutuality we call life.

    Amen

  • 07/21/2019Sermon 2019_07_21
    07/21/2019
    Sermon 2019_07_21
    Series: (All)

    This week our texts ask us to think deeply about what hospitality is truly meant to be and what we are meant to DO in response to others. Are we do choose the path of Abraham and Sarah, to make space for the unbelievable, to sit and gain knowledge or engage in all the lists and tasks that need to be done, finding ourselves distracted as we do so.

    In the heat of the day, Abraham and Sarah found visitors appear. The heat of the day. After this past weekend, moving all of our stuff into the house just in the morning, not even at the hottest part of the day, I don’t know that I can imagine sitting at the entrance to my TENT and having the understanding to offer to engage the entire household in the amount of work needed to prepare a reverent meal. This is certainly more than bringing a basket of blueberry muffins to a new neighbor. This is worshipful meal preparation.

    But what Abraham, Sarah, the servants of the household, all who listened and followed in Abraham’s orders did was to receive the message of divinity in their midst, and act accordingly. Abraham goes all out to provide extraordinary care for three people who just SHOW UP in the middle of the desert. At the beginning of the reading, it says the LORD appeared but then immediately tells us these three dudes right? As readers, we can hear the story behind the story, of God working in our world in unexpected ways. When greeted with strangers, Abraham doesn’t just offer a seat and a quick bite, he bows and treats them as dignitaries or lost relatives. Maybe, if we greet guests as we might greet the Divine, we could show true hospitality.

    Over the years, this scene has been transferred to hundreds of pieces of art and icons. Abraham meeting the trinity, an prequel to the story of the prodigal son, a prequel to the vision of transfiguration when Jesus sits and speaks with divine ones. But if we take it for its own, and delve into the craziness of this story, we can find ourselves confronted with joy and hospitality, in direct opposition to the story of Mary and Martha. In Abraham, we find someone who is listening for the spark of God when he is sitting at the entrance to that tent. What was he doing there? Immediately for this story, is the story of Abraham circumcising all the men and boys in his household as a part of holding a covenant with God who had committed to make of him a great nation, to increase his descendants… at the age of 99. I certainly have no experience with circumcision, but I don’t have to be much of an expert to guess anything at age 99 would be extremely painful. And then immediately, Abraham receives a slew of visitors and shows them full hospitality. Can we live that kind of life open to the calling of the spirit, even in our most painful moments?

    But then there is the story of Mary and Martha. And the generations of those who have disparaged poor Martha for being preoccupied with what it takes to create that kind of generous hospitality when Mary is JUST sitting there. I can relate to that kind of thinking. How many of us have been the lead organizer on an event, a family reunion, a thanksgiving meal and knew all the tasks to be done, but didn’t think anyone else was helping enough? There are ten more things to do before we are ready, and NO ONE is helping me, right? We become our own chief advertisers of how we have been slighted. And someone else should feel guilty. “Tell her then to help me!” Martha says. But we get rebuked by Jesus in this story who says Mary is doing the “better part” in this translation. Ouch. So sitting around and talking is better than doing all the work? That doesn’t seem fair. It’s a hard road the road of Martha-ism, filled with self-indulgent woe.

    But what is the Better part? That is left a little ambiguous. If Sarah and Abraham’s household choose the better part of sitting and not doing anything, we wouldn’t have a story of extra ordinary hospitality.

    In a world of billions of people, who speak billions of words, listening is a deep task. One might say there is too many words. Words of preachers and politicians, friends and loved ones, children and elders. The Ancient St. Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words.” Whether or not it came from Francis, the meaning is that talk isn’t always the way to the Good News, the Gospel. When we preach by our actions, and follow through, we make a more honest statement of our faith.

    So then by that logic, why DOES Mary get the credit and Martha get chastised? She is the one DOING the work that day! As you look at the different translations and interpretations of Jesus’ statement to Martha, the King James actually has a version which resonates well. The one thing needful. Not that is says what that thing is, but that Mary has chosen it. Is it the listening at his feet? Is it the waiting?

    It is worth noting as well, that this short interlude comes immediately following the sending of the 70 to meet with others and preach by living hospitality, and the story of the Good Samaritan where the Samaritan is the only one who shows hospitality to the injured man and cares for him. And the lection puts this story alongside Abraham and Sarah’s hospitality.

    Martha is putting on the show of hospitality, and attending to her tasks. But is she honestly hospitable? Is she choosing real hospitality, or is it a sham? This is where I think the story is really leading us. To see how Mary is choosing the one thing needful, the better part, the main course. Mary has chosen not to put on a show of hospitality, but to seek true hospitality in showing and engaging Jesus in welcome. While the story does say they were traveling and entered the village, it doesn’t say that they were seeking a place for anything specific, but Martha got invested in her many tasks. Was she making a meal, was she cleaning the kitchen, was she puttering around the house? Whatever she was doing, she wasn’t aware of her guests needs and that was the critical piece that Mary had figured out.

    Both the Mary and Martha sides of this story can have pitfalls, the idleness of relying on sitting without action and the distraction of busying yourself with all the details and missing the call of spirit. Both sides can miss the message. And it is easier sometimes to miss the point than to listen long enough to hear it. The needs of true hospitality. We asked just last week, who is my neighbor? And the week before, we were asked to eat with the unexpected. And now, we are asked, what is hospitality? Is it the preparation of an extravagant meal? Is it the maintenance of the house to look as it SHOULD look? How shall we know the difference?

    In the sitting and waiting. In the quiet stillness of spirit led meditation, we will find where we are being called to act. In the silence that is needed for all of the world’s words to have meaning.

    Who is your neighbor? Who will you find space to create hospitality? This week I had a chance to visit with several others of our congregation in their homes, and then this past weekend, so many of you helped Sam, Tylah and I bring our entire life into our apartment one box at a time. In some places, we sat and talked over water. In others, just in each other’s company. In our home, we offered ice cream to overheated and exhausted movers. It doesn’t matter the place, the specifics of how we find time together, what matters is the gathering together. The hospitality offered to us, and the hospitality we offered. Listening for what is needed is hard work, but leads us to great benefits, it leads us to community. Spirit centered community.

    For all the Abraham and Sarah’s in our lives who put out an extravagant spread for the stranger. For all the Mary’s in our lives who just sit and listen, gathering and resting in the spirit. And even for all the Martha’s in our lives who work hard at providing hospitality even when we put our focus in the wrong place, in true hospitality, there is room for all at the banquet of God’s realm. And there is room for one more there too. No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey. No matter your occupation or marital status, your preoccupation or preparation. The banquet of hospitality is here in our midst. Grab a seat.

    Can we sit and listen for the voice calling us to DO something.

  • 07/14/2019Sermon 2019_07_14
    07/14/2019
    Sermon 2019_07_14
    Series: (All)

    Sermon

    In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, there are many we might identify with. It might be that we feel like the lawyer, here on a Sunday after all, here to figure out what it will take to have eternal life, or to live the right life. And the divine one answers us with a quick, seemingly impossible retort. And when we need more clarification… we get an unrelated story.

    Or maybe when we feel good about ourselves, and need some validation, we see ourselves as the good Samaritan. The person willing to put everything on the line and give for someone we don’t even know.

    Or maybe we feel like the man thrown about by life, robbed of everything and left alone, in need of the goodness of strangers but left waiting.

    It’s much harder, however, to see ourselves as the two who left him, the priest and the Levite. Do we believe ourselves capable of that kind of cruelty? This is where we must spend the most time finding the Love of God for us.

    To be loved by the divine when we seek knowledge, this seems doable. To be loved when we have done the right thing, fair and reasonable. To be loved when we are in pain and in the depths of our lives, grateful for someone to lift us up. To be loved when we have done nothing to help the one God loves? This is grace.

    Kurt Vonnegut was once asked, to tell someone it would be okay. In response he said, “welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of. You’ve got to be kind.”

    That’s it. That’s what it takes kindness. It was kindness of the one who cared for the broken man’s wounds that showed what it is to be a neighbor. But that kindness requires a few things. It isn’t just that you need to bind up the wounds of the broken, but that you must be looking for them. You must see the broken, give assistance and return to check on their progress. This is kindness. This is the divine call to be a neighbor.

    Who is my neighbor?

    Tropical Storm Barry hit Louisiana this week. Flooding and rain. Homes washed out. Families displaced. Many years ago, I went to New Orleans with a Lutheran Youth Trip. It was a return trip for the group, who had held the previous youth event there as well, right after Hurricane Katrina. When millions were displaced, lives ruined and massive reconstruction needed. One of the poignant memories I have of that trip was someone asking why some people didn’t leave their homes. The warnings were there. And the answer? If you don’t have money for gas, food, or transportation, then how are you going to leave? Many of those whose lives have been devastated by hurricanes are those living paycheck to paycheck. Certainly those who are homeless are also affected, and those who had a way to get out still had homes flooded, but those who just make it work. These are the ones who feel like they have hope, only to have it dashed on a single unexpected expense, or… hurricane.

    But Who Jesus is my neighbor?

    After immigration raids were announced, thousands protested this week the increase of tension for a community already living in fear. Because of US immigration policy, thousands of families have been detained for months for legally requesting asylum. Fleeing lives of fear in home countries, they came to seek a chance at education, peace, equity. It isn’t about creating unrest, it is about wanting as all want, to provide a chance at life for future generations. I have a pastor friend who is highly involved with the immigration crisis on the border who has worked on both sides in Mexico and here in the US, and she speaks of the desire for opportunity that is wanted. For children to know compassion, and peace in their lives and yet have been met as the traveler in our story with violence

    But who is my neighbor?

    Last Sunday, the US Women’s National Soccer Team made history as wining the most women’s FIFA world cups. Four wins, and in the history of the world cup, that means half of the titles have been won by the US. That’s an amazing achievement for any person, any team, any country. It should be a source of pride that our players are that skilled. But immediately after winning, a renewed vigor arose to establish equal pay scales for the US mens and women’s teams. A very clear boundary has been made for years that privileges the men’s team by millions of dollars. Is it fair many ask that these extremely highly skilled professionals not be given what is equitable? In an era of an increased awareness of the need for equity, the uniqueness of this battle has been with the great disparity between the success rates for women’s and men’s soccer in international play. And it forces us to ask the question, why at the outset were women paid less? Why is misogyny allowable at this point in history?

    Who is my neighbor?

    Our neighbors surround us with little stories of triumph and pain, national and international tales of finding or surviving with hope. The world cries out for justice, but more than that, it calls out for kindness. For recognition of the other who is at our table, the door, or across the way. When we imagine the world of the traveler on the road, can we see it through our eyes today? Can we listen deeply for the word of the divine blessing all people equally? Can we take a step back from our own lives to find God in the mix?

    In the story of the Good Samaritan, we have a political battle of wills. Will the right person act right, or will the person demonized be the one who alerts us to our loss of humanity?

    As I read some of those examples, did you start feeling like the poor traveler, broken by the world problems, and left in a ditch alone, begging the question who will help? I know I have at times this week, just sat and wondered, when God might appear in that Good Samaritan I need in my life. From where will my salvation come? If I’m honest though, as much as it pains me to hear it, I’m not that traveler. I am protected by layers of privilege and blessings of birth that keep me out of that ditch. Layers that allow me to, if I choose, act like the Priest and the Levite, ignoring the cause of another. And yet, my faith story compels me to seek out the Samaritan, to envision a world where we all live into our destinies of compassion and show kindness. Where there is no one ignored for sake of time, or lack of interest. Where there is no question that the pained and broken will be cared for.

    For see, there was another character in the story I didn’t mention when we began. Yes, there is a priest, a Levite, a traveler, a Samaritan. And then there is the Innkeeper as well. Someone who receives the broken with promises of payment for responsible action. A corrupt innkeeper might have pocketed the money and sent the broken man on his way. An ethical innkeeper would see the example of the Samaritan and do what we must to help out too. The Samaritans are in many places, already out there doing the hard work of picking up the disheartened, robbed people and shedding light on their circumstances. What we can do, is to receive that message and act accordingly. To unite together in our innkeeping with others who are receiving their own travelers in need. There is God in the Priest and the Levite who turned away, but it needs to be reclaimed. There is God in the traveler who shows us that God among us needs to be cared for. There is God in the Samaritan who gets us to open our doors by showing us the reward of compassion. And there is God in us as well, for every part we play. We began our worship today with these words…"Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." - Pema is an American Tibetan Buddhist nun, and this quote is a reminder that we cannot be healers without being healed, but also that the healing is not simple. There is awareness of the whole self, the self we deny and the public self we embrace that is needed to be a healer, an innkeeper, a Samaritan. Empathy is needed, not pity, to truly stand with another. So whether it is the immigrant, the flood soaked gulf coast, or women’s equality, we need to recognize how all of these are a call for shared humanity. Without a common ground to begin, we stand at odds from one another, frozen and unable to change.

    And maybe this is the true gift of the Samaritan, equality. He saw himself as equal to the traveler and so cared for him knowing that he too may one day need compassion and empathy in his neighbor.

    Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hand of robbers? The one who showed him mercy.

    Show mercy. Love Kindness and Go into the world filled with God’s compassion.

    Amen

  • 07/07/2019Sermon 2019_07_07
    07/07/2019
    Sermon 2019_07_07
    Series: (All)

    Sermon

    How are you feeling today church? I mean it. These readings today speak directly into the heart of widening the mission and ministry of the church. They call us to seek new disciples, to take God’s authority into the world and meet others. To bear each others burdens and care for ourselves as we seek out the world as well. So really, how are we feeling today? Does that seem daunting, intimidating, unsure of where to start? All these things at once right? We know we are a smaller church, but many of you remember days of larger numbers, kids running around, full classrooms and on and on. And in those memories, we become tempted to think we have failed or are not as vital as we once were.

    This is certainly the fear line of the mainline church, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Churches are only as vital as the mission they engage in, and even churches of hundreds, even thousands can be insignificant. Numbers aren’t what matters. Vitality and awareness of mission are. In Luke, Jesus commissions seventy new disciples to walk the journey of discipleship ahead of him. To walk into new places uninvited, to invite new people to walk the journey of faith alongside them, and to share the amazing new life in faith he was sharing.

    How many of you have seen the movie Sister Act, from the 90s? It’s a Whoopi Goldberg comedy where we are supposed to laugh at the unlikelyhood of Whoopi and the old white nuns getting along so well. But in the story, is also the story of a church building itself back to vitality. There is a specific scene where the choir starts singing and the neighbors out on the street start pouring in the doors. The offering baskets start filling up as they pass down newly full aisles of people. It’s a pastors dream right? Sudden vitality and there was little the monsignor had to do of course. Doesn’t that sound lovely? I caught a bit of the movie the other night and it started me thinking about this passage from Luke where Jesus commissions seventy others to go out into the world and seek hospitality ahead of him and share the story of the kingdom of God with those on the way. But it isn’t just to hear the good music of the new choir like in Sister Act, these people aren’t coming to church necessarily, Jesus is asking the people to go out and eat with people, to test their willingness to receive strangers.

    Jesus didn’t have a church building to support, or bills to pay, this we know. So when he calls the people to go out and change the world, it is a pretty different call than the one we hear here. But what is the same is the passion for the work. That is at the heart of the call to discipleship. Passion and hospitality.

    In the book “The Turnaround Church” Mary Louise Gifford writes of a transformation in her church which went from 25 members to full pews again and the work that it took to get there. It takes a lot of flexibility and freedom for a congregation to change from death to life. And there is a lot to her story. We are in a wonderful moment, wonderful and maybe scary moment in the world where the purpose and execution of church has changed. Those outside the church, aren’t looking for the worship service as much any longer. They are looking for something else. Action perhaps, or advocacy, or a focus for their positive energy. It isn’t just about being good at being a church, it’s about being a church that does good too. The bar for churches has shifted in recent decades. It’s about, as author Gifford wrote, “developing leaders who can inspire action in others. This positive energy is infectious”. That’s the bar for churches today, create infectious positive energy. What a glorious vision of the world today. And what a wonderful image to create. Can you imagine being the place that is known to share infections positive energy?

    17 The seventy[a] returned with joy” our scripture exclaimed. While the work they did might not be the work we are used to, getting demons to submit and treading on snakes and scorpions, the feeling is certainly something we can relate to. When was the last time you had to do something very hard, or had to keep two very different groups of people happy and it felt as if you were walking among sleeping rattlesnakes? Or that you knew so well that what you were doing was right that it was as if angels had helped you overcome tremendous odds to create a future. This is the feeling of the seventy returning to Jesus. They were told they could carry no money, no extra clothes and just go and share the message of the Kingdom, get people to eat them. That’s what they were to do, and they are so overjoyed with their success that they have trod on snakes and scorpions!

    How are we feeling today church? Have we overcome, are we ready to be that overjoyed?

    An important factor in the work the new disciples are doing is that they are leading by invitation. And this is something we can learn as well, how to create a culture of invitation and use that culture to the advantage. For as much as we need to be present in the community telling the story of this church, we also must commission ourselves to all be inviters. Not just to those we know, but to those we don’t know. Personal invitations are the main reason people will attend a specific church, and often stay because of that invitation. It isn’t just to worship though too, it is the invitation to other events and programs that help fully show the life of the church that people might be interested in.

    And, here’s a harder part. That culture of invitation, has to become so pervasive that community members, businesses, non worshipers know us so well as to be able to recommend to someone who is looking. Because the honest truth is that most of us aren’t going to have someone come up to us and ask for a church recommendation. These requests most often come to those outside the church. I had a hair dresser once, who was the reason a couple of people came to visit a previous church. Can we be well known enough that the pizza places out here on main would know to recommend us? Would they recommend us for our work, for our spirit, for the kindness with which we receive guests, for the way we care for each other?

    The church is a complicated organism. Caring for others outside the church is just one part of church life. Even Jesus had to care for the original disciples at the same time that he engaged new ones. But Jesus didn’t have to deal with much of the institution. In fact, his life was about de institutionalizing. The church that developed after him however, could not have sustained that kind of freedom. Just by the time of Paul, we already were maintaining the institution and hoping to keep the spirit of innovation in Jesus name. The story of Galatians is a church in crisis. A church that needs to be turned around, to be refocused so that it might find a way to thrive. And that letter, that story of rebirth, concludes with compassion for one another. A great reminder from scripture that even in the midst of hard times, or when the work of the world seems overwhelming, we always must remember to find radical compassion for our neighbors, this time the neighbors inside the church. Certainly Paul wants the community of Galatians to carry their own weight, have pride in their individual achievements, but he also wants to remind the people that they need to hold some space for the needs of the person next to them in the pew. How can we better support our fellows at the same time we seek outside the church to develop new things? The Galatians were finding themselves preoccupied with the letter of the law, bogged down with circumcision and rules rather than the spirit of compassionate life in community Jesus sought to teach and embody. In his analysis, Paul is not critical of individuals in the church, as he offers some practical instructions on life in community –Christian community. Life based in the spirit of the messiah, a vision, a hope and the new creation there. In the midst of whatever the crisis of the young church really was, Paul encourages the people to give of themselves in faithful service, gratitude, and humility. This is how they get their message out into the world, with compassion, not arrogance, making oneself better than a neighbor. He reminds us that compassion is a practical necessity that will stand above law and invite grace in action, joy in the spirit. It respects the dignity of all human beings. And what’s more, Paul is so certain the church needs to hear this that he takes over the writing himself!

    It is with blessing that Paul, and Jesus, and the characters of Sister Act want us to build a bigger vision of church. In the words of Paul, “As for those who will follow this rule- peace be upon them.” As Jesus told the seventy, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” Peace is the invitation to hospitality and compassion, and the cornerstone of life in a turnaround community. Peace to the neighborhood comes with an awareness of the needs of the community and the work to meet those needs. So again, I ask the question again. How are you feeling today? Are you ready to spread peace, to bear one another burdens, to harvest the world and share the message of the unending love found in the kingdom of God?

  • 06/30/2019Sermon 2019_06_30
    06/30/2019
    Sermon 2019_06_30
    Series: (All)

    Sermon

    As you might have noticed on the backs of your bulletin, this Sunday is Open and Affirming Sunday, a chance to celebrate the Open and Affirming Covenant that each ONA church has created to felly welcome and include the LGBTQ community. And at the end of the national Pride month, it provides a chance to engage with the world outside the church in bringing more volume to the needs of the queer community in the church. We celebrate this day with vigor to show to the world that not all Christians are homophobic. Though too many of the church wide voices are still unwelcoming, we can stand bolding in our faith that calls us to love all people and all journeys as a path to the divine.

    For those who have been historically disinvited to the banquet of life in the kingdom of God, celebrating this annually ensures that the message of real love is heard.

    This year, the scriptures speak of freedom and following Jesus on the not so easy road. Freedom in Christ as Paul writes about in the letter to the Galatians is exactly the message we all need to continue to hear each day. Christ has set you free, so take your stand! As it says as translated in the Message tells us. God has called us to live a free life. But freedom doesn’t mean our self centered desires are free to run the day, that is not freedom, but bondage to selfishness. No Freedom here is about being in relationship with those around us. Loving others as we love ourselves. Freedom in relationship doesn’t allow room for getting our own way all the time. It’s not about competition, there is no shortage of love in God’s kingdom, there is room for all to have free love.

    This past week, Sam brought The Original Warm Fuzzy Tale home, a children’s book about a world in which everyone has an unending bag of warm fuzzys, a good feeling, a compliment, something you can give one another that makes you feel loved. But instead of continuing to share these loving experiences, the people turn to fear that they will run out. And when that fear comes in to their lives, their generosity of love diminishes. They develop a paranoid loneliness, a spirit of competition, divided homes, all consuming yet never satisfied wants.

    But when the people live in kindness, the fruit of compassion and joy pervades. Much as Paul writes to the churches in Galatia. What happens when we live God’s way? Affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a wildness to stick with things, a conviction that basic holiness permeates. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

    This is the life the Galatians were called to, This is the life of the Warm Fuzzies, this is the life we are called to. This is the life some in our community, and many in the world we have not met have been denied. And my heart hurts for those who have been denied the Warm Fuzzies, compassion.

    This week, I changed the sign out front to share a new message, one I think that speaks to Open and Affirming Sunday and why we continue to celebrate it, even though….”everyone” knows our stance.

    The quote, "Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it's a good place to start." Comes from NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in the NBA. He played for over ten years before coming out. His words speak to us here today as the need for more conversation and openness to others is needed in our world. It is one thing for me to stand up here each Sunday and preach a gospel of love, it is another thing entirely for all of us to go from here, filled with that good news of compassion to share that with others. To share a spirit of openness with our Muslim, or Jewish, or Atheist/Agnostic neighbors without trying to convert them. To share that openness for dialogue with neighbors of all races, abilities, gender expressions, or nationalities without it becoming a battle of one-upmanship. To be an ally to people wherever they are, whoever they are on their journeys.

    Openness has helps us come together to start conversations about what's happening in our world, discuss problems at our local, state and national levels, and to bring awareness to a multitude of issues from all sides. Openness can be a start to disarming a more powerful foe: hate. If someone is willing to listen with an open mind despite a difference in ideas or opinions, offer them a listening ear in return. That simple willingness to truly hear another person whole heartedly and from a place of cooperation can be the catalyst to change in a positive direction. Divided we accomplish nothing: together we can build greatness.

    Or as Paul says here, We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. Amen to that. A big LGBTQ friendly Amen.

    In our Gospel text today, however, the openness to dialogue in Galatians seems at odds a little with Jesus’ own attitude to his followers, the ingroup even. While Paul is certainly speaking volumes to the need for advocacy in the ally community to stand with those at risk or being persecuted, Jesus’ attention seems to be elsewhere, and the forgiving understanding nature we might remember Jesus having is gone.

    When they are met with a lack of hospitality by the Samaritans, his disciples seem to have lost all memory of forgiveness and instead ask for retribution. Something Jesus certainly has not been about. And for that we certainly can give thanks. Jesus is preaching to his people in that moment, a volume of non-violent resistance. This is turn the other cheek in terms of hospitality. Or as Jesus has told them in an earlier part of the story in Luke, -if someone won’t receive you, shake the dust off your feet as you leave town.

    But to these new followers, these people coming up to join the traveling crowd, his patience seems to be wearing thin. Are you really ready to rough it? He questions these two people and their intentions for the journey. It isn’t for the fame or glory that he is willing to bring people along. Jesus wants commitment, and he wants it immediately. To the “but firsts” on his way, he is curt and short. But he is certainly indicating that Those who follow in his path will not have an easy road. They may find that they have no place to call home either physically or culturally, the world may turn against them and these few short phrases preserved here seem to be sharing with us that feeling of being uneasy with the path. In this country, in this day and time, it isn’t as hard to be a follower of Jesus as these folks here are shown. Even the best inns are likely to have a Christian Bible in the drawer. Churches are on every street corner just about, and while denominationally the UCC is not large in the US, the overwhelming number of Americans would still identify as Christian. Certainly funerals and the honoring of the dead are a part of our ministry, unlike the brush off Jesus gives that man. Times have changed. And while I’d love to say that we have moved past an era of Christian persecution, we haven’t. We are still in an era of Christian persecution of other Christians for having the right belief. And we are well into an era of Christians AS the persecutors. So while Jesus statement to get a move on and seize the day aren’t as applicable to many of our faith tradition, his advice here is quite apropos for the LGBTQ community.

    To steer clear of violence, to embrace suffering for the sake of another, to refuse the comfort of privilege or status, these are things our siblings still need to hear. God’s vision and mission are, to say the least, countercultural; the full inclusion and participation of all people here on earth. Not waited for after death, but a present experience of life. Possibly, the hope of the kingdom, the vision and misson God has given Jesus run contrary to the natural human instructs for preservation, safety and comfort. To do the work of justice seeking for all people, Jesus, the disciples, those who have claimed to be followers of Jesus for thousands of years, the LGBTQ community and allies have had to choose the path of MOST resistance, not least. To make a way through pain, or humiliation, or lost community. In this regard we might detect something of a truth in advertising element to Jesus’ rebuke of his would be followers. Those who would embrace Jesus and his mission must be under no illusions of what it will mean for them, and how that work is entwined with the care of all of our neighbors. Those who wanted to follow were putting limits on willingness to follow, after I do this, if I can do it… The call to discipleship isn’t simple.

    Over my life, I have been told often how friends who stand up for me to those who revile the LGBTQ community. One common refrain is “Would you choose to be gay?” If it was a choice, would you choose persecution? And if the answer is no, then the response is always, then why would you think that so and so would choose it, therefore it must be okay because we would not choose injury. And there is some truth to that line of logic. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. Would we choose persecution? Well, Jesus here says we should. He says that for the sake of that future hope, his followers should put themselves in places where they will have to deny their familial obligations, where traditions and relationships of the past should be left in the dust to seize the day and create a new family.

    And so maybe this is true too. If I could choose, would I choose to be gay? The honest truth is yes, I think I would. Because there is much that is gained by a society that includes people who stray outside one line or another, and these boundary crossers are valuable in moving innovation, technology, art, justice, compassion forward in the world. And the act of straying outside the lines, the knowledge that what you are doing transgresses a boundary other humans have created shows us that change is possible. That diversity and uniqueness are valuable, God divined alternatives to false visions of homogeny and sameness.

    I would choose to be gay. And I would choose to stand up for what is right for the hetrosexual community. And the differently abled community. And the black and brown lives that matter. I will stand up for equity and God’s compassion.

    And…

    And, I will continue to be challenged by doing that work on God’s timetable. Not my own. Of listening to the voice that pushes me forward without telling that voice I have to get the dishes done first. I will continue to be challenged to live on God’s time. “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s Kingdom off until tomorrow. Seize the day.”

    Seize the day of not just acceptance, not just tolerance of difference, but an invitation of uniqueness to flow in our world. For God’s realm to come here on earth and include all the people torn down by hatred, the trans and queer siblings who are misunderstood, the immigrants scapegoated by politics, the alcoholic with a single day sober, the poor person told it is their own fault. Seize the invitation to be fully human, God’s people in this time and place.

    Galatians 5:26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.”

    Thanks Paul for that reminder of grace.

    Amen.

  • 06/23/2019Sermon 2019_06_23
    06/23/2019
    Sermon 2019_06_23
    Series: (All)

    Sermon

    I am a very visual person. I’m also a major analyzer. Movies, and tv offer me much to think about and are big ways I connect to the world around me. Maybe this is true for some of you as well. Several years ago, a comic book was brought to life in the television show Legion. The story of a man who has superpowers and the insanity that goes with his specific power. And when I first heard of the show, I was immediately transported back to this story you have heard today of the man who calls himself Legion, and the insanity with which he lives. That certainly was the point in the comic book as well as the tv show, to link to the memorable vision in this text. And what a story it is…

    This scripture reading comes back to us every few years, and yet I’m not sure I have even scratched the surface of what it holds for us. The story of this man is just too fanciful for an ordered church to be able to deal with. Can you imagine a man shackled to the ground in our nearest cemetery? Can you imagine the cacophony of voices this man is being overwhelmed by? Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. When we sit here. We hear something completely different…

    They sailed on to the country of the Gerasenes. As he stepped out onto land, a madman from town met Jesus. He hadn’t worn clothes for a long time, nor lived at home; he lived in the cemetery. When he saw Jesus he screamed, fell before him, and bellowed, - not just said, but BELLOWED What business do you have messing with me? You’re Jesus, Son of the High God, don’t give me a hard time!” Time after time the demon threw the man into convulsions. He had been placed under constant guard and tied with chains and shackles, but crazed and driven wild by the demon, he would shatter the bonds. 30-31 Jesus simply asked, “What is your name?” And because he was never alone in his own head, he said… “Legion. My name is Legion,” 32-33 A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged Jesus to order them into the pigs. He gave the order. It was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the lake and drowned.-Amazing what we learn to deal with when a single man lives ages with the cacophony and the pigs cannot remain even a moment. 34-36 Those tending the pigs, scared to death, bolted and told their story in town and country. People went out to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had been sent, sitting there at Jesus’ feet, wearing decent clothes and making sense. 37-39 Later, a great many people from the Gerasene countryside got together and asked Jesus to leave—too much change, too fast, and they were scared. So Jesus got back in the boat and set off. The man whom he had delivered from the demons asked to go with him, but he sent him back, saying, “Go home and tell everything God did in you.” So he went back and preached all over town everything Jesus had done in him.

    I’m sure you are left with even more questions than before as we re heard that story. What about the pigs? Why are the people now throwing out Jesus? What happened to that man after Jesus left? And of course so many more.

    Jesus’ journey with this man, and in fact this man’s journey are tied into a theme of restoration to community that is a frequent return throughout the gospels, where Jesus takes the healing to the community level. It isn’t just that this man needs to be released from his chaos, but that the community must also be healed to live with him again. It isn’t just a story of a miraculous healing of someone who is having a psychotic break. It is a community that has allowed itself to walk away from a member of their family. The man has lost himself in a cacophony of demonic voices, and the community has been lost to the cacophony of alienation.

    And when he is healed, I’d imagine a sigh of relief running through the whole town. But also, possibly, a sigh of another kind. An awareness of the injustice they had done to this man, even in trying to do right by him. Can they live with the fact that they had chosen to chain him and restrain him on the outskirts away from humanity, surrounded by death? In restoring the man to wellness, Jesus doesn’t allow him to go on the road with him in gratitude, as so many others do. No, in this case, he tells the man to remain. To live and share and be IN community the rest of his life. To essentially, surround the community with HIS presence, even as he was shunned. It’s not easy, the life of remaining in a hard place, surrounded by people who have done you wrong, even if it is out of an attempt at kindness.

    Oppression and injustice, fear, confusion. A new cacophony must emerge from this relationship to push out the feeling of being ill at ease both sides may feel and truly find a welcome home.

    This past year, as I began this transition between my former church and this wonderful community, I decided to do something very different, to drive for Lyft. I mean, how hard could it be, I had time on my hands, needed some extra funds and had a working car. As I drove, I got to know, even for just a very short moment, a very different community than the one that I typically worked, celebrated with and shared life together. And what I found, was that much of my passengers would talk about being in recovery. Some shared their lowest moment, when they knew they needed help, or would talk about how many days sober they had now, or how excited they were to get back a license, or off probation. All of these passengers shared about being overwhelmed in ways I had never experienced, and that mirror the experience of the tormented man in Gerasene. Maybe some of you have known that life, maybe you haven’t. But the experience of Legion, has certainly not been left to history. And the need to be restored to community has also certainly not been behind. In fact, maybe more than ever, community is in need of being called out, supported, called to account for the past, so that we might all find ways to approach the future with mutual respect.

    One commentary I read this week asked, “Are you overwhelmed by the voices raging at you from inside and out? Denigrating identity and driving you to places of extreme loneliness or despair”

    For so many reasons, we are called out as NOT ENOUGH every day, every moment. Transgender rights are being struck down in places small and large. Racial tension and injustice are rising every day. Or maybe it is just to the expectation of having it all, of being a perfect parent, having the good yard and house, feeling confident at work. At all times, in all places, we are told we are not enough. We are enslaved to an impossible vision.

    If you get the weekly email from Paul in the office, you might already know that this week, was the celebration of Freedom Day, Juneteenth, a reminder of the enslavement of humans that is part of our history in this country. Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery. It is a reminder to us that even though the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s executive order was signed on January 1, many were still enslaved for two and a half years after. For today’s world, of instant gratification and communication, this feels unsettling.

    In our reading today, we have that unsettling piece of sending the pigs off the cliff. And while there is much we could say about it, it also serves as a hanging discomfort out there to keep us from thinking we can be as good as God. That WE would certainly be above reproach, if only WE had been there. In the same way, the remnants of slavery, and injustice nag at our national history to remind us to BE BETTER. To think in all ways, at all times of the justice we find in our faith story, and to move forward with the presence to say that we can stand with all those who are currently living with injustice and pain, and not turn our back on them. To tell those children who are still separated from parents as part of current immigration policy that there is more we should and can do to remain with them. The man formerly called Legion is that reminder to his community and to us that justice for one must mean a call to justice for all, if we can remain focused on relationships of equity. In the hymn “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the African American National Anthem, author James Weldon Johnson calls us to this vision of hope through community. So much so that Beyonce even used it last summer at the Cochella music festival.

    Out of the gloo-my past, till now, we stand, at last, where the light gleam of our bright, star, is cast… God of our weary years, god of our silent tears.”

    These words, call us to a common call for justice, BE BETTER. Not just because we might be the man afflicted by demons, but we ARE also the community who restrains him in his chaos. God of our weary years, God of our silent tears.

    In the gospel we hear the good news that the voices of injustice and fear do not have the last word. God claims us once, again, always as beloved family members. Jesus gave the man responsibility and authority to communal change. He gave him, not power, but testimony. Just as all those in recovery who would share their testimony of strength with me as a stranger in their life, the man, and we are called to be that living testimony too. A living testimony of one who has been healed and restored.

    The story of Legion and why it is so memorable for me is that he gives us a different perspective on the resurrection we find at Easter with Jesus. We are living in an after Easter world where resurrection has been announced, but in this story, we can see another vision of moving from death to life. From the cemetery to the town center. Whether it is the chaos of the brain that pulls someone from community, or oppression, rebirth is possible. Rebirth for all.

    And in that comic book, TV show I referenced before, there too is a story of rebirth and rebuilding of community. Into the middle of the story of mental illness and fantasy, of chaotic worlds and taking sides, is the story of a fragility and healing. A fragility and healing of living out our testimonies.

    Or as Paul wrote to the Galatians in our first reading of the day, “ In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. We are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ.” Let us live out that life of witness to unity and relation as we go out this day.

    Amen