Monday, August 22, 2016

Great Days fade fast

Last Friday's retreat day at National Cathedral was wonderful. I "wasted" a little time recording a podcast that didn't record properly but it was still a lovely day. This week, back to meetings, conference calls, visits, appointments, planning...but not a full sermon for one last week of Community Worship. It has been delightful in so many ways.

To see a full sanctuary each week, to visit a different church and hear a different preacher, to get to know others from our neighbor churches, this is the delight of August in Arlington, VA. So many have told me they want us to continue to do this! and perhaps best of all, the choir! A real community choir of full strength (for small churches) is a real gift.

This coming Sunday (27th) we meet at Lubber Run Park Amphitheater followed by a picnic at the pavilion. Another delight.

Meanwhile there is so much fall planning to do. I'm still struggling to design some meaningful Christian education in a format that works for today's churchgoers. How do I structure time beyond Sunday worship when it is so hard to get people to come any other time? (Unless there is food or a service project involved.) So we are working on some book group ideas that alternate, using Brethren Voices TV, maybe a Bible study where people bring their questions for us to wrestle with, and some engagement with Messenger magazine, our denomination magazine. Planning this (along with monthly "Big Sunday" which is Intergenerational) takes more time than I seem to have. But that's the work of summer's end and early fall. = Always!

For now, memories of a day of sabbath rest, worship, and quiet.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Spiritual Retreat

Spiritual Retreat Days are a part of my contract. I am to take one per month. I love the idea of renewal and refreshment on a monthly basis...but it doesn't happen. When your week is portioned out by scripture groups, regular visits, stops at the gym for fitness, evening meetings, weekly study of scripture, sermon writing, worship planning and scheduled appointments, it is hard to find a whole day to free up. Somehow that seems a luxury for which there is never enough time. What do I give up? Who do I put off, not visit, when does the sermon writing happen? and How can I write a sermon without spending a day reading and studying the scripture and other resources?

But today I plan to go off on retreat.

It's only a day, or maybe part of a day. (Just heard about impending traffic snarls this afternoon.) But I'm about to pack my backpack with writing, and some reading, some earphones and lots of water. I so need a time of renewal to take away the snarky negativity that has built since Annual Conference. Feeling that this is more like a doctor appointment that's needed than excited anticipation. That tells me a lot!

Here goes...

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Mornings

Some Sunday mornings you are surprised by a call; major sickness in a member.
Some Sunday mornings you sit in prayer and then review your sermon.
Some Sunday mornings you read the central point...and realize you might have failed to actually make it your central point.

Thanks Eric Barreto.
“The Way” is a powerful metaphor for Christian identity. Instead of being identified by a set of beliefs, these faithful communities were known by their character in the world

Christian faith was a way of life and one that impelled individuals and communities to leave the safe confines of home and church to walk on the road God had set out. “The Way” suggests that faith is a living, active way of life.” (


Monday, March 21, 2016

Holy ---Holy Week, Batman!

I often wish I had super powers when Holy Week arrives. Or at least the enhanced capabilities of Batman. Perhaps better would be the BatCave in which to retreat! (but that's for next week)

Feet washing at ACoB
I am working on a Love Feast service for Thursday that will include stories from others and from years past. I wish I had all the replies I'm looking for, but perhaps today and tomorrow will pull it together. It will be hard to top last year's where we had characters from the past tell their stories.

Our focus has been "Telling Our God Stories" thanks to the Rev. Sarah Dorrance DMIN project, adapted for Lenten texts and Brethren peculiarity. We still have one more Sunday and some small group studies to complete.

Good Friday is an ecumenical service with our partners Bethel UCC and Arlington Forest UMC and will include all the scriptures readings plus scents and sounds. Now to find all the sounds I need. Yup, lots still to do.

But today is Easter Sermon writing at the Buzz Coffee shop. Our Lectionary Group has been so wonderful and these marathon sermon-writing days have been really helpful. It's a very supportive group that keeps evolving as friends move and 'calls' change.

Happy Birthday to Cinda Brucker who gets to have a birthday in Holy Week on top of it all! whew.

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Sermon in Pictures - Psalm 84

David Moulton

“Spirit of all holiness, come to our aid today, that we might walk with prayerful passion during these forty days wherever we go, may we know we are always with you. Lord, hear us as we pray in the name of Christ, amen”

Edward Hays Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim (Leavenworth:Forest of Peace Pub, 1989) 138 “Lenten Psalm of the Royal Road”

Saturday, February 6, 2016

the Story of Blessing

Exodus 34:29-35, Gen 12:1-5a, Luke 9:28-32 The Story of Blessing 2.7.16

DBB on 'robcast
I heard a podcast this week in which Dianna Butler Bass was interviewed about her latest book, Grounded. She spoke about the very latest Pew Research Polling that found - 49% of Americans have had a mystical experience that was transforming. The poll was just released but in 1962 it was only 22% of Americans reported a mystical experience. Is spirituality on the decline or rise?       

While these stories we heard today may seem ancient and unrelated to current events, perhaps we just aren't talking to the right people or hearing the right stories. and our focus today is on stories. 
It is our theme for Lent, “Telling Our Story”     (Rev. Sarah Dorrance DMin theme, who gets all the credit for the ideas undergirding this series.)
. . .

'The one/story we just heard from Genesis (12:1-5) is one of the earliest stories in our Hebrew-Christian heritage. It can get lost in the many tales that come after, but it is the original calling of a people.
 It is original blessing for those who come to call themselves God's People. AND adding to last week's mission statement theme, it is God's Peoples' original mission statement. "We are blessed to be a Blessing".(1)
This may be the most important story of all. It is central to what Jesus tells in word and deed as he re-enlightens people; opening their eyes to see once again the BLESSING of God. 
His message of service to others is rooted in the Gift from God of Blessing. We are blessed in order to be a blessing to others. This is why we serve.
It's a story worth telling again and again.
. . .

The story we heard previously comes early in Moses' wilderness journey with the Israelites.(Ex.34:29-34) It too has many layers built upon it and easily gets buried with the spectacular stories about plagues and passover. 
Yet this short passage is key because Moses is transformed to the point of actual shining... And he doesn't even realize it! He is reflecting God’s glory and it is too much for the people to see, so he has to cover his face.  Unusual since he is not covering before God, but covering to protect God’s people from the truly AWESOME God.
Certainly this was a shocking experience of all the people who encountered him and made this a story worth telling again and again. 
The fact that it is in our Bibles makes it a story for millennia!

. . .
The related story today, also read is from Luke 9:28-32 

Clearly the story of Jesus' transfiguration (as it is known) is meant to tie him to the 'greats' in Israel's history; Moses and Elijah -- showing thru the story that Jesus SHINES with God's glory, like Moses and even more so. Jesus reflects God's glory. And even tho the disciples who saw it are asked not to mention it until a later time, it is clear this story was meant to be told!
. . .

These are stories of extraordinary blessing. Blessing that so prominently reflects God’s glory that it can be seen on the face.
. . .

What strikes me about all these is the way God chooses to reveal God's self through these great stories. .
 Through the stories of people's lives
*** If stories are how God reveals God's self, then OUR stories are the place to see where God is working in our world today! *****
. . .
Think about the ways you understand God. now 
Tell me a big story that has helped you know God.

1st - What Big Story is at the heart of how you know God?
is it a Bible story or is it a story from your life - a spiritual experience that helps you know God?

What are God's Big Stories? (we’ve been touching on the Big Stories in Big Sunday and we have two more.)
God "saves" God's people from slavery in Egypt. How does that story help you know God? What does it tell you about God?
God continues to stay with this people, even after they build a golden calf to worship. 
What does it tell you about God?

Of course we top it all off with Jesus as a self-revelation of God’s presence in humanity.

If you didn't have all these stories about God, what would you know about God? And how would you know?  (earth?)

We need the biblical stories to tell us about God. When we hear one of these stories, isn't our tendency to imagine ourselves in the story? Somewhere? 
  • We wonder if we could up and leave home, like Abraham did
  • We wonder what escape from slavery would feel like if you were running across the Reed/ Red Sea?
  • We wonder how a people could wander in the wilderness until a whole generation died - pretty much allowing only their children into the promised land.
  • We wonder what it would be like to look at Moses when his face shown too brightly to keep looking at.

Stories are how we learn to be in relationship with God.
We learn that God saves.
We learn from Jesus that God continues to save.
We learn that God cares about humans.
And we learn that these 'great' humans of our stories are changed by their encounters with the Holy One.
Moses is "stamped with the glory that God's words evoke" and his face shines.

All God's people have forever been shaped by Moses' experience on the mountain. The 10 great 'words' or better known as the 10 commandments shape our experience of God. "They are called 'glorious' words (like the glory seen on Moses' face) because they bear witness to the One whom heaven and earth cannot contain and yet whose glory it is to be Israel's God."
"Moses was marked with God's light - that "terrible light of God's reflected presence" that chose to live among God's people.

Can you feel your chest swell a little bit with excitement to be included as part of God's people? 
We are grafted in, as St. Paul wrote. We are witnesses to God's Story and we are meant to reflect God's light into all the dark places of our world.
We aren't different than Moses in many ways, we are broken and very human, yet we too are meant for shining. Numbers 6:25 (insert) "God who makes God's face to shine!"
 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites:You shall say to them,
 The Lord bless you and keep you;
 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace

But just how do we do it?
How do we take the BLESSING of love we know and share it?
of course
We Share love by loving others and serving others, but how does that tell them the richness of this story, this heritage of which we are a part?

***We do it by sharing OUR stories. This is our purpose during Lent that begins this Wednesday. Each week as we work through the biblical story, we reflect how our own stories intersect with God's story of saving love.

We who know God, who have an intimate relationship with God, we need to realize that we REFLECT God's Glory. Even if we don't think about it that way. Each time you act with love you are reflecting God's love. Each time you tell your story of God in your life, you are reflecting God’s story with humanity.

Mystical Experiences have been with humans always as they have encountered the Divine Presence.
Mister Eckhart was one of the Great Mystics of the past. He wrote, "We should not think holiness is based on what we DO but rather on what we ARE, for it is not our works that sanctify us, but WHO sanctifies our world."

We were made to be a blessing, just like God first told Abraham.
The stories of God's interaction with humans tell us about God and help us see how our own stories are part God's BIG story with humanity.
Our stories are Our starting place.
Our story is the way we see God working in the world.
Lent is the perfect Time for you to spend time with the Great Mystery, we call God.

Think, Journal or talk to a friend this week.
What are the Big stories of you life?
Where do you see God in your life?
What have these experiences taught you about who God is?

We each reflect God, WE each are part of the ways God reveals Godself in the world. This makes our stories extremely important. Important to know and important to share.
Let us commit to learning, and telling our stories this Lent so that we too may reflect the glory of God.

(1)  nod to soon to be Rev. Dr. Sarah Dorrance and the Rev. Dr. Jeff Carter
Resource for quotes
Thomas Currie, Feasting On The Word - Theological (Louis:WJK,2009)434-438

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Best Gifts

ASK - Who in your family gives the best gifts?
(me: Lowell used to give the best mixed CDs, a little 'old school' for today's world of streaming music and mp3 files on flash drives, but I still love my old cds labeled ”Xmas Mix for Mom")

ASK: What was the BIGGEST gift you’ve ever received. (you define biggest in your own way)

Jesus gifted the newlyweds with Jars of wine taller than I am, certainly those rank as a superior wedding gift. In the context of John’s story where there are always at least 2 levels of meaning. What might Jesus be telling US about a gift to come?

Paul is talking about a different kind of gift.
ASK: What is a spiritual gift?

Paul is mainly referring to the gift called, "Speaking in tongues" 
(ASK what is known about it?)
Before getting to his point, Paul tells his listeners that there are MANY GIFTS but ....(Ask) "same spirit". We just sang it. AND he says that there is a way to tell if the gift is from God. 
ASK: What is it? - (whether the gift points to God's glory, or is used to enlarge the Kingdom in some way.) 
Paul is likely being a bit sarcastic when he says, anyone who says “Jesus is cursed,” isn't being given words from the Holy Spirit, but certainly it is true. If one speaks and uses their gift in ways opposite to the way of Jesus, it can hardly be a spiritual gift.

.. . .We have to get used to spirit language when we read Paul. We said a couple weeks ago that Arlington COB's name for God is love. We also don't have a strong name for Holy Spirit. Maybe just 'Spirit', maybe we use “God" rather than talk about spirits, because we aren't a place that tosses around spirit-language easily. (There is Good and Bad in that, but not today's point.) We have to get used to Paul's language because he is QUITE comfortable with spirit-language.

When Paul says, "No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. He is referring to the standard Xian confession. In other words, you can't BE a Christian unless the Holy Spirit is in you and working in you and speaking thru you. 
ASK: How do you feel about that?
Do you feel that the Holy Spirit is in you? and speaking thru you?
(Scary?  A hint of what is to come in his letter.)

Before Paul lists a sampling of gifts (it is, a sampling, & not meant to be the complete list, if there even is such a thing) he says 
"Gifts are given to each person for the common good." THIS is at the heart of our message today. So let it simmer in you a little while we continue to seek Paul's gems of wisdom.

Let’s look at another aspect of Spiritual Gifts. Congregations are gifted in certain ways, just like individuals are.

Congregations have different gifts as a whole..
ASK: name some… Can you name a particular congregation that has a particular spiritual gift that is obvious?
Fellowship COB - Debbie's 'home church'
In the December DunkerPunksPodcast, (if you haven't heard, the DPP is one of our new ministries that reach far beyond the walls of this church and city!)
In the... Pastor Shayne Petty talked about congregations that have a passion. He said, “The typical Black Christian congregational  experience and the progressive Christian congregation interested in social justice seem to stand separate. 
While conservative evangelical congregations have the gift of being filled with the spirit and are fired up for Christ and 
progressive congregations are passionate for social justice, 
we have trouble finding Christian congregations who hold both passions; for Christ AND Justice.

Have you noticed that to be true?

Do you know about the Arlington Assembly of God? What do you usually think about when you hear about an Assemblies congregation? 
. . . Tongues, ecstatic experiences, come to mind.
These are the specific Gifts of charasmata that concerned Paul when he wrote this letter to the Corinthians.
Assemblies congregations are usually those that are ‘fired up for Christ’ as Pastor Shayne termed it.
Arl. Assembly of God offers a hot meal 5 nights/week for homeless people or anyone who needs it. Think about the work involved in that endeavor… every week.
They also teach entry level computer skills and I think they have a retirement community they sponsor. Perhaps they are the congregational type that Shayne was searching for. -- fired up for X AND justice!

We don't need to do what Arl Assembly does, they are right up the road and serving our area. But we DO need to do what God is calling us to do. We do need to use the gifts God has given us. 

ASK: What is OUR gift as a congregation?
.  .  .
maybe we need to think on this for a little while, but not too long because action is required. 
We “SIFTED” ideas this weekend that fit into the priorities we named as most important for our congregation.
Those priorities are clues to where our gifts lie because they are our passions.

In Corinth, (recall?) people evidently got side-tracked from their mission with a problem of RANKING of spiritual gifts (and therefore people) Certain people got higher status based on what gift they had. (Status was SO important in 1st century world.)
ASK: What Spiritual gifts would you rank highest?
NONE? - his point is no spiritual gift is higher than any other.

While some in Corinth were ranking the tongue speakers highest, he says NO, Tongue-speaking is not highest and doesn’t even stand-alone, but must be paired with the gift of interpretation for it to have meaning.

Yet, Speaking in Tongues, or ranking it highest is not our problem
ASK: What is our problem related to spiritual gifts? (Prompt VV?)
(identifying our spiritual gifts)
knowing what they are, and CLAIMING our gifts.

ASK: How does it feel when someone names your gift(s)?

Since many of us saw the Vision and Vitality Team use their gifts to lead our Retreat, let me use them as an example. 
The Nominating Committee carefully choose people to call into service for the critical task of helping us discern where we are vital and what we are doing that can lead to new and renewed vision for this congregation.
They carefully picked those whom they believed fit the task at hand. You saw V&V work at the mid-November event and anymore us saw their gifts yesterday.  
in November, Their intentional choice of round tables facilitated our discussion and increased our sense of community. They made a simple lunch so we wouldn’t be distracted by too much food. Then each of them used their gifts for the best outcome for our whole congregation.

Mark facilitated that day. It was perfect. How many times have I seen Mark sit quiet then be able to say just the right thing at the right time. Certainly, this is a gift Mark has and as facilitator he is able to steer without dominating.

JoAnn - organized the room, kitchen and food that day so that everyone would feel most welcome and at ease. This is one of many gifts that JoAnn uses again and again. Not just to doing the work but also involving others in it, in meaningful ways. 
How many of us first felt a part of a congregation in the kitchen?
Yet her gifts also allowed her to be a great table facilitator. She knew when to share and when to encourage others to talk.

Suzanne had a different job that day. I know from our work together that she has the ability to take a plethora of ideas and distill them into 140 characters for the perfect Tweet. 
She has a real gift for listening and capturing key points in pictures and words. Then she “frames” what others see and hear after the event.
Suzanne documented what was said that day and those notes were key to the recommendations  V & V made to Congregational Council and later were turned into action items on yesterday's retreat.

Laura - has the amazing ability to stay quiet no matter WHAT is being said, then at just the right moment, speaks a calm and clear word. As a table facilitator, she used her gifts to help others listen creatively and respond with active listening.

Debbie - is a big picture organizer. She helped craft the discussion with key questions and process that allowed everyone to be heard while keeping the ‘work’ on task. Her own honest interest and passionate faith comes across in whatever she does. She continues to offer those gifts to us, her congregation. 

Those are just 5 people whose work has stood out in the last several months. We could sit here and do that for everyone with enough time. AND on Friday evening at retreat, we did worksheets that allowed us to name peoples’ gifts in a very creative way. 
I’m sure this information will be helpful to us as we begin working in function groups this year that include both Board member AND all of you. (That was a Plug: Be sure to fill out cards with areas of interest!)

ASK: What does it mean that spiritual gifts are given for the common good?? Is it as simple as it sounds?

You already know what this congregation is good at now. (And we will learn what other BOLD ideas God is calling us to.) 

From what you already know, tell me
ASK: what other gifts do we need to help us in our work, our “mission”? 
can you say what our mission is?

I believe the gifts God gives us is key to the mission God gives us.
A little while ago I asked how it feels when someone names your gifts? What did you say?

ASK: How can we name each other's gifts?

I encourage you to put Our congregation’s spiritual gifts on your prayer list. Pray for understanding your own gifts, pray for those you know, pray for us as a whole. and know that GOD has ALREADY given us all the gifts we need to do the missions God gives us.
All gifts are already here.. maybe our real job is unwrapping all the BIG, small and in-between gifts we already have. 

 Turn to each other now - if you can, name a gift you have seen in that person. You may not know the person near you well enough to do this, but observe, look at them right now, recall what you know, and name a gift. Look at them, what do you see? What have you noticed?
(Time: only 2 minutes)
Now turn to same person and say "I accept your ministry in the Body of Christ. Thank you."

This is just the beginning of teaching us to talk about our gifts. 
I trust that as we become more comfortable with Spiritual Gift language, we will be able to name all the gifts we see.

PLEASE stay EMPOWERED to name gifts when you see them. You may see something the individual has never noticed.

As we work together in new ways, 
within the functions of a church, 
seeking to follow God's call to A C O B, 
we WILL be given even more gifts of the Spirit.
God gives gifts that the community needs. (repeat)
God gives thegifts that the community needs
And if God gives them, we'd better use them!

While I don't have quotes this week, I rely on Feasting on The Word, Bartlett and Taylor, eds. for most inspiration. Pastor Shayne Petty can be heard on the DunkerPunksPodcast, found in podcast venues such as Stitcher, BeyondPod and on our website,