Wednesday, June 24, 2009

only a little scripture

Well, in San Diego for Conference and what a boring weather forecast. . . yeah, the most wonderful boring forecast I've ever scene. Thursday: High of 70, Friday, high of 70, and on it goes. No wonder people risk falling off into the sea every time the earth shakes out here. They are already close to heaven. Oh and incredible humus and falafel next door at the mall. Walking around the mall I felt like I was in an O.C. episode. Obviously I've been up too long. Time for bed. Too bad I can't just open the window, but I guess it's safer this way.

BTW "a little help from friends" is incredibly rewarding. We have hymnals for the Ministers' Pre-Conference event coming from Laverne and San Diego COBs with folks delivering them to us. How very wonderful it is when Brethren work together in unity. Ps. 133

Sunday, June 21, 2009

stuck in the boat in a storm

Well I missed the post this week, but I do have some sermon notes so I'll paste them in here.

“ok, admit it, you’ve been in the boat. . .we’ve all been in the boat at some point.
We were taking a normal trip across the lake, or across town.
It was a normal drive on a normal day.
Suddenly, the waves of crisis rise and threaten to swamp the boat.
Maybe it was a car that crashed into yours,
Or a call from your family with shocking news
Or a piece of mail that turned your life upside down.
It could’ve been the sudden end of a job or the death of a loved one.
Maybe it was a diagnosis for you or serious trouble for a family member.
Whatever happened it was overwhelming and potentially life changing.
Do you remember that day? Can you still see the giant waves and feel the water flooding the boat?
When it happens, we sound just like the disciples,
We cry out, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

It is a natural human response to cry out to God, even if our prayer is only an “O God, help me!”
The disciples cry echoes those we hear in the Psalms, written generations ago.

“Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever! (v. 24 Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?” Ps. 44:23-24

“Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defense, for my cause, my God and my Lord!” Ps. 35:23

“Rouse yourself, come to my help and see!” Ps. 59:4b

When our boat is threatened and the waves look like something from the movie, A Perfect Storm, we call out to our Lord and our God.

Communication is always good, any counselor will tell you such. The same is true for communication with God. Calling on God in times of trouble is natural and proper. It is best when part of an on-going communication like daily prayer, but it is good at anytime to talk with God because God welcomes us and desires to be close to us.

Notice (in the story) that Jesus doesn’t wake up and chastise the disciples for rousing him nor for asking for help. He first rebukes the storm. He does so with the same words that he uses to exorcise demons. He commands demons to cease and be silent, and they do.
The Divine Power within Jesus is stronger than the evil, which was seen as the root cause of demons and their uncontrollable behavior. Jesus has power over chaos just as the Creator did in the beginning of the earth.
“the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God* swept over the face of the waters. Then God said,”
KJV says, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

We might look closer at this story. As short as it is, there are details that help us see Jesus and more importantly understand who he is.
• Jesus wants to go across the lake, which is predominantly Gentile territory. We know Jesus’ mission is primarily to Jews, but he is not excluding anyone and this trip foreshadows the later activity of the church. Jesus crosses lakes and crosses boundaries so he can minister to everyone. It was certainly important for Mark’s original readers to hear this message of inclusion when many of them were not Jews.
• Jesus is tired and goes to sleep which shows us his full humanity. We worship the risen and exalted Lord yet it is important for us to remember in his humanity for that was and is, God’s way of connecting with God’s children. Jesus needed to rest. And in his rest we see the trust at the core of his life.
• His sound sleep implies his trust in a watchful God AND it implies trust in his disciples. You don’t curl up and go to sleep in a boat if you don’t feel safe in the hands of those in charge of keeping it afloat.
• Jesus trusts in the skills and judgment of these men who are familiar with the sea. Certainly they have been in troubled waters before and got thru them.

Jesus trusts in God and trusts in his disciples. Which may make their lack of faith seem even greater until we look closer.
Did you notice that Jesus didn’t say, “there is nothing to be afraid of.” Jan Richardson of Painted says
“The disciples were right to feel afraid. Yet their perception of reality was defined solely by the storm and only increased their experience of being overwhelmed. The presence of the storm was not the whole truth of their situation.”

But they began to panic and when we panic, judgment becomes compromised. Our ability to act with decisiveness slips and we tend to become RE- active. When adrenaline flows, ‘Fight or flight’ is our response. When they REacted, IN FEAR and PANIC, the disciples lost the ability to use their experience in the situation.

Jesus calms both the waves and the disciples. THEN he turns and asks for the source of their fears.
He had faith in them, he has faith in God. Do they NOT YET have faith?
Implied in the way he asks (at least in the Greek) is his trust that they WILL come to faith, even if they are not quite there yet. “Have you still no faith?”

And what does faith look like when a crisis hits?
What did you do when your boat swamped?
What happened after the “O God, help me!”

“Living in denial is not the same as having faith. Whatever the sources of our anxiety, faith helps to provide the tools we need to maintain our vision and to see the truth within the waves that seek to command our whole attention. Says Jan Richardson, Faith asks what is defining our reality?”
Faith challenges us to cling to the One who has power over the chaos that is swirling around us. In fact, God’s power can even be found within it.
Perhaps it is hard for us to picture this scene in today’s world. We find it hard to believe -or at least understand- this story of miraculous calming.
• It is hard for us to get our heads around miracle stories. We may not typically be literal readers of the Bible, but we hear these stories in a way that categorizes them as something that happened in biblical times and couldn’t happen today.
o A God who has power over the natural world is ok in theory but how do we really account for times when God doesn’t stop the chaos or the hurricane and people die. In our “post-Enlightenment eyes, nature works by fixed laws and anything miraculous in the natural world is an infringement of these laws. God then becomes an occasional intruder into the world. We either “have faith” or we don’t
o Intruder status limits God to a part-time player in our lives who we call on when crisis hits, “God save us” when at other times God is irrelevant.
o In this worldview, is it no wonder that people today find God incredible or not worthy of faith.”

Yet what if we remember that God is not an “intruder” in our world, but we in God’s. At least that’s the closer to the truth we can’t comprehend. God is in nature itself and do we dare limit God to what we can accept and explain? Or do we prefer to say God is only what we CAN’T explain – at least now, in this century.

Yesterday, at the jr high conference, I showed clips from Al Gore’s movie an Inconvenient Truth and within it were pictures of the earth from space.
It is incredible to see the globe on which we live. And we think we understand it, now. – when truly we are still learning about the miracle of creation and the beginnings of the universe.

How can we comprehend the creation of a human or a gnat when a spacecraft travels far out into the galaxy and looks back at the speck, which is earth.
God is far greater than anything we can imagine.

That’s what the disciples discovered in the storm. When Jesus enters in, their eyes are opened to the presence of the Divine in their midst and they are filled with fear, the kinda scared, and VERY awed, reaction humans have when they are near the Holy.

When Jesus asks the disciples, “why they don’t yet have faith?” he knows they have a lifetime of learning ahead of them but the time is coming when they will have to act on what they DO know. So Jesus keeps teaching them and leading them and TRUSTING in them so they can learn to trust in him and the God from whom he comes.
We are no different than the disciples in the boat.
We’re still trying to understand the Divine Jesus.
We really want to have faith. – we know we need it.

Because we deal with storms all the time and When Jesus enters in, there’s hope for calmer days and clearer vision, even in situations that need a miracle.

A man or woman can find a way out of addiction.
A world on the brink of war, takes a step toward peace.
Or You find a way to live, in spite of the death of a spouse that devastated your life.
Leaders of countries who have no official relations, might find a way to speak.
A path that was not visible before, in the panic of the crisis, become clear.
Or maybe A few loaves of bread feed a multitude of people.

Are any of these things less than miraculous?

It is time for our vision to clear so we can walk in faith.
It is time for us to recognize the holy in our midst, not limit that Spirit to a 2,000 year old story.
It is time for us to claim the assurance that Jesus offers.

Do we YET have faith?

Thursday, June 11, 2009


David is anointed King. Its a story for children with low self esteem, or perhaps for any of us who forget that although "mortals see the outward appearance, the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Sam.16:7) Do you ever wonder how David felt about all this? Perhaps it appeared an opportunity to get away from the smelly sheep. Maybe it was just a chance to join the rest of the world after being 'banished' to the fields with duties left to the youngest brother. As conflict begins to enter David's life, I wonder if he ever missed those quiet fields?

It is interesting that from the moment "The spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David" (1 Sam. 16:13) his life gets VERY complicated. Yes, he gets to be King eventually and that has its own complications, but along the way he is put into the service of the current king, Saul, he ends up in battle with a giant, he gets pursued and fears for his life thanks to the king's jealousy, paranoia, and "evil spirit". The story of David's friendship with Jonathan is lifted up and made part of children's curriculum. (Let's all turn against our parents in favor of our best friend. . .?) We often skip some of the most interesting parts of David's life.

David rose and fled that day from Saul; he went to King Achish of Gath. The servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” David took these words to heart and was very much afraid of King Achish of Gath. So he changed his behavior before them; he pretended to be mad when in their presence. He scratched marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard. Achish said to his servants, “Look, you see the man is mad; why then have you brought him to me? Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to play the madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”1 Samuel 21:10-15
David received God's blessing and answered God's call and life was exceedingly difficult, "interesting" at least. How do we received God's call? Do we only expect the blessing part and forget about the difficulties? Are we 'up' for "interesting" or must our callings be sweetness and light?

God's call comes to all people, thankfully in less dramatic form than David's call. We are all challenged to respond in trust, humbled by the fact that we are the chosen of God and hopefully prepared for all the "interesting" adventures that are part of God's call.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Out Of My Head

Tomorrow's sermon:
John 3:16 may be the best known verse in all the Bible, certainly in the N.T. We usually hear it apart from the story of Nicodemus and the two are closely related because Jesus is making a point that Nicodemus has trouble understanding. Jesus and 'Nic' are speaking two languages from two different worlds. After last week’s tri-language worship service, we can appreciate the difficulty of communication when people speak different languages.

I sympathize on another level with poor Nicodemus. You see, he can’t get out of his head. He’s a well-educated Pharisee and used to debating the fine points of LAW. Nic was a devout worshiper of the One God of Abraham. In fact, the Pharisees were the ones who said everyone should have to obey the same rules as the high priest and observe the same strict diets as the priest did.

Nic just believed in the letter of the law.
If it required 2 dove be sacrificed for J-walking then he would sacrifice 2 dove.
If you could only travel 4,000 cubits on a Sabbath day, then he wouldn’t take one step more. (complex computations determined the distance)
Nicodemus was much like the devout Roman Catholic homemaker in the days when it was forbidden to eat meat on Friday. She would take the family stick of butter and wrap it up on Thursday night and put it in the freezer for later use. A fresh stick would come out on Friday so that should there be even the tiniest bit of meat on the butter from a past meal, no one in her family would be committing a ‘mortal’ sin by ingesting meat.

You certainly can’t fault Nicodemus on the piety front. But he’s stuck in a literal world and as long as he hangs out with other Pharisees -other literalists,- his logic works, but when he meets Jesus, all that he knows comes into question. He realizes he has heard a prophet speak and he wants to hear more. He begins the conversation with what he knows (head) to be true,
“Jesus is a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do the signs he does, apart from the presence of God.” (Jn 3:2) Then Jesus speaks from another world view. It is as if he is speaking a different language and Nicodemus is confused.

We’ve all had those conversations that begin with the assumption that we’re on the ‘same page’ as the person to whom we are speaking.
“You know,” I say, “The folder with the bills in it.”
My conversation partner answers, “Sure I know” and we continue talking - unaware that we are each referring to a different folder until the conversation hits a point at which we look at each other strangely unable to fathom why this simple request is so hard to understand and then - - - we realize – somehow – that our reference points are different and we’re not talking about the same folder.
Oh, and when these conversations are about directions, and reference points are different - well at least one of the 2 are already lost, literally.

Jesus concern is for the LOST, for those who can’t see and hear on the Divine Level. In the other gospel accounts, Jesus speaks in parables. Stories with deep meanings and many layers - to enlighten people to the Divine way of seeing. In John, we have layers of meaning, without the parables. And Jesus’ POINT-OF-REFERENCE is vastly different than the people around him. And Jesus’ word choice doesn’t make it easy for Nic. He uses a couple words that have dual meanings.
Jesus uses the word, ανωθεν which means “From above” “from the first”, and “anew”, or “again”.
Amen, amen, very truly, I say to you, If someone is not born ανωθεν he will not be able to see the kingdom of God.
Born from above? Born anew? Born again? How can we be sure what our ears are hearing and our minds translating?
And the word Jesus’ uses for Wind and Spirit is the same word, also.

It can be confusing to us as well as Nicodemus. We have to remember, John’s gospel often has two layers to whatever is being said. We, as the readers, are often clued into the higher level, because we know the full story of Jesus life, death and resurrection. The people Jesus speaks to, whether disciples, Pharisees, Jewish leaders, or bystanders, are often at the lower level. They are trying to make sense of his words using their brain when something else is needed to help with the translation. Nic needed to get out of his head when he listened to Jesus. He needed to listen with the ear of his heart. He needed to let his gut tell him what his mind couldn’t.

We have a similar difficulties. Today is Trinity Sunday, the day when we celebrate the 3-fold nature of God. Try to explain that in a Children’s Story! I’ve heard it done this way.
H20 is water… Here we have water, H20
It is also ice… which is H20
And it is steam…if we apply enough heat to the water in a kettle we get steam which is H20.
Three very different looking and feeling elements and yet the same compound of 2 elements, hydrogen and water, in the same combination of 2 Hydrogen molecules to 1 Oxygen. But somehow ice, water and steam is an insufficient allusion to the Almighty.

I heard another good try this week. It goes like this.
I am my parents’ daughter, my brother’s sibling and my children’s mother. I’m still Nancy, just one person with all 3 roles of daughter, sister, and mother. It’s a good effort at explaining that there are three primary ways that people have experienced the divine.

• We know of the Creator, the master of the universe, maker of all that is.
• We know of Jesus, called the Christ or messiah in whom rested the fullest expression of the divine that a human body could hold. People experienced God when they were with Jesus and so came to worship his name.
• And he promised the Holy Spirit, Paraclete, the great comforter would be with his followers to assure, guide and empower for continuing his work and his mission.
3 in 1, yet it is not an easy thing for us to get our heads around.

I don’t believe in suspending reason completely either. I think religion - good religion - has to combine faith and reason. Philosophers have differed over that concept for centuries.

Thomas Aquinas saw reason and faith as two ways of knowing.
"Reason" covers what we can know by experience and logic alone. From reason, we can know that there is a God and that there is only one God; these truths about God are accessible to anyone by experience and logic alone, apart from any special revelation from God.

"Faith" covers what we can know by God's special revelation to us (which comes through the Bible and Christian Tradition). By faith, we can know that God came into the world through Jesus Christ and that God is triune (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). These truths about God cannot be known by reason alone.

Faith builds on reason. (Aquinas said) Since faith and reason are both ways of arriving at truth -- and since all truths are harmonious with each other -- faith is consistent with reason. If we understand faith and reason correctly, there will be no conflict between what faith tells us and what reason tells us.

Yet faith and reason leave out an important component, the body. There is a knowing that comes from a deeper place than the mind whether it be reasoning about our experiences or thinking in faith. Our bodies understand some things that our heads can’t.

Last week at Arlington Church of the Brethren, we had a different experience of worship. We moved to the music and clapped for a sermon most of us couldn’t understand. We took clues from the facial expressions and the actions of people, but I think we felt something at a deeper level. There was an excitement and Holy Presence here that could be felt. There was a communal understanding of praise as we swayed and sang the simple word, “Alleluia”. It was experience that went beyond our heads.
There are times, like when we kneel to wash each others feet, that our bodies understand in a language our heads don’t receive. How is it that a candlelit sanctuary conveys the holy? Explain to me what happens when we move into a circle on Christmas eve and we each hold a small candle and transfer the light from one to another. Tell me what it is in that moment that makes it so easy to believe that a newborn baby can change the whole world.

Our bodies experience something in moments of movement that adds to what we see and hear in a way that creates an inner knowing. Along with the sound of “Silent Night” comes the acceptance of Angelic hosts and an understanding of a Creator who “enters in” to humanity.

Jesus’ said,
“The wind/spirit blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”
We don’t always know and yet, Jesus expects Nicodemus and US to understand that the point of reference of the Spirit is different than is that of the world.

The body-knowing that happens in worship is why we return here every week. It’s why we love to go to camp, it’s why we worship together rather than alone. We feel God’s presence here, when we sing together and pray together.

We feel God’s presence when we stand in God’s creation under the trees or the stars.
We understand at a deep inner level when we look to a cross and lift up our eyes that we are responding to the inner knowing that God is with us. It’s a knowing that takes us beyond the literal understanding that God is not up, nor limited to the communion table, AND YET,

At communion we celebrate God’s presence with us, not IN the elements (at least not in Brethren theology, although you are free to believe differently) because we celebrate the God who is here in God’s community.
And Christ is here in a special way when our bodies taste broken bread remembering a real body that was broken by the power of worldly authorities and yet a presence remained that could not be eliminated.
We understand with that deep knowing when we drink juice that there is life offered to us that goes beyond the blood in human veins and connects us to the God of all eternity.

“For God so loved humanity, that God sent the son of all that God is, that whoever believes, with all their body and soul, may have greater life. God did send this special presence so that humanity would be judged but that all of the world might be saved thru him.”

Saturday, June 6, 2009

An aside

Have I mentioned how much I dislike squirrels? They ate the edges of my birdseed container. They chewed away all of the edges, enough so the pouring rain we've had got in and soaked the sunflower seeds. What a smell! (almost as interesting as the mysterious cat urine smell coming from somewhere in the narthex...)

I used to like Rocky and Bullwinkle, but no more! The only flying squirrel I want to see is one coming off the clay pigeon thrower with a shotgun aimed right at it!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Holy Ghost?

We don't use "Holy Ghost" anymore. Too many connotations of Hogwarts' hallways and Casper's image I guess. Maybe we've tamed the Holy Presence as we've become accustomed to hearing about the "spirit".

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and we'll sing Holy, Holy, Holy because it has the "Blessed Trinity" language in it. And I'll try to figure out a message to share with middle elementary children. Perhaps we'll even change the paraments to white like our high church friends. But who really understands the Trinity? It's a non-scriptural doctrine that was fought over in the early Councils of Bishops. Even today it is not understood. Did God raise Jesus from the dead or did Jesus/God raise himself? Is it God's Spirit who comes or Christ's or is the Paraclete something unto itself? Or do we merely answer, "Yes" to all questions and go home to forget about it for another year?

Somehow we have to get out of our heads this Sunday without resorting to magical thinking. (We'll save that sermon for the Sunday after the new Harry Potter movie premiers.) If we want to understand the "Blessed Trinity" we must do so with our hearts and bodies, with perhaps just a little bit of our minds. Last week we had a unity service and even though most of our minds couldn't understand the Spanish or the Khmer, we knew the Spirit was there. We could feel it in the presence of our sisters and brothers. We saw it in the excitment all around us. We heard it in the clapping, we felt it as we swayed and sang "Alleluia". God's Spirit? Christ's Spirit, Paraclete? YES to all for it was the great creating spirit that made us each with different skin and language and yet all children of God. Christ's reconciling action brought us together as it brought us close to the Holy. And we were comforted in our common humanity and our need of that which is more than we are. The Holy Ghost was there, beyond our understanding and empowering us for faithful service and obedient living. It is a way we experience God with us.

At the end of the service last week, the children of all three congregations came up and led us in singing "Jesus Loves Me". They all had to be taught the song over the last couple of weeks as it is a song of the past. As they lined up, I looked out and saw the same look on every face, that delight in OUR children. The Holy Spirit was there, linking us in common experience of the Divine, even if our expressions of it are vastly different. What better definition of Trinity could there be?