Saturday, April 30, 2011

Wave of the future

This year I have been struggling with the question, "how to be 'church' other than Sunday morning". This is primarily a question for engaging what we have arrogantly called the "unchurched". I suppose my evangelical friends would call these people "unsaved". I keep running into very spiritual people who don't attend church. My question is not meant to lament that reality, but to find ways to engage people who are already spiritual.

I do question where Christian education fits into the lives of spiritual-but-unchurched people. It is a rare person who takes the time to educated themselves theologically. Some do though. Setting that aside for another post, how do congregation members connect with these people (even then I resisted the temptation to call them "other") outside the church but spiritually engaged?

Since I am typing on my new iPad (mostly to see if I can) I suggest that pad & smartphone technology hold a partial answer. Our church publishes a weekly e-bulletin which is mostly for insiders. It lists the weekly announcements from the Sunday bulletin, updated with additions from Sunday morning. It is a great reminder of upcoming events & a catch up for this who missed church. But does nothing for spiritual nurture. Our newsletter (monthly hardcopy with portions on the web) has a brief article from me but otherwise is a more detailed announcement and information bulletin. What if we published an e-news that was more devotional in nature? Should it be monthly, weekly, daily? has a daily devotional and a weekly push for sermon-writers/readers. Is there an answer in this? Should it be purchased content or part of the pastor's job? All good questions I hope to struggle with along with the idea of streaming our worship service for anyone who is interested.

I appreciate comments, but be warned, I will use your ideas. Blessings to all who are searching..

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New Life - ACOB Newsletter for May

We emphasize new life at Easter when we tell the resurrection story and hunt for eggs. I even asked the children this year what baby chicks had to do with Easter and they correctly said "new birth".  I want to remind US that Easter continues to happen every day.

Not only do we remain in the "white" liturgical season of Easter, we live rebirth with every act we take as Christians. Our work includes listening to people who need a word of hope in the face of crisis, serving those for whom a small gift of food or shelter can become a new beginning, and the church is often a place of sanctuary for people who are seeking renewal.

Our on-going Easter challenge is to remain conscious of the vital role we play in the world as people of faith. We are ministers with a mission. Let us seek each day to live rebirth & renewal in all we do. On each of the 40 days that follow Easter (& bring us to Pentecost), let us begin with the reminder that our Lord is risen indeed!
May the resurrection make a difference in and through you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Holy Week

Everything is different this week. I have less extra services than many of my colleagues, but it is still busy and different. The holidays remind me that there are people I want to visit. Approaching vacation results in trouble focusing.  There's added pressure to have a good, relevant, different sermon. There's the balance between being 'different' and being relevant to those who will come. How do we reach the occasional attended along with the every week folks? (who are dwindling, literally dying out). It's as if Holy Week was full of holes.

Today I complete the final preparations for tonight's Love Feast. There's a couple short reflections to edit and complete. Then I need to call some readers. I also want to get to the gym because my personal, physical health needs a good workout. There's also the reading for Sunday's sermon of which I only have a vague idea.

So, here I sit. non-Luther like. About to get another cup of coffee. About to read the revgalblogpals thoughts from Tuesday. About to focus. About to be.
About to be - holy, perhaps that's an appropriate description for Holy Week.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

God's Feng Shui

Leonardo Da Vinci choose this moment of the disciples questioning to portray in his famous work on the wall of the Refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. I remember looking up at the incredible fresco on my first day in Italy after a long flight and early morning arrival. Our group had mid-day tickets and we had managed to stay awake. (thanks to many stops for café)
The painting, high on the end wall was so big and yet so incredibly balanced. The 12 disciples almost came to life as they asked the question, “Surely not I, Lord?”
The men are grouped in conversation. They lean this way and that over the table of food and toward each other and yet the scene as a whole is visually balanced even while it is emotionally disrupted. Only Jesus is calm & knowing, seated right in the pivotal mid-point of the table.

I was the unbalanced one. Evidently the air is kept ‘thin’ in the large room to protect the fragile paint. I remembered we had passed through an air-lock in order to see it. After the long sleep-less plane flight and numerous espressos, I began to feel dizzy as I gazed up, like I might fall over. The room is large but there are no longer any tables and chairs inside so I had to go out to lie on a bench until eventually, I regained my balanced.

There is a unique balance in today’s first scripture story, it’s the Palm Sunday parade and everything is in pairs.
Two disciples are sent into town,
Sentences and commands are paired. Even the O T quote of Isaiah is paired with one from Zechariah.
There’s even two donkeys! (a donkey & a colt) and it says Jesus’ sat on them! (talk about balance!)
Coats AND branches are laid down, it seems that both the people and the earth are waving in praise.
After a long trek through Galilee and so many misunderstandings, life finally FEELS right, Jesus is welcomed as the ‘One who comes in the name of the Lord’, FINALLY, isn’t it about time?

If we could pan out to see the whole city, we’d see a very Unbalanced scene for on the other end of Jerusalem is a royal parade, with real horses, instruments and marching soldiers. It’s Herod’s parade and he’s coming into town with a (unit) of soldiers. He won’t stand for any disruptions this week and he’s come personally to maintain order while the Jewish pilgrims flock to Jerusalem for Passover week. His idea of balance is a show of force so large than none will dare  go against him/ try anything.

Balance is a matter of perception. a state of equilibrium or equipoise; equal distribution of weight, amount, etc.
Humans are balanced because we are bi-peds. We are made with two arms, two legs to balance a single torso, although inside there are two lungs, one for each half. On top we have a single head with two eyes, two ears and even two balanced sides of the brain. Is it any wonder that we consider balance to be EQUAL distribution of weight?

ALTAR experiment

What do you perceive as balanced?
            Candlesticks on each side of central cross, central Bible, plate on each side.

            Move all plates to one side and Bible to other.

            Move candlesticks to one side, flowers to other, Bible, etc.

Objects can be UNBALANCED and yet feel right, like they have somehow achieved a balance even tho they are obviously unequally distributed.
As we move objects around, We discover we each have a different FEEL for balance. Some of us require the visual equality of objects. Others find that equal size and distribution of different objects can obtain a balance when placed – just so.

Feng Shui
            Feng Shui includes a way of arranging objects to obtain the FEEL of balance that can occur in a visually unequal way.
Feng Shui is an ancient art and science developed over 3,000 years ago in China. It is a complex body of knowledge that reveals how to balance the energies of any given space to assure the health and good fortune for people inhabiting it.

I do not profess to be an expert. Nor do I adopt all the aspects of Taoist belief upon which some of Feng Shui is based. I can’t even explain the process to you. I just know that sometimes things feel better (when I look at them) than others. It is much more of a FEELING than any balance of measurements.
. . .
A woman felt that her life was unbalanced. The city around her was in a heightened state of anxiety. People were taking time off work for religious services and families were pouring into the city from out of town. Workers were off-schedule, shops were posting holiday hours, and nothing could be taken for granted without checking on times and verifying appointments.
Even her personal life was in turmoil. She had heard a teacher during the past week and his words seemed to have planted a seed inside that was growing. It was as if she could see beyond time. Her whole perspective had changed; it felt very out –of balance from normal life. And yet, she was strangely calm. She couldn’t explain it, not even to her best friend and sister.
She had an idea that sounded outrageous to them. They told her not to do it, that she was crazy! But she was becoming more and more certain of herself. Finally, she knew what she had to do. She went home and reached under the top of her sleeping mat and pulled out the folded cloth. She took the bottle of perfume she was saving and wrapped it in a soft towel. She pulled her hair back, washed her face and set off for Simon’s house. She knew the teacher was there. She couldn’t have explained why she was sure she had to do this, not even if anyone stopped her & asked, but she was determined.
. . .
The disciples stood & watched her pour costly ointment over Jesus head & were horrified. This woman had to be ‘unbalanced’. They wanted to stop her, but Jesus wouldn’t let them.
They were angry at the waste of perfume.
They were angry at how the costly expense could have been put to use.
They were justifiably angry because - in a balanced world, many poor people could have been served.

But Jesus was aware of a bigger scene. He could SEE & was part of a deeper balance that the woman only felt, but didn’t comprehend. It was the divine balance of what would be.
It was the balance where the dead (or soon to be) are honored one final time by anointing the body.
It was the balance of an extravagant gift. . .
                                                To balance
                                                                                    An extravagant gift.
. . .
It was the beginning of an un-stable plot.
            Someone would be so ‘put-out’ of balance that he would take 30 pieces of silver; the price of a slave’s release from jail, – in exchange for the betrayal of a friend.

The dark stories that follow the meal around that long table, so magnificently portrayed by Da Vinci in Milan, are key for the big picture that brings us from Lent to Easter.
We don’t read them today because ‘Palm Sunday’ is about welcoming God’s new equilibrium into the scene of our happy parades.
Our idea of balance could easily set today’s triumphant entry parade on one side of the week and Easter’s joyful celebration on the other and WE could smile and  enjoy the well-balanced feeling. The two triumphant days FEEL equal and right to us.             . . .

God’s sense of balance is different.
In God’s way (of stability) – equilibrium –
            Everything does NOT come out equally. . .
                        Giving up = equals getting
                        Being last is better than being first
                        Handing over one’s life – is the way to receive life

In God’s Fung Shui, the joy of Palm Sunday and the joy of Easter are balanced on the point of the cross.
. . .
The cross is at the heart of Christianity. It is the pivot point where the big picture comes into clear view.
It’s not because we echo the trite saying that, “Jesus died for my sins” – if that was all that the theology we had, there would be No Need for Easter at the other end of the pendulum. The story would simply end on Good Friday.

The cross is at the heart of Christianity because giving up – is key.
Giving up is the great unbalanced act for all humans (to follow) when we follow the example of the Divine seen in Jesus.
He demonstrated self-giving as he kneeled at that long table and washed each and every disciple’s feet.
He told us that;
 giving up our lives, giving away our money$,
            Giving up our time, giving someone else our effort is all balanced by God’s giving ultimate love to us.

In Next week’s story, God will take the unbalanced gift of Jesus’ life itself, and will make a new beginning from it.

We who are shocked & surprised when we encounter inequality are left gaping in horror at the unfairness of the stories of Holy Week.
We can’t abide anything that doesn’t measure up, play fair, or have an equally shared burden.
Maybe we’ll even be angry because it doesn’t balance with what we know about life and death.
It just isn’t fair. – (It isn’t fair that Jesus has to die.)

Our sense of equilibrium is knocked off and it leaves us uncomfortable and unbalanced, because it leaves us, - those who say we follow Christ’s SELF-giving way - - to explain God’s out-of-balanced giving – to the rest of the world.
And how do we balance THAT with our ‘normal’ lives?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sermon: What's Your Mindset?

 Romans 8:1-11, Lent V, April 10,  2011

When our focus turns to (Paul’s letter to) Romans, it feels like we have left the world of gospel stories FAR behind.
No more Nic At Nite, (from John 3) or a Husbandless Woman by at Light of Day by the well. (from John 4)
No more interesting dialogue between the formerly blind man and his accusers who SEE less than he did.
Even today’s story of Lazarus, rising from the dead (which is full of questions) - seems preferable to Paul’s lengthy treatise and the involved logic of Romans.

But we are wrong if we think the stories are gone, because we’ve SEEN the story of Romans – on the big screen, within the past decade.

Did you see the Harry Potter movies? Or even read the books?
They hold the story of Romans!
Are you a Star Wars fan? Have you seen all the movies, each one called an ‘episode’? The Star Wars sage IS the story of Romans.

The movies and books portray an EPIC BATTLE between good and evil = and THAT IS the story of ROMANS!

‘Evil’ is cleverly depicted as the DARK WIZARD Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. His diabolical features come to life with
snake-like eyes that are narrow yellow slits,
a voice that hisses as he ‘spits’ out curses and spells
and a ‘pet’ that is an actual snake (a huge one) that slithers in and out of scenes.
Death is dealt out casually enough for us to know that EVIL is fully embodied in this creature called the “Dark Lord”.

In Star Wars, evil is represented FIRST, as the chief villain; a black-clad military leader called “Darth Vader”. Yet his personal darkness pales compared to the immenseness of the entire ‘evil empire’ which is revealed as more and more characters are discovered to be part of the “dark side”. In no time we realize that EVIL has infiltrated the whole galaxy. The 1st movie (which is Episode IV) begins with a summary of the galactic war:  Rebel spaceships have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies discovered and stole secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, called the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet, at one time. As the story proceeds with spies and laser sword fights, we are horrified to discover that evil has penetrated EVEN the hero’s own family. The Dark Commander, Darth Vader, is Luke Skywalker’s father.
This, now classic, movie actually portrays an older story; Good and Evil – locked in combat for dominion of the earth, or even (in this case) the galaxy.

Are you surprised that the apostle Paul and George Lucas have so much in common?

I’ll admit that Paul is not always easy to comprehend, - but then neither is the depth of Evil portrayed in a galaxy-wide evil empire. For Paul, evil is equally DANGEROUS in his day. And in the face of EVIL, he bravely writes a defense of God.

Yes, the letter to Romans is a defense. You may not think God needs defending, but look back a couple weeks to the comments we heard following the earthquake and tsunami. .
 Who is blamed whenever there is a senseless shooting of innocent children at a school? . . .
We have heard the questions and may have asked them ourselves, “WHY does God allow such things to happen?”

Paul takes a stab at explaining. And he also takes on the question critical to the interfaith dialogue of his day;“Now that Christ has come, what will God do with the Jews who refuse to recognize Jesus?”     It’s a question still asked today and you can read Paul’s explanation in Romans.

Paul first has to show us the vastness of evil. It has penetrated every part of life.  He doesn’t have a high def - wide screen on which to do his explaining, but he gives it all the words he’s got.
1st The Devil is not a person, he says, Evil is a POWER and it is VERY active in the world. (even though at times, Evil is personified by the name Satan, we must understand Paul’s point; that EVIL is a POWER that enslaves humanity.)

2nd Evil is pervasive. So much so that it can even turn the ‘good and true’ against us. For instance, God’s law (known to Jews as Torah) which is given for humanity’s good, can seem to be working on the side of the ‘evil empire’ when people focus only on observance.
             If we stay occupied with the min-ute details of the law, we can miss the point of working for God’s good. If this happens, then the Law has been compromised.- - - -Not that the LAW is Evil, but that its implementation can be perverted to do harm, rather than good. It then is an instrument that tears down, rather than builds up. And that’s not God’s intent.

One commentator explains it like this: “..[it is] the exceeding wickedness of SIN itself that can  make its nest in Torah so that [Torah] becomes a dark and sinister replica of itself, condemning rather than giving life.”[i]

Paul’s culminating point is that humans are helpless. Paul’s description of our sinfulness is NOT ABOUT a list of things we DO wrong. It’s NOT about asking forgiveness for a litany of faults. Our conviction as sinners is the same for everyone else, because all human life has been infiltrated by the EVIL of SIN.

Scholar N. T Wright again explains, “There is such a thing as Sin, (capital S) which is more than the sum total of human wrong-doing. It is powerful and this power infects even those with the best intentions. If it could make even the holy Torah its base of operations, how much more the muddled intentions of well-meaning do-gooders.”[ii]

As Paul puts it, in Chapter 7,

            “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. . . . For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Romans 7:19-20 (NRSV) Romans 7:22-25 (NRSV)

His answer is one that we can echo, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
The REAL HERO comes to our rescue to defeat EVIL.
“There is no need for anyone to collapse into guilty self-hatred or self-absorption” over a list of sins that we try hard to avoid. “God’s love has proved itself stronger than all the powers of darkness. (The evil empire will never win.) Nor is there any need to fear for the future; the whole point of Romans”, Wright reminds us, “is to substantiate the great opening shout,
‘There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.’”[iii]
Can I get an amen, sisters and brothers?

This is our reason for walking out of the church doors with smiles on our face and a dance in our step. This is how we can LIVE in alignment with God’s good work.

As I said to the children, it is important to ask questions. So we naturally ask, ‘How is this wonderful freedom accomplished?’ Many, many answers have been written to that question, more than we will deal with today. As much as I enjoy conversation about theories of atonement, those Q&A sessions work best seated around a full pot of coffee.

 It is enough for us to know that Paul writes in the language of his day, using concepts familiar to both Jews and gentiles who are used to making sacrifices to God (or gods.) The ultimate answer and our ultimate LIFE inspiration is – “that IN Christ, God defeats Evil.”

It’s true we aren’t left with all our questions answered at this point in Romans. Even after we accept that God has overcome EVIL, we might ask, “what does that mean for us?” If Evil is overcome, yet we still see it active in the world, “how then shall we live?”

I propose that what we need is the proper “mind-set”.

Paul spends the next part of his letter, relating that since we act according to what we think about in life, THEN when our mind is set on God, we will live like Jesus.
AND Just when we begin to ask the “how” question again, he writes about God’s Spirit.

He uses a bunch of terms; ‘God’s Spirit’, ‘Christ’s Spirit’, ‘THE Spirit’, all these names are used interchangeably for the presence that empowers us to defeat Evil when it creeps into our day.
            Again, we say, THANKS BE TO GOD.

Christ’s Spirit is the “Force” that is always with us, to use Star Wars language again. The SPIRIT FREES us from the captivating influence of evil.A ‘Spirit- mindset’ is what gets us thru each day, every day of our lives - EVEN when we find the Dark Lord’s influence all around.
. . .
There is one more movie illustration that may help us understand Paul. It is called ‘Big Fish’ and the movie is several years old. It wasn’t a block buster, like Star Wars and it wasn’t set in a galactic venue. Instead, it appears to be a simple story a boy who grows up listening to stories.

 Early in the movie 3 boys have heard the story of a witch who has one good eye and one blind eye. Supposedly if you look in the witch’s ‘blind eye’ (usually hidden under a patch) you will see your dying day and know your end.
The boys dare each other to go knock on her door.
They ask to see under her eye-patch.
Each in turn lifts their face and looks into her eye.
The 1st boy, runs away screaming, he is terrified.
The 2nd boy, looks & goes white with fear.
The 3rd   boy bravely looks up as she lifts the patch and “his face lights up with delighted surprise.
‘So’, he exclaims, ‘that’s how it ends!”[iv]

For the rest of the movie the boy is fearless and can face anything. No matter what crisis befalls him, he remembers his look into the future and says, “this isn’t how it ends” and he is unshaken.

We are like the boy, living in a normal world, seldom thinking about the whole galaxy or the any cosmic battle between Good and Evil, yet we face some kind of dark crisis almost every day.
We know what it is like to live in a world where Evil SEEMS to have the upper hand. Yet we don’t have to live with Evil’s ‘mindset.’

No Voldemort’s Dark Lord,
No Storm troopers and No Darth Vader can shake us.
When our ‘mind-set’ recalls God’s loving action in Christ, we can face the most desperate situation and think, “this isn’t how it ends.”     Evil doesn’t control us.

We choose to live under a different LORD. . .one who has defeated Evil.
We rejoice with Paul saying, Thanks Be To God!, because our mind – is - set - on Christ.


[i] N. T. Wright NIB Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002) p. 586
[ii] N. T. Wright NIB Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002) p. 588
[iii] ibid p. 589 and Romans 8:1
[iv] The Big Fish, quoted by Tom Long Interpretation Preaching Romans Vol. 58, no. 3, July 2004, p. 274

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Purification; repost

Worth re-posting. Thanks "Inward" (see link above)
A Purification
By Wendell Berry on 04-01-2011

At the start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter's accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

Source: Teaching With Fire

another source: