Saturday, June 25, 2011

Being church beyond Sunday morning

My question of the year is, "How do we 'be church' other than 11:00 am Sunday morning?" I've asked it at board meetings, and commission meetings and just about everywhere people will listen. I'm convinced that IF we are going to 'be church' in the present and beyond, we have to address this question. This weekend God knocked me over with an answer. Perhaps it's one among many that I will see now that my eyes have been opened.

We got a call yesterday from a woman who has turned to us for help in the past. Simple (but physical) things, like moving or needing some basic furniture. She came out of the hospital following surgery to learn that she could get out of her lease due to mold issues and had a condo to move into that an acquaintance was renting. BUT, it meant she had to move today. (Also her doctors said she couldn't even lift her cats for a couple days due to the surgery.) Her children were either working or out of town. She called the church. But our secretary took the day off and I was in and out with errands. I happened to think that I should check messages when I brought food to the church for a lunch we are fixing tomorrow and there was her plea recorded in our messages. I didn't know what we could do at that point. So I put out a couple feelers and didn't even call her back at first. Here's what happened.

1. The BVS (Brethren Volunteer Service) orientation unit that is staying in our church said they could help from 9:45-11:00 a.m. They all volunteered, it was a choice, by setting aside an hour of their free time today.
2. My husband had a rare weekend off and drove our pick-up truck home from its usual parking place at his work.
3. The man from our congregation who has been involved with the person's past moves called me back this morning willing to give as much time as needed. (and the back of an SUV)

We met at church and arrived with a pick-up, large van, and 17 people. (Many of whom were young, which is always a help from my 59 year old perspective.) We emptied almost all her big things in one trip and loaded up our truck and other vehicle for the 2nd. The BVS group went off to their next scheduled event on the DC Mall.

That left the three of us, aging folks to unload the big 2nd load. Then another little happening 'intervened'. Not know she would be moving, she had previously arranged to get a dining room table and chairs from a group called Share that gives away donated furniture to qualified people. They arrived as we were about to depart on the 2nd load. Three strong guys. They were wiling to move the delivery to her new apartment nearby. They did so and when they were done unloading the table and chairs, they helped us with the items that we were having trouble lifting ourselves. UP TWO FLIGHTS OF STEPS! How's that for a labor of love?

When we returned for a last trip of rocking chairs and miscellaneous bags and items, we were wearing pretty thin. One of us could no longer climb stairs because the old injured knee was giving out. A few items were awkward and somewhat heavy when you added in the steps. The another little set of 'angels' arrived - in the form of two Mormon missionaries. These two young guys took over at just the right moment and made several trips up the steps with the items we were struggling to unload. They were gracious, thanked US for letting them help, and went on their way.

Our women in distress was in tears off and on as this all unfolded. From last night's worry before my call back to her, to the unloading of all those volunteers in her year, this was a miracle in her book. She saw us as an answer to her most desperate prayer. We made one last trip with a large tree and lawn furniture on our way home and of course, the maintenance supervisor we had met earlier was there to open the locked entrance so we could put the last items inside her building. After a while, you begin to SEE the angels and expect them to show up.

I hadn't seen 'angels' since a trip to Italy made with 5 clergy women from a Lily grant. Perhaps that's another story, but let's just say, angels come late at night to train stations when buses don't.  And angles come in the form a young woman from New Jersey, who speaks fluent Italian, knows the bus routes and are named "Gabriella"!

So God has evidently decided that if folks at Arlington CoB are WILLING to 'be church' other than Sunday morning, there will be work for us to do! As Paul says in this week's text, THANKS BE TO GOD!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gifted With Promise

Sunday Sermon - 6-19-11

The other day was “Captain Picard Day”. A former member of Star Trek’s Enterprise’s crew suggested we ‘end all our sentences with "make it so,"’[i] the way Captain Picard ends all his commands to his crew. Helmsman, warp, 8, …” – I’ve always thought my best benedictions end that way... “Go forth & ‘make it so’!"

But most of the time I feel like I’m ending the sermon the way an older TV show began, (music) "your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept"  

Jesus' final message in Matthew must have seemed to the disciples an impossible mission. (Perhaps Jesus ascension was the 1st century equivalent of a tape recording disintegrating.)

Tom Long writes that Jesus’ message must have hit them with “near-comic irony,
“all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me…” (Mt. 28:18)
They must have looked around at each other, waiting for the ‘Mormon tabernacle choir to start singing the Hallelujah Chorus.[ii] Instead there they were on an “unnamed mountaintop in backwater Galilee.
They were with a congregation of 11, down from 12 the week before and even some of them are doubtful and not so sure why they have come to worship this day.”[iii]
Long says, it would be as if Jesus told us, here in this congregation, to “Go into all the world and cure cancer, clean up the environment, evangelize the unbelievers, and while you are at it, establish world peace.”[iv]     …an IMPOSSIBLE MISSION.

Their Reality was quite different than the glorious way we paint it reading back into the story. Their week has been full of drama and struggle. Only the disciples, the guys, hadn’t witnessed most of it personally. They haven’t seen Jesus or heard his voice. They last they knew, he was arrested and crucified.
Only the women saw that glorious, if confounding, scene at the empty tomb. All the guys know is that the women told them there were to “GO”. Go, get out of town, get to the small rural area of Galilee. And ‘Jesus will meet you???’
            It must have sounded like a command to go hide out.
And soon the disciples will be blamed for Jesus’ missing body. the rumors are being intentionally spread by the hierarchy accusing them of stealing it.[v]

Discipleship was never an easy job; leaving everything, their families and livelihoods to follow Jesus. But now that he’s gone – somewhere – discipleship looks like an Impossible Mission.

They finally DO encounter Jesus, but their response is mixed, we are told ‘some doubted’. They meet the risen Jesus with both
worship and uncertainty,
both devotion and hesitation.
It’s a mixture of faith and doubt. . . and THAT characterizes discipleship.

A NT scholar, Craig Koester, talks about the characteristics of discipleship and says the disciples going forth to “make it so” into an unseen future, is a "characteristics of discipleship"
            Going forth, with only a word to direct you, is a "characteristics of discipleship."
Note, the same commission is given to all the followers;
those who are ready, who accept all that is happening, those who  worship Jesus AND those who have doubts
Go & make disciples.
Go was the command that brought them back to the mountain top and  ‘Go’ is the command with which they leave.

Go, choose to accept this impossible mission. Not because you are sure you can do it, but because you hear the call of Jesus.

We bring ALL our doubts to the place Christ promises to meet us...and this too is discipleship.

            We don’t follow Jesus after we are certain he makes sense.
            We don’t decide to be baptized because it’s the smartest move for upward mobility.
            We don’t align ourselves with the Church of the Brethren, to get somewhere in this world.
We bring our doubts to THIS place where Christ promises to meet us!

We are gifted with his promise.
It is truly a great gift AND . . .  it’s all we’ve got. Christ’s promise, to be with us forever, even to the end of everything.

We accept the mission because it is an invitation to take our baptism seriously.

            Matthew 28: 19-20 is MY baptism verse. My father read it to me, just before he lowered me under the water of baptism.
I heard it again the day I was ordained to ministry. Ordination is a time when we renew our baptism vows and take vows of service as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
            On that day, in 2004 (I was already a licensed minister) but I had completed my seminary degree and the service of ordination was being held at Manassas. A woman from the congregation came to my colleague, Jeff and asked to sing at my service. Of course we said yes, but I didn’t know what she would sing. Jeff did but didn’t tell me. Heather sang, “Go, teach, baptize…” without ever having a clue that it was my baptismal verse.
            I was deeply touched. Both my parents were dead, yet I could almost see them standing behind her as she sang. It was a re-baptism of the Spirit. . .
. . .
Have you been baptized? Do you follow Jesus’ way of the cross?
It takes the commitment of baptism to really follow Jesus. Oh we can do plenty of good works without it. But, It’s like the difference between the commitment of marriage and just living together. Baptism marks us with the cross, which is the way of Jesus’ self-giving - living.

In my devotional reading this week, I came across Carlo Caretto, who wrote, it’s …
”hard to live the privilege of the cross. The fact is...I have to grasp the meaning of the Beatitudes. [Rules for living] that sound so unconvincing to the sort of Christians we [usually] are. We, (he said) who have received baptism like the squirt of a water pistol.[vi] P. 197

Is he right? Do we who have been baptised take it as lightly as a squirt of a water pistol? At times, I fear he is right. And I’m speaking only for myself. Yet I imagine, (looking at Christianity today) that his words relate to many of us who call ourselves followers, disciples of Christ, without the commitment and perhaps without the gift of his promise.

Let’s let the words of the ‘Great Commission’ be an Invitation to take our baptisms more seriously.

I want the months ahead to be known as our Summer of Renewal. Or, if you’ve never been baptised, then BE BAPTIZED. I’ll even give you the date, July 10, the Sunday after I return from Conference. (although you can pick another of your choosing.)
I promise it will be more than the squirt of a water pistol. We Brethren believe in a good dunking.
            So if you haven’t, then take the plunge, literally.
I promise to pull you up.
If you are already baptized, then join THIS church if you are not already a member. Discipleship is not a solitary pursuit and I can think of no better band of brothers and sisters to accompany you on the journey.

There are 3 ways to get into our fine membership.
1. Be baptized here.
2. transfer your membership from another congregation OR
3. become an Associate member. This is an appropriate option if you have a Home church that holds great meaning for you and you want to remain a member there, but still adopt us, as your current church home.

We don’t usually stress membership and we don’t do a regular “altar call” as they have been named, to invite people to make a commitment to follow Christ. Yet is IS appropriate to invite everyone to say ‘Yes’ to Jesus, and make the firm and public commitment of following Jesus, the Christ.

We can do this as a group. There are numerous people here who may want to make this commitment together. WE ALL renew our commitments every time someone joins this fellowship.

I must remind you, that No one can follow Jesus without the spirit that comes with baptism. This is the promise with which we are gifted. It’s not magic that arrives with the water. It’s a gift that is given to everyone who gathers around the feet of Jesus and hears his ‘impossible command.’ We’d never make it anywhere without his Spirit and this season of Pentecost is a time to remember we DO HAVE HIS SPIRIT, with us, here, NOW, and FOREVER.

And the command that comes to ALL Jesus’ disciples is to ‘Go,’
Go and make more disciples. Go & baptize, Go & teach, GO forth and ‘make it so.’
Go, become a disciple yourself, not because you have everything figured out but because Jesus has spoken to you.

Amid the fears & the doubts & the uncertainty, we go, gifted with promise so when the mission goes from hard to tough to impossible, we will still be able to GO.

[i] Levar Burton on Twitter
[ii] Thomas G. Long Feasting on the Word, Yr. A Pentecost I Homiletical Barlett & Brown, eds. (Louisville: WJK, 2011) p. 47
[iii] ibid p. 47
[iv] ibid p. 49
[v] Craig Koester,
[vi] Carlo Caretto from “Why O Lord?” quoted in Guide to Prayer for All God’s People (Nashville: Upper Room, 1990) p. 197

Monday, June 13, 2011


Death takes a great toll on the living. Wednesday I officiate at the third funeral in eight days. I am honored to be invited into people's lives at such a delicate time. Perhaps in some way I can share God's love of humanity with a few words that help them remember the life of their loved one. Love doesn't end at the grave, even though we dearly miss someone who leaves this life. There is great sadness at the time of such a loss. There is also an amazing ability to meet each day and keep going. I watch people whose lives are devastated by the loss of a spouse or sibling or dear friend, and yet they DO get up and make it through each day - one day at a time. Perhaps it is also the gift of Divine Eternal Life that we have the ability to just keep living. The spark within us just won't give up until our own final day.

I am feeling the weight of an "end perspective" as I continue to read appropriate texts and search for sacred readings. There needs to be affirmation of life that goes along with remembrances of those who are gone. Since one of the services was for my dear high school friend, I know I too need that affirmation. The walk on the beach on Saturday, after Gary Steve's service helped. Perhaps a recharging day for me is in order soon.

Friday, June 3, 2011

June Newsletter Message

Pastor’s Post – What’s New?
            Have you ever asked someone, “What’s New?” This common question is a way of bringing people together and updating each other on their lives. Friends who share a lot may ask, “What’s new with ______?” to catch up on a person or issue. People who haven’t seen each other for a long time, ask “What’s New?” to learn new major events in their friend’s life. Sometimes I’m asked, “What’s new at church?” This month I have a few “new” answers.
            We have a new website that is almost ready for ‘prime-time’. You can view it at the address above and let us know what you think. We are making final edits to the permanent frames and will often be updating the timely references. The new website grew from the work of the Outreach Idea Committee.
            We have a Facebook organization page. If you are on Facebook, you’ve likely seen it and “liked” it but please tell your friends to “like” us too. This page is a great way to highlight events, post photos of happenings, and get messages to people.
            We have a Twitter account. While not many of our members are on Twitter, more and more organizations and individuals are ‘tweeting’ through their day. One of my favorites is CoB_Peace because I know that Jordan Blevins is the usual ‘tweeter’. It’s a great way to keep up with people and share their day across any distance.
            We have a new Recording System that allows us to record onto compact flash cards and copy each Sunday’s worship service to cd (found with the bulletins for past weeks) and be posted to the new website.
            We have new microphones which you’ve heard used for several weeks. There are still occasions where static electricity ‘pops’ in the system, but the new microphones have increased sensitivity and flexibility, while eliminating interference.

            New ways of communicating add to but don’t replace our face-to-face contact on Sundays and other days. I hope you’ve met some of the new faces that arrived this year and keep a lookout for visitors to give them our new Welcome Folders.
            We will soon have “NEW” worship hours, actually it’s just our summer hours, but the 10:00 AM worship time will be new for 2011 and begins on June 12. (We will return to 11:00 AM the Sunday after Labor Day.)You can’t miss the new decoration in the narthex that is related to our fundraising for the bathroom renovation. It’s not every church that has a toilet in their narthex.

            As we conclude the season of Easter that celebrates new life with the Unity Service on June 5, we move into the season of Pentecost on June 12 with our 10:00 worship time and rejoice anew with Christ’s Holy Spirit. Now that you can answer, “What’s new at church?” I hope you will share “What’s new with you” in person. See you on Sunday.