Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gone Fishin'

I see fish.  
Fish I see.
Fish as big as fish can be.
Jonah hiding in a fish.
Jonah saved by prayer and wish.

Jonah preaches and saves a a town.
God's mind is changed all around.
Simon, Andrew with boats in the sea
With James and John called Zebedee
Net strange work with you and me
In Jesus' call:  "New fishing for thee"

Which way will you go
As you go with the flow?

A fishing lesson at Galilee's sea?
Is that your preaching cup of tea?

Or will you tell a big fish tale?
Bring light to Jonah's time in the whale?

Perhaps you have another way
Something else you're called to say?
A children's message I seek -- or two
I'll put some coffee on to brew

Bring a snack you have to share
And, pretty soon, we'll all be there!
Thanks to Sharon for letting me share her creativity in the style of Dr. Seuss

From Sunday's Discussion

What is one specific achievement that this scripture will lead us to accomplish this year?
   1 Peter 4:8-11
Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

This Weekend's Church Retreat at Shepherd's Spring

Church Board Retreat Outline – “Solving The Mystery, part II”                 January 13-14, 2012

Jeremiah 29:11-13
            “For surely I know the plans I have for you…for your welfare not harm, to give you a future with hope….”

Friday  (times may be adjusted to accommodate late arrivals)
7:30 p.m.
            Introduction of Theme
            How do we discover the plans God has for us?
            What is Spiritual Oasis Time?
8:30 p.m. (time may be adjusted)
            Evening Devotions
Spiritual Oasis Time and Time for Community

8:00 a.m. Breakfast
9:00 a.m. (adjust time as needed for breakfast)
Hymn #1 v. 1 What is this place

Session One            Finding Direction in Scripture
-       The open book method – not for professional detectives
-       Brethren/Anabaptist Style Sleuthing
Groups of 4 by your own determination– use handout credit Nancy Ferguson  Retreat-Leaders-Manual
-       Mt. 25:34-40      The story of the King, the sheep & the goats
-       Hebrews 13:1-2      the hospitality basket
-       Lev. 19:33-34      Aliens have landed
-       Mark 12:29-31      the Greatest (and hardest) Commandment
-       1 Peter 4:8-11      Mountain love (maintain it)
If needed add
            - 1 John 4                        Perfect Love; not just for weddings
            - Gal. 5:22-23,25            Fruit for every meal.

 9:45 – 10:00 a.m. Break Time

10:00 a.m.
Hymn            #395 v.1            Here I Am, Lord

Session Two
BarnYard Scramble
(Make sure your barn group includes at least one person with long history at ACOB and one with a short history)
Sharing our Sleuthing  - What did you hear this morning?
-       Samuel’s story, 1 Samuel 3:1-20
-       Looking back to see forward; the detective’s work

10:35 a.m. In Barnyard groups,
            Detective Interviews: Tell stories of early ACOB                        15 minutes
            Advancing the Plot: Write a story                                                20 minutes
                        Your group’s ‘vision’ of the NEXT story for ACoB

Break 11:00-11:10 a.m.

11:10 a.m.
Hymn #1046   Gathered Here In The Mystery of This Hour

Session Three
Sharing our Sleuthing
            Each group shares the story they wrote, ncluding if needed, what past story informed their vision.

11:45 a.m.            The Detectives’ Conference:            Quick break into barnyard groups.
      Based on our sleuthing and our visioning,
“What scripture should be our focus in 2012 and inform our goals?”

12:00 noon Lunch
Spiritual Oasis Time

2:00 pm
Hymn            #594            Lord, you sometimes speak

Session Four
Sharing results our Detectives’ Conference
Group chooses one scripture for 2012 focus

(Nancy & Everett briefly)
            Board process by Commission – a quick review
            Commission’s authority and purpose

2:20 p.m. Commission Based Groups (3, + music/worship)
            Where you serve or where your interest lies.

Listening To God’s Call

3:00             Closing Worship - Everett

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Solving The Mystery Ephesians 3:1-12

Do you like a good mystery?
    Whether a Mystery novel or a Mystery Movie or TV show, mysteries follow a typical pattern:
There’s a Crime or a Mysterious Problem that needs someone to solve it.
There’s a Detective or detective(s) (they often work in teams)
There are Clues.

In a mystery, the Evolving story carries us along as each clue leads to greater mystery and more clues until the end (of the book or the show) where the Detectives, put the pieces they’ve discovered together, solving the puzzle and completing a wrap up.

In the “Columbo style” wrap up, (if you are old enough to remember that show) all the suspects are called into one room, usually the scene of the crime, as a trap is laid for guilty party and mystery is uncovered, thanks to cleverness and skillful detective work.

We heard the author of Ephesians say that that God’s plan, or ‘secret plan’ is a mystery. (I added the word mystery which is the NRSV translation of μυστηριον,
to the secret plan, the CEB translation.    Scholars are rather sure that the leaders of the early church who followed Paul’s writing & teaching, wrote Ephesians in Paul’s name to encourage the Christians in Asia Minor. We refer to the author as Paul for convenience. How does a mystery encourage us? Perhaps our curiosity is peaked, or maybe it’s something more ‘mysterious’.

Christ’s church was established by the year 80 CE or so when we think this letter was written. By then, the early Christians had already pieced together many clues and were at the later stages of this mystery. Certainly they understood more than the disciples who surrounded Jesus in the 30’s if only because they had the perspective of time. The mystery and the message had become clear.

The problem was, the message wasn’t easy for everyone to accept.

God specifically called on the apostle Paul to share the good news of God’s all-inclusive love with people who were OUTSIDE the Jewish nation. Paul could do this because he was an observant pharisaic Jew himself, with FINE credentials in the Jewish community. Once he was entrusted with this revelation, he was the perfect person to make the case to other Jews even as he worked among the nations/gentiles.

It wasn’t easy for Jews to accept that people from other nations were included in God’s love and plan, but eventually they did. So when we ask our usual question,
“what does this mean for us?”
The first answer is ‘We can give thanks, for Paul and his mission or most of us would still be excluded from Christianity.”

Paul’s revelation was the KEY to this insight that brought US into the fold. It is called a mystery, because it took Paul’s revelation for the early Christians  to look back and decipher the clues.
Of course, Jesus himself was an ‘epiphany’.
Paul HAD an epiphany and    
when Christians began to understand that God’s purpose is to include everyone, they had an epiphany of their own.
The light dawned on humanity that inclusion was part of God’s plan all along.

The word Epiphany, means to Make Manifest, or to Manifest. The epiphany that came with Christ made manifest the revelation of God’s love.
- a love that extends beyond even the Torah’s rules, without neglecting them.
The ‘epiphany’ that came to the apostle Paul,
- opened up God’s love and purpose to people beyond the Jews.

While we might find another mystery in why God would wait so many generations after Abraham to unveil the ultimate Divine purpose we should remember two things;
First - Brethren believe in God’s CONTINUING REVELATION.
Second, We must also remember that our God operates beyond Earth time and beyond this solar system’s space.
This ‘Mystery’ referred to in today’s scripture also means that the fullness of God’s will is not something humans will ever understand.)

Meanwhile, God doesn’t leave humanity totally clueless.
Continuing Revelation helped the Jewish Christians look deeply into Jesus’ mission to Jews and see a few clues of what would come next.

We’ve already heard the story of the a clue found in Matthew 2, the story of the wise men who traveled from east to find a very special king. . .
    Their’s was a journey of faith and an act of trust as they traveled for such a long period in the hope, only a hope, that the star would continue to lead them. In the end, they found a living clue to the Divine Plan.

    (Actually) when we think about the closed society of the Jewish world then, doesn’t it seem strange that Gentiles would bring gifts to a young Jewish boy? Normally Jews will have nothing to do with Gentiles (which merely means any non-jew. (The world Gentile is the word for “The nations”.)
That these men of foreign nations would bow in worship and bring gifts symbolic to all that Jesus would do in his life, can only indicate the unusual nature of this story and the reality that it is but the 1st of many clues to the mystery.

There are many places in scripture that apply to the continuing epiphanies that God sends. Isaiah ch 9:2 says,  “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

Let’s hear a few of the ‘enlightening’ scriptures, - staying within a single gospel story for consistency of message of course. I hope we can hear or ‘see’ the light in a new way today. Perhaps we will have an epiphany of our own.

1- Mt 8:10-11, healing centurion's servant..Faith from a man of a foreign nation. Jesus: “many will come from the east & west & eat with Abraham in the Kingdom of Heaven.” sound like a clue to the future?
2-Mt 12:21, quoting Isaiah in time if Cyrus, "and in his name the Gentiles will hope."
3- Mt 15:21-28
Jesus was out at the edges of Galilee near Tyre & Sidon. A foreigner comes up to him, a canaanite woman, and asks for healing for her daughter, but Jesus answers that he’s come only to Israel’s lost. She asks again for help and Jesus refers to her and her people as dogs. (seriously look it up later). She cleverly asks for the crumbs that a dog would get and Jesus is impressed by her faith and her persistence. He heals the daughter.

4-Mt 20 laborers paid same for differing amounts of work and jesus says, "am i not allowed to do what i choose with what belongs to me?" or are your envious b/c i am generous?  Jesus’ story gives us a clue to the way God thinks.
-NF - there are many more stories that speak of God’s caring more about how people treat other people than of their pedigree.

5-Great comm. Mt 28:19-20. Of ALL nations. .
Just as Matthew’s story began with gentile gifts to Jesus, Jesus’ story on earth concludes and begins with the gift of Jesus to ALL NATIONS even to the ends of the earth.

Even that does give us a final wrap-up, it took Paul and those who followed him, to bring the revelation of OUR inclusion to full acceptance.

So the mystery reached us and we sigh with thanksgiving.
But does the story END there? Will Christ’s story end with our generation?

A New year gives us the opportunity to renew our listening for God’s continuing revelation. We are now the ones included in God's mysterious plan for all humanity, then to whom are we called to extend the revelation in 2012? Where will we bring Christ’s light?

We are going into a church retreat that I want EVERYONE to participate in, whether or not you are traveling to Shepherd’s Spring.
I want us to think and pray about the ways are we called to DO the gospel this year. -- or to use epiphany language, to make God’s revelation manifest.

We have a story here at Acob that is full of clues to what God has been doing in Arlington. They give us a current day mystery to solve.

What stories hold clues from our past that will help us understand what God has been doing here?
How can we TOGETHER decipher a direction for 2012 and beyond?

So once again you have sermon homework:

1.    If you’ve been part of this congregation for awhile, write down a story from our history that shows the kind of work we have been called to do.
2.    If you haven’t been here that long, you have a different job. Write down what is happening in Arlington, Falls Church, and Fairfax that you think would stand out to Jesus as worthy of work in his name.

Revelation comes from God but is confirmed and validated by Christian community. “The Spirit of God is at work not only in particular individuals but in the church as a whole. Revelation is the combination of EVENT, prophetic interpretation, and community reception. This is the work ahead of us.
I believe in the story of a people planted on a hill in Arlington who prayed, listened, and had an Epiphany that challenged them to rise up and use their resources and gifts.
 I am part of this congregation and in 2012 they. . . . .the rest of this sentence is the mystery we have to solve THIS YEAR.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas Day Sermon

… It was just before Christmas, a few years ago when I was the on-call chaplain at Prince William hospital. I was sitting at my desk late one afternoon and got a call from the neo-natal unit. A young couple had just had a baby and it was a difficult birth. They asked for a chaplain.
            I sighed, and got the details. Hospital chaplain calls are never good news and I thought how hard this one would be – a newborn facing death after only a couple hours of life. I hurried into town.
            The unit was all decorated for Christmas but very quiet. At first I couldn’t find a nurse or an aid. I finally found someone who said the mom who had called for me, was in her room.
            I paused outside the room for a prayer, knocked and went in. After introducing myself, I asked about her child.
She told me about the difficult birth and
   how the infant had struggled for life.
      She shared all the details of what had happened,
         each scary step of his fragile life.
I could tell she needed to tell the story again.
Her husband returned to the room as we talked, and then the nurse called and said we could see the baby.

****    As we put on gowns and gloves, I gently asked what the baby’s prognosis was. The nurse said, “He will be fine. He’s on monitors now and we are watching him carefully, but he is already showing signs of strength.” 

            I was surprised and happily so. I looked to the parents and they said, “We just wanted you to come and bless our baby. He’s been thru so much.” *****

            I was overjoyed to be asked to share their ‘good news’.
We went and looked at this TINY little boy, hooked to so many wires but breathing strong. Mom leaned over the basinet to touch him and the nurse said, you can hold him now.

            Wow, it had been such a hard birth, neither mom nor dad had yet held their baby. I watched as mom sat in a chair and the nurse carefully brought her son to her, draping the wires carefully to his side.
            Dad knelt down next to the chair. Mom’s eyes never left her son. She stared down at him in complete wonder. He was her little miracle, finally cuddled in her arms.
As she held him, he looked up and his eyes met hers.
            There they were, mom’s eyes locked on the son, baby’s eyes staring up at his mother. No words were needed to express the holiness of that moment. . . .full of wonder. . .

There in that precious time, the hospital equipment & wires were unnoticed. The only reality present was this new life full of potential, resting in mom arms.
Dad & Mom had only gratitude, as they looked down on their child and knew he was a gift from God. pause

In the Jewish ceremony of child blessing, the family is reminded that every child IS a gift and is given a holy gift.
The prophet Elijah said every child has the potential to be a messiah because within every child is a spark that can repair the world.

Christians recognize Jesus as the messiah. He is the one who brought together the 2 spheres of God's presence of which John's gospel speaks;
-the entire created universe and
-the life of one human, the baby boy of Christmas.
In Jesus, the eternal and cosmic realm of God joins the temporal world in which we live.[i]

John's gospel is at the heart of Christian theology, which seeks to understand both the human and the divine in Jesus.

----- But perhaps our playful mood this morning is not the time for heavy theology, even important theology.

Altho the great theologian Calvin imagines God was speaking "baby-talk" to us in the incarnation - as the only way we simple humans could come to know the unknowable One."[ii]

If he is right, then today we give thanks for God's baby-talk and the specific moment when Mary & Joseph looked into the eyes of their child and recalled Elijah's words with a grand sense of wonder. " Would their child be the savior of his people?" . . .

We each had a similar moment (that we don’t remember), when someone; our mother, father, grandparent, or caregiver looked down on us and wondered what we'd become.

When each baby is born, human eyes glimpse divine potential as parents’ eyes meet baby's eyes and we wonder again how it is that God gives life.
We wonder what God desires for the spark of divine hosted in this child? . . .
- What purpose did God have in mind the day you were born?
- - Where is God still working to bring to light your gift of divine potential?

God gives each of us the ability to be the reconcilers of our people and works with us to accomplish this ‘good news’ in the world, -every day, -every year, -in every life.

When a baby is blessed, his or her loved ones gather around, gaze into innocent eyes and say,

“At this moment, we do not know who you will become but we place you in God’s hands, praying that you will engage in acts of reconciliation through words and deeds that are unique to you.” It is our blessing and our hope for them.

Jesus is our hope because he lived his complete potential; he was ‘fully aligned’ with God & creation. . . And his purpose was to open our eyes to see what God has given us.

We each have the ability to live a life fully aligned with God, - when we recognize the spark of Christ that lives within us.

John’s beautiful version of Jesus’ birth story is a “witness spoken by those whose own experience has been shaped by [God’s action in Jesus]. John’s [good news] is not theological speculation…but the testimony of those whose lives have been changed by the incarnation.[iii]
When we are touched by the moment of incarnation,
When we gaze up into our creator’s eyes, we know we too can live into all the hope that God has for US.
We can live in union with Jesus and in this way become the reconcilers & saviors of OUR people.
May God greatly bless us this Christmas and help us to ‘make it so’.

[i] Gail R. O’Day New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Vol. IX (Nashville:Abingdon, 1995) 518
[ii] Paraphrased, Cynthia l. Rigby Feasting On The Word- theological (Louisville: WJK, 2008) 144
[iii] O’Day p. 526