Monday, January 28, 2013

We Are: Working or continuing Jesus' work

LUKE 4:14-21
If you were here last week, you had the opportunity to participate in every segment of our morning worship service. I don’t want that experience to slip away. I’d like to try some ways to recapture the participatory spirit of ‘church in a circle’. 
One of our activities was to listen to scripture together and share what we heard. So, using the lectio style of reading, listening, and responding. I invite you to hear again the 2 verses from Isaiah that Jesus read and respond in the pauses by saying a word or two that strikes you. 
St. Peter's Spirit image

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, ___
to proclaim release to the prisoners ___
and recovery of sight to the blind, ___
to liberate the oppressed, ___
19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. ___

The words that stand out for us are important, but even more important is to hear each other’s voices calling them out. The message of ‘Good News’ for us and for us to share - comes through the emphasis we hear.

Last week, in our circle it was really easy see and hear each other. In that setting we named each other’s gifts, along with the gifts that are valued by the church (here and the wider church) and those gifts that are undervalued. It was insightful. 
The naming and giving thanks for each other’s gifts seemed so powerful in that moment and setting. It reminded us that AS the ‘Gathered’ body of Christ we have all the gifts we need among the body’s members.
Today, we examine another aspect of our identity as Jesus’ Followers, and it’s the usually very obvious in This particular community; it is our service. We are the workers, called to continue the ministry Jesus’ began. It sounds a bit intimidating, as if we could equal Jesus...but the reality is, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we CAN continue his work.

Key to all parts of our identity is the truth that the Holy Spirit is behind them all. Just as we recognize it is God’s Spirit who provides the gifts we need, it is the Spirit which fuels our service and guides us in certain directions. 
The Holy Spirit often gets short-changed when it comes to credit. Yet one of the first things you heard? and called out was ‘Spirit’. 

We notice that as Jesus returned to his hometown to read in the synagogue, he was powered by the Spirit. v. 14,Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee. . . “
(if we backtrack in Luke) the author tells us that the Spirit was active at Jesus’ baptism, descending physically on him like a dove. The Spirit led him into the wilderness and now the Spirit empowers him for ministry. (1 Ernest Hess Feasting On the Word - Homiletical (Louisville:WJK,2009)287)

Which makes it important for US to be listening, and responding to God’s Spirit if we hope to continue Jesus’ work with OUR ministry.

Let’s look at Jesus’ Mission Statement in this text, for that’s what it is. 
Since we have some familiarity with Jesus’ story, let’s fill in the blanks. (This is where WE get to be witnesses by sharing the witness of the gospel stories.)

ASK- How did Jesus bring Good News to poor?
    • Fed 5,000, - Sermon on Plain Lk 6, “Blessed are the ‘poor’ 
    • (Happy are you who are hungry now. You will be satisfied.)

 What aspects of Jesus’ overall ministry were good news to poor?
What message was in his preaching?

How did he release captives, Open eyes of blind, Liberate the oppressed?

(Key stories of blind being healed, sick healed, evil spirits exorcised.?
In What ways did he liberate people who were imprisoned?
(Forgave sins, cured imprisonment of illness, & ‘demon’ possession)
Imprisoned by corruption (tax-collectors, trapped by upward-mobility, imprisoned by sex-trade)
Slide - ART, African Here’s a more artistic version of one of the Forgiving Sins AND healing stories. (included since I used simple clip art drawings today...)

 How did Jesus proclaim the year of the Lord's favor?

Jubilee: 50 years fields rest, debts forgiven

I wonder how WE might proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?. . .

  We are familiar with these stories and we love to hear them again and again. What we may have forgotten is how much Jesus’ reading of today’s scripture echoes his mother’s words that she ‘sang’ to Elizabeth. She said that God would bring down the powerful, lift up the lowly and fill the hungry with good things. Do you remember those word’s from the story of her pregnancy and visit to Eliz? 

How natural then for Jesus, the scholar and teacher, to use the words of Isaiah, the prophet, words he likely heard all his growing years, to explain who he is and what he will do to fulfill God’s desires. (2 Elizabeth Myer Boulton Christian Century, Living by the Word,vol 130, No. Jan 23, 2013 p.20)

. . .How natural then for those who are ‘continuing the work of Jesus’ to turn to Jesus’ own words of mission, from scripture and use them for OUR mission statement.

Here at ACoB, we engage in many avenues of service.  At our Retreat 2 weeks ago, we listed the people and agencies who would miss us if we weren’t here. (tombstone) 
Let’s quickly review the ways we ARE continuing the work of Jesus.

What has the Spirit led US to do in these areas? 

Preach/Bring good news to poor? 
Alma and Nancy move to hall to find room.
 Yesterday's Scarf-making for Shelter clients, 24 volunteers made over 100 scarves.)
“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” 
If anything we might be a little short on the words about WHY we are doing what we do. . .

Proclaim release of captives/prisoners.
Yesterday’s March for Gun Control
Jonathan, Robyn, Lisa, Gary

Do people feel held captive by fear of violence? By the ineffectiveness of legal action? Perhaps even by powerful lobbies?

Recovery of Sight to Blind

What types of Blindness did Jesus heal? 
In a world that thinks all Christians are the same, to what might WE ‘open eyes’? Might it be a congregation that welcomes everyone to join in?  We could be a group of Christians who act first, speak second.

 - Let the Oppressed Go Free
To a world that believes violence, war, is the answer to disputes between people and nations, could this LIVING Peace church be called to heal (& make a difference)? 

- Proclaim year of Lord’s Favor
God is still calling us. Rather than add to our list of projects (which we do as we learn of needs...from Bingo to AFAC), let us consider what the Holy Spirit is calling us to BE.

I like activity and staying quiet is often a challenge. Yet I have learned that being still, at least in my head, often makes a space where I can hear God’s call. 

Instead of listing we can be listening. Instead of moving into MORE and MORE activity, the question for us today is HOW we can BE, simply BE - more like Jesus. . .
We used a Jim Wallis clip before Christmas...He spoke of the world expecting Jesus’ followers to be LIVING like he did.

How might we BE the people we are called to be in ways that are ‘good news’? Not more service projects, but ways we could live. . 

Do you remember how Jim Wallis and Shane Claiborne  talk about how rare it is to find poor people mixed in with a typical congregation? And Yet, Jesus said, “You will have the poor with you.” as expectation that his followers would be living, eating with, friends with...the poor. 

Could we simply talk to the next person who asks us for help. Giving help if we can, but really seeing them as a child of God, just like us? 

Remember what a difference it made to be in relationship with Orin last year, not just offering financial help, but living and walking alongside him? 
It required MORE of us than a service project! It was eye-opening, it was challenging. Quite honestly there were days when it was more than any of us could handle. . .but part of that was our desire to FIX him. While he needed our help! sometimes, he just needed our companionship.

Are we able to risk getting involved by having a conversation with people who fall into ANY of the categories defined as ‘Good News’?
. . .
Might we learn to BE, in our everyday living, in our prayers, in our writing and speaking..people who have the same concerns as Jesus did?
. . .
Our mission, is to make these words our mission statement so we CAN continue Jesus’ work. So we CAN keep doing service, speaking our for those with no voice, and BEING. . .CHRISTIANS!
. . .But don’t forget! - - We can ONLY do it with Spirit fuel, Spirit-inspiration, & Spirit-courage, as we are Spirit-led.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Shadow Walking

Last Sunday we had 'Church In a Circle'. We adapted ideas from, expanded some of the interactive things we often do 'over the pews' and it was really great. It does not lend to posting a 'sermon' but perhaps I'll put up my notes on the text that I used for the 'conversation'.
The whole worship was truly one of community sharing with each other their love and thanks to God!

This season of Epiphany is a time of claiming our Christian identity. I've been reading Almost Christian' by Kenda Creasy Dean and recognizing too many of us in its pages.

So we are using the lectionary texts that fit perfectly with the following themes:

Claiming Our Christian Identity: Baptized, Gathered, Workers, Rejected, Revealed
We put the above title in the bulletin 2 weeks ago and will again as we move on to 'workers' as in 'Continuing the work of Jesus' this week.

Main Lodge at Shepherd's Spring

Even as I am lifted by the response of the congregation at this time, at our Shepherd's Spring retreat, and in conversations with members and friends, I feel a shadow of change. 

Good change? Yes, each week someone new walks into worship. Often the 'visitor' (soon to be friend) could be labeled a young adult. In fact, they are a child of God, with some Church of the Brethren, or Mennonite experience. Usually someone who was involved in church 'at home' and missed that sense of Christian community now that they are in the D.C. area. 

We welcome them, invite them to lunch, get an email so they can be invited to our monthly Young Adult Gathering in DC. and we hope (and often do) see them again. 
The shadow is from our 'departing' members.

Today I seek to live in the shadow. 

To resist the temptation to try to be everything to everyone. 
To listen for the voice of God for the words to respond.
To follow the call of God's Spirit, moving so strongly in this congregation in recent weeks - Spirit; active among these faithful servants, calling us to not back away from who we are but to CLAIM our identity as Christ's followers.

Me and My Shadow

For now, that means some shadow walking. . .

Friday, January 18, 2013

We Are: Baptized

 We are Entering a year with Luke's story of Jesus.   
It’s good for us to remember that a gospel is Not history but HIS-story, 
It is God's story of being with us, 
A theo story, the God-Jesus story, theo-HIS-story.
Jesus’ Baptism shows us a moment where ‘heaven touches earth’ as Luke narrates it.  
the Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form like a dove.
Adding spirit-story to theo-his-story.

Jesus’ story really Begins with his baptism. In spite of the emphasis we put on the Christmas event, his ministry begins at the event we celebrate today.

Baptism wasn’t that common in Jesus’ time, but it was used in Jewish history as a ritual of cleansing or a related rite. 
John’s baptism followed on this vein when he announced a baptism of repentance.

Scholars have debated why Jesus, the holy one, would need to repent. 

Pic of Jesus baptism - #1 - Murillo 1655
We won’t get into the many theological debates surrounding Jesus’ baptism nor the differing theologies of what baptism means. We will stick to Brethren understandings of baptism and its importance. 
We also don’t know whether there was dunking or pouring involved in Jesus’ day. (River level?) Certainly the artists of different eras used not only the scriptures, but their own experience of baptisms they had seen.

Pic of Jesus baptism - #2 - Andrea del Sarto, 1524

Robert Brearley says, Jesus’ baptism was 'an act of solidarity with a world of sinners'. I like that explanation
 of why Jesus would choose John’s baptism of repentence.
Another scholar, Carol Hess writes in a similar manner. She interprets Jesus’ baptism as a visual of the interconnectedness of humanity shown by Jesus’ connection with all humans including sinners.

He not only ‘gets in line’
 to be baptized with everyone else who needs to repent, he spends his life with the people who need him most. - everyone, especially those called ‘sinners’.

Another oic - Here’s a more modern interpretation of baptism.

When we encounter Jesus’ baptism, many of us recall our own. Brethren usually have good stories of baptism because those of us raised in Anabaptist traditions were baptized at an age old enough to remember our ‘dunking’.

So let’s hear 1 or 2 stories?

Brethren baptism pics:

#1 an older image

Henry Fork CoB

#2 a more modern river baptism
Eder River

#3 Eder River, 
 In August 1708 five men and three women gathered at the Eder River in Schwarzenau for baptism, an illegal act since all had been baptized as infants. They understood this baptism as an outward symbol of their new faith and as a commitment to living that faith in community
An anonymous member of the group first baptized Mack. He, in turn, baptized the other seven. This new group simply called themselves “brethren.”
Though the early Brethren shared many beliefs with other Protestants, a number of issues separated them from the state churches. Relying on the New Testament as their guide, these men and women believed that Jesus had intended for his followers a different kind of life—one based on peaceful action, plain and compassionate living, and a shared search for truth. They also shared their faith enthusiastically with others, sending evangelists to other parts of Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. (see

Anyone who was baptized here?

I thought it important for us to recall our Brethren roots during these Sundays of Epiphany. Shed light...into our HIS-story by adding in our memories and understandings of God’s story that continues to work in us.
ACOB’s Theo-HIS-story  

Beginning story of Acob for 2013, it is appropriate to remember who we are. 
We are the baptized believers of Jesus, the Christ.

But what DOES that mean? 
David Lose says, “Baptism teaches us who we are – God’s beloved children – and confers upon us the promise of God’s unconditional regard.”

What Brethren believe about baptism

1. Response to God - important to remember that God acts, we respond. Altho it feels like we are doing something when we get baptized, the real work is God’s. In baptism God claims us in a special way that makes us part of a family, one that we call the BODY of Christ.
Another David Lose quote that seems just perfect:
Our relationship with God, is the one relationship in life we can’t screw up precisely because we did not establish it. We can neglect this relationship, we can deny it, run away from it, ignore it, but we cannot destroy it, for God loves us too deeply and completely to ever let us go.(6)

2. Act of obedience - Why do we get baptized? B/c Jesus did.
3. Symbol of new life, outward sign of inward change - (like 1st brethren) we are a new creation, not b/c WE’ve done it, b/c God makes us new as we take in God’s gift of the HS
4. Public - witness of our covenant w/God. Done in a worship service because its not just Our individual story, it’s OUR theo-story w/ HIS-story making us Christ’s body!
5. Initiation into church, membership, only way to get in. (Accept letter means you’ve been baptized elsewhere and we recognize it.)
6. Ordination into ministry, not just set-apart ministers, but everyone is a minister from the moment of baptism, on.
7. It’s a BEGINNING  THE beginning of our story. We aren’t DONE when we get baptized it’s just the start.

I rather like Diana Butler Bass’ summary (Christianity after Religion) 
 of how we SHOULD bring people into the community of Christ. She says, like Jesus’ disciples, first we should BELONG, by following him, Jesus.
Then, as we follow, we will BEHAVE differently because we learn to imitate him and live his teachings
And eventually, maybe years later, we will begin to understand what we BELIEVE.

Some times it feels like we ask too much of candidates for baptism. Because we do take vows. Still even as we promise in the water on a particular day, we know that we will GROW into those promises and understandings as we grow in likeness to Christ.

These vows, are promises (like marriage or life-partnership covenants ) - it takes all our lives to live into the understanding we have at the moment of baptism, because it IS a beginning.

Do you remember the baptism Vows? clk
Language can vary but there are basic statements posed as ?’s:
One is about Jesus, and who we understand him to be. I like the language, "the revealer of God's love and purpose for world"

Another is About ‘The Way’; the Jesus’ Way. It’s about our commitment to follow Jesus’ teaching and ALL the NT -- with God’s help.

***(Important Note, We don’t have a list of things we have to believe in. We don’t have a creed. We have a promise of how we will try to live, like Jesus did.)***

The last vow is about our promise to each other. 
Will you uphold the Church?
With your Prayers, Presence, Substance, Service.
Pic of our community from web hello -
“Baptism is not an individual matter but inclusion in renewed people of God.”

Our Living
His Church

Like Jesus, our baptism culminates with a prayer for holy spirit to ‘land’ on us. 

Has this been a good refresher or Too much info? 
Do you Feel like you’ve been in a class with one too many lists?

I think we will remember the stories, those we heard, Jesus’ story, the 1st Brethren, and our OWN story. 

I’ll give you an easy way to remember everything you need to know about baptism: ‘W’ hands
You need WATER (preferably lots of it)
WORDS, (important words about Jesus and his teaching),
even more important we need to WALK, the way Jesus did.

Its why we call it the Way, the Jesus Way    -

If you are baptized, I hope this worship service is a time of renewal of YOUR vows as you remember the time you waded in the water.

If you have not been baptized. . . as my father would quote from Acts, 
“Water is plentiful, what keeps YOU from being baptized?”

1 Robert Brearley Feasting on the Word Pastoral (Lousiville:WJK, 2009) ck page
2 Carol Hess, Feasting on the Word Theological (Lousiville:WJK, 2009) ck page

3 Brearley, above

4 David Lose,

5 FAWN 130-131
6 David Lose,
7 Boring and Craddock People’s NT Commentary  (Louisville: WJK, 2004) ck

Thursday, January 3, 2013

. . .as the day rises to meet the sun.

With these words Christ's people have begun their day for centuries. Even tho I did not rise at sunrise, on these short days of daylight, even a 'reasonable' waking hour allows me to see a golden sky and my prayer connects me to Christians of all time.
"O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you, as the day rises to meet the sun."
I began my devotional year anew in December with Feasting on the Word companion, meditations for Year C. But found that I missed,  Common Prayer; a liturgy for ordinary radicals. So I've returned and read both, along with year two of reading through the Bible.

 I like the connected feeling, but everything I'm reading of late says most of 'us' church-going people and not, feel no connection to Christian generations past and care even less about it.
Last year I read Diana Butler Bass' Christianity After Religion. Now I'm reading Kenda Creasy Dean's Almost Christian  (I had read in-depth summaries of her work previously.) I feel a bit convicted .. that I've been part of the problem.

I think I've been one of those Christians who don't live passionately, at least not enough to really want others to join in. Or maybe I just feel the lack of passion in 'the church' so have felt that it didn't really matter if people were away on Sunday.  EVEN though, as a preacher I really FEEL it when people are away on Sunday. (And often take it personally!)

I find a lot of passion when we are volunteering at AFAC (Arlington Food Assistance Center, this Saturday!), or doing a Community Service Project, or attending the monthly gathering of Young Adults that meets in DC.
Yet whenever we meet for worship, there is joy and excitement among those gathered. Why is it we can't find the 'passion' that encourages each other to physically BE there, every Sunday? Where is the disconnect? and is it that 'church' as we have known it, has outlived its useful life? If 'We=church' need to resurrect, in order to resurge as a new creation, then what, how, when will all this be?
Feeling called to be part of what is 'to be' while not knowing what that is, is the most unsettling place I've ever been. Although this morning, as the sky goes from pink to gold to light blue, I feel comfortable and ready for another cup of coffee. Comfortable..but not quite settled. Will this be 2013?

O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you. .