Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer is Different

Summer is 'different-time'. We all know it. I usually expect it to be more unique than it ends up being. But this summer has fulfilled the expectation of different. Three area churches, ACOB, Bethel UCC, and Arlington Forest UMC all met together in August, once at each site. We shared our styles of worship and learned a lot about each other. We had full sanctuaries, an expanded choir, and preachers got to catch up on non-sermon work along with some down-time. The members at ACOB loved it. We did miss being 'home' - just a little.

When we worshipped at 'our house' on August 10, we did a play on the first Brethren baptism, thanks to Robyn Reals research and writing. You see a picture of the 'Schwartzenau eight' in discernment to the side. It was powerful and a great reminder that if we want God's guidance, we need to 'walk' in discernment always. Also a reminder that such discernment may just take us to the 'radical anabaptist' place of acting in opposition to our government as they did. It is a lesson we need to keep in mind as we react to immigration laws, inequality rulings and all the things of the news.

Meanwhile, I've enjoyed my 'summer-time' as a time to visit, and write. I have caught up on some planning but now much put things in place. So it's time to move back to this Sunday's worship which will highlight National Youth Conference, yay Briana! #dunkerpunks and Annual Conference. Come visit us, it's our last 10:00 am worship before Sunday times return to 9:45 classes and 11:00 a.m.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Our Vital Ministry Journal and other places we may go.

Reach Out
Look Forward
Become MORE Intentional
Welcome Relationships
Demonstrate Love for All

The above were our consolidated responses during our Vital Ministry Journey Celebration on June 29. Those attending affirmed that we are a welcoming congregation that seeks to demonstrate God’s love for ALL people. The consensus was that we could be more intentional about sharing who we are and how we welcome as we look forward to what God is doing with us and in the world around us. Sounds ambitious doesn’t it? But it does sound very much like Arlington Church of the Brethren. 

In late spring, the Church Board (our elected decision-making body that does the work of the church between annual all-church council meetings) decided to use the same small group process of the VMJ to continue to pursue our welcome of LGBT individuals. I have written a small group study in the style of the VMJ Bible Study for us to use. It is one session, with an optional second session. 

Using this study our small groups will identify the Biblical basis of hospitality that we have always been taught and extend that to a congregation decision of whether to join the Brethren-Mennonite Supportive Community Network. The ‘SCN’ requires a church-wide vote of members and denotes us as the welcoming congregation we already are while also setting us aside as a church willing to walk with other congregations as they discern their own answer to the question of welcoming and supporting LGBT individuals.

The second session, if groups choose to meet a second time, will engage conversation around the current issue of supporting me in performing legal same-gender marriages and the use of the church sanctuary for weddings. Even in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the ‘times they are a changing’!

I recently attended a clergy-lay luncheon of the People of Faith for Equality in NoVa and listened to five high school student speak about their experiences of being LGBT in school and church. In schools many had the support of a strong Gay-Straight Alliance, but in many churches, the silence, implied judgment, or spoken condemnation of who they were was painful. It brought tears to my eyes and still does each time I recall it. Of all places on earth, should not the church be a place where people are affirmed as children of God, created in the image of God, whomever they are? 

I have always found ACoB to be such a place. Even if we differ on specific aspects of justice “issues”, we find common ground in our love and acceptance of all people.  As we use our affirmed identity to Reach Out, Look Forward, Become MORE Intentional, and Welcome Relationships, we will Demonstrate Love for All God’s Children.  Can I get an amen?

Weeds and Wheat (not gluten free)

The Weeds and the Wheat (not gluten free)
It is worth noting that metaphorical speech is a primary way we hear the stories of Jesus. His parables fall into all kinds of metaphorical speech - but this not a lecture on types.
It is enough to know there are NOT pre-packaged meanings, but challenges for the hearers to respond. (I recognize we will shortly hear a what sounds like a packaged meaning from Jesus’ own explanation to his disciples.)
 Question: What Unusual elements did you note? 
       answers/Master plants, where do weeds come from?
   “That he would be sowing his own field rather than his slaves is unusual.”
“Atypical dimensions function to gain the audience’ attention, impart insight, prepare for subsequent interpretation.”1
Where does one get ‘weed seed’? Who, what, when, …
Seed, nighttime ‘black ops’ is not explained.
Owner somehow knows an enemy has done this rather than recognizing a common weed. 2
Just like it should, the parable challenges us to think! Let’s hear how Jesus later explained it to those closest to him.
Scripture Mt. 13:36-43
1) how does this explanation make you feel?
2) do the categories apply to our day?

We seldom focus on “Judgement Day” nor think of a final HARVEST of souls - yet realize much of scripture did give clues about the end. Doesn’t make scripture irrelevant, we just have to do ‘our’ work to find ‘our’ meaning.

Matthew uses a frame of reference we call - ‘apocalyptic dualism’
What is it? What dualism do you notice?
Black and white, light and dark, evil and good = clear categories

We know a little about Matthew’s day; a time several generations later (1/2 century) when Jesus’ own people seemed to have completely rejected him (in fact most Jews and many Jesus’ followers have dispersed from the center of the movement in Jerusalem) and the movement is becoming a church of ‘gentiles’ or those who are not born Jewish. Resulting in resentments on both sides, and a diversity that doesn’t sit well in most 1st century congregations. 

Recognizing Matthew’s/author use of ‘apocalyptic dualism’ should cause us to look for it in our own day.

a sermon from 7/27/14 with my color coding that won't go away. :-)

Where do we see simple dualistic explanations and are we tempted to use the same? 

The scripture climb 
The message we seek to discern as THIS community again gathers around scripture takes work to tug and pull and listen in order to find.
Recognize that purposefully a parables’ vividness/strangeness leaves our minds in sufficient doubt to its precise application to TEASE our minds into ACTIVE THOUGHT. 
How are we to hear this?
1. Jesus’ ministry in his day : Certainly - the parable itself is likely Jesus’ very words. We can hear him saying it.. Agricultural images common.. Struggle for us who no longer live so close to the land and our food sources.
2. 1st Century Church : Our author inevitably writes about and to ‘his/her’ church which faced trials we can only imagine, as the population shifts and the church transitions, into something very new.
3. Judgement Day : Yes, it’s about the eschatological day of harvest - the end of all time.  For much of Christianity thruout history our faith language speaks of waiting, and hoping for this day of harvest, when we will see the risen Christ who comes to judge the world.
so YES - ALL THREE WAYS are meant to be heard.
And ‘hearing’ all 3 layers, we have already climbed into the text looking for ‘our meaning’.
We’ve dug into Matthew’s use of dualism, a somewhat scholarly approach - altho one we need to see. Now how about we return to the earth and dig some more.

 “Do You Use Weed Killer”

One more close look: Looking at weeds (see slide) What they knew and we don’t...
A pastor I know, Teri P describe it like this: “it’s a specific weed, named in the Greek text—is darnel, or false wheat. It looks just like wheat until the ears mature…almost until harvest time, you cannot tell the two apart. 
Only when the grain matures can you see that the real wheat is heavy and bends over, while false wheat stands up straight and has a slightly darker color. In the meantime, while you’ve been watching the wheat grow, the false wheat has wrapped its roots around the roots of the real wheat, so pulling up one would pull up the other, or at least damage it. 
To add insult to injury, the fruit of false wheat is poisonous, and even a little mixed in can make a whole batch of flour toxic.”3 

“Botanical equivalent of ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ & Jesus has used that image before. 4
Now that you are botanical experts, 
What meaning do YOU take from this parable?  . . .Is there evil in our world? 
Did you note that Jesus’ explanation was not to the crowds but to his disciples? 
So the message about evil and good, existing together, is a message for the church... And perhaps a message for each of us.
One more question:
What are we told to do? . . . NOTHING
Not every sermon that ends up telling you to do nothing...

We are NOT to root out the evil in our midst the parable says, but leave it up to God. In fact, in a few more chapters, we are given some specific ways to address inappropriate behaviors in the church - see Matthew 18 for that message - but overall, we are to recognize that our God is a God of INFINITE PATIENCE. (TBTG)

That in spite of evils “pernicious nature” (much like Arlington’s English Ivy, or the Kudzu that is creeping our way from the south) we have a God that can deal with the evil among us. (even when we can’t)
It’s a reminder that the church contains evil, just like the world.

Now don’t you wish we were in a circle so you could look everyone here in the eye and wonder about who is evil?

Yet the church is greater than our circle. 
We know the horror stories of the Christian church
Our Brethren and anabaptist ancestors weren’t killed by non-Christians, but by OTHER christians who disagreed with baptism by immersion and our way of living.
Then On US shores - witch hunts
Church sanctioned slavery and racial discrimination (whole denominations broke into black and white and most are still that way)
The Lesser status for women in the world and the church (to put it mildly)
Even up to today’s ‘debate’ over equality for loving couples and who has the ‘right’ to marry.
Or even who is acceptable in God’s eyes.
Many would even pull up and separate those whose passion - makes them different, whether they are stewards of the earth, environmental advocates, social activists, or evangelical missionaries.
Who would you pull up and out of the church?

It seems clear, as one pastor put it, we have no right to condemn others as ‘evil’ as ‘wrong’ as ‘bad seed’. We are not the landowner – however much we might want to be. 
We are ALL God’s beloved children and, as humans we all fail, we all do wrong. Some wrongs seem unforgivable and awful but it does not make the person who failed ‘bad seed’ – just a fellow child of God who we all do.”5

Truth is “in any given moment there are members of the church who are acting, publicly or privately, in unchristian ways.”6 making the church a mixed field of sweet wheat and poisonous weed. 

In fact, recent brain research shows us that we are all a mixed field - right within our own selves. Each of our brains contains “evolutionary levels from the reptilian ‘fight or flight’ instinct, to the amygdala where the shape of trauma is preserved, to the ‘God center’ in the cerebral cortex.”7
“Each of us is some mixture of wheat and weed,” a scholar wrote, we are each “Holy and unholy, potentially fruitful and potentially destructive.”8

Meaning: If we are following the Jesus’ Way, then we too will act with RESTRAINT, recognizing that our God is one of “Holy purposeful ambiguity” which is far from the black and white interpretation that we at first see in this parable. 
Know that God isn’t shrugging us off, with a ‘whatever’ response to humanity. But the “ambiguity is both wise and intentional.”9

Our God of “infinite patience” gives us the time - even ‘frees us’ ‘to get on with loving or at least living with each other.”
“Often, in the space created by such patience, it is not just others, but we ourselves who are welcomed into a larger reality.” One person called it being ‘born again....and again...and again.’ 10

Are you feeling better about the waiting? 
And are you ready to hope for the harvest?

Maybe that stalk ..that looks just different enough from the rest of us that I’m convinced it’s a weed, will turn out to be the bearer of more fruit than any stalk in our field.

I might even HOPE that there will be time for God to transform the weedier parts of me into good fruit..some time before the final HARVEST. .When all will be safely gathered in...

1 -  William Carter for 7/20/14 Year A gospel

2- ibid
 Teri Peterson - Clever title
4 Talitha Arnold Feasting On The Word - YrA pastoral (Louis:WJK,2011)262
 Maggie Hunt posting on RevGalBlogPals 7/19/14
 Gary Pluso-Verdend Feasting on the Word YrA Theological (Louisville:WJK,2011)262
 ibid Pluso-Verdend p264
8 ibid
 Theodore J. Wardlaw Feasting on the word YrA Homiletical (Louis:WJK,2011)263
10 ibid 263