Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Message

In the business of Christmas, have you seen God with you?
in the hectic, frantic pace of the days, have you seen God in the world?
I have. and as I said on Sunday, I’ve seen God working in you.
. . .
Christmas is certainly a time to take stock - to seek ‘peace on earth’ - and the well-being of all people. Sometimes it isn’t easy to see. 
It is God’s work to make peace, but we can help. 
We are of greatest help to God’s work by living the wonderful humanity we were given, the gift of OUR birth.
AND paying attention to all the signs God leaves in our path, 
so we won’t miss the Divine at work in the human world.

William Stringfellow wrote these words about living humanly;
“Discerning signs has to do with comprehending the remarkable in common happenings, with perceiving the saga of salvation within an era of [broken-ness] It has to do with the ability to interpret ordinary events in both apocalyptic and eschatological ways.
to see portents of death where others find progress & success but, simultaneously, to behold tokens. . .

of hope where others are consigned to confusion or despair. 

Discerning signs does not seek spectacular proofs or await the miraculous, but rather, it means sensitivity to the Word of God indwelling in all Creation and transfiguring common history, while remain radically realistic about death’s vitality in all that happens…”
(can we do this?, do we?)
he goes on to say,
“In the face of death, live humanly. 
 In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word [made flesh].

Amidst Babel, SPEAK THE TRUTH! [that’s speak the truth to power when you live in this city]
Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the 
truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word, teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word.

And more than that, in the word of God, expose death and all death’s works and wiles, rebuke lies, cast out demons, exorcise, cleanse the possessed, raise those who are dead in mind and conscience.”

and when we are about the work of doing all this…and have no doubt that we are!… then, we are working alongside the word made flesh, knowing that now and always, EMMANUEL, God IS with us!

William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and other Aliens in a Strange Land (Waco, Tex.:Word Books, 1973), pp 138-39, 142-43. quoted in Ward and Wild Resources for Preaching and Worship Yr B (Louis:WJK,2002)28

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Newsletter Words - a season for spiritual growth?

On Monday evening I gave the following quote by Lovett H. Weems, Jr. to the Church Board: (nancy just chose a different font that isn’t too big)

Survival is Not a Worthy Goal 
Even in times of seeming scarcity, we serve a God of abundance who desires the abundant life for all. But our choices do shape our lives. Just as we encourage individuals to seek freedom from their possessions, so we must manage church finances so that money is not a preoccupation that takes energy from our need to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people for Christ. The survival of any congregation is not a worthy goal. However, every congregation is called always to do their ministry in such a way as to sustain its mission over time. If your church has a faith to proclaim and a task from God in your community, then it would be irresponsible not to put a high priority on finding ways for such a ministry to continue. 
I believe that our congregation continues to have a calling and a strong faith to proclaim. I also believe that renewal and resurrection are key components of the Christian Faith Journey. In that light – in this SEASON of HOPE – I invite you to spend time daily with some faith practice that is new or renewed for you. There are Advent Devotional booklets in the narthex published by the COB. 

For centuries God’s people have practiced repetitive prayers using the psalms. The particular prayers I mention weren’t always part of the Brethren tradition, but daily prayer and Bible reading has always been part of our tradition. If you don’t know what to pray, try this: I find the Latenight US most appealing as a way to end the day. There are traditional names to these and many other practices but the names are not important, the time is. Forgive yourself when you miss, but rededicate each day to the practice. 

We will be spending time in early January exploring Spiritual Growth for our congregation. Bible Reading and prayer prepare us for the service to which we are called. I recognize that we have many different spiritual types and for some sitting in prayer is impossible. In that case, memorize a phrase or short psalm (117, 134) or verse that you can repeat as you bicycle, run or walk the treadmill. When we suspend our need to understand the logical way these words work, we allow the mystery of God’s presence in scripture to work in us – mysteriously!

May you find the Christmas present you’ve always desired hidden in the mystery of this season. “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to that One be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Eph. 3:20-21

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pardon the Interruption

Tomorrow's sermon begins with some info I learned this week about Old Testament prophecy. I'm showing a keynote presentation. (Hopefully the other congregation's instruments will be out of the way.) After that intro and what I hope will be a productive discussion with plenty of congregational input, I will end with something like this:

I read many things this week, and listened to others. I’m sure you did too. I struggled to reconcile some of what I heard. I agree that like the editors of Christian Century said, “For black Americans, the abuse of power by police is a familiar pattern, not an aberration—and it is that reality that must be acknowledged and addressed.” (Christian Century: - editors)
@Dunker Punks Tweet

I recognize that given the way our legal system works, that the grand juries likely are directed to limit their observations to certain testimonies and facts of the case before them. YET, sure we are observant enough to see there is a bigger problem here. That is lived out in the way our systems work. 

Perhaps you are thinking you struggled enough with these problems this week and were hoping for a break at church. Yet do not the prophecies that influenced Jesus and his own life of righteousness point to our task?

Are we not Christians tasked with revealing God’s priorities for justice and righteousness in the world?
congregational discussion: are we? - what do you think?

On Thursday I listened to WHUR. The DJ spoken quietly saying today he was not a comedian, or a DJ, but a - 57 year old black man, who wants his 3 sons to stay alive. 
So he said when each learns to drive, he tells them, if (or when) you are pulled over (for any reason, which doesn’t begin to address the reasons) Turn the dome light on, put your hands on steering wheel, long before officer gets to your window. It could keep you alive.

Were any of you given that advice when you learned to drive?

You may have read, In one of many powerful confessions evoked by the shooting, Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post recalled how his mother used to tell him “not to run in public, lest I arouse undue suspicion. 
How I most definitely should not run with anything in my hands, lest anyone think I stole something. 
The lesson included not talking back to the police, lest you give them a reason to take you to jail—or worse. 
And I was taught to never, ever leave home without identification.” 

What white children are given such instructions?

It is important for us to bring the discussion into the pews and to do it today. First because the pain and loss demands us to respond and, as a friend who is preaching this morning said, “maybe the church’s role is to be a place where the truth can be heard. 
a place where all the stories are told AND listened to.

For a whole bunch of reasons to do with our society, the truth isn’t being heard in courts and it seems like justice isn’t being administered by peers.
We aren’t courts or police - altho we take our turns making up those bodies which administer justice - should we not be listening to the stories of pain? 
Shouldn’t we be putting ourselves in the shoes of others?  - as much as we can. 
I don’t pretend that I can understand from my position of privilege, but as Rev. Alan Cross wrote this week, “We should consider what people in the black community are saying, what are they going through, what is their experience.”

(option) “Author Barnabas Piper chose to post what others were saying about Ferguson and Garner on his blog, saying as “a young white man” he wasn’t in the best position to explain it all. “Put yourself in the shoes of the authors and immerse yourself in the experiences they describe,” he wrote. “You and I need to do so if we want to contribute anything to stopping injustice and closing the racial gap that exists.”

Young Adults recently read about the ‘New Jim Crow’. We live in a world where business opportunity for some means lobbing for strict imprisonment for drug and alcohol convictions so the FOR-PROFIT prisons can make more money.

congregational discussion:What would you share today - here in this place where we listen in order to hear God’s prophetic call to us?

I believe we are called to reveal God’s righteousness just like the prophets and just like Jesus. 
YET, like Mary, we may experience this call as a SIGNIFICANT interruption in our lives. It isn’t what we had planned for Advent or the New Year. 

I find myself agreeing with an unlikely partner, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, who said, “It’s time for us in Christian churches to not just talk about the gospel but live out the gospel by tearing down these dividing walls not only by learning and listening to one another but also by standing up and speaking out for one another,”

What if one tweeter is right when he said, “’Love your neighbor as yourself’ means you picture yourself being choked and surrounded by five men while you say, ‘I can’t breathe,’”


Isaiah’s words commission God’s people to prepare the way for his justice and righteousness. They weren’t waiting for the end of time for it to arrive, they were returning home to Israel and a chance at a new life.
What would new life look like for us?

congregational discussion Tell me your vision of how God’s righteousness and justice would change the images you saw on TV and on the streets in Washington dc this week? Instead of what you saw, what would justice look like?
. . . (encourage!)

congregational discussion what can we do to reveal this vision? to bring the truth to light? (or light to the truth?)

from Dunker Punks (NYC Began..) “But we aren’t extremists, we’re radicals. And as radical Christians, we must look at the roots of our faith, where we see Jesus, who very clearly condemns violence, especially in response to injustice. Follow Jesus at your protests..”
Isaiah’s words bring a message of comfort from God that it took a long time for people to feel.

John the Baptist invited his audiences to be washed clean of their sins, their failings. . .  John called the people to repent, not in the sense of saying that they were sorry so much as in the sense of turning back to God and to the way of life that God called them to.

Living Our baptism vows may cause an interruption in what we planned as individuals and as a church.
. If we are the people we claim to be..
. . .If we will ‘continue the work of Jesus’

..then we had better plan for an interruption. 


 ibid Banks quoting tweet Scott Slayton, a white Southern Baptist pastor in Chelsea, Ala.