Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Best Gifts

ASK - Who in your family gives the best gifts?
(me: Lowell used to give the best mixed CDs, a little 'old school' for today's world of streaming music and mp3 files on flash drives, but I still love my old cds labeled ”Xmas Mix for Mom")

ASK: What was the BIGGEST gift you’ve ever received. (you define biggest in your own way)

Jesus gifted the newlyweds with Jars of wine taller than I am, certainly those rank as a superior wedding gift. In the context of John’s story where there are always at least 2 levels of meaning. What might Jesus be telling US about a gift to come?

Paul is talking about a different kind of gift.
ASK: What is a spiritual gift?

Paul is mainly referring to the gift called, "Speaking in tongues" 
(ASK what is known about it?)
Before getting to his point, Paul tells his listeners that there are MANY GIFTS but ....(Ask) "same spirit". We just sang it. AND he says that there is a way to tell if the gift is from God. 
ASK: What is it? - (whether the gift points to God's glory, or is used to enlarge the Kingdom in some way.) 
Paul is likely being a bit sarcastic when he says, anyone who says “Jesus is cursed,” isn't being given words from the Holy Spirit, but certainly it is true. If one speaks and uses their gift in ways opposite to the way of Jesus, it can hardly be a spiritual gift.

.. . .We have to get used to spirit language when we read Paul. We said a couple weeks ago that Arlington COB's name for God is love. We also don't have a strong name for Holy Spirit. Maybe just 'Spirit', maybe we use “God" rather than talk about spirits, because we aren't a place that tosses around spirit-language easily. (There is Good and Bad in that, but not today's point.) We have to get used to Paul's language because he is QUITE comfortable with spirit-language.

When Paul says, "No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. He is referring to the standard Xian confession. In other words, you can't BE a Christian unless the Holy Spirit is in you and working in you and speaking thru you. 
ASK: How do you feel about that?
Do you feel that the Holy Spirit is in you? and speaking thru you?
(Scary?  A hint of what is to come in his letter.)

Before Paul lists a sampling of gifts (it is, a sampling, & not meant to be the complete list, if there even is such a thing) he says 
"Gifts are given to each person for the common good." THIS is at the heart of our message today. So let it simmer in you a little while we continue to seek Paul's gems of wisdom.

Let’s look at another aspect of Spiritual Gifts. Congregations are gifted in certain ways, just like individuals are.

Congregations have different gifts as a whole..
ASK: name some… Can you name a particular congregation that has a particular spiritual gift that is obvious?
Fellowship COB - Debbie's 'home church'
In the December DunkerPunksPodcast, (if you haven't heard, the DPP is one of our new ministries that reach far beyond the walls of this church and city!)
In the... Pastor Shayne Petty talked about congregations that have a passion. He said, “The typical Black Christian congregational  experience and the progressive Christian congregation interested in social justice seem to stand separate. 
While conservative evangelical congregations have the gift of being filled with the spirit and are fired up for Christ and 
progressive congregations are passionate for social justice, 
we have trouble finding Christian congregations who hold both passions; for Christ AND Justice.

Have you noticed that to be true?

Do you know about the Arlington Assembly of God? What do you usually think about when you hear about an Assemblies congregation? 
. . . Tongues, ecstatic experiences, come to mind.
These are the specific Gifts of charasmata that concerned Paul when he wrote this letter to the Corinthians.
Assemblies congregations are usually those that are ‘fired up for Christ’ as Pastor Shayne termed it.
Arl. Assembly of God offers a hot meal 5 nights/week for homeless people or anyone who needs it. Think about the work involved in that endeavor… every week.
They also teach entry level computer skills and I think they have a retirement community they sponsor. Perhaps they are the congregational type that Shayne was searching for. -- fired up for X AND justice!

We don't need to do what Arl Assembly does, they are right up the road and serving our area. But we DO need to do what God is calling us to do. We do need to use the gifts God has given us. 

ASK: What is OUR gift as a congregation?
.  .  .
maybe we need to think on this for a little while, but not too long because action is required. 
We “SIFTED” ideas this weekend that fit into the priorities we named as most important for our congregation.
Those priorities are clues to where our gifts lie because they are our passions.

In Corinth, (recall?) people evidently got side-tracked from their mission with a problem of RANKING of spiritual gifts (and therefore people) Certain people got higher status based on what gift they had. (Status was SO important in 1st century world.)
ASK: What Spiritual gifts would you rank highest?
NONE? - his point is no spiritual gift is higher than any other.

While some in Corinth were ranking the tongue speakers highest, he says NO, Tongue-speaking is not highest and doesn’t even stand-alone, but must be paired with the gift of interpretation for it to have meaning.

Yet, Speaking in Tongues, or ranking it highest is not our problem
ASK: What is our problem related to spiritual gifts? (Prompt VV?)
(identifying our spiritual gifts)
knowing what they are, and CLAIMING our gifts.

ASK: How does it feel when someone names your gift(s)?

Since many of us saw the Vision and Vitality Team use their gifts to lead our Retreat, let me use them as an example. 
The Nominating Committee carefully choose people to call into service for the critical task of helping us discern where we are vital and what we are doing that can lead to new and renewed vision for this congregation.
They carefully picked those whom they believed fit the task at hand. You saw V&V work at the mid-November event and anymore us saw their gifts yesterday.  
in November, Their intentional choice of round tables facilitated our discussion and increased our sense of community. They made a simple lunch so we wouldn’t be distracted by too much food. Then each of them used their gifts for the best outcome for our whole congregation.

Mark facilitated that day. It was perfect. How many times have I seen Mark sit quiet then be able to say just the right thing at the right time. Certainly, this is a gift Mark has and as facilitator he is able to steer without dominating.

JoAnn - organized the room, kitchen and food that day so that everyone would feel most welcome and at ease. This is one of many gifts that JoAnn uses again and again. Not just to doing the work but also involving others in it, in meaningful ways. 
How many of us first felt a part of a congregation in the kitchen?
Yet her gifts also allowed her to be a great table facilitator. She knew when to share and when to encourage others to talk.

Suzanne had a different job that day. I know from our work together that she has the ability to take a plethora of ideas and distill them into 140 characters for the perfect Tweet. 
She has a real gift for listening and capturing key points in pictures and words. Then she “frames” what others see and hear after the event.
Suzanne documented what was said that day and those notes were key to the recommendations  V & V made to Congregational Council and later were turned into action items on yesterday's retreat.

Laura - has the amazing ability to stay quiet no matter WHAT is being said, then at just the right moment, speaks a calm and clear word. As a table facilitator, she used her gifts to help others listen creatively and respond with active listening.

Debbie - is a big picture organizer. She helped craft the discussion with key questions and process that allowed everyone to be heard while keeping the ‘work’ on task. Her own honest interest and passionate faith comes across in whatever she does. She continues to offer those gifts to us, her congregation. 

Those are just 5 people whose work has stood out in the last several months. We could sit here and do that for everyone with enough time. AND on Friday evening at retreat, we did worksheets that allowed us to name peoples’ gifts in a very creative way. 
I’m sure this information will be helpful to us as we begin working in function groups this year that include both Board member AND all of you. (That was a Plug: Be sure to fill out cards with areas of interest!)

ASK: What does it mean that spiritual gifts are given for the common good?? Is it as simple as it sounds?

You already know what this congregation is good at now. (And we will learn what other BOLD ideas God is calling us to.) 

From what you already know, tell me
ASK: what other gifts do we need to help us in our work, our “mission”? 
can you say what our mission is?

I believe the gifts God gives us is key to the mission God gives us.
A little while ago I asked how it feels when someone names your gifts? What did you say?

ASK: How can we name each other's gifts?

I encourage you to put Our congregation’s spiritual gifts on your prayer list. Pray for understanding your own gifts, pray for those you know, pray for us as a whole. and know that GOD has ALREADY given us all the gifts we need to do the missions God gives us.
All gifts are already here.. maybe our real job is unwrapping all the BIG, small and in-between gifts we already have. 

 Turn to each other now - if you can, name a gift you have seen in that person. You may not know the person near you well enough to do this, but observe, look at them right now, recall what you know, and name a gift. Look at them, what do you see? What have you noticed?
(Time: only 2 minutes)
Now turn to same person and say "I accept your ministry in the Body of Christ. Thank you."

This is just the beginning of teaching us to talk about our gifts. 
I trust that as we become more comfortable with Spiritual Gift language, we will be able to name all the gifts we see.

PLEASE stay EMPOWERED to name gifts when you see them. You may see something the individual has never noticed.

As we work together in new ways, 
within the functions of a church, 
seeking to follow God's call to A C O B, 
we WILL be given even more gifts of the Spirit.
God gives gifts that the community needs. (repeat)
God gives thegifts that the community needs
And if God gives them, we'd better use them!

While I don't have quotes this week, I rely on Feasting on The Word, Bartlett and Taylor, eds. for most inspiration. Pastor Shayne Petty can be heard on the DunkerPunksPodcast, found in podcast venues such as Stitcher, BeyondPod and on our website, arlingtoncob.org/DPP

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Wisdom Among Us

Today's message was very conversational. This is the manuscript from which I lead the reflection.

BBTaylor, wrote, “John has essentially rewritten the opening verses of Genesis in his prologue, placing the Word with God from the beginning.”(1)
What or Who is the “Word”?
Is “Word” a metaphor? —— 
What does it mean to you that Jesus is referred to as “Word”?

Another scholar pointed out that “All human language about God must of necessity be metaphorical.”(2)                     

What did you think of the children’s book? 
Were those "names" - metaphors for God?
Did you agree or did it push the envelope about God and religions too far for you?   You don’t have to agree, with it or with me…

How about the words we all read together from Sirach…
How does Wisdom compare to God

We have spent time with physics and physical concepts this year. Today we will be metaphysical. 
Sometimes we speak about our understanding of God as “trinitarian”. What does that mean?
  • 3 in one God
  • Experiences of God, Creator/ Redeemer/ Sustainer
  • God, Christ, Holy Spirit
why is our language of 3 a problem for some people in other faiths? Some in Islam? Some who are Jews?
Why did Jesus language get him in trouble/ killed?

How or Where does the “WORD” fit in?
Where does WISDOM fit in those 3 expressions of God?
“Clearly Sirach closely identifies Wisdom with God’s own self.”(3)

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to seek God’s wisdom. And the journey to wisdom begins with trying to understand what we can know about God.
Jewish honoring of God’s Name
We get in trouble when we try to define God.
Jewish.. no speak no write…

The beginning of Moses’ story (that we will touch on next week in Big Sunday), includes God’s self-revelation to him. After being told by God to visit Pharaoh with God’s message. Moses says, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,” and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
"tetragrammaton". YHWH 
WHAT DOES OUR BIBLE substitute for YHWH? ="LORD"

The good thing about not saying God’s name is it reminds US to  that the word, God, or any name we use for God, are not God, but merely descriptions that fall woefully short of the fullness of the Divine.

Perhaps that is our first “wisdom takeaway” today. 

Remember that we can’t contain God in a name or any concept we have.

“We can become to tied to certain metaphors—God as shepherd, God as Faith, God as king—that we fail to recognize their imitation We can begin to confuse our metaphors for God’s reality, transforming our words into idols.”(4)

ACOB'S favorite word for God or describing God? = Love

Kendra Hotz also said, “One of the surest ways to break our idolatry and expand our vision of God is to apply the full range of biblical metaphors and images for God, including its feminine imagery. The passage from Sirach can provide an opportunity to reflect on our language about God.”(5)

We reflect today and seek to know God’s wisdom. We might also recall that theologians have spoken of God’s self-revelation in two-ways
  1. general revelation - the ways God is made known to us thru the natural world and is accessible to our reason
  2. special revelation, the ways God is made known to us by God’s self-revelation, like to Moses, and in the history of Israel and in the life of Jesus. (including his death and resurrection)(6)
(Taylor also points out that the John scripture doesn’t put down the revelation to Moses in favor of the one found in Jesus. Instead, it is one more, a continuing revelation.)(7)

A personal reflection question: re: General Revelation

What General Ways, have you found God? .. thru the natural world and your own reasoning?

(where have you seen God?) me vs. Carl Sagan

As Christians, we see God in Jesus. John’s poetry is one way to describe Jesus, (probably not the first we’d use) yet it helps us add another dimension to the human Jesus that we would otherwise miss.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. … What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people." Jn 1:4 

We are used to thinking of Jesus as the light of the world. This is why you brought candles to place on our worship center. The light in in your home,—- YOUR light -lights up THIS place - and we are all ENLIGHTENED by the light that is Jesus.

What wisdom has the Light of the World brought to us?

Let’s focus it down to this,

What wisdom does Christianity offer the world?

In the days just past and those ahead, many people will turn to self-help columns and books to assist their New Year’s resolutions. Sirach AND John offer us wisdom that transcend the self-help gurus. 

In the COB, we have discerned particular truths that we can rightly call wisdom.

What wisdom does the COB offer the world?

the COB and this passage in Sirach along with Mennonites and some others, offer the particular insight that wisdom is found in community and that “she occupies herself with serving God.” 

Is this not part of the wisdom the COB has to offer the world?
 YOUR light illuminates THIS church, this congregation. (Individually but even more, collectively)

We focus the wisdom we have found in Christ's community by following Jesus’ teachings and example. He gave himself to and for his community… and ours. He lived in service to the world.

What is our purpose?
What are we here, in this church?
What is it we are to do?
these were the questions the Church Board wrestled with, of course we tend to answer them with the functions that we have known the church to do. Yet it is very important as we begin each year, to look again at why we are here.

“We are invited to be part of a specific kind of community whose purpose is not to enhance the life experience of its members but to serve God.”(8)

The specific tasks we will do in 2016 to live that purpose is some of what we will flesh out at our Church Retreat.

The gift has come to us - God’s gift of “self-revelation” in Jesus, known as the Messiah. Because God reveled God’s self to Israel so they could be a blessing to others. 

and then God was seen in Jesus, a continuing revelation of God… (the light of the world.)

Where is God seen today?….

I trust the answer is..  HERE!

God’s wisdom is here among us!

John concludes the section known as the prologue with these words, “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as a only son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)

The light is here, we are living in God’s wisdom when we live in Christian community. Your seeking for wisdom begins and ends here. 

We have only to take this light, God’s wisdom, out into the world.

May that be our ONLY mission this year!

The End
 1.Barbara Brown Taylor Feasting on the Word - Homiletical (Louis:WJK,2009)193
2. Kendra G. Hotz Feasting on the Word - Theological (Louis:WJK,2009)174
3. Hotz p.172
4. Hotz p. 174
5. Hotz p. 174
6. Hotz p. 170
7. Taylor p. 189
8. Stephens Lytch Feasting on the Word - Homiletical (Louis:WJK,2009) 173