Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Engaging the "Other"

In last week's sermon, we looked at Luke 18:9-14 and the prevalence of the word "others" or "the other" or in this parable of Jesus. How does Jesus hope we will relate to "the other"? Not as the Pharisee did, distancing ourselves and thanking God that we are not like "those people," but recognizing the ways we ARE like "others"--and, when we're different, the ways we can still learn from and connect with them.

Ever since I showed this video in our Dinner and Democracy group last week, I've been captivated by it. In this modernized treatment of “The Swan,” a cello standard composed by Camille Saint-SaĆ«ns, Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Los Angeles dancer Charles “Lil’ Buck” Riley accompany one another to create a hybrid of classical music and street dancing. The video, captured in an impromptu shoot by director Spike Jonze, shows the very different performers carefully watching each other’s timing, and embracing one another at the end. What does this remarkable piece of art teach us about relating to one we might consider "the other"?


Monday, August 8, 2016

WMTRBW Retrospective 2: Alive in the Adventure of Jesus

As we read the final chapter of  We Make the Road by Walking this week, let's continue our review of where we've been, this time through the story of Jesus. Here are the bulletin cover quotes from our second quarter--Alive in the Adventure of Jesus. What do these words teach you about what it means to live by the story of Jesus? Which quote is most meaningful to you? Again, I'd love to hear your reflections as this journey reaches its ending and our journey beyond the book is just beginning!

To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to have a desire, a dream, a hope for the future. It is to translate that hope for the future into action in the present and to keep acting in light of it, no matter the disappointments, no matter the setbacks and delays. So let us begin this Advent season by lighting a candle for the prophets who proclaimed their hopes, desires, and dreams. Let us keep their flame glowing strong in our hearts, even now.

In this Advent season— this season of awaiting and pondering the coming of God in Christ— let us light a candle for Mary. And let us, in our own hearts, dare to believe the impossible by surrendering ourselves to God, courageously cooperating with God’s creative power— in us, for us, and through us. If we do, then we, like Mary, will become pregnant with holy aliveness.

To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to face at every turn the destructive reality of violence. To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to side with vulnerable children in defiance of the adults who see them as expendable. To walk the road with Jesus is to withhold consent and cooperation from the powerful, and to invest it instead with the vulnerable. It is to refuse to bow to all the Herods and all their ruthless regimes— and to reserve our loyalty for a better king and a better kingdom.

So let us light a candle for surprising people like the women of the ancestor lists and the shepherds of the ancient world, and for their counterparts today— all who are marginalized, dispossessed, vulnerable, hungry for good nutrition, thirsty for drinkable water, desperate to know they are not forgotten. Let us join them in their vigil of hope— waiting for good news of great joy for all people, all people, all people.

So let us light a candle for the Christ child, for the infant Jesus, the Word made flesh. Let our hearts glow with that light that was in him, so that we become candles through which his light shines still. For Christmas is a process as well as an event. Your heart and mine can become the little town, the stable, the manger… even now. Let a new day, a new creation, a new you, and new me, begin. Let there be light.

Gift-giving, it turns out, was at the heart of all Jesus would say and do. God is like a parent, Jesus would teach, who loves to shower sons and daughters with good gifts. The kingdom or commonwealth of God that Jesus constantly proclaimed was characterized by an abundant, gracious, extravagant economy of grace, of generosity, of gift-giving. “It is better to give than to receive,” Jesus taught, and his followers came to understand Jesus himself as a gift expressing God’s love to the whole world.

Jesus [came] of age and stepped onto the stage: a man with a dovelike spirit, a man with the gentleness of a lamb, a man of peace whose identity was rooted in this profound reality: God’s beloved child. When we awaken within that deep relationship of mutual love and pleasure, we are ready to join in God’s peace movement today— an adventure of protest, hope, and creative, nonviolent, world-transforming change.

To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to hear that challenging good news today, and to receive that thrilling invitation to follow him… and to take the first intrepid step on the road as a disciple.

Perhaps a miracle story is meant to shake up our normal assumptions, inspire our imagination about the present and the future, and make it possible for us to see something we couldn’t see before… Perhaps, by challenging us to consider impossible possibilities, these stories can stretch our imagination, and in so doing, can empower us to play a catalytic role in co-creating new possibilities for the world of tomorrow.

To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to stand with the multitudes, even if doing so means being marginalized, criticized, and misunderstood right along with them.

Violence cannot defeat violence. Hate cannot defeat hate. Fear cannot defeat fear. Domination cannot defeat domination. God’s way is different. God must achieve victory through defeat, glory through shame, strength through weakness, leadership through servanthood, and life through death. 

Friday, August 5, 2016

WMTRBW Retrospective 1: Alive in the Story of Creation

As we come up on our last week (!) of our year-long journey through We Make the Road by Walking, I thought I would kind of take us on a review by means of the quotes we've had on the front of our bulletins these last 52 weeks. Each week, I've chosen a quote from the chapter that seems particularly meaningful to put on the front of our bulletin. Here are the ones from the first quarter of the book--Alive in the Story of Creation. What do these words teach you about what it means to be truly alive? Which quote is most meaningful to you? I'd love to hear your reflections as this journey reaches its ending and our journey beyond the book is just beginning!

To be alive means to bear responsibly the image of God. It means to stretch out your hand to take from the Tree of Aliveness—and to join in God’s creative, healing work.

To be alive is to be mindful that we live in the drama of desire. We can imitate one another’s competitive desires, and so be driven to fear, rivalry, judging, conflict, and killing. Or we can imitate God’s generous desires… to create, bless, help, serve, care for, save, and enjoy.

To be alive is to believe that injustice is not sustainable and to share God’s desire for a better world. To be alive is to look at our world and say, “God is better than that!”— and know that our world can be better, too. And so can we.

God tells this couple to leave their life of privilege in this great civilization [and] sends them out into the unknown as wanderers and adventurers. No longer will Abram and Sara have the armies and wealth and comforts of Ur at their disposal. All they will have is a promise—that God will be with them and show them a better way. From now on, they will make a new road by walking.

In spite of long delays and many disappointments, will we dare to keep dreaming impossible dreams? In spite of the assumptions that everyone around us holds to be true, will we dare to ask new questions and make new discoveries—including lessons about God and what God really desires? It may seem as if it’s too late to keep hoping, to keep trying, to keep learning, to keep growing. But to be alive in the story of creation means daring to believe it’s not too late.

If we want to reflect the image of God, 
we will choose grace over hostility, 
reconciliation over revenge, 
and equality over rivalry. 
When we make that choice,
 we encounter God in the faces of 
our former rivals and enemies. 
And as we are humbled, surrendering to God 
and seeking to be reconciled with others,
 our faces, too, reflect the face of God. 
We come alive as God’s image bearers indeed.

Name the Hebrew slaves of today’s world. Who today is being exploited and crying out for help? Who does backbreaking work for which others reap the rewards? How can we join in solidarity with them, seeking liberation?

Through the ten plagues, we might say, God got the people out of slavery. Through the ten commands, God got the slavery out of the people.

Our ancestors, led by Moses and Joshua, believed God sent them into the world in conquest, to show no mercy to their enemies, to defeat and kill them. But now, following Christ, we hear God giving us a higher mission. Now we believe God sends us into the world in compassion, to show mercy, to heal, to feed— to nurture and protect life rather than take it.

We need to be wise interpreters of our past. Like Elijah’s apprentice, Elisha, we must stay focused on the substance at the center, undistracted by all the surrounding fireworks. Because the meaning we shape from the stories we interpret will, in turn, shape us.

Monday, June 27, 2016

WMTRBW 46: Spirit of Service

For this week's reflection on what it means to be led by God's Spirit in a way of downward mobility, to take on the place of a servant, I want to offer up a piece of art that has captured me ever since I first saw it a few years back: Lars Justinen’s 2007 painting Servant to the World.

Pictured here is Jesus washing the feet of some of the major world leaders 10 years ago:  Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, President George W. Bush, and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh. I wasn't sure at first who the man on the far right is, but thanks to Nancy, who has since informed me it is Xi Jinpin, then-President of China.

It's a compelling image. What captures me about it is that bin Laden and Bush are sitting next to each other, with bin Laden next in the sequence to be washed. At this particular point in history, it might be equally surprising to see the leaders of Germany and Britain sitting together. What captures you about this? How does it challenge you to think about the story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet and what it means to be a servant? Who might appear in this image today, and who might it be surprising to see seated beside each other...or pictured here at all?

Also: give this week's chapter a read, even if you've fallen off of the bandwagon. It's one of the best so far in my opinion. What Brian McLaren says about what will happen to us if we listen to the Spirit is going to challenge me all week and beyond.

Monday, June 20, 2016

WMTRBW 45: Spirit of Unity and Diversity

I am still savoring yesterday's service, and the chance to hear so many of you share about your favorite hymns and why they are meaningful to you. Since so many were traveling, I thought I would put a list here just so you can see the breadth of ways music speaks to us. It was amazing to hear our voices united around these songs. As you read about the God who is Unity and Diversity in our chapter this week, take time to look up and listen to the songs you may not know!

Let There Be Peace on Earth (Nicole)
Plenty Good Room (Yvonne)
O God Our Help in Ages Past (Leigh Ann)
We Are the Light of the World (Heather)
Just Be Held (Krisztina)
Like a River Glorious (Margie)
How Great Thou Art (Wayne)
This is My Father's World (Dave)
Great is Thy Faithfulness (Tina, Abby)
Jesus Loves Me (Libby)
His Eye is on the Sparrow (Valerie)
Blest Be the Tie that Binds (Nancy)
Things we sing in choir, such as O Love That Will Not Let Me Go (Paul)
I Surrender All (Karen)
Go Tell It on the Mountain (Tracy)
Amazing Grace (James)
In the Bulb There is a Flower (Joann)
Heavenly Sunlight (Eloise)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

WMTRBW 42: Loving God

So, this week  I don't necessarily agree with what Brian McLaren says. Throughout his chapter on what Jesus meant when he called us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, he makes the case that loving God is "not so different than loving another human being." In the purest sense, if we were to actually love one another by the biblical definition of love--deep commitment and loyalty and devotion to the well-being of the other--I suppose I wouldn't dispute this too strongly. But I feel like our notions of love are largely so distorted that to think of loving God as similar to loving humans could be misleading--is God someone we fall in and out of love with, feeling passionate towards for a time but then seeing the embers (and the relationship) fade?

Jesus is calling us towards something deeper--a devotion that lasts, a commitment of the whole self. So, for your continued reflection this week, I want to re-post the meditation I led us through at the end of worship on Sunday, considering our call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Reflect on these as you continue to think this week about love for God as something deep that roots us, that becomes the center of our lives.

Love the Lord Your God with all of your heart…
If your heart is what makes you unique, “what makes you tick,” then what is different or special about your personality? How might these things be used to love God?

If the heart is where you form your thoughts and recall important things, then how might you show commitment to God with what you choose to think about or remember?

If the heart is where our actions and choices stem from, where we decide what we will do, how might you show commitment to God with a decision before you this week?  

Love the Lord Your God with all of your soul…
The Hebrew word for sou literally means “the one who breathes.” It goes back to Genesis 2:7, where “the Lord God formed the human from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being, or soul.” To love God with all our soul is to love God with everything that gives us life. Breathe in and out several times—slowly, deeply. What would it mean to love God with every breath that fills your lungs? How can something as simple as breathing remind you of your commitment to God?

Love the Lord Your God with all of your mind…
Consider the mind as the seat of our intentionality and resolve – our combined mental and emotional energy. On what do you expend the most energy? How can your energy be directed to demonstrate love of God?

Love the Lord Your God with all your strength…
If “strength” often refers to one’s possessions, whatever resources one has at one’s disposal, how are you showing love for God with how you use your resources?

When this word shows up in the Bible, “strength” can also be translated “muchness” or “abundance.” It means something is not just okay or average, but the best and greatest possible. What do you think it could mean to love God not just with your leftover time or energy, but with the best of what you have to give?  

Monday, May 23, 2016

WMTRBW 41: Moving with the Spirit

In worship yesterday, we reflected on two scripture passages about bearing fruit that grows from the presence of the Holy Spirit--John 15:1-8 and Galatians 5:13-26 (with an emphasis on verses 22 and 23). We talked about how bearing fruit takes a long time--it's a slow process, requiring us to mature and develop.

First, I love the art created by Denise Cotter that was on the front of our bulletin this week, that brings these two scriptures together:

Second, here is the poem I read at the end of worship yesterday. I would highly recommend, as you reflect on what it means for you to move and grow in God's Spirit this week, printing it off and posting it somewhere. Read it often.