Thursday, January 15, 2015

"The Kingdom of God Has Come Near!"

Our primary text for this Sunday as we continue our journey of finding foundations in Mark's first chapter is
Mark 1:12-15--four verses in which a LOT happens. Read them here and notice that in this passage, we get Jesus' first words in this Gospel:

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

This has been called by some Jesus' primary message in Mark's gospel--any time that the Gospel talks about Jesus preaching or teaching or proclaiming, but doesn't give us specific content, this is what the author intends for us to use to "fill in the blank." For Jesus, it's all about the Kingdom of God.

But what IS the kingdom of God? Here is some of what Jesus says about it elsewhere in Mark:

'The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.'

‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’

‘How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!...It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’

Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’

Still leaves a lot to the imagination, doesn't it? Here is how some more modern followers of God have described or envisioned the kingdom:

“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”
― Frederick Buechner

"What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether. They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
― N.T. Wright

“I'm fairly convinced that the Kingdom of God is for the broken-hearted. You write of 'powerlessness.' Join the club, we are not in control. God is.”
― Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers, to you!)

"When we see social relationships controlled everywhere by the principles which Jesus illustrated in life -- trust, love, mercy, and altruism -- then we shall know that the kingdom of God is here."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

So, followers of Christ who first proclaimed the Kingdom...what is your vision of the kingdom of God? What does it mean to say that--even today--this kingdom is coming near?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Resolutions or Foundations?


A new year has come, and you know what that means: left and right, people are making resolutions for what they want to change and have be different this year. You could probably guess what the most common New Year's Resolutions are in America, not just this year but every year: according to usa.gov, the leading resolutions are

  • Lose Weight
  • Volunteer to Help Others
  • Quit Smoking
  • Get a Better Education
  • Get a Better Job
  • Save Money
  • Get Fit
  • Eat Healthy Food
  • Manage Stress
  • Manage Debt
  • Take a Trip
  • Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
  • Drink Less Alcohol

These things are all well and good. But that list kind of exhausts me. So I've been thinking, as I've been working on the first sermon for our new season of Epiphany, about how the year might have a different feel if, instead of making new resolutions, we made a commitment to return to old foundations. Rather than coming up with something novel to do, what if we made the new year a time to anchor in the things that are most important to us and, as Christians, most important to Jesus?

This is going to be the question we will ask in the coming weeks as we take what I am calling a long, slow walk through the first chapter of Mark's gospel, verse by verse. In this opening chapter of what is likely the most ancient of the four gospels, what foundations do we see Jesus laying or reconnecting with, and how might these things lead to a more solid footing for our lives as we follow Christ?

Join us Sunday as we begin this exploration together, beginning, appropriately, with...the beginning. We'll be reading Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:1-11 and considering the foundations of "Water" and "Word." Hope to see you in worship!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Holy Listening

During Advent, as part of our effort at Broadneck to make this "A Listening Season," we have been holding gatherings on Tuesday nights called "Holy Listening." Been wondering what we do during this time? After an opening time of song, prayer, and meditation on scripture, we spend the bulk of the experience engaging with different listening stations, intended to help us listen to God, scripture, and the voices in and around us more carefully.

I wanted to share two particularly meaningful stations from this past week. At one, we practiced "listening in color," where we were invited to "Consider the drawing on the table, made as a prayer response to Isaiah 40. Take one of the copies and carefully and prayerfully choose what colors you feel fit the different parts of the image, meditatively coloring its different parts in. How can adding color to this visual of scripture be a means of prayer and listening more deeply to God and God’s word?" The images below show some of our responses:




Another station was "Listening through Lament." One of the major voices of the prophets—and of Advent—is the voice of lament. The voice crying out to be heard amidst pain, to declare despair over all that is broken, the voice that wonders where God is amidst all that is going wrong. The major cry of the prophets is the one heard in Isaiah 21: “How long?” After reading some biblical laments, participants were invited to join their voiecs to a communal lament begun on a sheet of paper posted on the wall. They were asked to add one, two, or three lines to this prayer crying out for God’s presence and attention, for God to listen to the cries of God’s people. What do you lament in this season of Advent? Where do you cry out for night to end and the light of dawn to break through? Here is the lament we came up with; each color in a different line represents the voice of a different person who added to the prayer (I took out individual names not knowing if it was okay to post them on the internet, leaving just initials):

How long, O Lord?
Lord, bring light to those in darkness--those seeking to find you.
Bring peace to the hearts of those in turmoil, crying out for justice.
Must the people of Zimbabwe, Syria, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Israel and Palestine, and on and on suffer those who oppress? How long, O Lord.
Show me where I too oppress and lead me to a higher ground--forgive me--help me--help us all.
The anguish of B.H. in Nigeria. The destruction of much in the Central African Republic where Father A. has labored so long. Hatred and destruction in Palestine/Israel. 
Lord comfort A., C., J., Father A--forgive me for overlooking similar injustices.
How long shall this night be, O Lord?
Let us walk in the dark, as long as it takes, 
for us to recognize true light, and shine it forth.
Then come, Lord Jesus--
come to make us whole.

Join us this Tuesday at 6pm as we continue this listening journey together.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gratitude

As we prepare for Thanksgiving Day, I cannot help but think about all which we have to be grateful for in the life of Broadneck in the past year. You all have recently learned of my love of picture collages, and so this morning I made one with some of my favorite moments from the past year--things in our church's life for which I am grateful. What else would you include?

As you reflect on what you are thankful for today, a Psalm and a poem to spark your thinking and your prayers. I am grateful for each one of you, beyond description.

Psalm 136
Give thanks to the Lord because God is good.
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Give thanks to the God of all gods—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of all lords—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
Give thanks to the only one
who makes great wonders—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
Give thanks to the one who made the skies with skill—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
Give thanks to the one who shaped the earth on the water—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 Give thanks to the one who made the great lights—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 The sun to rule the day—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 The moon and the stars to rule the night—
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
 Give thanks to the one who struck down the Egyptians’ oldest offspring—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 Give thanks to the one who brought Israel out of there—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 With a strong hand and outstretched arm—
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
 Give thanks to the one who split the Reed Sea[a] in two—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 Give thanks to the one who brought Israel through—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 And tossed Pharaoh and his army into the Reed Sea—
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
 Give thanks to the one who led his people through the desert—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 Give thanks to the one who struck down great kings—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 And killed powerful kings—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 Sihon, the Amorite king—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 Og, king of Bashan—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
  Handing their land over as an inheritance—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
 As an inheritance to Israel, his servant—
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
God remembered us when we were humiliated—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
God rescued us from our enemies—
God’s faithful love lasts forever.
God is the one who provides food for all living things—
God’s faithful love lasts forever!
Give thanks to the God of heaven—
God’s faithful love lasts forever!


Gratitude
by Mary Oliver

What did you notice?
The dew snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.
What did you hear?
The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence.
What did you admire?
The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the
pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid
beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.
What astonished you?
The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.
What would you like to see again?
My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue, her
recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness, her
sturdy legs, her curled black lip, her snap.
What was most tender?
Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;
the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;
the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;
the tall, blank banks of sand;
the clam, clamped down.
What was most wonderful?
The sea, and its wide shoulders;
the sea and its triangles;
the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.
What did you think was happening?
The green breast of the hummingbird;
the eye of the pond;
the wet face of the lily;
the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;
the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;
the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve
of the first snow—
so the gods shake us from our sleep.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Two Quotes for Sunday

"Last Day of Moses" by Phillip Ratner
Our texts for this coming Sunday are Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Psalm 90 (which will be our Call to Worship),
and Matthew 25:1-13. Give them a read here.

Two quotes for your reflection before Sunday. The first has to do with our Old Testament reading, which most famously was cited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a sermon delivered in Memphis the night before he died. Read the Deuteronomy passage, then read the words from Dr. King below.

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people will get to the promised land.

How do these words challenge you to consider the way you use your time? Have your feelings and attitudes towards time changed over the course of your life?

***
Our second quote is less focused on the readings for this week and more on the overall theme of our October and November worship: the question of what it means to be a community living in covenant with one another and with God. A colleague passed on to me the description of covenant that I share below, from Lisa Nichols Hickman, which I think is one of the best I've ever read. Just let these words work on you as we continue on this journey of considering covenant together!

Connected change is really what a covenant is. We will change. Circumstances will change. We might even argue that God appears to change, at least as we grow in our understanding over the course of our lives. All that change is hard and scary. That change could appear haphazard and uprooted. But, by the grace of covenant, we are always connected by that thin tendril. This is what allows the wind to blow and the leaves to dance. This is what allows our lives to change and yet our deep connection to God, self, and others to create a space for airy beauty.
Celia Brewer Marshall says we are "led through time and space in a dynamic relationship knows as the covenant." In other words, a covenant is connected change. I'm so grateful for her insight because covenantcan be a slippery term. It's not a contract. It's not conditional. Yet it binds us together, with one another and with God, in a monumental way. That binding, Marshall reminds us, is never static. This covenant is dynamic and changing. Its fluidity transcends time and space.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Money, money, money....

Our texts for this week deviate from the Lectionary slightly because I wanted to include a couple of readings from Exodus that aren't usually heard, but that I think are really significant as we continue to consider what it means for us to live together as covenant people: Exodus 35:4-9, 20-29 will be our main story, with a slight shout-out to Matthew 22:15-22. You can read them both here.

This week, through these stories we will be thinking about an aspect of life together that, let's face it, can get a bit awkward at time: money. I've thought a lot this week about why money can be such a difficult subject, why we all feel uncomfortable when it comes up, why--even though I 100% believe in what I am going to say on Sunday, in how we use our money as an important aspect of discipleship and as a theological act--writing this week's sermon was a knock-down drag-out struggle.

But to get your thoughts flowing, I wanted to offer up a couple of videos I came across this week on the subject of money, how we use it, and how we share it. If you receive the blog via email, you will have to go to the actual blog website to view these I believe.

The first is on wealth distribution in America--our perceptions about it, our dreams about it, and the reality of it. Everyone needs to watch this video. Seriously.




The second is a series of street interviews with people about their attitudes towards giving. If you were interviewed on the questions asked in this video, how would you respond? I ask you to give this some thought before Sunday and, if you are really brave, post your responses to the blog.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Love Leftovers"

Our texts for this Sunday, as we continue our "Being Broadneck" series by focusing on what it means to seek deeper relationship, our texts will be Exodus 33:12-23, 34:28-32 and Matthew 22:34-40, which you can read here.

Sometimes, when I get to the end of writing the draft of my sermon, I feel frustrated because there were things that I came across that were AMAZING that I really want to get in there, but that simply don't fit, either because of where I went in direction or because of time constraints (y'all likely would not take kindly to an hour long sermon--nor, honestly, would I!). I had that happen to me this week as I had two fantastic passages to work with. I ended up spending so much time with the Exodus story that I didn't get to talk a whole lot about the Gospel text, one that holds Jesus' beautiful response to the question of what the greatest commandment is:

But, to quote the great Haddaway hit of the early '90s, "What is love?" Here are two quotes I came across this week from two people I really admire, neither of which ended up fitting into the sermon, but both of which I think are compelling and worthy of your reflection before Sunday. Hope to see you then!

"The love of which spiritual tradition speaks is “tough love,” the connective tissue of reality—and we flee from it because we fear its claims on our lives. Curiosity and control create a knowledge that distances us from each other and the world, allowing us to use what we know as a plaything and to play the game by our own self-serving rules. But a knowledge that springs from love will implicate us in the web of life; it will wrap the knower and the known in compassion, in a bond of awesome responsibility as well as transforming joy; it will call us to involvement, mutuality, accountability." 
--Parker Palmer, in his book To Know as We Are Known (a title that relates to this week's Exodus story)

"Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. If, therefore, I do anything or think anything or say anything or know anything that is not purely for the love of God, it cannot give me peace, or rest, or fulfillment, or joy. To find love I must enter into the sanctuary where it is hidden, which is the mystery of God."
--Thomas Merton, in A Book of Hours