Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent Tree

Yesterday as part of our Hanging of the Greens service I shared that throughout the season of Advent, we are going to be reflecting on the identity of who Jesus is. Who is this one we are waiting for? Over the next four weeks of watching and waiting we will zero in especially on the titles given to God’s Messiah in Isaiah 9:6—Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. We’re going to consider these titles in our sermons, in song, and in art we will create together. How did Jesus fulfill these expectations, and how did he redefine them? What does it mean that he is these things today? Then, in the season of Epiphany—the season after Christmas where we celebrate the light of Christ filling the world, revealing who he is—we’ll be reflecting further on who we are understanding Christ to be, considering the seven things Jesus said that “I am” in the gospel of John. So basically, the next three months are going to focus on the question of who Jesus is—who do we understand him to be? Who did he say that he was? Who did he show himself to be?

To help you prepare for our encounters with this question, since Advent is a season of preparation, I handed out in worship yesterday an "Advent tree" for each family to take home. The challenge is, each day of Advent, to fill in one of the ornaments on this tree with a word or image that says something about who Jesus is—who is this one you’re waiting for? If you need prompts or places to get started, there are verses listed on the tree that we will be reading and studying together throughout the season. It’s my hope that this can be a rich season of us individually and collectively coming to know Jesus in new, deeper ways that can shape who we are, and prepare us to be followers of Christ and bearers of God’s image in this world. I'll be sharing my own tree periodically as it comes together, just to encourage you along the way. So here is mine with the first two days filled in, and also a blank one you can print off (adapted from if you were not in worship yesterday to receive one. Come Christmas Day I'd love to see the art everyone created!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Post-Election Prayer

As a pastor, elections are tricky territory. I know that I am pastor to both Republicans and Democrats. I know that some of my folks are heartbroken this morning, and some are jubilant, and some don't even know how to feel.

How, then, shall we pray on a day like today? This morning, this has been my task, to try to figure this out. What follows is the best I currently have to offer. I hope you'll receive this prayer from the place of honesty and genuine love from which it comes. Know, whatever place you are in today, I am praying for you and loving you. And may we keep practicing those five healing habits of the heart we talked about during this election season: a recognition that we are all in this together. An appreciation of otherness. The capacity to hold tension creatively. A sense of voice and agency. And the capacity to create community. These things are needed still, and things we can all do as we live, act, and pray.

The Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit’s very self pleads our case with unexpressed groans. -Romans 8:26

Lord, on this morning most of us are unsure what to pray. Whether on the “winning” side, the “losing” side, or among those who thought both were “losing” options, the events of the last 24 hours are stunning.

How then shall we pray?

We pray, Lord, not knowing what to pray. But we do want to pray. We know we must.

And so we pray for our world, recognizing this decision impacts not just us, but people around the globe who awoke this morning to uncertainty, knowing what the future holds now even less than before. The needs of so many around the world are so profound—hear your children, Lord, as they cry out to you. Let us open our ears to hear those cries, and respond to them.

We pray for our nation. We are filled with varying emotions—from shock to joy to fear to anger to determination to confusion to relief to horror to grief to disappointment to uncertainty. We pray for extra kindness towards one another as we process this election that has been so divisive and ugly and disheartening. We pray that we may give each other space and time to feel what we need to feel—especially those who feel deeply wounded. We pray that, in time, we might not leave ourselves permanently in separate camps, designated as “winners” and “losers” but rather to seek a path where all, somehow, can walk side-by-side and not feel left behind or afraid. We don’t know what this path is, Lord, but in time we must find it. Give us the courage and the vision. May we each continue to speak with passion and compassion what we hold to be true while finding ways to be in discourse and dialogue with each other.

We pray for Donald, as he prepares to assume immense power and responsibility. This is a heavy burden for any person. We pray that he will look to wise counsel as he assembles his administration. We pray that he will move with sensitivity, with compassion, with wisdom, that he will act in ways that promotes genuine healing for our country. We pray for guidance for him, for humility, for strength to make decisions that are good for all. We pray he will always, first and foremost, have the courage to seek the way of peace.

We pray for the rest of our country’s newly elected leaders—for Senators and Congresspeople, for Judges and School Board representatives, for Governors and local councilpeople, recognizing government is far more than just those at the top. We need wise leaders in this time of fear and instability, and pray that those assuming or returning to office will feel the gravity of their responsibility and seek to lead with discernment and open-heartedness.

We pray especially for those who woke this morning feeling afraid because of things said about their religion, gender, ethnicity, disabilities, sexual orientation, or nationality throughout this campaign. So many feel deep wounds. We pray that, no matter how we voted, we will always be those, as followers of Christ, who stand for and with the oppressed. Help us treat each other with gentleness, with dignity, with a willingness to listen. Fill us with a continual desire to act for justice and for peace, to cry out wherever we see a wrong. We pray that we may love well those who feel alone this morning. We pray that we may love well even those we disagree with. We pray we might each continue working to make our communities and our country a place where no one needs to live in fear of persecution because of the way they worship, the color of their skin, where they come from, their physical abilities, or who they love—knowing that you have called us to embrace, not exclusion.

For those rejoicing, we pray humility and compassion. For those grieving, we pray comfort and compassion. For those not sure what to feel, we pray clarity and compassion. For all of us, Lord—Compassion. Love. Wisdom. Hope.

This is our prayer, in the most holy and loving name of Christ.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Giving Thanks for the Cloud of Witnesses

As part of our All Saints worship at church today, I shared this lovely guide created by a fellow Alliance of Baptists minister, Laura Stephens-Reed, for praying with gratitude each day in November for someone who has shaped us in faith and life. I modified it slightly so one could respond with someone living or dead--and if it's someone still living, I want to challenge you to contact that person and let them know what you are thankful for that they did in shaping you as a person of faithfulness. Though I only included November 6-24 in the bulletin, the list for the whole month is here. Thanks be to God for all who God has put in our paths at just the right time to help shape us in God's image. Who are you thankful for today?

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.