Monday, August 25, 2014

"Who Do You Say That I Am?" Challenge

The blog has been on a bit of a summer sabbatical, but to start afresh this week I wanted to re-post the challenge I issued at the end of worship yesterday. After reading Matthew 16:13-20 and considering Jesus' question to his disciples--"Who do you say that I am?"--I encouraged our congregation to consider accepting his challenge this week and seeing how you would answer that question.

To get the juices flowing, I am sharing below a few items--first, my response to this question, at least as of today; and the video that I showed part of in worship yesterday, of people around Baltimore being interviewed and asked who they think Jesus is. I only showed the middle part of this video addressing the question "Who is Jesus?", but the first and third questions are interesting too.

Note: if you get this blog via email, you will likely have to go to the view the video.

I would love to hear what you all come up with this week--when you really dig down deep and don't just give a cursory answer, who do you say Jesus is? And how do you say it with your life?

Video, courtesy of YouTube:

Abby's feeble attempt to answer the challenge:

I say that Jesus is proof that God loves this world so much that God could not stay distant from us. When God saw us flailing about, God wanted to be with us; God wanted to take a form we could recognize. So God did the unthinkable, and was born as a helpless baby to a poor family from an insignificant village. That baby grew into an adult who showed us what God is like—and what it looks like for us to be saved from our brokenness and reunited with the God in whose image we were made. Jesus came to show us what life can look like: bringing healing where there was no hope, hearing the voices of those others avoided, feeding the masses even when it looked like there wasn’t enough to go around, showing mercy and compassion where it looks almost insane to do so. Jesus’ way was so different that it scared the heck out of the powers-that-be, and his refusal to back down landed him on a cross—but even there, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness, words of relationship, words of honesty, words of trust. And so the worst humanity could throw at him, death, could not hold him—God raised him to life as a way to say “yes” to the life Jesus lived, and to make this life possible for us as well—life where death and hate do not win, but rather nothing can separate us from the love of God, a love that knows no bounds and never ends.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Media Connections for July 13

Our texts for this Sunday as we enter into the horribly named season of Ordinary Time (I like calling it the Season of Pentecost better--we continue to see the wind and flame of God's Spirit at work in our lives, "ordinary" though they may be) are Genesis 25:19-34 (we will be in the story of Jacob and his family for several weeks now) and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 (the first of several nature-based parables about what God and God's kingdom are like). You may read these texts here, and good luck if you can figure out how they might converge in our sermon this week! Isaiah 55:10-13 is also worth a read (this is the basis of our Call to Worship). You can read all these texts here.

Our media connections this week will connect with the Matthew reading, which has been one of my favorite parables for quite some time now. The different kinds of soil make the parable memorable; but the part of the parable that sticks out to me is the image of the one doing the sowing. Look at the pieces of art below with a particular eye to how the Sower is portrayed. What do you see in this character? What is consistent across the pieces of art? What varies? How would you paint, sculpt, or describe the character you meet in Matthew 13?

Perhaps the most famous of The Sower paintings, by Vincent Van Gogh:

Another well known painting of The Sower, by James Tissot:

 An illumination of the text from the manuscript of the St. John's Bible:

 The Sower, by Bertram Poole

 The Parable of the Sower by Miki de Goodaboom

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Questions for Communion

Our scripture texts for this Sunday are Luke 22:14-21 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-28. I'd encourage you to also read Matthew and Mark's accounts of the institution of the Lord's Supper. You can read all of them here.

Last week and this week, we are discussing the sacred ordinances of our faith: the two practices that Baptists, historically, have upheld as central to and formative of the life of faith, particularly as we practice it together in community. Last week we explored the first of these, baptism; this week we will explore the ongoing practice Jesus gave us to shape our life and our worship, the practice of communion (or the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist).

I would invite you to reflect on some of these questions as we prepare to come together:

  • What was your experience of this practice growing up? 
  • When did you first participate in it? 
  • How was it explained to you? 
  • What did you call it--Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, communion, or something else? Do you think what you call the meal impacts how you understand it?
  • What do you remember of the taste of the bread and of the juice/wine?
  • When you come into worship and learn it is our Sunday to celebrate communion (we typically only do this once a month), what is your reaction? Are you excited? Relieved? Perturbed? Something else?
  • What has been your most meaningful experience of this practice?
  • Why do you think this is the thing Jesus said we should do in remembrance of him? Why is this meal so central to our faith?

These should be more than enough questions to get you thinking, reflecting, and mulling. If you can't be with us Sunday (or even if you can!), feel free to post any of your responses in the comments section of the blog to start our dialogue. But I hope to see you Sunday as we continue this exploration together!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Global Pentecost Images

This week's scripture as we celebrate Pentecost (don't forget to wear RED to worship on Sunday!) is John 7:37-39 and Acts 2:1-21, which you can read here.

Pentecost is one of those events that defies our conventional categories, defies description. All the writer of Acts could say definitively was what it was "like"--"like" divided tongues of flame, "like" a great wind that filled the room. I wonder what it was really like?

As we approach this day when we celebrate the birth of the global church, check out these imaginings of Pentecost from artists around the world.

 Batik by Solomon Raj of India
 Contemporary Art by Piotr Uklanski of Poland
 By Egino Weinert of Germany
 Fabric art by Fiona Langham (South Africa)
 Icon by unknown artist, Republic of Georgia
 He Qi, China
Alexander Sadoyan, Armenia
 "Tongues of Flame" by unknown aboriginal Australian 
Mandala by South African Adrian van Breda 
Finally, of all the American renditions, I found this one most intriguing because it is so different, color-wise especially, from normal Pentecost depictions--by Jennifer Hunger Jones

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Reflecting on the Ascension

Our texts for this week, our last Sunday in Eastertide where we will celebrate Christ's Ascension, are Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11. I really like them from Eugene Peterson's The Message, so I will encourage you to read them in that version here.

Some music, art, and poetry to get you thinking about the meaning of the Ascension in our life of faith as we prepare to come together to hear these stories this week.

First, even though we as Baptists do not say the historic creeds of the church or hold them as definitive statements of faith, I think there is beauty in these historical statements--especially in a sung version of the Apostles' Creed by Rich Mullins that I have loved since high school (before I even knew creeds existed!). Click on the video below to listen to it (if you receive this by email, go to the webpage to click on it) and listen for the reference to the Ascension in the creed. Why do you think this event was important enough to make this historic statement of some of our core beliefs as Christians?

Two very different artistic renderings of the Ascension, by African artist Jesus Mafa and Spanish master Salvador Dali. What is your vision of this event?

And finally, I love, love, love this poem first published by Andrew King on his blog, How does this challenge you to think of how Ascension Day is a call to action?

(Luke 24: 44-53)

Begin in the brightly painted kitchens.
At the table set for supper and on the wide couches
where we watch TV. Begin while we are sorting
the laundry, writing out the shopping list.
And in front of our bathroom mirrors.

Begin in the barns among the warmth of animals
and the smells of grain and manure.
Begin in the growing fields, and in the flooded
pastures, and where the rains have not come
and the soil is cracked and hard.

Begin in the gleaming office towers, the shiny
shopping malls, the sweaty factory floors.
Begin on crumbling sidewalks and amid
the rumble of subways. At machines, at our desks,
by the coffee makers and computers.

Begin with the rich, the comfortable.
Begin with the poor, the desperate.
Among the successful, the self-assured.
Among the failed and the floundering.
In the glitter of the halls of power,
and in the cold and shadowed corners
of tragedy and defeat.

Begin on a day when the sun is brilliant;
on a day when the sky is gray.
In a time when economies are favorable;
in a time when all is rust;
at the moment when leaders are caring;
or amid indifference, hostility, despair.

Let us begin beginning again. And whether
we have begun and triumphed, or begun
and struggled and faltered, we will continue
our beginning, as we have from our beginning,
at Jerusalem,
which is wherever
and whoever we are

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Media Connections for Sixth Sunday in Eastertide

Our texts for this Sixth Sunday in Eastertide are Acts 17:22-34 and John 14:15-21, which you can read here.

In this week's texts, as I thought about the nature of the Holy Spirit, here is the one phrase that really captured my attention:

This is the Spirit of truth."-John 14:17

Truth. Yikes. Now THERE's a concept that can inspire some debate. What is truth, anyway?

To help you start mulling over this, consider some of the quotes and images below. Since motivational quotes and posters are pretty ubiquitous these days, a lot of different thoughts and statements on truth were not hard to find:

(NOTE: Just because I post something on here does not mean I agree with it...these are all things to get us thinking and stimulate conversation!)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Media Connections for the Fourth Sunday in Eastertide

Our scriptures this week are Acts 2:37-47 and John 14:23-29, which you can read here.

Over the next five Sundays leading up to Pentecost, we will be continuing our series on the Holy Spirit--considering what it is we are inviting into our lives when we say "Come, Holy Spirit." What are we welcoming when we welcome God in this invisible but powerful form to live in us, around us, among us? What does the Holy Spirit do?

This week's sermon will focus on how the Holy Spirit serves as a reminder--as we hear in our Gospel text, Jesus promised us that "the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you." What does it mean to be reminded? Of what do we need to be reminded?

Here are a few things to get you started turning these questions over in your head.

A beautiful drawing by Cerezo Barreto, imagining what it looks like when the Spirit comes to abide with us--or make the Spirit's home with us, as the word "abide" means literally:

Some interesting statistics (though I don't know how credible they are, they do speak to our forgetfulness):

Researcher Karen Bolla says the things people most often forget are:
1) Names (83%)
2) Where something is (60%)
3) Telephone numbers (57%)
4) Words (53%)
5) What was said (49%)
6) Faces (42%)
7) Whether we just did something (38%)

Finally, this remarkable song by Jason Gray: "Remind Me Who I Am." Don't we all need that to be done for us every now and then? The video is incredibly powerful as well.