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


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!

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

Friday, October 10, 2014

Envisioning the Calf

Our texts for this Sunday are two tricky ones--Exodus 32:1-14 (which will be our main focus) and Matthew 22:1-14. You can read both of them here.

Once again our blog this week will be a primarily visual one. Here are some pieces of art depicting the Golden Calf scene from Exodus 32. Pay attention to the colors, the expressions of the people's body language, what emotion the images give off. Then consider: if you had to create a modern day illustration of what it looks like when we worship "golden calves" of our own, what would that image look like? What would be at the center? What would the people be doing?

I'd love to hear your ideas, both on the blog and on Sunday!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Picturing the Covenant

Our texts for this week are primarily from the book of Exodus--Exodus 19:1-8 and 20:1-17, which you can read here. These are the story of God forging a covenant with the people of Israel from atop Mount Sinai--a covenant that begins with God articulating what we now know as the Ten Commandments.

In my reading and reflection this week, I have been perhaps most intrigued to come across some remarkable works of art that strive to picture the Ten Commandments--not as numbers or words on a tablet, but with color and image that help us understand what really living into these words might mean. I am posting four of these works (two by the same artist) below for your reflection. Then I invite you to consider (and post, if you dare): if you had to picture what the Ten Commandments look like not on tablets of stones, but as lived in a community today, what would a community living by this covenant look like? A lot of these are images of how NOT to live--what would an image of embracing this covenant look like?

See you tomorrow in worship, I hope!

A woodcutting from Poland:

Modern artist Keith Haring's installment of images on the Ten Commandments:

The illumination of this passage from the St. John's Bible (on display now at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond):

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Speaking Christian: Heaven, According to Marcus Borg

As we come to the end of our "Speaking Christian" series today, one final quote from Marcus Borg's book of the same title, this one from his chapter on the word "heaven":

So, is there an afterlife, and if so, what will it be like? I don’t have a clue. But I am confident that the one who has buoyed us up in life will also buoy us up through death. We die into God. What more that means, I do not know. But that is all I need to know.

What would you define or describe as "all you need to know?" Is Borg's conclusion enough for you? Leave your comments below.

And join us for our final Soup-Salad-Supper at 6:30pm tonight to talk about how considering these words has impacted your life over the course of this month--and will do so into the future!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Speaking Christian: Heaven, According to Kathleen Norris

For your Monday, here's a thought on what, perhaps, heaven is really like, from the great Kathleen Norris' book Amazing Grace:

"My favorite definition of heaven comes from a Benedictine sister, who told me that as her mother lay dying in a hospital bed she had ventured to reassure her by saying, "In heaven, everyone we love is there." The older woman had replied, "No, in heaven I will love everyone who is there.""

Take a minute to reflect on the difference between these sentences. What would it look like to live this definition of heaven now? Respond in the comments section below.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Speaking Christian: Heaven

For our last week in our "Speaking Christian" series, we will be focusing on the word "heaven." Read our stories for this week, Exodus 16 and Matthew 20:1-15, and pay attention to where and how the word "heaven" shows up in each of those stories.

Then, I would ask you to consider this question: what do you think heaven looks like? I leave that question super broad, that you might answer it any way you feel led. Below is a collage of images I found when I googled "What does heaven look like"--very interesting. I am honestly not sure if any of these are the image of what I would hope for for life intimately together under the reign of God! How do you respond to these images?

Then below the collage, I am posting two cartoons that relate to what our stories for this week seem to indicate that heaven looks like. How do they challenge you?

See you Sunday!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Speaking Christian: Peace, according to Dr. Martin Luther King

For our final quote about this week's word--"peace"--it seemed right to turn to one of my peace heroes, Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr. Read these words from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964. What do we, as a nation and a world, still have to learn about peace from his words and the way those involved in the Civil Rights Movement went about seeking that deeper peace that is the presence of justice?

The word that symbolizes the spirit and the outward form of our encounter is nonviolence, and it is doubtless that factor which made it seem appropriate to award a peace prize to one identified with struggle. Broadly speaking, nonviolence in the civil rights struggle has meant not relying on arms and weapons of struggle. It has meant noncooperation with customs and laws which are institutional aspects of a regime of discrimination and enslavement. It has meant direct participation of masses in protest, rather than reliance on indirect methods which frequently do not involve masses in action at all.

Nonviolence has also meant that my people in the agonizing struggles of recent years have taken suffering upon themselves instead of inflicting it on others. It has meant, as I said, that we are no longer afraid and cowed. But in some substantial degree it has meant that we do not want to instill fear in others or into the society of which we are a part. The movement does not seek to liberate Negroes at the expense of the humiliation and enslavement of whites. It seeks no victory over anyone. It seeks to liberate American society and to share in the self-liberation of all the people.

Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. I am not unmindful of the fact that violence often brings about momentary results. Nations have frequently won their independence in battle. But in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.

The nonviolent resisters can summarize their message in the following simple terms: we will take direct action against injustice despite the failure of governmental and other official agencies to act first. We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts. We will always be willing to talk and seek fair compromise, but we are ready to suffer when necessary and even risk our lives to become witnesses to truth as we see it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Speaking Christian: Peace, according to Borg

As we prepare to come together for our Soup and Supper engagement with Marcus Borg's book Speaking Christian this evening, reflect on these words of Borg's about the full, radical meaning of peace. How does this speak to our wider needs for peace today? What do you see causing "unnecessary human misery" in our world today? Perhaps these are the places where peace is most deeply needed.

Like many images of salvation, peace has both a personal and political meaning. The personal meaning is peace of mind and, slightly extended, peace with those with whom one is in intimate contact— family, neighbors, associates. But peace in the Bible is also about the end of violence and the cessation of war. Along with economic injustice as institutionalized poverty and destitution, institutionalized violence was the other plague that caused the greatest amount of unnecessary human misery in the world of the Bible. There was the violence that the ruling elite used to keep the population in line. There was the violence of wars, which were most often started by the ruling elite against foreign elites for the sake of gaining their land and wealth. For the most part, ordinary people (90 percent of the population) had no stake in wars, even as they were often ruined by them by higher taxation; conscription; pillage of domestic animals; ruining of crops, resulting in famine; confiscation of land by an invader; and being slaughtered while fighting or as civilian victims of an invading army. Thus it is not surprising that the second primary political meaning of salvation in the Bible is peace and nonviolence. Not just personal peace of mind and nonviolence in our personal relationships, but peace as the end of war.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Speaking Christian: Peace, according to Daniel Simundson

Good Monday morning! Thanks to all who participated yesterday in our International Day of Peace worship at Broadneck. As you continue to consider the word "Peace" this week, consider these reflections and questions from biblical scholar Daniel Simundson, as he was reflecting on Micah 4:1-4 (which formed our Call to Worship yesterday). What are your responses to the questions he asks? Share them in the comments section!

What is the relationship between realistic, earthly, achievable hopes and those that stretch our imagination beyond what humans have ever been able to accomplish? Is world peace possible? The dust hardly settled on the end of the cold war before the United States and other nations were off fighting in some remote corner of the world that we hardly knew existed. Hostility and greed seem to exist as long as human beings live on the planet. Those who work to bring peace and security into this world, whether at the level of families, neighborhoods, or nations, have good reason to be discouraged and even to abandon their efforts. Are we to continue to work for goals that we know are not possible through purely human effort? Is Micah 4 a call to action, a reminder of our task and responsibility? Or is it something for which we can only wait patiently until God takes steps that are possible only for God? Or is it in some way a combination of both doing and waiting? (Simudson, "Micah." New Interpreter's Bible Vol 7).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Speaking Christian: Peace

Though "Peace" is not one of the words addressed by a full chapter of our book that is giving us our topic for this month--Speaking Christian--it is a key word in the story of scripture, and will be our word for this Sunday as we reflect with  many scripture passages, including Micah 4:1-4 and Luke 19:37-44.

I chose "peace" for this Sunday because September 21 around the world is "International Day of Peace," as declared by the United Nations. Since 1981, it has been recognized as a day set aside to focus on things of peace and to seek to root ourselves more deeply in peaceful relationships. Since 2001, it has also been a day that calls for a cease-fire, for a laying down of arms so that, for a day, people in places torn by violence may have the opportunity to live without fear.

I hope you'll be with us on Sunday as we consider together the things that make for peace through our own International Peace Day celebration. When you walk into the sanctuary, you will see that things look different--Peace Stations around the room will be part of our worship time, inviting us into reflection on God's shalom as a fullness of peace with God, self, others, and creation itself.

Take some time in advance of Sunday to read through a newspaper or a news site with an eye to peace--where do you see signs of peace? Where do you see a need for peace? Bring these celebrations and concerns with you to worship on Sunday. I hope and pray you will be with us for this very special and important time.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Speaking Christian: Faith, according to Molina and Rohrbaugh

One more quote for you on the meaning of Faith for this Wednesday, this one from social scientists Bruce
Molina and Richard Rohrbaugh, who give us further insight into what the idea of faith was for the communities to whom the New Testament was addressed. What do you think of the distinction they make? Share comments below!

Faith as "assent to something or to something somebody says is not common in the New Testament...Also very rare is the use of the term to mean 'tradition,' as in the 'faith' which was delivered once and for all to the saints (Jude 1:3). In the New Testament, the words 'faith,' 'have faith,' and 'believe' much more frequently refer to the social glue that binds one person to another [emphasis mine]. They point to the social, externally manifested, emotional behavior of loyalty, commitment, and Matthew 21:21, the NRSV translates: "have faith and do not doubt." This translation puts the phrase into the first category above, assent of the mind. But this is not the normal use of the words in Matthew. They are better translated: "stay loyal (to God) and do not hesitate (in your fidelity or loyalty)." Similarly, in the next verse the obvious meaning is: "Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you remain loyal (to God)." In sum, "faith" primarily means personal loyalty, commitment to another person, fidelity, and the solidarity that comes from such faithfulness."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Speaking Christian: Faith, according to Marcus Borg

Happy Tuesday! Tonight we will gather at 6:30pm for our second Soup-Salad-Supper discussion of Marcus Borg's Speaking Christian, considering his chapters on Believing and Faith, John 3:16, and "The Only Way." As you continue to think about the meaning of faith in your life this week, what do you think of Borg's description about how faith goes, in many senses, deeper than and beyond beliefs? Share your comments below!

"My point is not that “beliefs” don’t matter. Beliefs matter very much. There are “bad” beliefs that can get in the way of faith, and worse. Bad beliefs have too often been a source of intolerance, cruelty, injustice, violence, persecution, and barbarism. So also “good” beliefs matter— they can help us to get rid of unnecessary intellectual stumbling blocks to being Christian, and, even more important, they can shape us into becoming more compassionate, just, and peaceful beings. So beliefs matter. But we should not imagine that “believing the right things” is all that matters. Faith is a much deeper movement of the heart, of the self at its deepest level. Christian faith is allegiance to and trust in God as known in Jesus."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Speaking Christian: Faith/Believing, according to Frederich Buechner

Good morning, church! As you continue to reflect on yesterday's second sermon in our "Speaking Christian" series, what are your thoughts about the word "faith" this morning?

For many, the words "faith" and "believing" are closely linked (we will talk about these words together in our Soup-Salad-Study tomorrow night). So give some thoughts to this description by Frederich Buechner of what it means to believe/have faith, and share your reactions in the Comments section:

"New Testament Greek speaks of believing "into" rather than believing "in." In English we can perhaps convey the distinction best by using either "in" or no preposition at all.

Believing in God is an intellectual position. It need have no more effect on your life than believing in Freud's method of interpreting dreams or the theory that Sir Francis Bacon wrote Romeo and Juliet.

Believing God is something else again. It is less a position than a journey, less a realization than a relationship. It doesn't leave you cold like believing the world is round. It stirs your blood like believing the world is a miracle. It affects who you are and what you do with your life like believing your house is on fire or somebody loves you.

We believe in God when for one reason or another we choose to do so. We believe God when somehow we run into God in a way that by and large leaves us no choice to do otherwise.

When Jesus says that whoever believes "into" him shall never die, he does not mean that to be willing to sign your name to the Nicene Creed guarantees eternal life. Eternal life is not the result of believing in. It is the experience of believing."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Speaking Christian: Faith

As we continue our series on "Speaking Christian," this week's word is another big one: faith. What is faith? The internet, as in most things, offers many answers--lots of quotes about faith, some pithy, some substantive. I have collaged some below, including a verse from this week's scripture, Matthew 17:14-20. If you had to write a statement about what faith is, what would you write? Give this some thought before tomorrow, and share your ideas in the Comments section below (and it is more than okay if your thoughts are REALLY different than these quotes!).

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Salvation (Kathleen Norris)

In her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris tells of a conversation with a friend who had been on a destructive path when suddenly he realized he was over his head and needed to get out. Here's how she connected his experience to the concept of salvation...what do you think of what she has to say?

"The Hebrew word for 'salvation' means literally 'to make wide,' or 'to make sufficient,' and our friend had recognized that the road he had taken was not wide enough to sustain his life; it was sufficient only as a way leading to death. I was glad to learn from The Oxford Companion to the Bible that 'the primary meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words translated "salvation" is non-religious.' The Hebrew words usually come from a military context, and refer to victory over evil or rescue from danger in this life. And in the gospels it is often physical healing that people seek from Jesus, relief from blindness, paralysis, leprosy. When he says to them that their faith has saved them, it is the Greek word for 'made you well' that is employed. It seems right to me that in so many instances in both the Hebrew scriptures and the gospels salvation is described in physical terms, in terms of the here and now, because I believe that this is how most of us first experience it. Only later do the more spiritual implications of salvation begin to make themselves known."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Salvation (Frederich Buechner)

Happy Tuesday! Hope you'll join us tonight for our first Soup-Salad-Supper conversation at 6:30pm as we discuss this week's word, "Salvation." Until then, reflect on and post your responses to this description of salvation from Frederich Buechner's Beyond Words:

Who knows how the awareness of God's love first hits people. We all have our own tales to tell, including those of us who wouldn't believe in God if you paid us. Some moment happens in your life that you say yes to right up to the roots of your hair, that makes it worth having been born just to have happen. Laughing with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. Waking up to the first snow. Being in bed with somebody you love.
Whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to business as usual, it may lose you the ball game. If you throw your arms around such a moment and bless it, it may save your soul.
How about the person you know who as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment—one of those soreheads and slobs of the world, the ones the world has hopelessly crippled? Maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you.
It is a process, not an event.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Salvation (Marcus Borg)

Happy Monday! As you continue to reflect on worship from yesterday, what are your responses to this quote?

To be saved is to be delivered/rescued from that which ails us. Salvation is also about more than deliverance and rescue: to be saved is to enter into a new kind of life—a life covenanted with God, the central theme of both the Old and New Testaments. Salvation is about deliverance and transformation.  
--Marcus Borg, Speaking Christian

Friday, September 5, 2014

Speaking Christian

This month, we will be spending time together with some of the "big words" of the Christian faith, engaging both these words in scripture and Marcus Borg's interpretations of them in his book Speaking Christian. This week, we will begin with "salvation"--certainly one of the biggest words of faith! In advance of Sunday, I would invite you to read our key text for this week--Exodus 14:10-31. Here's my question: If this was the only passage you had to teach you what salvation was, how would you define it? Post your comments below, if you dare, and we will get the conversation started!

In addition, during the week after the sermon each day I will post a different quote about that week's key word. I encourage you to sit with the quotes and post responses to them--do you agree? Disagree? How do they challenge your understanding of the week's word?

I am looking forward to this challenging journey on which we are embarking! Join us on Sundays and Tuesday nights this month to engage the conversation in person.

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