Tuesday, December 27, 2016

O Christmas Tree

Merry Christmas to All! Here's my completed Advent tree. Anyone else finish theirs? Keep it close at hand...the names and identity of Jesus will be our focus for the first couple of months of the New Year, and many of these verses and images will be re-visited.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Advent Tree, Day 24

Christmas is getting close now...how is your Advent tree focused on the identity of the one we are waiting for coming?

There's still time to create your own! Go back to the original post to print yours and get started. This has been a really lovely discipline in my Advent.

Friday, December 9, 2016

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 prayingincolor.com) 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.

Monday, June 20, 2016

WMTRBW 45: Spirit of Unity and Diversity

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

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

WMTRBW 42: Loving God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

WMTRBW 41: Moving with the Spirit

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

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

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

WMTRBW 40: The Spirit is Moving!

Our Pentecost blog is going to be a picture blog, with images of our kite flying at our Pentecost Picnic yesterday afternoon. Everyone was entranced watching these kites dance and twist and soar in the wind. What if we were that open and attentive to the Spirit's movement?

Enjoy these--the ones of all the kids sitting on the wall watching the kite way up high are my favorite! See if you can spot the kite waaaaaay up there.

Monday, May 9, 2016

WMTRBW 39: Whatever the Hardship, Keep Rising Up!

This morning, Nancy Lively sent me an email that made me realize something I've never thought about before: the word "Pentecost"--the day we will celebrate this coming Sunday, the day the Holy Spirit is poured out on all people and the Church is born--has the word "cost" in it. Yesterday, we talked a great deal about the cost of following Jesus--the hardships we will inevitably face if we walk in The Way of Jesus. So, as we move toward Pentecost this week, it seemed right to read this prayer/poem that Nancy sent this morning, by Maren Tirabassi (https://giftsinopenhands.wordpress.com):

God, I understand part about fifty days,
but it’s the “cost”
hidden in the holiday
that worries me on Pentecost.

It costs my anonymity as a Christian,
all my pet preconceptions
of who belongs,
the loan of my mouth,
my reputation for sobriety,
towels for the baptisms of strangers.

And for all of these,
I come away with something
oddly sweet –
bright feathers and shook foil.

This seemed a good prayer/poem to hold in hand and heart and mind this week as we read the We Make the Road chapter on hardships this week, and as we continue reflecting on these very challenging questions, slightly adapted from the ones with which we finished worship yesterday:

What has following Jesus cost you in the past?

What is following Jesus costing you in the present?

What cost are you willing to pay to follow Jesus in the future?

Monday, May 2, 2016

WMTRBW 38: The Uprising of Stewardship

This week, in our scripture reading from 2 Corinthians 8:1-15, we hear the Apostle Paul talk about his desire for churches to share from their abundance so others will not have to be in need, so "that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.'" Imagine it--a world where the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little! And Paul--like Jesus before him--saw Christians as able to help make this happen by the way they cared for one another and shared freely of what they had.

These words are of particular challenge for us as Christians in this time when there seems to be so little fair balance in our society or our world in terms of opportunity and resources. As you are reading Brian McLaren's thoughts on stewardship from We Make the Road by Walking this week, check out some of these infographics that share a picture of the economic inequality that plagues our immediate area, our nation, and our world. What do you think our proper response and action should be as Christians to help there be fair balance?

Monday, April 25, 2016

WMTRBW 37: The Uprising of Partnership

Yesterday in worship we talked about the importance of partnership. Partnership is so central to the life of our congregation, especially when it comes to mission and ministry to the wider community and world. Do you realize how many people/places we partner with as a church? Here are just a few of our partnerships--if there are any you don't know much about, click the link and take time to learn more!

Intergenerational West Virginia Mission Trip (join us and volunteers from several other partner churches this summer--August 1-6!)
Winter Relief (we partner with Cape St. Claire UMC to host guests experiencing homelessness every year--our next hosting week is January 2-9, 2017!)
My Brother's Pantry (join with us in packing and delivering on Saturday mornings May 14 and 21!)

And there are so many more--our Thanksgiving service project and Easter Sunrise partnerships with other churches in the Broadneck Ministerium, our Good Friday Journey with Jesus with Asbury-Arnold UMC, Backpack Buddies with Cape UMC, partnering to host AA groups in our church building, the list goes on. And these are just official partnerships--think of all the more informal ways we partner with others to do God's work!

But I hope this week as you read the stories of partnership and the chapter from We Make the Road by Walking, you'll keep reflecting on the questions issued at the end of Sunday's sermon: 

What new partnerships might need to rise up in our future? 

Who might be wanting to come alongside of us to do something transformative?

Who might be waiting for us to come alongside of them? 

What unlikely people or groups could be our partners as we continue to live out the great commission Jesus has given us? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts--leave them in the comments section below!

Monday, April 18, 2016

WMTRBW 36: The Uprising of Worship

Two things for your consideration this week as you reflect on Sunday's sermon on worship and
Chapter 26:

First, for those of you who asked, here's a link to the National Congregations Study I referenced: http://www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/Docs/NCSIII_report_final.pdf  Pages 9-11 and 34-35 in particular deal with changes in worship practices in American congregations.

Second, I found this explanation by Brian McLaren of the idea that Jesus gave himself "for us" and "for our sins" to be really compelling:
We say the words Jesus said about the bread being his body given for us, and the wine being his blood shed for us and for our sins. Those words “for us” and “for our sins” are full of meaning for us. Just as we take medicine “for” an illness, we understand that Jesus’ death is curing us of our old habits and ways. For example, when we ponder how he forgave those who crucified him, we are cured of our desire for revenge. When we see how he trusted God and didn’t fear human threats, we are cured of our fear. When we remember how he never stopped loving, even to the point of death, we are cured of our hatred and anger. When we imagine his outstretched arms embracing the whole world, we feel our hearts opening in love for the whole world, too, curing us of our prejudice and favoritism, our grudges and selfishness.
What do you think of this description of what Jesus might have meant when he said his blood was shed for us? How might this change the way you think about breaking bread and drinking the cup around the communion table?

Monday, April 11, 2016

WMTRBW 35: The Uprising of Discipleship

This week's reading focuses on Jesus' appearance to the disciples along the Sea of Galilee/Tiberius in John 21:1-19. The end of the story involves Jesus asking Peter three times to feed his lambs/sheep. We talked in the sermon about how the challenge of discipleship is that it's not just about being fed ourselves; it's about our call to feed others, to nurture others in their lives of faith.

In our recent congregational survey, there was one question that people seemed to struggle to answer: the question of what you, personally, feel like you can do to help Broadneck move in the direction you hope it will go. Almost half of our survey respondents left this question blank or responded with "I don't know" or "I'm not sure." It makes me wonder if you all realize how amazing and capable you are, what bounty you have to give even if you feel like you've got nothing! Jesus realized it; it's why he didn't just feed the disciples with his own fish from the fire, but had them add the ones they caught themselves. It's why he told Peter, "Feed my sheep"--there are others out there longing to know my forgiveness and acceptance, to know my words. You go tell them! You teach them! Take what you've received and pass it on! This is what it means to follow me.

What gifts do you bring to Broadneck that you can use to help others grow in their faith--either those already part of our church family, or those not yet part of it? What lessons have you learned in following or struggling to follow Jesus that you could share? What might you have to teach a child? A youth? A young adult? A middle-aged adult? An older adult? As we each recognize our ability to offer spiritual food to one another, we will continue to grow as a family of faith. Seriously...take some time this week and consider what fish you can bring to the table to help feed those hungering for something much deeper than food. Because we all have something to share. Even you.

Monday, April 4, 2016

WMTRBW 34: The Uprising of Fellowship

Our next five weeks of readings from We Make the Road by Walking (technically, I guess, the next six) help us explore what the early church found to be the impact of the resurrection. As Jesus’ followers began to move forward into this new reality that had been created when it was discovered that God had said yes to Jesus’ way in raising him from the dead, what would the fact that Christ is alive mean for them? How would it shape their life together?

As I looked at these chapters, I was amazed first of all by how the things McLaren talks about mirror the five ministry groups that are at the heart of our life together as a congregation. Check it out:

Discipleship--Spiritual Formation
Worship--Worship (duh!)

The second thing that amazed me is how much these chapters' themes matched up with the themes of what we said as a congregation is important to us and life-giving to us at Broadneck. I mentioned that I made word clouds of our responses to these questions, and here are our replies. Where do you see the themes of the butterfly above in the word clouds below?

I feel most alive and encouraged at Broadneck when...
 I think the most important thing going on in our congregation right now is...

This is going to be a fun post-Easter journey, and we began this week with fellowship and considering this challenge: who needs to be included in our fellowship? To whom have we been sent? I look forward to these weeks of exploration together!

Monday, March 14, 2016

WMTRBW 31: The Choice is Yours

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock."
Matthew 7:24-25

We have come to the end of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and now we hear it's all about action. Will we actually DO the things Jesus has spoken of and showed us with his life? 

Yesterday in worship we actually built a foundation that helped us look at what Jesus has said to us in this amazing block of teaching:

At the end of worship, this was the challenge: "Choose one—just one—of these foundational words to not just hear this week, but do. Choose not the one that feels easiest to you, but one that you think may be hard. Ask how you can make doing this thing part of the bedrock on which you stand every day, how you can not just hear these words but live them."

Lots of people took home a rock with some of Jesus' words on it to try to live out this week. Look at the big picture and consider: where does your house need to be founded more firmly on the ways of Jesus?

I took home "Keep heart free from cynicism" (my translation of the beatitude "Blessed are the pure in heart"). As I watch election coverage in particular these days, I find it hard to imagine anything good coming out of all our political divisiveness and ridiculousness. I realize that my jadedness can keep me from doing what I can to be a positive voice for the things that matter in Christ's kingdom because I feel like nothing is ever going to change. This week, I'm trying to leave those shifting sands of cynicism behind. But golly it's hard.

Which words did you choose, or would you like to choose? How are things going as you try to live them?

Monday, March 7, 2016

WMTRBW 30: Why We Worry, Why We Judge

In our sermon on Matthew 6:22-7:12 yesterday, I made only a passing reference to one of the most famous parts of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the last verse of our reading better known as the Golden Rule. So, I thought our blog could focus on that!

I want to encourage you to watch this short (less than 10 minutes) TED Talk by Karen Armstrong, which calls not just Christians but followers of all world religions to center their lives on this teaching--one espoused not just by Jesus, but by many faith leaders throughout history. How might our world be transformed if we actually did to others what we would like them to do to us?

Note: if you receive the blog by email, you probably will need to go to the blog website to watch the video, or just click this link: https://www.ted.com/talks/karen_armstrong_let_s_revive_the_golden_rule?language=en

Share any comments below!

Monday, February 29, 2016

WBTRBW Chapter 29: Your Secret Life

In this week's reading from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:1-21), Jesus encourages us to practice our faith in secret. Jesus speaks of three faith practices that were central in his day: almsgiving (sharing with/caring for the poor), prayer, and fasting. These practices are still significant markers of people of faith today; but what other practices are significant to your faith?

Our first church covenant statement that we adopted last year says, "As a member of Broadneck Baptist Church, I commit myself to growing personally in the ways of Christ. I am committed to pursuing discipleship, continually and intentionally seeking deeper relationship with God, fellow seekers, and the world around me, even when I struggle on the journey." How are you seeking deeper relationship? What are the things that you do as a habit, regularly, in secret to deepen and express your faith? To help you think through this question, I thought I'd link you with some resources this week--some of my favorite websites and materials on spiritual practices. If you're trying to figure out what it means for you to practice your faith, or ways you can grow deeper in Christ, these are websites I would invite you to explore!

Faith Practices is a UCC curriculum I did some writing for--they have some nice activities you could incorporate into your own daily life.

Practicing Our Faith has some wonderful articles as well as links to a great series of books on spiritual practices.

Spirituality and Practice is not exclusively Christian but looks at many practices from various traditions that Christians can use to go deeper in faith.

Explore and enjoy--and if you find something particularly meaningful, share it in the comments below!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

WMTRBW Chapter 28: A New Path

Throughout Lent, many of us have been reading a different translation of the Sermon on the Mount each day (there's still time for you! Let me know if you want to be added to the email list). It is amazing to me how I hear different things each time I read, especially in the interpretations of different translators, each uncovering a different wrinkle in the original text.

On Sunday, I only really got to deal with the last of Jesus' statements in Matthew 5:17-48--the one about loving enemies. So, to help us sort through what Jesus is saying in this complex section of teaching, I thought I'd offer a translation of my own. Not from the original Greek (my three semesters of that blessed language are lost somewhere in the grey matter of my brain), but from all my study work on the passage over the past week. So this is a paraphrase more than a translation, I guess. But here's an offering--the Abby Standard Version, if you will--of some of what I hear in Jesus' teachings:

 Don't stop with where the law has already taken you--keep following the road to see what new places it might lead.

For instance, you've heard the command to not murder, and I’m not discounting this.  But carrying around your anger, insulting others, devaluing them by calling them names—that will land you in a place that’s just as bad as where murder gets you.  The outcome is the same:  destruction. Innocent lives destroyed, your community reduced to a trash heap. Go beyond this and do the hard work of reconciliation. This matters as much as the more visible work of physical restraint. Be those who act first to sustain relationship and restore it—not those who harbor grudges or pride.

What about adultery?  Take the command further and look at the attitudes that drive such an act—the ways you constantly treat each other as objects, the ways you want things at the expense of others.  If you are going to nurture such lust, you not only reduce the other person to their body parts, you maim yourself—that right eye that looks is cut off, that hand that wants to touch is cut off, because your relationship with that person has lost all its perspective, has lost its intended form.  Your punishment will fit your crime as you, too, find yourself disfigured and dehumanized.  You’ll be changed from a beautiful body of Christ into a horror movie, a collection of dismembered people who, again, are more likely to be found in that trash heap than in my beloved community.

And what about divorce? Yes, the law says it’s legal—but do you see what husbands being able to just sign a sheet of paper and throw out their wives does?  That’s how you all do divorce, with the stroke of a pen, and it reduces covenant to convenience; it leaves my children—those women—without voices, without anyone to care for them, exposed to society’s mercy—which is most often merciless.  It turns some of my children into less-than-human objects, just as adultery does.  This is not the life God has intended for you.  The way you divorce strips people of their safety, their sustenance, their honor—you cannot do this to one another and expect to flourish yourself.

And you know how the law says you must stand by your words if you have promised God that you will do so?  That’s just surface obedience—mere infant’s milk. You must live more deeply than this.  You must honor every word you speak, not just certain ones—truthful speech will be the foundation of this new community.  If you cannot be trusted to speak with integrity to one another in all times and places, how can this community ever thrive?  What will it be able to depend on?

I'd challenge you to try this this week--take just one section of Jesus' teaching, one of these six "You have heard it said...but I say to you..." and seek to put it in your own words. Do some research if you want, learn the cultural context behind it (www.textweek.com is a great resource I use weekly). Read Brian McLaren's chapter, too. Then consider the title of the chapter: with these words, how is Jesus encouraging us to walk God's path in a new way, extending it into territory we have never dared enter before?

Monday, February 15, 2016

WMTRBW 27: A New Identity

With the beginning of Lent, we have started a new section in We Make the Road by Walking. We are past the halfway point in our journey and have now moved into a quarter of imagining what it means to be "Alive in a Global Uprising." As Brian McLaren writes in the introduction to this session,

Joining the adventure of Jesus is a starting line, not a finish line. It leads us into a lifetime of learning and action. It challenges us to stand up against the way things have been and the way things are, to help create new possibilities for the way things can and should be. It enlists us as contemplative activists in an ongoing uprising of peace, freedom, justice, and compassion. In Part III, we focus on what it means for us to join in his adventure. 

The first part of this journey will be five weeks spent in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' longest recorded block of teaching in the Bible. Many of us are striving to read the Sermon on the Mount daily through the season of Lent. Many of the words in Matthew 5-7 are among the most familiar Jesus spoke--how can we strive to hear them with fresh ears?

I would encourage you as your read each week's chapter on the Sermon--starting with this week's, which focuses on Matthew 5:1-16--asking yourself these questions prompted by McLaren's intro:

  • How do these words of Jesus challenge me to stand up against the way things have been and the way things are?
  • How do these words of Jesus help create new possibilities for the way things can and should be? 
  • How might I live differently if I take these words to heart?
If we read Jesus' sermon with these questions in mind, I think Lent has the potential to be a transformative time for all of us. Read the first part and share your reflections in the comments section!

Monday, February 8, 2016

WMTRBW 26: Making It Real

Again, this week we will have to read two chapters to complete section 2, "Alive in the Adventure of Jesus," in order to begin section 3, "Alive in a Global Uprising" with the start of the season of Lent this coming week. So, read chapters 25 and 26; this blog will focus on chapter 26 since chapter 25 was focused on in worship yesterday!

As Brian McLaren was writing this chapter, he says in his additional commentary on the book,

"I wondered if we might need a fresh definition of faith. As it stands, faith often means conviction that some things happened in the past. I wonder if faith is even more truly a conviction that something can, must, and will happen in the future, and by its very existence, it helps those things come to be."

This chapter also offers a new perspective not just on faith, but on another loaded word: "belief." In the chapter, imagined as a dialogue between Mary Magdalene and two inquirers about Jesus, Mary says,

“What about you? Are you beginning to believe in him? Do you trust him?” That question has a peculiar power, doesn’t it? “Do you trust him?” is not the same as “Do you believe he existed?” or “Do you believe certain doctrines about him?” It’s a question about commitment, about confidence.

If you had to define "faith" and "believe," how would you define them? Are your definitions closer to the "traditional" ones (faith as conviction about past events, belief about concrete existence or doctrines) or to the ones put forth in this chapter (faith as about the future and action, belief as about trust, commitment, and relationship)? How could expanding or refreshing your definition of these words change the way you think about and follow Jesus?

Monday, February 1, 2016

WMTRBW Chapter 24: Jesus and Hell

Rich Man and Lazarus by Bonifazio Veronese
Note: Since Lent begins so early this year, we will be doubling up on our chapters from We Make the Road by Walking the next two weeks to get on the right schedule. This week, please take time to read both "Jesus and the Multitudes" (Ch. 23) and "Jesus and Hell" (Ch. 24). Since I preached on Chapter 23 this week, our blog will focus on Chapter 24.

"Hell" holds a more prominent place in many modern forms of Christianity than it does in the pages of Scripture. Jesus does occasionally talk about a fiery place of punishment, but as our chapter this week points out, when he does he says some surprising things about it. Consider this central passage from our chapter this week:

"Jesus clearly agreed that there was an afterlife. Death was not the end for Jesus. But one of the most striking facets of his life and ministry was the way he took popular understandings of the afterlife and turned them upside down. Who was going to hell? Rich and successful people who lived in fancy houses and stepped over their destitute neighbors who slept in the gutters outside their gates. Proud people who judged, insulted, excluded, avoided, and accused others. Fastidious hypocrites who strained out gnats and swallowed camels. The condemnation that the religious elite so freely pronounced on the marginalized, Jesus turned back on them. And who, according to Jesus, was going to heaven? The very people whom the religious elite despised, deprived, avoided, excluded, and condemned. Heaven’s gates opened wide for the poor and destitute who shared in few of life’s blessings; the sinners, the sick, and the homeless who felt superior to nobody and who therefore appreciated God’s grace and forgiveness all the more; even the prostitutes and tax collectors...Again and again, Jesus took conventional language and imagery for hell and reversed it. We might say he wasn’t so much teaching about hell as he was un-teaching about hell." (Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking pp. 112-113, emphasis mine)

Consider how this teaching compares to what you were taught, have heard in the media, or think is generally believed about hell. Some questions to reflect on:
Who do we popularly hear is going to hell? 
Who do we popularly hear is going to heaven? 
How might Jesus want to take our conventional imagery and language for hell today and un-teach it, turning our preconceptions upside down? 

Monday, January 25, 2016

WMTRBW Chapter 22: Jesus the Teacher

As we read our twenty-second chapter of We Make the Road by Walking this week, it's good to be back! I want to extend my thanks to Karen, Nicole and Nancy for filling in so ably and thoughtfully on the blog these past few weeks as I have been out on maternity leave. I've enjoyed reading your reflections on the text!

This week's chapter is on Jesus as teacher (duh, the title is pretty clear on that one!). I was captured by a couple of things in this very rich chapter.

The first is one of the discussion/reflection questions at the end of the chapter: "Share a story about one of the most important teachers in your life and what made him or her so significant." There are four or five teachers, from first grade to college, who I can name as making a deep impact on my life. The one on my mind after reading this chapter, though, is my 9th grade English teacher Mrs. Miles. My sister had had Mrs. Miles in high school as well and loved her, so I was excited to be in her honors English class. I'd always been good at English so I looked forward to impressing her. I ran into a problem, though: Mrs. Miles was HARD. She was demanding. I had never had to work so hard on my writing to hone it. But as I look back, I realize Mrs. Miles was the teacher who really taught me to write. Since that is now a huge part of my livelihood, I realize I have much to be thankful for! I wasn't thankful for how hard I was working at the time, but I am deeply grateful in retrospect.

What does Jesus ask and demand of us as a teacher? A different way of thinking, a deeper discourse. The second thing that captured me in this chapter is what it said about parables, and how this major vehicle Jesus used for his teaching challenges us to think, talk, and interact in different ways. Consider what Brian McLaren wrote about the parables:

"[Jesus] knew that most adults quickly sort messages into either/or categories—agree/disagree, like/dislike, familiar/strange. In so doing, they react and argue without actually hearing and thinking about what is being said. His parables drew his hearers into deeper thought by engaging their imagination and by inviting interpretation instead of reaction and argument. In this way, parables put people in the position of children who are more attracted to stories than to arguments. Faced with a parable, listeners were invited to give matters a second thought. They could then ask questions, stay curious, and seek something deeper than agreement or disagreement—namely, meaning." (WMTRBW Ch. 22).

As I listen to the way we talk to each other these days, I think maybe we need to be taught by and through parables once again.

What captured you from this chapter? What teachers have impacted you, and how is Jesus' teaching shaping and re-shaping you these days?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

WMTRBW - Chapter 21

Is God still in business of miracles?  In today’s culture, some people hold that the age of miracles is over; that it ended when the Bible was completed. Others take the opposite position and say miracles are available to everyone, if they only have enough faith to believe.  But thinking of miracles in those terms limits God, by attempting to define the parameters of His sovereignty. In Isiah 55:8 God tells us “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. So the truth of the matter is God can do what He chooses, when He chooses, for whom He chooses, and for whatever reasons He chooses.
I think in all our business, as we rush through each day we miss array of miracles that God has given us. Like the miracle of a beautiful sunrise or sunset, or in a baby’s smile, or a loved one’s laugh, or (for me, my personal favorite) the miracle of a close parking space on a busy street. It’s the day to day miracles that we totally overlook or are too busy to take notice.  But perhaps the greatest miracle of all is that miracle when a sinner accepts Christ and passes from an eternal death sentence to eternal life with Him.

What are your thoughts about miracles? Do you have any miracle stories you would like to share?